Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Few Of My Favourite Things...

I'd like to think I'm not alone but sometimes I get so fixated on something that it becomes a freakish obsession. There is no rhyme or reason. It might be a particular dish, like spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and parmesean which I ate three times a week for a month straight. Other times it's a spice, like the time when I put Montreal Steak Seasoning on anything I roasted. It doesn't have to be healthy- for example, I HAD to have a salami sandwich and one Twix finger everyday at lunch (and only at lunch) for the first six weeks after I had my son; it can even be a restaurant. My long running stalker like obsession with Royal China dim sum hasn't ceased after ten years.

Which brings me to my current tasty delight and an introduction to a new feature on this blog. On the right hand side of the screen you will be able to check back and see what I currently cannot get enough of. There'll be a link to this posting where I'll keep track of all my fave flavours.

So what am I all over as I type you ask? Rosebud Preserves Piccalilli. L-O-V-E IT!

I was never a huge fan of piccalilli. For someone who has half a fridge of condiments (along with ones I hide in the cupboard from The Boy), that's saying a lot. For anyone not familiar with it, it's a pickle made up of various vegetables chunks in a tangy mustard and tumeric sauce.

Perhaps not so bizarrely, when I was pregnant, one of my few cravings was for a toasted, always toasted, ham and cheese sandwich with extra piccalilli from Fernandez and Wells in Soho.

Not so much as a second thought had been given to piccalilli in months. Not until last week when I went to Mortimer and Bennett to have a browse. Mortimer and Bennett's is a great little shop if you're ever in Chiswick. At the back of the tiny store, an array of jarred delights. Jams, chutneys, pickles- it's like a condiment circus back there. Yum I thought, I do fancy me some condiments on a sandwich. So I paid my £3.50 for my picalilli and made myself a ham and cheese sandwich for old times sake.

Five days later the jar was empty. I am now on my second jar.

It's not English mustard spicy like the other versions I've had. It's much more a sweet and sour style of relish with good chunks of veg for a slight crunch. There's a sharp vinegar tang which is what I think I love the most. I've put it in sandwiches, on top of cheese and crackers, and licked the odd spoon clean. Surely there must be other things I can spoon it over...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Plight of the Single Diner

In the first of my 'making up' posts, here's a little something I wrote last year on a tasty lunch date with myself.

This is the time of year that I end up on my own most weekends. The boy has his annual audit so I get some 'me' time whether I want it or not. Many times I love it since I get time girlie primping and watching lame tv but there are some things I don't do on my own. Movies and public dining.

This weekend though dining alone was a good thing as I wanted to hit an exhibition at the British Museum. It also meant I would need to feed myself since I wouldn't make it back home with no lunch in my belly. One of the reasons I generally don't like to ask for a table for one is that it means that this one is doing the paying. But I consoled myself with the thought of going to Abeno near the museum that I'd meant to eat at for ages that I knew wouldn't be on the boy's list of must tries.

So I looked around to see if anyone saw this loner going in and when the coast was clear I held up one finger and squeaked out the three words I thought would never pass my lips- table for one. I have to start by saying that I almost walked out after 15 minutes. I was sat by the door so even though I was constantly being passed by the wait staff it took 15 minutes to get a menu an another ten to get my order taken. I was on the verge of bolting but pregnancy hunger and having to walk to somewhere else compelled me to stay and wait it out. Hell what else was I going to do go home and watch Wipeout USA (which I'm not afraid to admit a liking to)?

Abeno is not what we expect of Japanese restaurants. They specialise in okonomiyaki. Basically it's an omelette. But a crazy ass Japanese one at that. They do noodles and a few other options but if you come here it's for the okonomiyaki. Being a table of one I couldn't go crazy and order
lots of things to taste and with an increasingly loud growl in my stomach I needed to chow down now.

I love dumplings in just about any format so I had to go for the tofu and avocado gyoza as the combo was intriguing. This gyoza on the menu was fried rather than the usual griddled. Four pieces arrived with a few salad greens and the usual gyoza sipping sauce. I wondered how the
mix of avo and tofu would be in general and how frying would affect the taste and texture. The outside was a perfectly golden fried parcel of crunchy fun. Inside were tiny diced pieces of tofu and avocado obviously warm from the frying but they held their shape. While I couldn't really taste the tofu (can you ever really when it's plain?) I found it a bit nursery like. This is a compliment. The taste took me back to my childhood love of avocado heated in a flour tortilla. It
was creamy with a nice salty hit from the dipping sauce. Needless to say I was so hungry that I couldn't pause to take a photo.

Picking a main ingredient for my okonomiyaki from the list was tough but I've been having kimchi cravings so the moment my eyes glanced down the menu and saw pork and kimchi there was no other option. (On a side note why do some Japanese restaurants put kimchi on the menu and some don't? I know that kimchi is Korean but some Japanese places I go to put it on the menu which is good times but the ones that don't get pissed if you ask for it. Last weekend I was ill and the boy went to our local Japanese robata place and I said to him if you see kimchi on the menu get me some. So when he didn't see it, and aiming to make a sickly pregnant wife happy, he asked if they had kimchi and was treated to a snappy "this is Japanese restaurant NOT Korean". By the number of Japanese restaurants that I've seem kimchi on the menu I'd hazard a guess and say the Japanese must have a penchant for the stuff but why get mad if you ask for it? Ok rant over.)

So once the waiter realised the speed in which the gyoza disappeared off my plate, he rocked up with a tray that looked to be the start of my lunch. The plate had several strips of what I at first thought was bacon but remembered that I hadn't given in to the bacon option so it was most likely thinly sliced pork belly. Then there was the mystery bowl.

In it lie the makings of my funky omelette. As the waiter stirred it into a frenzy I could make out the cabbage, the wet- which was eggs, the kimchi was evident by that pink red hue you get with traditional kimchi, beyond that it looked like a lot of mush in a bowl. Once waiter was happy with the mix, he drizzled just a touch of oil on the griddle built into the middle of my table. The mush was poured onto it and shaped into a round flatish mound; this was followed by my bacony pork belly bits being flash grilled and then placed on top of my mound o' mush. Then a dome cover was placed on top and I waited for the magic to happen. A few minutes later he came back, raised the cover, flipped it over and covered it back up. The next time he returned he came bearing gifts in the shape of condiments. It was as if he knew me.

I am a self confessed condi-mental. With my pork and kimchee combo he recommended soy sauce and chili but I could also choose from Mayo, BBQ, seaweed and bonito flakes. So I said yes. To all of it. Make mine a 50/50 then.

I have to say that I loved it. It was fluffy, not too heavy, with the odd chunk of crunchy spicy kimchee and the odd bit of pork. In the next bite the taste would be more eggy or cabbagey or with a crunch of tempura bits. The soy and chili really worked and while I preferred it but for sheer gluttony go whole hog and get the Mayo and BBQ option.

Once I'd decided that as I was ignored at the beginning I was going to eat slower than usual and I'd worked my way through my meal, I was sure that I didn't want dessert. But I always love to look at the options and got suckered into the homemade matcha green tea ice cream. I love ice cream and if I see the words home and made than there is no other choice in my book. I'm rarely bowled over matcha flavoured sweets but boy was I surprised. My scoop of it arrived with a side spoonful of sweet red adzuki beans which usually just remind me of odd sweet frijoles but I ate them hoping that it had some sort of nutritional value being a bean and all. The ice cream however was delicious. Creamy but not too rich, sweet but with a slightly savoury balance from the green tea. Tops.

So the damage for three courses with a juice- £20.90. Which for a long leisurely lunch that filled me up on a cold day without wanting to send me straight for a nap, was not too bad. So my verdict on lunch at Abeno- lunch for one at Abeno can be done with a portion size that is enough for the single diner. It was tasty but the downside is that you will be so tempted to order a lot because the options are numerous. I've been back as a table for two and sharing the fun of table grilling made the meal more enjoyable and less gluttonous. But whether I go alone or as a plus one, I will be back.

Maple Bar None!

I loves me some donuts. A nice glass of ice cold milk or strong black coffee and a maple bar. That oh so healthy sugar high that makes you so hyper that you spout utter nonsense that only another person in the same state can comprehend. It's the sort of thing that if you've ever had to keep a food diary you omit lest the wrath of the nutritionist fall upon you. But deep down you smile because it was moment of bliss. I don't do donuts often but when I do it's always the same. Maple Bar (but I've been known to dabble in the realm of the apple fritter from time to time). But if I'm going to send my blood sugar sky high I want a great donut. Not too greasy, not too sugary (like the Krispy Kreme version that has the glaze with a sort of maple smock on top). It needs the right balance of dough to maple glaze.

Since I have yet to find such a specimen in London- and I've looked for ten years- when I went to Portland, Oregon to see my sister I was determined to indulge. She wanted to go to Voodoo Donuts for a Maple Bacon Bar. It sounded disgusting but found it ok. If you love salty sweet combos then it's king. But I'm a purist when it comes to my donuts. Traditional reigns supreme. A good raised yeast dough plus a not too thick layer of maple glaze equals perfection. I happened to stumble across an article on donuts in Portland that rated the maple bar at Annie's Donuts tops.

I had to go. Stat.

It's a totally unassuming donut shop that if you didn't know better you might pass by. As soon as you walk it the sweet sweet smell of donuts high fives your face. I placed my order and sat down.

Oh. My. Goodness. D-I-V-I-N-E. It was just what I missed about donuts. Fluffy soft dough. The perfect amount of glaze that had the sort glossy sheen to it that's normally reserved for shampoo ads. I think I actually cried a tear of joy. I had to stop myself from eating a third one it was that good. So the moral of the story? When in Portland get thee to Annie's. And eat a second maple bar for me.
Annie's Donuts, 3449 Northeast 72nd Avenue, Portland, OR 97213-5817
Telephone - (503) 284-2752

P.S. If anyone has scouted other top donut shops, please pass the details along.