- NEWS & ACHIEVEMENTS -

2011
Delicious Magazine Recipe Feature Recipes published in Princes Trust Charity 'Trusty' Cookbook Guest panellist on UKTV Food's 'Market Kitchen' Recipes published in 'Come Dine With Me Special Occasions' book Blog named as a "Media Must-Have" in Jan & Feb issue of Olive Magazine

2010
Launch of Sabrina's one-to-one private cookery tuition Guest critic on Gordon Ramsay's 'F-Word' series finale Organised Top Chef Charity Banquet for Haiti raising £70,000 for 'Action Against Hunger' Seasonal Food & Recipe Writer for 'Blue Tomato'

2009
Winner of Channel 4's 'Come Dine With Me' (West London) 'Bronze' winner in professionally judged 'AA Home Cooking Competition 2009' Appointed resident cookery columnist for Foodepedia

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Sunday, 27 February 2011

REVIEW: 'Dinner - by Heston Blumenthal

The biggest restaurant opening of 2011 will undoubtedly remain 'Dinner - by Heston Blumenthal'. The sheer volume of reviews and write-ups about his latest venture are unlikely to be rivalled by any other restaurant opening this year and perhaps even next year. The man has achieved the kind of cult-status that Gordon Ramsay ('The Big Sweary One') could only have hoped to achieve. Bloggers, critics and journos alike have gushed about the virtues of Heston's new offering to the London restaurant scene... so much so that writing my own write up feels a tad pointless and maybe even a little repetitive. But ever the sceptical Capricorn that I am, when I hear everyone praising something excessively in unison, it just makes me more determined to see for myself if all the hype is indeed to be believed.First of all let me point out that whilst the restaurant was opened by Heston Blumenthal, it is actually Ashley Palmer-Watts who is the Chef at the helm of this operation at The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hyde Park. Ashley and his team are continuing Heston's fantastic work but in a much toned down version minus all the mind-scrambling trickery and special effects and instead, with the help of a bonafide food Historian, reviving the dishes of centuries-old Britain.Dishes can sound a bit alien to most with 'Rice and Flesh', 'Meat Fruit' and 'Salamagundy' featuring as starters; but have faith because everyone knows that whatever Heston gets behind, tends to be very magical indeed. 'Meat Fruit' has been causing quite a sensation among those who have dined here. A seemingly normal looking mandarin orange on a wooden board accompanied by slices of toasted bread, conceals a flavoursome centre of chicken liver pate enriched with foie gras and encased in a delicate mandarin jelly cutting beautifully through the rich fattiness of the pate itself. A perfect example of point and counterpoint at its finest and a wonderful dish that I could quite happily eat over and over again. 'Salamagundy', a simple salad of soft chicken oysters with quivvering slivers of bone marrow amid roasted salsify and mixed leaves was an interesting combination that worked well although couldn't possibly outshine the meat fruit of the final starter of 'Rice and Flesh'. Gory as it sounds, 'Rice and Flesh' is little more than a Risotto Milanese, buttery rich in it's ocre saffron glory, studded with meat chunks of veal tail with perfectly al-dente rice and the most perfect version of this dish that I have ever had the good fortune to taste. A definite addition to the menu of my final meal on earth.Main courses, whilst retaining the highly skilled execution and ingredient combinations you would expect of such a kitchen, didn't enthrall me in quite the same capacity as the starters. That is not to say that the dishes were not fantastic, because au contraire, they absolutely were but they were more along the lines of exemplary seasonal cooking rather than the wow-factor style that Heston is known for. And this is perhaps something that should be explained; 'Dinner by Heston Blumenthal' is not supposed to be anything like 'Fat Duck' and you should remember that when eating here, so as to avoid any potential disappointment. Our main courses of 'Powdered duck with fennel and jus' and 'Black foot pork chop with cabbage' were both very good, although whilst the duck was 'lifted' by its pairing with the fennel, my companion did leave rather a lot on her plate and when quizzed about the matter the words "fiddly" and "lacklustre" were mentioned. Not my own opinion, you understand but duck legs are not for everyone and the cooking method can impact on the smell and flavour of the duck in a way that is not to everyone's taste. However full marks for my pork chop that was cooked to perfection with a rich jus that lifted the gentle flavour of the meat beautifully.The wonderful pineapple spit-roast in the kitchen is a thing of beauty, so much so that I simply had to get into the kitchen myself to photograph them in all their rum-drenched glory. Making up part of the delightfully indulgent 'Tipsy cake', I ordered a nice glass of Hungarian Tokaji dessert wine and enjoyed every last buttery mouthful of the delicious sugar crusted bread-like cake, in it's own mini cast-iron dish accompanied by the exquisite and perfectly caramelised wedge of roasted pineapple. Another dish I would happily include on the menu for my final meal on earth.A final complimentary dish is brought to the table; a dainty little tea cup and saucer filled with an Earl Grey and white chocolate ganache accompanied by a finger sized caraway seed shortbread biscuit. What a splendidly unctuous combination, the perfect way to end such a lovely meal... even if you do have to 'waddle' out of the restaurant like a pregnant woman.

RECIPE: Polpette Napolitano (Neapolitan Meatballs)

I do love a good meatball. My local Italian deli does sell them but they are hard and made with beef and I have lost all love for them, entirely and so a few years ago I started perfecting my own recipe and (by Joe!) I have finally produced a recipe to be proud of. Italians are fiercely protective of their recipes and authenticity is valued greatly among them. Whilst I respect this completely and try my best to stick to it as much as possible, I do often feel a little gentle tweaking here and there can improve things somewhat. So my meatball recipe has just one extra added ingredient and that is rosemary; not exactly a complete fabrication on the original recipe but certainly it is my own addition. These little beauties are hugely popular with all and sundry, a great way to feed and please everyone (see pic of my friends gorgeous twin boys gorgeing themselves contently on them)

This sauce is slow cooked and made over the course of the day, so it is a perfect dish for a weekend or made the night before.

Polpette Napolitano (Neapolitan Meatballs)

300g minced beef
300g minced pork
6 fat garlic gloves (they mellow as you cook it), thinly sliced
3 teaspoons of dried rosemary
A large handful of crusty white bread (stale bread works great but no toast bread)
A little full fat milk to moisten the bread
2 medium sized eggs
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes (go the best quality ones)
8-10 ripe (over-ripe is even better!) vine tomatoes, halved and cored
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 cup of water
Good quality olive oil
Maldon sea salt
Black pepper
Parmesan **optional**

In a large cooking pot over a gentle heat (really low on gas) pour in enough oil to generously coat the bottom of the pan (about 1/2 inch) and add in your rosemary and garlic and allow the flavours to 'infuse' the oil. This means they should not be sizzling, bubbling or colouring in any way. If they are browning, remove from heat immediately, turn the temperature down even further and after 10 minutes return to the heat to finish infusing. I like to infuse the oil for at least 20 minutes before turning up the heat to medium.

Once the heat has been increased, place the fresh tomatoes cut side down into the pan and allow them to cook through for about 20 minutes making sure you stir them and break them down to prevent the garlic burning. Then add your two tins of chopped tomatoes and stir the contents of the pan well. Add the sugar, water and also about a tablespoon of crumbled Maldon sea salt and stir once again before covering with a lid, turning down the temperature slightly and allowing to simmer on a gentle heat for a few hours (3 is great). 'Gentle' is the key to success here as a high heat will mean the liquid will evaporate and sauce will start to burn. Turn off the heat after 3 hours, this is integral as when the sauce is allowed to cool, this is when the flavours truly meld and intensify.

Now for the meaballs, using a large mixing bowl, add in the beef and pork mince, eggs, another tablespoon of crumbled Maldon sea salt and some pepper. In a little bowl on the side pour some milk over your bread and allow it to absorb the milk, softening the dough through to the middle then squeeze the bread a little to get rid of some of the moisture and add the bread to the meat mixture. The using clean hands, get stuck into the mixture really kneading the meat and mixing all the ingredients evenly and well pushing the meat through your fingers until everything is evenly incorporated. Once this is done, make little meatballs the approximate size of a 10 pence piece (or a 'quarter' for my American friends). Making them this size means they don't need to be pre-cooked and can just be tossed into the sauce 20 minutes before you are ready to eat them. Refrigerate the meatballs until you need to use them... they can also be frozen at this stage if desired and are very versatile.

About 30 minutes before you want to serve dinner, reheat the tomato sauce to a medium-high heat (medium if using gas) allowing the sauce to bubble gently. Then add your meatballs into the sauce and cook for 20 minutes (or more if desired) ensuring you have a suitable accompaniment to serve with them. I like to serve a good quality spaghetti with my meatballs, but rice, roasted new potatoes or even a good hunk of rustic bread are also fantastic with them. Add a generous grating of Parmesan, if desired and then sit down and enjoy! Adults love it, kids love it and there is never an unhappy belly is the house. Buon appetito!

Saturday, 26 February 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Mark Hix - British Seasonal Food

When Chef Mark Hix struck out on his own back in 2008, he was a lesser known name to those who did not frequent the eateries of the Le Caprice Group of restaurants (including The Ivy, Le Caprice and J Sheekey) Hix opened his first restaurant 'Hix Oyster & Chop House' in Farringdon in April 2008, soon followed by 'Hix Oyster & Fish House' in Lyme Regise. October 2009 saw the birth of 'Hix' in London's West End, which opened to critical acclaim and since then the Hix empire has grown from strength-to-strength to included 'Hix at The Albermarle', 'Hix Restaurant and Champagne Bar' as well as 'Mark's Bar'. Through exposure to the nation via TV shows like Great British Menu as well as his column at The Independent, Hix has gone from Chef to culinary demi-God.

Sourcing good ingredients and using local and seasonal produce is of great importance to Hix and this beautiful book is beyond just a collection of recipes, but a month-by-month education on what kind of produce is in season and how best to use those ingredients to create something wonderful. Many of us may find some of the recipes are a bit unusual and the ingredient use can be a bit uncoventional, but shouldn't that be the point of seasonal ingredient use? There is so much that we seem to be mising out on through lack of knowledge and so much that isn't readily available to us because we don't ask for it and so there is no demand for it.

Recipes are divided into 12 sections, from January through to December. Some of my favourite recipes include 'Razor clams with wild boar bacon and hedgerow garlic' from March, 'Slow cooked pork belly with autumn squash' from September and Hix's 'Rabbit and crayfish Stargazy pie' from June, made infamous on BBC TV show 'Great British Menu. There is also plenty for those with sweet tooths including 'Gooseberry and elderflower meringue pie', 'Pear and apple cobbler with berries' and the very delicious 'Buttermilk pudding with rhubarb'.

All this and so much more, the book is truly a must-have for food lovers and seasonal produce fans alike. There is so much to be learned and much enjoyment to be had; small wonder that Mark Hix has become such a respected figure in Britain and his championing of British produce and seasonal ingredients has most definitely impacted the eating trends of our nation.

Mark Hix - British Seasonal Food, is available in all good bookshops and online at www.amazon.co.uk priced from just £9.74 (instead of £14.99)

Thursday, 24 February 2011

REVIEW: Nopi, Soho

Let me be the first to say that I am a fan of all things Ottolenghi; his cakes make regular appearances in my dreams and my final meal on earth would end in the delights of his passion fruit tartlet topped with meringue. Despite his last book 'Plenty' being entirely vegetarian (slightly disappointed as I wasn't aware) I am a loyal fan and eagerly anticipated the opening of Nopi. I visited Nopi during their soft opening, where a 50% discount was extended to all diners allowing me to try as many dishes as I liked. With my fellow Ottonlenghipiles in tow, we reviewed the menu divided simply into meat, fish, vegetable and dessert categories.Carpaccio of rose veal and beetroot with Kashk (Dried whey, a common Persian ingredient) was pretty good although the kashk was overly diluted by yoghurt and lacked the intense saltiness familiar to me. Scallops with pickled daikon radish and apple were nicely caramelised and though soft on the inside, imparted a slightly unpleasant fishy aftertaste in my mouth which felt they like had 'stewed' rather than the desired searing expected. I was more hopeful of our lamb cutlets with a spiced aubergines and goat cheese but the cutlets were rather lukewarm and although the aubergine was delicious (similar to Sicialian Caponata) it didn't do much to mask the excessively rare nature of the lamb and the worryingly solidified stretch of cold fat on one of the cutlets. Fortunately the second cutlet fared a little better and combined with the aubergine salad and a bite of the goat cheese, made for an explosion of Mediterranean flavours.
Sea bream with an accompanying salad of fresh coconut, mint and cashew was less successful; the fish was overcooked and chewy and the salad a little too bland for my liking. But the slow cooked pigs cheeks with a celeriac and barberry salad were fantastic although I find myself asking why almost every dishes comes with a salad? A nice, smooth root vegetable puree would have been a better pairing with this kind of braised meat in my opinion. Twice-cooked baby chicken with lemon myrtle salt and chilli sauce was nice but not as tender as I would have liked although the lemon myrtle salt was a zingy and aromatic revelation.

Next up came a whole ball of Burrata cheese with blood oranges topped with coriander seeds. This dish just didn't work for me; the coriander seeds interfered with the creamy (dreamy) flavour of the Burrata and the blood oranges didn't have enough of a presence to warrant being a component of the dish. I also like my Burrata to ooze; that's the whole point of Burrata. When you break it open, a cream like substance usually pours out and in this case I could only liken the cheese to a very soft-centred buffalo Mozzarella. The giant prawns with oregano, feta and fennel were excellent. Proper grown-up, meaty prawns with sharp feta cheese and a delicate tomato sauce. Excellent.

Desserts were a very different affair and not only did the dessert portion of the menu read disappointingly but the churros my companions selected were rock hard on and weighty and the look of the chocolate didn't do much to invite me to taste it. Considering Yotam Ottolenghi is a bit of a cake-God, I'm surprised to see that the sweet section of the menu consisted of little more than a Financier cake, some ice cream, quince with quince paste (overkill, perhaps?) and churros.

Overall I feel the food was a bit hit and miss and perhaps thats the trouble when you are trying to move from deli-style shops to a formal restaurant. In a deli you can afford to pay less attention to the overall cooking of meats and fish as they are often purchased cold but when cooking to order, you need to get it right. Expect to pay anywhere from £8-£12 per dish which is fine except for the fact that the dishes are "Small and good for sharing" and with 3 dishes recommended per person, plus dessert and wines, you could be heading for a rather huge bill at the end.

I do largely believe that many of the menu 'wrinkles' will be ironed out in the coming weeks and in time, the menu will evolve accordingly and find an even keel that suits both the restaurant and it's patrons. Would I go back? Yes I would but I would much prefer to go midweek for a quiet late lunch, grab a paper and head downstairs to the communal bar table and eat informally whilst I watch the chefs work there magic as I pretend to read my newspaper. Yotam Ottolenghi is a man of many talents with many successes under his belt. I sincerely hope he stays sufficiently invested and hands-on in his businesses and doesn't spread himself out too thinly as he is the real magic behind the Ottolenghi brand and without him things don't quite have the same sparkle.

Nopi - 21-22 Warwick Street, London W1B 5NE
Tel: 020 7494 9584

Monday, 21 February 2011

My Recipes In 'Come Dine With Me' Special Occasions Cook Book!

Hurrah! One of my ambitions to have my recipes in a cookery book has just been fulfilled (Tick!) The Executive Producer of Come Dine With Me, David Sayer, has just released a new cook book called 'Come Dine With Me - Special Occasions' and I was lucky enough to be selected to have my recipes published in it! YAY!

Most people got one recipe published but as my starter consisted of three dishes, I got three recipes printed! I am elated (to say the least) and I know it is only small potatoes to some, but it has made me very smiley and happy and I feel like I have achieved something that the food-loving-girl inside me had always wanted to do!

So, needless to say this is a ploy for you to buy it! IF you would like to do so then follow this link HERE to snatch your copy for just £8.79 instead of £14.99!

Enjoy!!! Hopefully one day soon, it will be my own book I will be begging you to buy!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

RECIPE: Persian 'Fesenjan' Walnut and Pomegranate Stew with Chicken

'Khoresh' or 'Khoresht' means stew in Persian. Khoresht-e-Fesenjan is a rich, glossy ragout of walnuts and pomegranate syrup with chicken, served simply with some basmati rice. Most Iranians use chicken these days and I love using thigh meat as it retains its tenderness, moisture and flavour but the old Persian recipe uses duck or even tiny little lamb meatballs, which are both equally delicious.

My best advice to you would be to make this dish from the day before really, as with Persian stews (and indeed most stews) the flavours have time to meld and intensify delivering a more superior result and a much fuller flavour. The actual preparation is easy as there really are only a few ingredients involved. This unique dish is pretty straight forward and a great favourite among Iranians so I hope you will try this recipe. Many of my friends have and they love it and I know you will too.

Khoresht-e-Fesenjan (Walnut, Pomegranate and Chicken Stew) (Serves 6-8)

Ingredients
8 chicken thighs (skin on or off, your choice)
1 large (or 2 small) onions
550g of walnuts, finely ground in a food processor
1 tablespoon of plain flour
3 tablespoons of caster sugar
300ml of pomegranate syrup
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of Maldon sea salt flakes
Water

Method
You will need two large (and deep) cooking pans for this. Preheat them both on a medium heat and add oil into on of them and fry your onions until translucent and beginning to brown. Then season your chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and add them to the onions, turning the temperature up and stirring the pan well to ensure you seal the chicken well, then turn off the heat and set aside.

In your other pan, add your plain flour and almost ‘toast’ it a little bit until is becomes a pale beige in colour. Then add your walnuts and fry the mixture through a little. You won’t need oil as the walnuts themselves have a high fat content. After about 5 minutes, add about 2 pints of cold water, stir well and bring the mixture to a slow boil. Cover with a lid and allow to bubble for about an hour on a low-medium heat. This process will ‘cook’ the walnuts and you will see oil rise to the surface after an hour, which means it’s cooked through.

Add the sugar and pomegranate syrup to the mix and stir well for about a minute. Take your time to stir in pomegranate syrup as its thick consistency means it takes a while to fully dissolve into the stew. Then add the contents of your other pan into the walnut and pomegranate mixture, add enough water onto the mix to cover the contents and slow cook on a low temperature for approximately 2 hours, stirring thoroughly once every so often to ensure you lift the walnuts from the bottom of the pan so they don’t burn.

As this stage, what initially looked beige has now turned into a rich, dark, almost chocolatey looking mixture. The flavour is deep and sweet with a nutty texture and a wonderfully gentle acidity that cuts right through the richness of the dish, almost rinsing your palate after every mouthful. Serve with a steaming mound of basmati rice and find a corner to enjoy your meal in peace, because this dish deserves nothing short of 100% of your undivided attention.

MARKETING GONE MAD: 'Pussy' Energy Drink

What were they thinking? I saw an ad for this tastelessly named beverage in a food magazine and I just fell about laughing. What on earth made them think people would be willing to drink 'Pussy'? I actually feel very crude just saying the word... SHOCKING! Anyway, it's real and it contains milk thistle, the benefits of which are not immediately obvious to me.

But, it's all in good fun. Well, unless they bring a sibling beverage out and name it something similarly naughty. Suggestions on a post card to the usual address please!

REVIEW: Fesenjan London

A good friend of mine who runs a wonderful Persian food stall called 'Black Lime' at Broadway Market in Hackney mentioned there was a new Persian restaurant (perhaps 'canteen' is a better way to describe it) in Hackney, E8. 'Fesenjan' for the non-Iranians/Persians among you is a rich Persian stew, thick and glossy with an unctuous chocolately consistency but made with walnuts, pomegranate molasses and either chicken, duck or tiny little meatballs. It is a firm favourite among us Iranians and for the recipe of this classic dish CLICK HERE

Now back to the story... 'Fesenjan London' has sprung from nowhere serving an uncomplicated menu with a handful of Persian dishes including various rice dishes, stews and delicious wraps and side dishes as well. Feeling compelled to visit, I hopped in a taxi and wound my way over to 'Netil House' where 'Fesenjan London' can be found.

A metal door and bizarre steering wheel (pictured above) are how you know you have found the right place. You press '0' to enter and wait to be buzzed in. Then take the stairs two flights up past lots of quirky little offices, storage rooms and workshops where budding fashion designers and artists have set up shop. The dining room reminded me of a classroom but with the added bonus of a kitchen, of course. The menu du jour included 'Zereshk Polow' a basmatic rice dishes studded with sour barberries (usually fried in butter and some sugar to sweeten) carefully mixed in to the rice along with saffron and some chicken on the side. There are two stews of Khoresht-e-Karafs (A celery and herb stew usually with lamb, but vegetarian in this instance) and Khoresht-e-Gheymeh (a stew of split peas, dried limes and lamb). Also on the menu are Kotlet, which are usually patties of minced lamb with potatoes, breaded and gently fried but today's patties were somewhat different, although still very delicious.

Overall 'Fesenjan London' is a what I would class as a wonderfully gentle introduction to Persian food and for those who are completely unfamiliar with this kind of cuisine, I would highly recommend 'Fesenjan London' as your first stepping stone. The further bonus is that prices are ridiculously good value with no dish costing more than £7 and even better is that all their meat is free range (You know I love this!) and locally sourced AND they have a fully licensed bar. Just beware that they are only open from Monday-Friday 12pm-5pm.

Persian cuisine is definitely an unexplored cuisine in the Western world... But with the help of the people behind 'Fesenjan London' and 'Black Lime' at Broadway Market, we can help push it forward because the tastes and flavours are uniquely delicious and not spicy/offensive in anyway. There is so much that the world seems to be missing out on in our opinion... Persian food has been one of the world's best kept secrets and now we are all ready to shout about it and share it with the world!

For more information and menus for 'Fesenjan London' visit their website at: http://www.fesenjan.co.uk/

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

TREND ALERT: #MeatEasy ~ The Perfect Burger?

#MeatEasy (yes, there is a '#' in it's official name) has done what very few burger joints have managed and has gone completely and utterly viral. Spreading like wild fire through the blogging community, newspapers and magazines... some people bill #MeatEasy as home to "Possibly the best burger ever created".

Always one whose curious is peaked by uber-trends, I joined some fellow foodies to pay homage to #MeatEasy and experience this fiendish cult-status burger for myself.
#MeatEasy's location is a room above an empty New Cross pub called Goldsmith's; not exactly a chic destination and call me a snob but unfamiliar areas of London at night in the pissing rain, scare the freakin' hell out of me. A helpful sign points out "Congratulations... you have found #MeatEasy" and once inside, the room is vast and you take a ticket and once your number is called, you can place your order. Beware that there is a maximum of 3 items per person but drinks come seperately from the rather swish cocktail bar, where there is no menu or cocktail list but the lovely Ramon will create something special to suit your taste.

A burger and chips totals a tenner, which for the quality of meat that you get in return is pretty darn good value. The menu is simple, with fries, onion rings, coleslaw and macaroni cheese and of course several different burgers, including "The Dead Hippy" as well as chilli cheese hot dogs and Philly cheese steaks. The room was packed, with scores of people trying to find somewhere (anywhere) to perch and gobble down their burgers... but the million dollar question will have to be IS THIS the best burger in the world? In my humble opinion, I would have to say... probably not. But it is a damn good burger and maybe one of the top 3 in the country (Bar Boulud coming in 1st, #MeatEasy ranking 2nd and my own burgers coming in 3rd)

#MeatEasy is ONLY open until the end of March, so hurry!

#Meateasy - First Floor, Goldsmiths Tavern, 316 New Cross Rd SE14 6AF

Monday, 14 February 2011

RECIPE: Mint and Spice-Rubbed Lamb Cutlets

In a nod to my heritage, I bring you a simple lamb dish that can be pre-prepared from the nigh before or simply spice-rubbed 15 minutes before you cook them in the oven. We Iranians love using fresh mint and dried mint in our cookery. Fresh mint produces a wonderful, almost Alpine-fresh, minty coolness whilst dried mint imparts a warm, woody mint-heat that we combine with yoghurt and add to salads also.

This is such an easy supper and lately I have been doing a lot of cooking for friends and lamb seems to be a well-liked meat amongst my peers so I always try and come up with a new and interesting way in which to season/marinade it. Spice rubs are one of my favourite ways to impregnanate flavour onto meat; wet marinades are all very well but often fiddly, smelly and messy so this kind of flavouring works perfectly for me when I'm feeling lazy.

Mint and Spice-Rubbed Lamb Cutlets
6-8 lamb cutlets/chops
2 heaped teaspoons of dried mint
2 heaped teaspoon of dried cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon of cinammon powder
1 heaped teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 heaped teaspoon of garlic powder
A generous drizzle of olive oil
**oven paper**

Place your lamb cutlets into a large bowl and empty all your spices, mint and oil before mixing well and giving each cutlet a good rub with the spices and mint ensuring each one gets an even coasing. Leave overnight or use straight away. Preheat your oven on to it's highest temperature or even better, if you have a grill then please use it! Line an oven tray with oven paper and once your oven is nice and hot, roast or grill your cutlets for 8-10 minutes each side. Grill takes less time and produce a much better result but the oven version is still a great 2nd. BBQ-ing the lamb cutlets would produce the most fantastically charred result! Perfect with potatoes, rice or a little salad on the side. Actually wait... salad is for wimps! Potatoes and rice it is!

REVIEW: Cocochan, James Street W1

As yet another pan-Asian eatery joins the throngs of others that already in existence in London, I made a beeline for newly opened 'Cocochan' restaurant, tucked away behind Selfridges in the tourist-trap-restaurant-clad street leading to St Christophers Place.

At first glance, I did feel that the 2 bouncers and the guestlist girl on the door was a bit much… after all Cocochan isn't exactly Chinawhite club for heaven's sake. Inside, the PR girls hover from table to table standing over guests as they dine. It's all too much for me because all I wanted to do was sit, eat and get out.

The first table we were seated at was right next to the door with gusts of freezing wind bursting through each time the door opened. A table move found us seated at a cosy corner table that despite appearances, seemed to have an inexplicable constant vibration. The wall and floor also vibrating vigourously as if the floor beneath concealed some sort of buzzing nuclear generator. Resting my arm on the table resulted in said arm going completely numb; when I asked the staff why the table was vibrating, I was told “But it's a good vibration, no???” I politely reassured them that it was rather more of an uncomfortable, unpleasant vibration. A perfectly bizarre response to my suggestion of discomfort, I felt.

A reduced menu was the order of the day; I'm told the Chef was in New York and so they were only offering a reduced menu until next week; lucky old me, eh? The usual Pan-Asian suspects appear on the menu making it a hybrid of Hakkasan, E&O and Ping Pong all rolled into one. Duck and watermelon salad was not unpleasant, garnished with a purple edible flower (I'm thinking this kind of detail won't last very long) but the duck was tasty, chunky and not fried to death like many crispy duck salads tend to be.

Chilean Seabass and chilli bean dumplings were melt in the mouth encased in green rice pastry but with the curious addition of semi-cooked carrot replacing the chilli bean; placed not in the seabass filling itself but actually on the pastry. The ‘XO’ prawn dumplings did not deliver and had a very heavy pastry casing with a tough seafood centre. The scallop and prawn dumplings topped with tobiko fared somewhat better, but still not a patch on the delicate offerings of Hakkasan.

Our last dish of Hamachi, tobiki with a truffled mirin dressing was a bit of a disaster. There was no tobiko to be found anywhere on the plate and the truffle was a distant flavour in the background, not enough to warrant the hefty £8.75 price tag for five coin-sized slivers of Hamachi. What completely overpowered the delicate flesh of the fish was the addition of raw shards of green beans that attacked and killed off any remnant of fish/truffle flavour in your mouth and certainly weren't mentioned as part of the meal.

Overall the experience was ok… but its abundantly clear to see that they are trying way too hard already to build an air of exclusivity on site when if they could simply brush up on a couple of dishes and pay a little more attention to preparation and ingredient use, they will probably do quite well in the long term. The staff are really very nice if not a tad too over-ethusiastic (a syndrome on new eateries) but they would do good to observe the term ‘less-is-more’ at Cocochan and peel away the PR girls, bouncers and door bunnies, fix the inexplicably vibrating tables and concentrate on serving simple pan-asian fare. Because the reality is that with Ping-Pong literally across the road, the competition looks to be stiff!

Cocochan - James Street, London W1
www.cocochan.co.uk

Saraban - By Greg & Lucy Malouf

When first I heard that Greg and Lucy Malouf were planning to release a Persian cookery book, admittedly I was somewhat sceptical. Well I am Persian myself afterall and the idea that a Lebanese man and an Australian woman were putting together a book on Persian cookery, just didn't sit right with me at the beginning... even if they do happen to write some of my favourite cookery book titles to date!

Once you see the book (All 337 pages of it) you will see that it is not just a simple cookery book but a journal of travel, culture, tradition, history and cookery of a country that most people can only associate with whatever Islamic threat is trendy that day or perhaps the movie '300' or, if we are lucky, Persian Carpets (Cats and Caviar). But there are a great many culinary secrets from Persia that have not yet been shared with the world; Exotic ingredients, spices, fruits and nuts that have impacted the cookery of many countries and cultures such as the Mughal Empire of India as well as Morocco and many Arab countries throughout the middle east.

The great thing about Saraban is the sheer extent of travelling that Greg and Lucy did in order to create this beautiful book. They explored Iran from the north down to the south and spent time in restaurants, homes and saffron fields exploring all that this mystical country has to offer. By their own admission, they learned things they never would have thought they would have during their time in Iran. The book contains a unique collection of regional recipes, the variety of which you will never see in any other Persian cookery book. The images are strikingly beautiful and give readers a rare glimpse at what modern day Iran is really like; politics aside, it is the land of plenty. Perfect summers and snow-white winters, wonderful produce in every corner and rich in culture as well as historical wonder with the Persian Empire being one of the largest and farthest spreading Empires ever to exist in history.

I met the lovely Greg and Lucy last week at Fortnum and Mason; they were doing a talk and cookery demonstration for a select group of food lovers. I was nervous for them as many members of the audience were Iranian and we can be pretty harsh judges but what does need to be said is that what Greg and Lucy are doing to the raise the profile of Persian cookery and draw attention to the diverse flavours, ingredients and culture of Iran, is a fantastic thing that deserves applause. Iran is not within the comfort zone of many people and by encouraging people to explore Persian food, they champion the country and traditions of a country filled with plenty of friendly, hospitable people. The dishes being made for the audience included 'Ash-e-esfenaj ba koofteh' (Spinach soup with meatballs), classic Persian rice with 'tahdig' (Basmati rice with crispy, golden rice crust) and a completely unfamiliar dish from the north of Iran 'Mahi-e-mast-o-gerdu' (Yoghurt baked fish with a walnut crust). If you want to know more about these and all the other wonderful, regional and unique dishes of my beautiful country, then you will have to order yourself a copy of Saraban and sit back one weeekend and take it all in.

Saraban - By Greg and Lucy Malouf, should be the next book to add to your collection. It's beautiful, vibrant and brimming with stories and recipes that are unlike anything you will have ever seen before. Persian New Year (Ayd-e-Nowrouz) falls on Sunday March 20th this year, so perhaps you can polish up on a few recipes and celebrate with the rest of us and say "Ayd-e-Shoma Mobarak!"

Sunday, 6 February 2011

RECIPE: Chorizo Brunch Skillet

I always keep a ring of Chorizo sausage in the fridge because in a pinch, it will enable you to produce a fabulous meal in minutes! So as I have a house full of girlfriends who had flown in to stay with me, Chorizo along with a few eggs became my saviour.

This simple dish is as colourful and tasty as it is filling. The recipe is straight forward and for those who aren't so great in the kitchen, this is a winning recipe and here it is:

Chorizo Brunch Skillet (serves 4)

1 ring of Chorizo (M&S and all supermarkets sell them, chopped/diced
8 eggs
5 spring onions, sliced
100g Gruyere cheese, finely grated

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. In a large heavy-based non-stick pan (which should be oven proof) over a medium heat, lightly fry your Chorizo sausage but not so it browns just so all the oils are released. Beat your eggs and pour a handful of your grated cheese into the raw eggs and mix well. Then pour the eggs into the pan, add your chopped spring onions and give it a quick stir so the ingredients are evenly distributed. Then sprinkle the rest of the grated cheese on top of the eggs (see inage above) and cook for another 6-8 minutes before placing in the oven for 5 minutes.

Remove from oven and serve with a nice hunk of crusty bread. Simple, delicious and really quick.

SPECIAL MENTION: Kopapa Cafe - Covent Garden

Where I normally 'review' most restaurants I go to, Chef and Godfather of Fusion cookery Peter Gordon's Kopapa Cafe deserves a special mention as it is literally the first place in London that I wishes was located right next to my house. Reason? Because on weekend, this is just the kind of place where I could happily indulge in breakfast/brunch or a languid lunch with friends and family. The menu is absolutely superb with a wide variety of breakfast and lunch dishes that are truly captivating and exotic. Along with the more traditional breakfast dishes, you can get 'Turkish eggs' a wonderful dish I had when in Istanbul. For those wanting to avoid the key breakfast ingredients, why not try a mouth-watering seared tuna with a side of papaya salad? This clicks of ruby seared tuna with a sweet and citrusy dressing.

There is a delightful little counter bar where you can get full service and watch the friendly staff conjure up magical smoothies and exotic blends of juices using Tamarillo, Kiwi and the like... On display in the corner are 3 mini-mountains of baked goods including blueberry and white chocolate muffins, chorizo and feta cheese muffins and HANDS-DOWN the most amazing date scones you will ever try.

The coffee is absolutely superb and in such a touristy neighbourhood as Covent Garden, you will be hard pushed to find better coffee and with 2 Greeks and a Polish friend in tow, I can't afford to go anywhere where the coffee is dreadful! Overall the whole experience was such so unhurried and pleasurable and the staff are beyond attentive and accommodating.

Don't wait to be in the area to try Kopapa, because if its a great meal you are after then Kopapa is a one stop shop.

Kopapa Cafe - 32-34 Monmouth Street, Seven Dials, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9HA
www.kopapa.co.uk/

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

RECIPE: Banana, Dark Chocolate & Walnut Muffins

As much as I am a Bake-o-phobe, I'm pretty sure I have mastered a foolproof recipe for muffins that is basically versatile enough to accommodate any variety of ingredients from blueberries (CLICK HERE for my blueberry muffin recipe), dried fruit and even savoury muffins. So when I was stuck with an enormous bag of untouched and overripe bananas, I devoted a whole Sunday to baking stacks and stacks of these tasty little treats for my colleagues at work.

In my humble opinion a muffin should be light and airy; I often find muffins to either be dense, heavy, 'concuss-someone-if-you-threw-it-at-their-head' affairs... or even worse, they are so packed full of sugar, preservatives or fats that they resemble an eternally-moist, gluey mass that sticks to the roof of your mouth and once digested, eventually reforms again as a giant claggy lump of dough in the pit of your stomach! This is not a good muffin people... this is un-natural! Freshly baked muffins have a certain shelf life and I would not expect them to be very palatable after 48 hours (if stored correctly), which is how freshly baked goods should be!

Without further a do, here is my super simple recipe for gorgeously, good muffins to gorge yourself silly on and even better they barely contain any butter and only 100g of sugar for all 12 muffins! If that's not good nutrition, then I don't know what is!

Banana, Dark Chocolate and Walnut Muffins (Makes 12 muffins)

325g plain flour
3 heaped teaspoons of baking soda
50g melted butter
2 tspns of good quality vanilla essence
100g of golden caster sugar
1 large free-range egg
150g dark choc chips
100g of walnuts, roughly broken in half
3 very ripe large bananas (or 6 small ones) mashed thoroughly
250ml of semi-skimmed milk
Couple of pinches of Maldon sea salt, crushed

**Muffin tray, muffin cases**

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees (180 if fan assisted) and place a muffin case in each of the 6 holes in your baking tray.

Mix all your dry ingredients well together, then in a seperate bowl beat the egg, milk and vanilla essence together and add the melted butter to it. (TIP: If the milk is cold, the butter will instantly solidify, in which case microwave the liquid for about 15 seconds to resolve) Then add the liquids into the dry ingredients and follow by adding your mashed bananas, chocolate chips and walnut pieces but DO NOT over mix the batter or try to get it perfectly smooth as this will make heavy muffins and not the lovely light ones we are trying to achieve.

Divide the mixture into your 12 muffin cases and bakes for 18-20 minutes (leave a centimetre gap from the top of the muffin case) and using a toothpick, poke them through the centre to check if they are cooked (which they will be!)... if the toothpick comes out clean of batter, then they are cooked. If you are freedy like me, you will wolf a hot, oozy chocolatey muffin down seconds after it comes out of the oven... But if you are sensible, you will allow the muffins to cool for about 10 minutes before serving warm. Make a proper pudding of them by serving with lashings of hot (or cold, if you're anything like me) vanilla bean custard or vanilla ice cream.