On Using Up What You Have

My, aren’t we a busy bee this week?  Seriously though, I have had so much to do I have barely had time to sit down, let alone write.  Mostly this has been to do with my job at a certain public service broadcaster, it’s awards season, don’t you know (dahling) and I have been super busy.  It’s not been all bad, though, at the weekend our dear friends Simon and Natalie came to visit us from Bristol and we had a weekend of mostly eating and drinking.  Saturday night was a Peckham extravaganza of pizza and wine at The Gowlett (Gowlettini, in case you’re interested), eye-poppingly strong pisco sours and keeping it real at Peckham Springs and then some gimlets and martinis at the Peckham Refreshment Rooms.  We would have gone on to Blow Up at The Bussey Building, had we not been too pissed.

On Sunday we took our tired selves up the East London Line to Hoxton for a hangover-busting lunch at MEATMission.  After talking the boys out of the Triple Chilli Challenge for the second time, we ordered (deep breath) Dead Hippie burgers, bingo wings, chilli cheese fries, currywurst, deep-fried pickles and a greek salad.  More on this later, but needless to say, I wondered if I would ever eat again.

Just one half of our feast at MEATMission

Just one half of our feast at MEATMission

In the interests of pacifying my bank balance and my waistline after such an indulgent weekend, I have been on a bit of a mission to make meals primarily out of what I have in the cupboards, fridge and freezer and buying just a few items to supplement this rather than a great big shop.  One of my new years’ resolutions (God, doesn’t that seem like a million years ago?!) was to reduce the amount of food waste in our household.  As the issue of food waste was given more coverage in the media, I began to notice that we did tend to throw a bit of food away.  Not huge amounts but often a wilted half-head of celery, a few slice of mouldy bread or some manky herbs would end up in the bin.  The main reason for this was that we would do a ‘weekly shop’ at the beginning of the week, allowing for meals for each lunchtime and evening, and would then end up going out for lunch or dinner on a whim, wasting some of the meals.  So since January, the big trips to the supermarket have ceased and I buy food only when I need it.  Saves money too.

I’ve also recently been thinking that our obsession with following recipes is partly to blame.  We not only have more access to recipes than ever before with an unprecedented number of cookbooks being released each year, a boom in food blogging and a number of recipe databases, such as those created by BBC Food and UKTV Food, we also have access to a wider range of recipes with our interest in global cuisine reaching further and further.  Wanting to follow recipes all of the time means that we end up buying more and more from the ingredients list to make specific dishes rather than focusing on what we have.  It was difficult to shift my focus, but I now look in the cupboards and think “what can I make with this” rather than look in a recipe book thinking “what do I need to make this.”  The results are sometimes experimental, but on the whole they are good.  At first I was apprehensive about using a mix of single cream and creme fraiche in my second batch of naan bread, rather than the specified yoghurt, but it all turned out OK.

Another wonderful outcome of this approach is that I rely less and less on the big supermarkets.  Let’s face it, nobody wants to trek to the Sainsbury’s Superstore to pick up a tin of lentils and a couple of red peppers, so I have been embracing local shopping a little bit more.  I am lucky enough to live in a part of London where the ethnic diversity is reflected in the type of shops we have available to us.  In Peckham there are Indian shops selling enormous bags of cheap spices, far better value than the little jars you get in supermarkets, a brilliant Persian shop, Persepolis, that sells anything and everything from the middle-east and two Chinese supermarkets.  There are also a number of vegetable stands where you can pick up a range of veg for next to nothing (I like the one right outside the entrance to Rye Lane station).  In East Dulwich there is the ‘triangle of love’ in the form of William Rose butchers, Moxons fishmongers and Le Cave de Bruno wine shop, destination of choice for a dinner party or lazy weekend dinner.  Brockley Market is a 20-minute bike ride away each Saturday and there is a new farmers market up in the Horniman Gardens in Forest Hill.  Of course, I still have to make the dash to the John Lewis food hall from time to time, if only to pretend that I’m one of those rich people that actually lives in central London. (OK, it’s a bit poncey, but it’s right next to my office).

Spinach and chickpea curry

Spinach and chickpea curry

This dish, otherwise known as ‘last night’s supper’ is an example of how to use up what you already have.  This is a spinach and chickpea curry made completely with items lurking in the flat.  There is a little exception here, as the spinach I had planned to use was ruined due to the fridge being up too high, so I had to make an emergency dash to Rye Lane for some fresh stuff.  The aforementioned grocer outside the station sells three bunches for a quid which, when you consider how much you pay in the supermarket, is a bargain.  Despite being a fridge-raid meal (or ‘storecupboard meal’, as my mum would say), it’s still a pretty decent little vegetarian curry in its own right.  If you do decide to make it, it’s best not to take the ingredients list too seriously.  Mix stuff up here and there, add things, subtract things, or use a different flavour paste.  Be a rebel.

Spinach and Chickpea Curry

  • 2 tbsp any old curry paste you have lurking about (I used Bhuna paste)
  • 1 onion, or a couple of shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tins chickpeas
  • 250g spinach (or two bunches from the man in Peckham)
  • Few drops lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

In a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, fry the curry paste for a few minutes until it starts to separate.  Add the onions and reduce the heat, cooking them until soft and translucent – about another 5-10 minutes.  Increase the heat again and add the chopped tomatoes, cook for about five minutes, stirring regularly,  until the sauce has thickened slightly.

Add the chickpeas and cook for a couple more minutes.  Season and turn the heat down to low before adding the spinach, stirring until the leaves have wilted.  Stir in the lemon juice and serve with whatever you have in the kitchen (fortunately, I had a load of basmati rice in the cupboard and two peshwari naans in the freezer – win).

Adapted from a recipe by BBC Good Food.  Serves Four.

Breakfast at No. 67 at the South London Gallery, Peckham

Breakfast in the sun

Breakfast in the sun

Another belated post, I’m afraid, but with the sun shining so brightly in London this morning I couldn’t resist writing about a bit of alfresco dining.  One week ago today, just before we flew out to San Sebastian, Ollie and I went to the registry office in Peckham to register our intent to marry.  It was a pretty painless process really, but we still felt that anything that required us getting up early on our day off and bringing along our passports deserved a big breakfast afterwards.  Just across the street from the registry office is the excellent South London Gallery and it’s in-house cafe/restaurant, No. 67 – so named because of its location at 67 Peckham Road.

The good weather arrived in London a couple of weeks ago after months of torrential rain, and last Friday was the best day of all.  The sun beamed down on an empty picnic table on the front terrace of the cafe, where we quickly established ourselves and started to look at the menu.  At that moment, I received a text from my Dad to say that Southampton, a mere 75 miles away, had been enveloped in fog.  If there was a moment to develop weather-smugness, that would have been it.

The breakfast menu at No.67 is similar to what you might find in other smart south-east London cafés: good coffee, juices, organic yoghurt and muesli and a range of scrambled egg dishes with ham, salmon or spinach.  One anomaly, however, caught my eye – a baked egg, tomato and red pepper stew.  There is something wholesome yet rather decadent about having a stew for breakfast and at the weekend, if I have time, I will often make a the classic Mexican egg dish Huevos Rancheros (literally: ranch eggs) or the middle-eastern equivalent, Shakshuka (David Lebovitz’s version with chunks of feta is my favourite).  Both involve making a thick, spiced tomato sauce and cooking the eggs in it – either on the hob or in the oven – so that when served, the yolk spreads throughout the sauce.  Can you think of anything better?

Baked egg, tomato and red pepper stew

Baked egg, tomato and red pepper stew

The baked eggs, tomato and pepper stew at No. 67 arrives with two slices of lightly toasted sourdough drizzled with olive oil, which I set aside for mopping up the remnants of the sauce later.  The egg, sat in the middle of the dish, is fresh and, although perhaps a touch overcooked for my liking, yields a little yolk into the sauce.  The stew itself is rich and thick, made with what I suspect to be the best quality tinned tomatoes, rather than fresh, which for this time of year will give a more substantial flavour.  A strong kick of black pepper and a smoky hint of paprika give it a deep flavour that works alongside the richness of the egg.

A very substantial and tasty breakfast.  If you want something that sets itself apart from the usual Eggs Benedict / Florentine / Royale, this could be the spot for you.

No. 67 Café and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Two Weekend Lunches: Ganapati and Cafe East

Whilst working from home on Friday, head in my hands and surrounded by piles of paper, Ollie suggested that I take a break and join him for lunch.  I was about to say that I didn’t have time when he suggested Ganapati, so I closed my laptop and off we went.  There is no shortage of Indian restaurants in our little part of south east London, however Ganapati sits head and shoulders above the myriad of curry houses on Lordship Lane and the Old Kent Road and is a real local favourite.  Ganapati has recently set up a take-away kitchen around the corner from its main site just off the Bellenden Road, which has caused a great deal of excitement in many a delivery postcode.  They also have an extremely good value lunch deal.

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We started by sharing the vegetarian street snacks:  a plate containing two mysore bonda, potato and cashew dumplings fried in chickpea batter; and two vadai, ground chana dal with curry leaf and green chilli, shaped into patties and fried.  Both were perfectly hot and crispy without the greasiness that often accompanies fried starters.  We both agreed that we could not choose between them but, in hindsight, would have ordered a plate each.

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The vegetarian thali main came on a large metal tray separated into sections.  The tomato-based vegetable and lentil curry had a huge kick of spices and curry leaves and was far hotter than I expected – so much so that Ollie the chilli fiend kept trying to sneak forkfuls when I wasn’t looking.  The accompaniements were great, by far my favourite part of the dish was a sweet and slightly spiced beetroot pickle that complemented the heat of the curry perfectly.  Ollie ordered the kingfish curry, which has perfectly cooked soft pieces of fish in a coconut and tamarind sauce. 

Most of the main courses on the Ganapti lunch menu are under £6, which makes it an excellent value lunch, especially as the prices are considerably higher in the evening.

Ganapati, 38 Holly Grove, Peckham, London SE15 5DF

Having a rare day off together on Sunday, we went over to the Museum of London Docklands for the afternoon, where I have not been since my first year at Goldsmiths.  London’s history is so fascinating, especially that of the communities that lived and worked by the river.  I found this amusing piece of information about the women that worked at the fish market.

“Fish, espeically herring, was the staple food of the London poor.  In the 18th century, boats brought their catch bacl from fishing grounds off the coast of Norway, the Baltic and north of the Shetlands.  Women working at the fish market had a reputation for toughness and sharp language.  Some even earned additional income as bare-knuckle fighters.”  – The Museum of London Docklands

The museum is rather enormous, so by the time we got to the bit about rebuilding the docklands we had worked up quite an appetite, so headed over to Cafe East in Surrey Quays for a late Vietnamese lunch.  When you first get off the Overground, this seems like the last place you are going to find one of south-east London’s gems.  To get to it, you have to walk past all of the usual horrors you would expect to find in a retail park:  Frankie & Benny’s, Pizza Hut, generic-American grill restaurants et cetera.  However, when you get right to the back, there is a little unassuming brick hut that makes some of the best Vietnamese food south of the river – obviously the Kingsland Road is the go-to destination for pho but sometimes you just don’t want to go to Shoreditch…

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After the customary chuckle at the “We do not serve tap water” sign at the entrance, we took up a table and ordered some Vietnamese iced coffee.  It’s always a bit of a shame that they don’t offer hot coffee with condensed milk as other restaurants do, as I prefer this to the iced stuff.

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We started with an order of banh cuon, steamed rolls filled with minced pork and chinese mushrooms and topped with meatloaf and some delicious fried shallots; and the goi cuon, known to the rest of us as ‘summer rolls’, filled with pork and prawn.  Both were generous in size and very fresh.  The summer rolls were not overloaded with fresh mint, which many often are, so the other flavours were able to come through.  They came with a peanut sauce and a ferociously spicy chilli dipping sauce.

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I ordered the lemongrass pork chop, a sweet, slightly spicy, sticky sliced pork served over boiled rice, which was just the right combination of moistness and chewiness.  Despite being well-coated in the sauce, the flavour of the pork still came through well.  I thought a splash of the summer rolls’ dipping sauce might ruin it, but the pork actually benefitted well from the extra spice.  On the side were some innocuous looking pickles – shredded carrot and daikon – that were so perfect I wished there was more than the little pinch put on the side of the plate.  Ollie ordered the Pho Bo Hue – a slightly spicy variation of the traditional beef pho.  The beef brisket, cooked in the heat of the soup, were sliced perfectly thin and the slippery noodles and crisp vegetables made it a very substantial dish.  The little bowl of red chillies accompanying the soup were for the very brave only – even Ollie, who has the highest heat tolerance of anybody I know, only added three-quarters. 

I didn’t eat for the rest of the day after that.

Cafe East, Surrey Quays Leisure Park, 100 Redriff Road, London SE16 7LH.

Ganapati on Urbanspoon

Cafe East on Urbanspoon

Petitou, Peckham

Pain au Chocolat

Pain au Chocolat

Sometimes on Fridays I have a day of working from home.  As I am spared the 45-minute commute from East Dulwich to Portland Place, I allow myself a bit of extra time for a leisurely breakfast.  South east London has a myriad of breakfast options from little backstreet cafes that bake their own bread and serve excellent coffee, to acclaimed restaurants with gourmet, and well-priced morning menus.  As all of London seems to go out for breakfast and brunch at the weekend, a day off in the week is a gem of an opportunity to sample these places when they are at their quietest.

I first discovered Petitou a couple of years ago.  I was having a particularly stressful morning trying to shop on Rye Lane for last minute essentials for a trip to Australia, flying later that afternoon.  Almost on my knees from balancing shopping bags, trying to find Australian dollars and taking a barrage of work calls, I needed a coffee and there it was.  Two espressos and some homemade crumpets with Marmite later and I was good as new.  Petitou is a lovely little cafe on the backstreets of Peckham, just off of Bellenden Road.  In the summer, you can sit out on their mosaic-tiled terrace and people-watch and in the winter, the windows completely steam up to create a warm cave, cut off from the world.  Theirs is not an extensive menu, but has enough small and large dishes to satisfy the needs of their diners.

Scrambled eggs and ham on toast

Scrambled eggs and ham on toast

The breakfast menu has a selection of pastries and bread options, including the aforementioned crumpets – so good I had to mention them again.  We shared a pain au chocolat, that was fresh and warm with a decent amount of chocolate inside.  We also ordered scrambled eggs and ham on toast – you can subsitute the ham for other items, including smoked salmon if you wish.  The ham was sourced from the excellent local butcher, Flock and Herd, and had a subtle smoky flavour and a tender texture that didn’t even require a knife to cut through it.  You could just gently flake it with your fork.  The eggs were creamy and flecked with chive and the toast hearty with a good amount of butter.  We also drank rather a lot of tea.

I intend to go for lunch very soon, the salads on their website look fantastic.

Petitou, 63 Choumert Road, Peckham SE15 4AR.

Petitou on Urbanspoon

Band of Bakers ‘Autumn Harvest’ Event, 24 October

Last night was our Band of Bakers ‘Autumn Harvest’ event and if, like me, autumnal fruit and veg is your thing, the opportunity to try 30 or so bakes containing them is something akin to Nirvana.  Of course, it is almost impossible to try all of the bakes (although some brave souls have tried), but I did manage quite a wide selection.  We were treated to cakes, biscuits, pies and tarts containing some beautiful autumn fruits: pears, plums, figs, blackberries and quince; and some delicious autumn vegetables, including parsnips, beetroot and squash.  The ratio of savoury to sweet was slightly higher than usual so we could all indulge under the collective pretence that we were eating a balanced meal.  In fact, my two favourite bakes of the night were savouries:  a black pudding scotch egg by Jon and a pulled pork slider with apple sauce by Sym.

It was our first event at the lovely Anderson & Co cafe in Peckham and we were very well looked after by Lisa, who kept us in local beer, great coffee and Sipsmith gin.

The recipe for my fig, ginger and spelt cake can be found here.

Below is a small selection of photographs from the event.

Fig, Ginger and Spelt cake by Gemma Gannon

Fig, Ginger and Spelt Cake by Gemma Gannon

Fig, Ginger and Spelt Cake by Gemma Gannon

Spiced Pumpkin and Walnut Cake by Corinne Svoboda

Courgette, Red Pepper and Brie Muffins by Sioned Jones

Courgette, Red Pepper and Brie Muffins by Sioned Jones

Plum, Almond and Cinnamon Crumble Cake by Naomi Knill

Plum, Almond and Cinnamon Crumble Cake by Naomi Knill

Chocolate and Raspberry ‘Squidgy’ Cakes

Blackberry Tart by Harley Beecroft

Blackberry Tart by Harley Beecroft

Cinnamon and Blackberry Cake

Cinnamon and Blackberry Cake

Chipotle Pumpkin Bread by Lauren Garland

Chipotle Pumpkin Bread by Lauren Garland

Peach and Ginger Crumble Cake by Chloe Edges

Peach and Ginger Crumble Cake by Chloe Edges [photo: Chloe Edges]

Eclairs with Chestnut Cream by Cherry Smart [photo: Cherry Smart]

Eclairs with Chestnut Cream by Cherry Smart [photo: Cherry Smart]

Pear, Ginger and Brown Butter Tartlets by Lucy Parissi [photo: Lucy Parissi]

Pear, Ginger and Brown Butter Tartlets by Lucy Parissi [photo: Lucy Parissi]

 

Spiced Chocolate and Pear Cake by Heather Jordan [photo: Heather Jordan]

Spiced Chocolate and Pear Cake by Heather Jordan [photo: Heather Jordan]