We Have Moved!

After a bit of time and thought, I have decided to move my writing over to a new blog.  I’ve really enjoyed writing The Boozy Rouge, but have decided to strip my writing back a bit and focus on recipes.

My South East London Kitchen is already up and running.  I hope that you will stop by from time to time and have a read.

Thank you for all of the comments and support on The Boozy Rouge, I hope that you will enjoy our new home just as much.

With love

Gemma x

Pasta with Cauliflower, Anchovies and Chilli

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Pasta with cauliflower, anchovies and chilli

Last week I excitedly collected my first ever veg bag.  After meaning to order one for some time and not quite getting around to it, I finally sat down at my computer and set up a standing order to Local Greens.

There are many veg bag/box schemes out there, but two things attracted me to Local Greens.  First, the veg they provide is from producers as near to south east London as they can manage, reducing food miles and connecting local people with their landscape.  Second, and more importantly, they deliver their veg bags to local ‘collection points’ rather than your home, for you to collect at your leisure.  The issues around home delivery has deterred me in the past from ordering a weekly veg bag or box:  neither my husband nor I are regularly at home during the week, and we live in an apartment building with no convenient place to leave it.  Our Local Greens collection point is the local pub, a few hundred yards away from our house, who will hang on to it for a couple of days so that I can pop in and pick it up when it suits me.

For the home cook, the thrill of fresh produce in the kitchen is unrivalled, and the advantage of receiving produce chosen for you is that you will often receive items that not only would you not have chosen yourself, but that perhaps you have never cooked with before.  Last week’s bounty was all somewhat familiar, but I did find myself with a cauliflower, my least favourite vegetable.

I am still haunted by years of overcooked white mush on the side of a roast dinner.  It must have been in vogue in the 90s to boil it for so long that any hint of structural integrity disappeared, traumatising generations of children.  I have tried to find ways over the years to make this cruciferous monster palatable.  Most of them involve curry as the crevices of a cauliflower soak up the spices rather well.  I turned to my old friend Google for some inspiration and found that many advocate the pairing of cauliflower with pasta. Hmm.

The problem that we’re going to have here is that both ingredients are intrinsically bland; which is why both are so often doused in cheese sauce.  Blending two bland ingredients is only really successful when stronger flavours are introduced, which serve both to perk them up and hold them together.  Cue my two favourite storecupboard staples: anchovies and chilli flakes.  Adding these both to the olive oil at the beginning of the cooking breaks down the anchovies and creates a flavourful paste which gently coats the other ingredients.  I also added a little tomato puree to give the paste more flavour and substance.

The result is a pasta dish that showcases the subtle flavour of the cauliflower perfectly with the other ingredients.  Of course, it would be unjust not to add just a little cheese at the end.  Pecorino is my choice, but other hard cheeses would be just as complimentary.

Pasta with Cauliflower, Anchovies and Chilli

400g dried tortiglioni, rigatoni or other large pasta tubes
1 medium cauliflower, divided into florets and stalks and leaves discarded
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 anchovy fillets
Large pinch dried chilli flakes
1 tbsp tomato paste
Grated pecorino, to serve

Cook the pasta according to packet instructions. Drain and reserve some of the cooking water.  Keep warm and set aside.

Blanch the cauliflower florets in salted water until they are just tender.  Drain and put in a bowl of ice water to stop them cooking any further.

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large frying pan, or chef’s pan, and add the garlic, anchovies and chilli flakes.  Stir over a medium heat until the garlic turns golden and the anchovies break down.  Do not let it brown.  Stir in the tomato puree.

Drain the cauliflower florets and toss them, with the pasta, in the anchovy mixture.  You may want to do this in a new large pan or bowl as the frying pan will likely be too small.  Check the seasoning.

Serve in large bowls with a good grating of the pecorino.

Serves four.

One Year Ago:  Leftover Roast Chicken

Introducing My Second Blog…

Recently I’ve been working on a second blog that focuses on my love of sandwiches in London and beyond. I named it Six Hundred and Seven Square miles, which is the size of greater London. Here is my latest post, more on the feuerwurst I had in Buhl market. I hope you enjoy it.

Previous posts can be found here.

Six Hundred and Seven Square Miles

image Feuerwurst from Buhl Market

For the past few days I have been sampling the delights of Baden-Baden; namely of the food, drink and spa variety.  For those not familiar, it is a small town in the Black Forest region famous for its beer and thermal waters.  As with the rest of Germany, it is also the place to go for some seriously good sausages.

A few miles away from Baden-Baden is a small town called Buhl that has a farmers’ market every weekend.  The curse of the hand-luggage holiday always scuppers my plans for shopping in markets as almost everything is over the 100ml limit they allow for liquids on the plane.  Sure, you can buy similar stuff at the airport, but it is three times the price and never as good.  Whilst dragging me away from a stall selling German honey in beautiful glass jars, my husband consoled me…

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A Few Things from Baden-Baden, Germany

I’m not quite sure how, but it is October tomorrow.  It doesn’t really feel like it as it is unseasonably warm in London at the moment, and I just got back from holiday.

For the past few days, Ollie and I have been in Baden-Baden.  If you’re not familiar, it is a little town in Germany’s Black Forest, south of Frankfurt and close to the French border.  It is famous for its thermal waters and its beautiful spas attract people from all over the region.  We spent quite a considerable amount of time at the Carcalla Baths.  It was a holiday after all.

As well as this, there was, of course, lots of eating and drinking.  Here are a few highlights:

 

Beer
Much to my constant dismay, I have never liked beer.  Fortunately, my husband is rather a fan and got to sample quite a few different beers during our time there.  With Oktoberfest imminent, a lot of the bars were promoting their own hausbrau.  Two of the best were at Amadeus and Lowenbrau.  The latter has a really nice beer garden.

 

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Flammkuchen
This is an Alsace speciality that is also known as Tarte Flambee on the French side of the border.  It is a very thin, almost pizza-like dough, traditionally topped with sour cream, bacon and onions.  We ate at the Theaterkeller, where they have a number of different varities of flammkuchen, including this one with breasola.

 

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Black Forest Cake
No trip to the Black Forest is complete without sampling the schwarzenwalden kirschetorte, the region’s most famous cake.  Many were put off by the old Sara Lee frozen desserts of the 1990s, but the real deal is a thing of beauty.  Light chocolate sponge, slightly-boozy-slightly-sour cherries and an abundance of blousy whipped cream.

 

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Sausages
As ubiquitous in Germany as good beer, you never have to look hard to find a good sausage.  We found these at a farmers’ market in the small town of Buhl, just outside of Baden-Baden; three euros for a gargantuan sausage in bread.  We both opted for the feuerwurst, a sausage heavily spiced with paprika and chilli, and doused it in dijon mustard.  Three euros.

 

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More Cake
You could eat cake every day for a year in Baden-Baden and never be satisfied.  I cannot help but love a place that takes baking so seriously.  This was another favourite cake from the trip, from a small riverside bakery in Buhl: a chocolate and almond cake topped with sweet apricots.

 

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Burgers
Not really a German speciality, but I always like to try the local take on a burger.  This one was from Leo’s, a famous Baden-Baden restaurant where Bill Clinton apparently dined.  It was 18 euros, but it was also very good.  The meat was excellent quality and cooked medium (not quite medium-rare, sadly) and the other components worked well.  My husband had an excellent fillet steak for not much more money, that came with béarnaise sauce and dauphinoise.  A rare case of food envy.

 

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Doughnuts
There’s only so many times you can quote Ich bin eine Berliner whilst holding a doughnut.  This one came from a bakery in a small village called Steinbach.  The only thing open on a Sunday morning for miles.  Luckily they did coffee too.

One Year Ago:  Five Spice Duck Legs.

Autumn Nights

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Root vegetable and pearl barley stew (with ham hock)

The other day I went for an afternoon nap and awoke with a shock that I had slept long into the night.  It was only 6.30pm and yet it was already dark.  The recent rise in temperatures had led me into a false sense of security that we are back in the days of glorious summer, but alas, the seasons have definitely changed.  I’ve even started to mention the ‘C’ word (not that one… the one that ends with ‘hristmas’.)

The thing is that I am rather looking forward to a couple of months of hibernation before the party season begins, spending a lot of time at home and lazily meeting friends for walks in the park or drinks in the local pub.  No elaborate plans involving picnics or trips to roof terraces preceded by a nail-biting surveillance of the Met Office in case unseasonal rain threatens to scupper the plans.  The wedding invitations have been filed, the BBQ covered for the winter and the beachwear put into storage.  Time for some nights in.

With the threat of going out in beachwear in public now removed for a few months, it is also a time to indulge in some comfort food.  Huge bowls of things that can be eaten on the couch whilst watching television; and the roast meats and billowing Yorkshire puddings on offer in pubs that fuel a good stomp in the woods afterwards.  Custard on absolutely everything.  Not a time to get fat, exactly, but a time to nourish out the threat of the cold.

I make a lot of stews and soups in the cooler months.  The vegetables that are in abundance at this time of year lend themselves to being cooked in a broth until soft.  This particular stew can be adapted to use up almost any ingredients that you have in the fridge:  old potatoes, leftover carrots, leafy greens or just about anything else.  It is cooked very simply in a mixture of stock and white wine and made substantial by the addition of pearl barley.  45 minutes on the hob and its is ready.

Using vegetable stock in this stew will make it vegetarian, but recently I have developed a bit of a habit of adding some cold cooked meat to the top after it has been served up.  The contrast in temperatures does what a spoonful of sour cream does to a soup or chilli, and it just gives it that little extra robustness.  Leftover roasted meats are good for this, especially chicken or turkey, but I also love Waitrose’s pulled ham hock.  It costs about £2.90 for two small packets and is also fabulous in pies or sandwiches.

Root Vegetable Stew with Pearl Barley

40g butter
Olive oil
1 leek, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced into 2cm pieces
2 parsnips, peeled and diced into 2cm pieces
1 baking potato, peeled and diced into 2cm pieces
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
100g pearl barley
75ml white wine
1l vegetable stock
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Heat the butter in a large saucepan with a little olive oil.  Add the leek, carrots, parsnips and potatoes and cook over a medium heat for around five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the bay leaves, thyme, barley, white wine, vegetable stock and tomato puree.  Bring to a simmer and cook for around 45 minutes until the vegetables and barley are tender.  Remove the bay leaf, stir in the parsley and check the seasoning before serving.

Viva Espana

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There’s always something bittersweet about arriving home from your holidays.  On one hand, you have your own bed, your own bath and your own kitchen to look forward to.  On the other, the grim realities of work, unpacking and two weeks’ worth of post to open leave you wishing you were still on the beach.  My arrival home, with the smell of suntan lotion still on my skin and my head still fuzzy from the Rioja of the night before, was a whole new chapter: life as a married woman.  With still a few days at my disposal before I had to face the world, I curled up on my much-missed couch to reminisce about my gastronomic adventures in Spain.

Our journey began in San Sebastian with our wedding.  It is a place so magnificent that I could write pages and pages on its many charms.  Once you arrive, step off the bus from Bilbao Airport and walk the 20 or so minutes through the commercial district, you end up at the main square that links the old town to the enormous sweeping beach, La Playa de la Concha, and you realise why it is beloved by so many.  The food, which it is so famous for, does not disappoint and you can be equally as satisfied trawling the many pintxos bars as you can at one of the many Michelin-starred restaurants.  Of course, it’s not all that San Sebastian has to offer, but it is the draw that entices people there.  It is the food that I will mainly talk about, and leave the rest as little surprises to discover for yourself.

It was only during my most recent trip to the city, in March of this year, that I realised how seriously the Basques took gin and tonic.  Before this, I had always focused on the wine (and with the close proximity to La Rioja, how could you not?) but a conversation with my wedding planner alerted me to the fact that you can get a damned good G&T there too.  Far from the single-shot-in-a-tumbler-and-lime-if-you’re-lucky treatment you would expect to receive in your archetypal British pub, the San Sebastian gin and tonic is a work of art.  To start with, a double measure is standard, although you will find that few actually use a measure and free pour up to 100ml of gin into the glass.  The glass of choice is an enormous fishbowl glass, filled with large cubes of ice, and then the gin.  To this they add flavours to enhance the gin, largely fruits and spices.  The tonic is added to just the right quantity and the whole thing delicately stirred.  The strength of the first sip will make you sit up, but you will soon become accustomed.

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Gin and tonic from the hotel bar at Barcelo. Costa Vasca, San Sebastián

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Gin and tonic alchemy at La Gintoneria, San Sebastián

The best gin and tonic I have found in San Sebastian is at La Gintoneria in Gros.  Their gin menu is an extensive collection of gins from all over the world, including the excellent Gin Mare, distilled in a small village not far from Barcelona.  The staff at La Gintoneria understand the use of different added ingredients to enhance the flavour of the botanicals in the gin.  From where I was sitting I spied a stock of juniper berries, grapefruit, cucumber, cardamom pods, rose petals and pink peppercorns.  The drinks, of course, are wonderful, but it is also worth a trip over here for the theatre of their making them.

La Gintoneria, Zabaleta 6, San Sebastian.

Pintxos, the Basque word for small plates or tapas, are ubiquitous across the city and are the preferred way of eating light in the evening following lunch, traditionally the larger meal of the day.  My brother’s arrival from Melbourne with his girlfriend was the perfect excuse for a pintxos crawl around the old town.  Our first stop was, at is very often is, Astelena, a small bar hidden in the corner of Constitucion Plaza.  It was recommended to us on our first visit for its grilled meats and fish and we have since sampled many of their brochetas including an excellent prawn and chorizo skewer.  The best dish on the menu, however, by far is the carrileras, slow cooked beef cheeks served in a rich gravy with a slice of grilled pineapple.  The meat is so tender that a knife is surplus to requirements and the bread basket that accompanies your order throughout the whole of Spain, is perfect for mopping up the sauce.  They have some very good reds at the bar and few over three euros a glass.

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Slow cooked beef cheeks at Astelena, San Sebastián

Astelena, Calle Inigo 1, San Sebastián.

Many people I know that visit San Sebastian on a regular basis agree that some of the best pintxos in San Sebastian are to be found at Atari Gastroteka in the old town.  It’s one of those seemingly unstoppable places that seems to get better with each visit.  When we go at lunchtime, we will usually order a glass of wine and choose a few pintxos from the extensive selection on the bar – they have the same form of things on bread and sticks as the other bars, but with a slightly more leftfield range of ingredients, such as cured salmon and brie that are seldom found elsewhere.  My favourite pintxo is a combination of black olive tapenade, goats cheese, sunblush tomato and serrano ham.  When we visit in the evening, we prefer to find a table and order from the menu.  On our last visit we feasted on delicious jamon croquetas and fois gras and apple puree on walnut toasts.

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A selection of pintxos at Atari, San Sebastián

Atari Gastroteka, Calle Mayor 18, San Sebastián.

I have a bit of a thing for Gros, the less-visited area on the otherside of the bridge, beyond the Kursaal building.  Not only does it have an excellent beach and some beautiful squares, it also has some excellent bars and restaurants that could rival the old town.  La Gintoneria is to be found among its haphazard streets, as well as the wonderful Bar Bergara and a great pizza-pintxos place I can never remember the name of.  My favourite of all is the wonderful Bodega Donostiarra, which has some of the most traditional examples of pintxos to be found in the city.  You won’t find piled-high morsels of extravagance here, but rather the more modest-looking Gildas (anchovies, olives and pickled chillies on sticks – named after Rita Hayworth’s iconic character) as well as plated of jamon and salt cod.  It is their menu, rather than their bar selection, that holds all of the gems.  A salad of vinegary tuna, anchovies and olives is a must, as are their famous chicken wings – tender with a crispy skin and doused in an indecent amount of garlic butter.

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A salad of olives, onions, anchovies, pickled chillies and bonito at Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastián

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Chicken wings at Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastián

Bodega Donostiarra, Calle de Pena y Goni 13, San Sebastián.

Our wedding, with 36 guests, was held on the terrace of La Perla de La Concha, which overlooks the beach of the same name.  We were lucky that the temperamental San Sebastian weather was kind to us as this spot has one of the most picturesque views of the bay.  For dinner, we took our guests to our favourite restaurant in the old town, Bodegon Alejandro.  We stumbled upon this one day during a pintxos crawl and were unable to resist the menu, simply displayed on the front door.  Much like Bodega Donostiarra, this restaurant offers a very traditional kind of Basque cuisine, done very, very well.

We started the meal with creamy potato croquetas and plates of acorn-fed Iberico ham, served over a crispbread that was smashed to pieces at the table by a waiter brandishing a stone pestle.

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Potato croquettes and Iberico ham at Bodegon Alejandro, San Sebastián

This was followed by a cold lasagne of ratatouille, topped with delicious fresh anchovies and accompanied by a gazpacho cream.

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Cold-marinated anchovies lasagne with gazpacho cream at. Bodegon Alejandro, San Sebastián (photograph by Simon Steadman)

Merluza, or hake, is traditionally eaten in the Basque region and can be found on most pintxos and restaurant menus.  The traditional way to serve it is with a tomato-based sauce, however for our menu we had the fish served atop olive oil crushed potatoes and a particularly zingy citrus vinaigrette.  The hake at Bodegon Alejandro is the most beautiful fish I have had anywhere – soft as butter with a crispy skin and delicate in flavour.

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Hake with olive oil crushed potatoes and citrus vinaigrette at Bodegon Alejandro, San Sebastián (photograph by Simon Steadman)

The main course was a meltingly tender boned shoulder of lamb served with a simple potato puree and a punchy confit garlic cream.

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Slow cooked boneless shoulder of lamb with potato purée and garlic confit cream at Bodegon Alejandro, San Sebastián

For dessert we chose something traditional of the region: a piece of caramelised french toast accompanied by a subtle cheese ice cream.

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Caramelised french toast with cheese ice cream at. Bodegon Alejandro, San Sebastián

Bodegon Alejandro, Calle Fermin Calbeton 4, San Sebastián.

Driving the 1,000km from San Sebastian to our honeymoon destination of Andalucia was a great way to see the diversity of the Spanish landscapes.  The relatively luscious greenery of the Basque country and the mountainous north gives way to vast swathes of industrial land before hitting the urban metropolis of Madrid, where we stayed one night to break up the journey.  South of Madrid is a different beast altogether with miles and miles of farmland, the spectacular heights of the Sierra Nevada and finally the barren, almost desert-like plains of Andalucia.

Our priority was a few days of relaxation, so we headed to the beachside town of Nerja which, we were told, was quieter than the better-known nearby towns of Marbella and Torremolinos.  After marvelling at the size of the room and the hotel’s proximity to the beach, we decided to wander into the town, which is where I very quickly realised that Nerja is not really a place for culinary adventures.  Most of the restaurants were aimed at tourists and, try as we might, we couldn’t seem to find anywhere that was off this trail.  Although some of the food is local and traditional, the quality wasn’t that great.  Most of the dishes came with chips and rice and bread, and almost every menu, regardless of cuisine, had spaghetti bolognaise on it.  After a disappointing (frozen) fried sole on the first night, we were glumly anticipating the next few dinners until, on the following day, we stumbled, quite literally, across Pepe Mese on Playaso Beach.

It was just what we were looking for:  a slightly rustic, almost shack-like, building with a view of the sunset, populated by mostly Spanish locals and not a lurid cocktail with a sparkler in sight.  When I saw the men, I almost clapped my hands with glee.  A World Cup game was playing on the television and we feasted on a plate of plump grilled squid doused in garlic butter and crispy matchsticks of fried aubergine drizzled with sweet cane honey.

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Grilled squid at Pepe Mesa, Nerja

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Deep fried aubergines with molasses at Pepe Mesa, Nerja

When dinner time rolled around the following night we, unsurprisingly, eschewed the brightly-lit restaurant strips of the main town and returned to Pepe Mese.  This time I ordered the dish I order on any menu: fried fish (or fritto misto if you’re on other shores).  This one did not disappoint:  a large plate of squid, hake, octopus and anchovies, coated in a crisp, paprika-spiked batter.  We squeezed over the juice of two gargantuan lemon wedges and attacked it with gusto, knocking back some rather good white wine as we did so.  If there was a meal to be had as the sun goes down and the smell of wood smoke hangs in the air, this is it.

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Mixed fried fish at Pepe Mesa, Nerja

Pepe Mese, Playa de Playaso, Nerja.

It was easier to find good food at our next stop, Ronda, although the majority of restaurants were still aiming for the generic tourist market.  As we walked through the old town and the area surrounding the beautiful puento nuevo (‘new bridge’ – google image it), we saw a number of brightly coloured menus on billboards, in various languages offering, among other things, spaghetti bolognaise.  A few gems were to be found outside of this area.  At the northern end of the Calle Jerez, we came across a small rustic tapas bar called Tapas de Ronda, which was our first stop in the town.  Following a short conversation with a waitress in my terrible broken Spanish I returned to the table to confess to Ollie that I was not entirely sure what I had ordered.  What came to the table was a selection of cold tapas:  potatoes in aioli, Russian salad (everywhere in Andalucia), tomatoes stuffed with tuna and a wedge of potato tortilla.  Just what we needed after a hot drive through the mountains.  Luckily, I knew the word for anchovies – boquerones – so we found ourselves with a plate of them, tender and pungent and with the usual excessive amount of garlic we had started to become very used to.

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Boquerones at Tapas de Ronda, Ronda

The following evening, our appetites were raging after cycling the round trip to a village called Benaojan, 17km from Ronda and 538m above sea level, so we were after something a little more substantial than tapas.  A friend had recommended Bodega San Francisco, located just south of Ronda’s old town for a good place to get some rustic and authentic Andalucian food.  I was keen to try the oxtail, a local speciality sometimes listed on menus as ‘bull’s tail’, probably due to translation.  We ordered two plates of the hearty oxtail stew and were delighted to find the meat tender and falling from the bone and a rich tomato sauce spiced with pimenton.  Alongside this we ordered a somewhat generous plate of pimientos de padron, grilled to the point where there is the slightest of charring and sprinkled liberally with coarse sea salt.

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Pimientos de Padron at Bodega San Francisco, Ronda

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Oxtail at Bodega San Francisco, Ronda

Our final stop on the trip was the Andalucian capital of Seville, to me the most romantic of all Spanish cities.  I had visited once before, in 2010, and was keen to show Ollie some of the places I had visited and loved, primarily the Real Alcazar and its magnificent gardens and the Plaza d’Espana.  Without a list of restaurants to try out and with our budget slightly depleted, we found ourselves in the peculiar situation of not focusing mainly on food.  Our plan was to set about sampling the city’s tapas as we found it.  Many restaurants have a ‘menu del dia’ with a particular dish on offer for that day, and we found that a good place to start.  I was glad to see that bacalao, or salt cod, was as widespread here as in the Basque region, and could often be found in wonderful little hot sandwiches that cost no more than two euros a piece.  Other highlights were some delicious chorizo, a bomba la Barcelonetta, a take on the ham-studded potato croqueta with a rich tomato sauce; and a meaty chickpea stew, typical of the nearby sherry-producing city of Jerez.

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Jerez-style chickpea stew at Vapiano, Seville

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Bomba la Barcelonetta at Bar Europa, Seville

Going off the beaten track and into the north of the city showed us a different side to eating out in Seville.  The neighbourhood restaurants are less ornate than those you will find in the jumbled streets of the old town or the grand boulevards around the cathedral, but they have a rustic charm and are much better value.  You won’t find the restaurants in any of the guide books, but the quality of the food is such that it is worth getting out of the tourist areas to dine with the locals.  At Meson La Esquina we paid three euros for a large plate of perfectly tender slow cooked pork cheeks in the kind of rich tomato and paprika sauce that is typical to this region – it was one of the most flavoursome pork dishes I had ever tasted and could have easily eaten more.  A plate of calamari was excellent and the patatas bravas perfectly adequate, but the pork cheeks were the star.  The place was packed with local people and had a really buzzing atmosphere.  After dinner, we walked a little further down the street to watch Belgium vs. USA with some typically enormous gin and tonics (in fishbowls, of course) for the bargain price of five euros a piece.

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Calamari at La Meson Esquina, Seville

Meson La Esquina, Calle Astronomica 2, Seville.

For a substantial meal on the go, there are a number of places around the city selling huge portions of fried fish for very little money – think of them as Andalucian fish and chip shops if you will.  In fact, in appearance they are quite similar to their British counterparts – a formica counter at the front with the menu up behind to order from, open glass display fronts and little tables around which families crowd.  One particular restaurant, La Isla, was recommended by a fellow south-east Londoner, Hollow Legs, who had visited the city some months previously.  The menu contains a number of different fish options and is priced by weight.  A quarter of a kilo of fried dish, which the waiter assured me was enough for one person, was around six euros.  We ordered half a kilo of the mixed fish (always a favourite), which came in a lacy paper cone with a small sprinkling of salt.  The side order de jour is not chips as we know them in the UK, but crisps.  Although I saw a lot of people tucking in, my Britishness took over and couldn’t quite face eating them with the fish.  Our mixture was a medley of hake, prawns, squid, cuttlefish and some little battered bundles of hake roe which were, surprisingly, the best of the bunch.  A perfect stomach liner for a night of drinking and dark bar flamenco at La Caboneria.

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La Isla, Calle Garcia de Vinuesa, Seville.

If my heart belongs to London, my stomach defintely belongs to Spain.

Out of Office

Is there any greater feeling than when you finish up at work before your holidays and put your out of office on?

In this case, it is both a great feeling and a sad one.  As I may have mentioned before, I am getting married in a couple of weeks and the preparations for this and my honeymoon, as well as tying up all of my work before taking three weeks off, is taking up a huge amount of my time.  So I have decided to take a short hiatus from blogging whilst I get all of this done. 

I will be back online in early July.  In the meantime, I am still posting on Twitter (@boozyrouge) and on Instagram (boozyrouge).

Until then…

Monday Miscellaney

The maelstrom of a disorganised Monday morning always follows a busy weekend.  In an act of sheer denial, I always shun the Sunday night preparation for the week ahead in favour of a Sunday night glass of Beaujolais, therefore I usually arrive for work on Monday completely dishevelled with only half of the things I need and relying on strong coffee to get me through the day.  Today is no exception.

This is what happened in the last week:

Yalla Yalla, Fitzrovia
I was beside myself with excitement when I discovered that the Yalla Yalla in Winsley Street had a take-out counter that sells an impressive range of wraps, sides, desserts and coffee.  The halloumi wrap is one of the most delicious of its kind with black olives, tomato and fresh mint.  The soujoc wrap is a meaty alternative with Lebanese sausages and cucumber tzatziki.  All wraps are under £5 and the perfect size for lunch.  I have resisted the baklava so far, but who knows how long that will last.

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Cottage Pie
Following the weekend fridge clear-out, I found I had the ends of several bags of potatoes languishing in the veg drawer so decided to make a cottage pie.  This recipe by James Martin is especially good if you have an uneven oven, as I do, as most of the cooking is done on the hob.  Best eaten on a rainy evening in front of the television.

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Divine Pop-up Shop, Covent Garden
Fairtrade chocolate supremos Divine have opened a pop-up shop for Fairtrade Fortnight selling their entire range of delicious chocolate.  They are only open for one more week, so get down there if you can.  The full write up is here.

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Chocolate Coconut Brownie
This was a little recipe for Fairtrade Fortnight, inspired by my trip to the Divine pop-up shop.  It had been a really long time since I last made brownies and I forgot how much delight they brought to people – Ollie’s new colleagues were particularly happy to receive them.  Half of the batch has gone into the freezer to bring out for unexpected guests – a little trick I learned from a friend.  The recipe and full write up is here.

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The Battle of the Cinnamon Buns
Last week, my colleagues and I set out to settle the debate of who makes the best cinnamon buns, Scandinavian Kitchen or The Nordic Bakery.  After an afternoon of tasting and judging, the results were in:  Scandinavian Bakery won by 9-3.  My colleagues have requested more taste testing.  The full write up is here.

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Band of Bakers ‘Baking with Cheese’ Event
Wednesday was the long-awaited ‘Baking with Cheese’ event at The Crooked Well in Camberwell.  Thirty-five bakers came along with an impressive range of cheesy bakes, everything from gougeres and spanikopita to cream cheese brownies and vodka cheesecake.  My bake was a batch of Gruyère, mustard and London Pride-caramelised onion puffs, for which I hope to write up the recipe this week.  Needless to say I had some pretty messed up dreams that night. 

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Ganapati, Peckham
This great little Indian restaurant on Holly Grove is one of my favourite lunch spots; the food is great and the lunch deals are excellent value.  If there were not a screeching child and array of toys spread across our communal table it would have been perfect (inconsiderate parents spoil lunches). 

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Cafe East, Surrey Quays
A perfect gem in amongst the horrors of Frankie and Benny’s, Pizza Hut and some kind of pseudo-American grill.  You have to walk right to the back of the car park to reach it, but the food is excellent and good value.  My favourite is the lemongrass pork chop enjoyed, naturally, with the super sweet iced coffee with condensed milk ubiquitous in Vietnam.

Divine Chocolate Fairtrade Fortnight Pop-up Shop, Covent Garden

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It’s Fairtrade Fortnight, which is an annual awareness campaign run by the Fairtrade Foundation that aims to get us really thinking about where our food comes from and how the trade and consumption affects and benefits the local communities in developing countries.  Of course, many of us are aware that Fairtrade has made an enormous difference to workers in these communities by offering better prices, better working conditions, fairer terms of trade and, most importantly, a focus on sustainability so that the communities can continue to trade in a sometimes uncertain future.  It used to be the case that only a few specialist products were Fairtrade, however as time goes on, more and more products are proudly displaying the badge; everything from the traditional Fairtrade products of coffee, chocolate and bananas to less likely items such as clothing, beer and honey. 

During Fairtrade Fortnight there are a number of events to engage with people around this issue.  A couple of years ago I took part in a Fairtrade Bake-Off with a prize for the most Fairtrade ingredients.  I thought I had it in the bag with nine, until my colleague swiped the prize with a massive twelve.

For the second year, Fairtrade chocolate supremo Divine have opened a pop-up shop in Covent Garden for Fairtrade fortnight.  This has coincided with the launch of two new flavours:  a 38% milk chocolate with whole almonds, and a 70% dark chocolate with mango and coconut.  Of course, Divine chocolate is readily available in a number of shops and supermarkets, but having a shop entirely devoted to their range certainly appeals to the chocoholic within me.  Little samples are available of their various bars, of which I tried many, and there is a little coffee machine at the back (Fairtrade, obviously).  In addition to this, they have a counter at the back selling some delicious looking baked goods including millionaire’s shortbread and little macarons.

There are a number of events on at the pop-up throughout Fairtrade Fortnight including sampling, chocolate workshops and meeting the cocoa farmers.

I ended up going home with an incredibly gluttonous four bars:  milk chocolate with toffee and sea salt, dark chocolate with mango and coconut, orange milk chocolate and dark chocolate with chilli and orange.

Divine Pop-Up, 53 Monmouth Street, London WC2H 9DA.  Open until Sunday 9th March.

Monday Miscellany

One of the main problems with living in London is that there is so much to do and so little time.  In between the necessities of work, sleep and travel, we have so much to cram in that it can make our heads spin.  Last week was one such week (luckily this week is a little quieter), so with little time this week to write up all of the places I’ve been, I have done a kind of round-up of it all.  Now pass the aspirin.

Underground Cookery School, City of London
On Monday I attended a cooking class for bloggers and food writers at the Underground Cookery School on Old Street.  The cookery classes are aimed at corporate events, hen and stag parties and birthdays.  There was A LOT of wine, so much so that I almost left my goodie bag on the bus on the way home.  The full write up is here.

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Attendant Cafe, Fitzrovia
My new favourite spot for a mid-morning caffeine fix is a cafe in a converted Victorian toilet on Foley Street.  Once you get past the realisation that you are drinking coffee in a spot where our ancestors peed, you fall in love with it.  The coffee and cakes are excellent and the staff super-friendly.  It is almost always busy.  The full write up is here.

 

MyChocolate Workshop, Farringdon
On Tuesday evening I attended a truffle-making workshop, again for bloggers and food writers, with the lovely Aimee and Elliw.  It turns out that there is no future for me as a master chocolatier, however much I really want to be the guy on the Lindt advert, as there is no chocolate shop in the world that would sell my misshapen little blobs.  I did, however, get to dip marshmallows into bowls of molten chocolate, which I haven’t done since I ended up wearing most of the chocolate fountain at a friend’s wedding.  And I was able to provide beer-snacks to the friends I met for drinks afterwards.  The full write up is here.

Flat Iron, Soho
It seems that I am destined to never, ever eat at Pitt Cue.  From the glory days of their truck on the south bank, I have tried to get a table at their Newburgh Street restaurant, always to be told that there is an excruciatingly long wait.  One upside of this tragedy is that I have built up a good list of back-up restaurants within walking distance to avoid ending up in some horrendous chain, crying into my pre-mixed cocktail.  After not getting into Pitt Cue for lunch on Friday, we headed around the corner to Beak Street and saw that Flat Iron had their lunch special burger on the menu.  It seems a bit off to review the restaurant without trying the £10 flat iron steak – their main attraction – but we did manage to squeeze in a Burger League entry.  And not a bad one too.  The full write up is here.

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Peckham Springs, Peckham
Friday night was my second visit to Peckham Springs for late night cocktails.  This is the latest in a line of new bars in Peckham, keeping the crowds warm until Frank’s Cafe re-opens in the summer.  It’s a small space under the railway arches, not easy to find, which is why non-locals look at you in disbelief when you direct them under a very dark and dodgy-looking tunnel.  I rather like it, the crowd is a mix of locals and students from nearby Goldsmiths and Camberwell College of Art – it makes me nostalgic for the former, where I spent four years drinking in various bars around New Cross and Peckham on my student loan.  The cocktails are a mere £6, and whilst perhaps not the most refined that you will find, are plentiful and strong.  There is a small kitchen at the side and, sometimes, a street-food van parked out front.  Most seem to use it as a pre-drinking venue for the nearby Bussey Building, so it gets progressively busier as the night goes on.  With the queue for the bar growing rapidly, we headed over to the Montpelier for something a little more conventional:  G&Ts, scampi fries and laughing at the stream of people trying to exit through a locked door.

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Maltby Street Market, Bermondsey
There are few things I love more on a Saturday morning than dragging my hungover self for some street food in one of south-east London’s many food markets.  North Cross Road is a convenient distance from my flat, so is perfect for the most extreme of hangovers where cycling or public transport is simply not an option, my absolute favourite is Brockley Market, which has become more of a social occasion than simply an opportunity to eat, and for the days when I am super organised, Maltby Street is a bit of a treat.  Despite our boozing the night before, we made it there pretty early, much to the astonishment of The Ginger Gourmand et famille, who we ran into, predictably, near the coffee stand.  There is so much great stuff at Maltby Street Market, this little paragraph will not do it justice; but we had delicious flat whites from Craft Coffee, hangover-busting breakfast pots from Potdog (mine was sausages, rosemary potatoes and sauerkraut), and chocolate doughnuts from the wonderful St John Bakery.

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Postman’s Park, City of London
A non-foodie item, but one that still deserves a mention.  Tucked away behind a church off Little Britain and London Wall, close to the Museum of London, is one of the city’s most interesting memorials.  Postman’s Park contains a memorial to acts of heroism by ordinary Londoners.  This was the creation of the painter George Watts who, at the end of the nineteenth century, wanted to commemorate people who would have otherwise been forgotten.  He was inspired by reports in local papers of people who died saving others and erected a number of plaques to commemorate these ‘everyday heroes’.  A few years ago, whilst at Goldsmiths, I was lucky enough to visit the monument with John Price, who is the leading expert on Postman’s Park, and who has an exceptional knowledge of the memorial itself and he people it commemorates.  He has a book on the subject which can be found here.

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The Stormbird, Camberwell
One of the few wet pubs you will find in these ‘ere parts, as most of the south-east London pubs are now also restaurants.  It is a craft beer pub and has an enormous range of beers on tap, as well as a number of bottled beers.  They sell most of them as well-priced half-pint and third-pint glasses to give you the option to try as many as possible without the worry of passing out on the bus home.  They almost always have The Kernel IPA on tap, which pleases Ollie.  I’ve only ever been in there in the evening, but it’s always a lively spot.

The Camberwell Arms, Camberwell
This new pub, run by the same people responsible for gastro-pub stalwart The Anchor & Hope, opened last week to much interest.  It used to be a slightly dodgy venue called The Recreation Rooms, that we would occasionally drink in as students, but that closed not long after it opened.  The refit of the space is impressive with a drinks bar at one side and a food bar on the other, wrapping the open kitchen.  Despite the gripes on Twitter about how it is too expensive for Camberwell etc., the food and drink seemed quite reasonably priced –  A Gin Rickey (basically a pimped up double G&T) and a Bloody Mary were only £5 each.  We didn’t get to try the food as we were off to Silk Road, but I will definitely be back for a bar snack of pork fat on toast. Yes I will.

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Silk Road, Camberwell
If all Chinese restaurants were like Silk Road, I would eat Chinese food all the time.  The cuisine is mainly Xinjiang, but with a bit of Sichuan thrown in for good measure.  We used to drunkenly wander in for a late-night dinner after drinking in Camberwell as a matter of course, but since it received a number of rave reviews, including one by Jay Rayner, it is more difficult to get a table.  We ate our usual round of favourites of middle plate chicken, lamb skewers, pork and celery dumplings, double-cooked pork and home-style aubergine.  Honestly, the home-style aubergine is the best aubergine dish I have had ANYWHERE. EVER.  I’m already in the process of planning a huge dinner there for Ollie’s birthday.  On Saturday, our bill came to £29, which was enough food to render us immobile on the number 12 bus home and included drinks.  Book a table or go late.

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ToastED, East Dulwich
Is it called ‘Toast’?  Is it called ‘Toasted?’ Who knows.  We’ll call it ‘Toasted’.  Whatever it’s name, I think I am possibly the only person in south-east London yet to eat there.  During the week I am mainly in central London, and at the weekends I am a little scared of being stuck in a place with hoards of children, which often happens on Lordship Lane on the weekend.  (Sorry – but it’s true!)  On Sunday, I popped in with my friend for a coffee and a slice of their famous banana bread and it was so good we ended up staying for the wine.  It’s a really nice place to spend a couple of hours on the weekend and, although there were a few buggies, there were no children racing up and down and screaming.  The banana bread was outrageously good – crispy on the edges and with the texture of bread pudding in the middle.

Nigel Slater’s Smoked Haddock with Cannelini Beans and Mustard
I feel as though I’ve hardly done any cooking this week, or indeed spent much time at home.  I asked Ollie what he wanted for Sunday night supper and he responded with just “no red meat!”  I think we have both overindulged a bit on the good stuff.  Being a little lazy on Sunday morning, the only shop I made it out to before Sunday closing was the local branch of a supermarket.  These places almost always have some kind of smoked fish, so I was able to cobble something half decent together for dinner.  (Didn’t go shopping this week either, natch).  This recipe is from The Kitchen Diaries and is a genius combination of smoky fish, meaty beans, cream and grain mustard.  I added a little more mustard than the recipe suggested, but didn’t regret it.  Half-pissed on wine and watching TV on a Sunday night, this dish is perfection.  The recipe can be found online here.