Sunday, January 23, 2011

Time for a chicken kiev revival?

I had possibly the weirdest meal of the year (meaning the last 12 months, not 2011) this week at Borscht'n'Tears, a Knightsbridge restaurant I thought had vanished into the mists of time.

It appears not. It's apparently a favourite hangout for fun-loving Russians who have such a good time that they regularly destroy the furniture. (When I complained that my chair seemed about to fall apart the surly manager said "Everyone is dronk when they come here")

They do however do a mean Chicken Kiev, a dish that used to be the star of the M & S chill counter. It actually got so bland that I think even M & S ready meal fans got fed up with it and seems to have fallen into disfavour but you can see from the pic that this is a very fine specimen, stuffed with garlic (well you can't see that but take my word for it) and fried to a lovely crisp mahogany brown. It even has the wing bone left in in the classic manner.

Now I can't really recommend you to try it as my colleague felt very sick the next day. But surely some trendsetting restaurateur will take the hint and bring it back? (Or if you want to attempt one yourself - and I think I might - here are some useful hints from Times cook Lindsey Bareham)

Have you had a chicken kiev lately - or ever made one? Would you like to see it back on restaurant menus?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Frijolemole - my sneaky new addiction

My husband, who likes a good bargain, came back with a tub of Tesco's Frijolemole yesterday which is on a 2 for £2 deal. And I have to admit it's brilliant for a ready-made spread.

In the words of the package it's a 'creamy chickpea and cannellini bean dip with coriander, chilli and cumin' and has a really good chilli and coriander kick. Of course once you look on the back there's a lengthy list of ingredients but none is particularly noxious (it's based on mayo and sour cream). And it hit the spot perfectly smothered on crostini with an early evening glass of South African Sauvignon Blanc.

I thought the name Frijolemole was conjured up by Tesco's marketing department, but apparently not. Even Delia has a version but when you tot up the ingredients it would probably cost at least as much to make. Possibly worth it for a party, though if you get the frijolemole habit. Or when the price goes up as it inevitably will.

The product was a winner in the 2010 Quality Food Awards btw so it's not just me.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Smacked cucumber and other Sichuanese delicacies

I had one of my best Chinese meals ever last week with food writer Fuchsia Dunlop, award-winning author of Sichuan Cookery. I guess it's partly because I've never had really good Sichuanese food before but it was certainly up there with some of the great Cantonese meals I had in Hong Kong before the handover. (Which makes me sound like an old colonial hand. I simply went on a short visit there back in 1995)

We'd been talking for a while about getting together to taste Chinese food and wine (you'll have to wait a couple of weeks for that report) but it was the dishes at Bar Shu, the Soho restaurant where she acts as consultant that really grabbed me. Mind you, if someone like Fuchsia can't order the most interesting dishes on the menu who can?

Top of the list, partly because of the name but also it's great to see such an underrated vegetable given star billing was a dish of smacked cucumber with Sichuan preserved vegetable, rice vinegar and sesame paste (above). Fuchsia says she hasn't got a recipe for that version yet but I suspect it will be in her next book and you can apparently find a slightly fierier Hunanese version in her Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook.

We also ate (among other things) Northern Sichuan pea-starch jelly in a spicy black bean sauce . . .

. . . preserved duck eggs. I was slightly worried about these but they were delicious - like a very delicate-tasting hard-boiled egg . . .

. . . Numbing and hot sliced beef spiked with Sichuan pepper which creates a tingling sensation on the palate . . .

. . . mapo doufu or pock-marked old woman’s beancurd - an unflattering description for a really tasty dish . . .

. . . stuffed beancurd in a fish-fragrant sauce (would never have thought I could get so excited by beancurd) . . .

. . . and fragrant chicken with chillies which despite the scary-looking quantity of chillies was not searingly hot. You had to fish into them to find the little nuggets of chicken.

The real revelation was how varied the dishes were - what Fuchsia aptly described as a 'roller-coaster ride'. Not easy for wine but a really great way to eat Chinese. And cucumber for that matter.

* I ate at Bar Shu as a guest of the restaurant.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A clever wheeze from Toptable Spotlight

I have to admit I’ve never been a big fan of the restaurant booking site Top Table. The deals never seem good enough or the restaurants interesting enough to tempt me. But they’ve launched a clever new scheme called Toptable Spotlight where they put up a cut price deal each Wednesday with a really big discount.

Today they kick off with one of my favourite restaurants Rowley Leigh’s Le Café Anglais. Favourite because I love the style of food, they have a great wine list, you can take anyone of any age there (I often eat there with my daughter) and it’s within walking distance of Paddington station so I can easily make it for lunch or supper before staggering home to Bristol.

You can buy £40 of food for £20 which is a good deal because it’s not tied - as these offers normally are - to the early evening or lunchtime (when you can admittedly already get a 2 course meal for £18.50). And you can use the voucher at any time over the next six months. (Apparently 12 now, they say)

The only snag is you can only use one voucher per table which makes it rather more useful for two than for four or more. It also doesn’t include the service charge or - more obviously - wine and ‘can’t be used in conjunction with any other offer’ so presumably not for the fixed price lunchtime deals.

The deal stays open for 36 hours (another 23 hours 37 minutes at the time of writing) and there will be another one somewhere else next week.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

January's blogroll (2011)

New Year, new blogs. I hope you enjoy this regular feature as much as I do. It’s fun dipping into a few blogs on a regular basis and really getting to know them. I can always tell the ones I enjoy most when I miss them and have to go hunting for them. (Yes, I know I should have put them on an RSS feed or Google Reader but as you’ll see from the last post I’ve just discovered the app Blogshelf which is a much more gratifying way of reading them).

Things Organised Neatly
Discovered (just a few minutes ago) through Twitter thanks to Paris-based cookery writer Trish Deseine, this stunning Tumblr hosted blog created by US design student Austin Radcliffe isn’t restricted to food but shows pictures of perfectly placed objects. My life is so far from this you wouldn’t believe but I can dream . . .

Smitten Kitchen
Many of you will already be familiar with this blog from one of the States’ big food blogging stars Deb who "likes bourbon, artichokes, things that taste like burnt sugar and baked goods with funny names" but it’s worth flagging up for those of you who don’t. A good read, great recipe ideas and drool-over photography. What more do you want? (A book? There will be one in 2012)

One good blog leads to another and I discovered Lobstersquad through an interview with Deb in Serious Eats. It’s written and charmingly illustrated by Spanish illustrator Ximena Maier who lives in Scotland (och! That must be hard given the weather this winter. However she must have lived or worked in Britain or Spain - her English is perfect - so maybe she’s used to it.) Some really nice ideas such as a quick way of cooking red cabbage in a pressure cooker.

Love that Languedoc
As I’ve mentioned before we have a house in the Languedoc and this is a new - or new to me - wine blog I’ve discovered by another young American Ryan O’Connell who makes wine with his parents at Domaine O'Vineyards (love the name!) Not that regularly updated but an object lesson for wineries on how to use social media. He’s also published an interesting ebook on their appellation Cabardès.