Sunday, 31 March 2013

SWEDEN: eating in Stockholm

winding cobbled lanes of Gamla Stan
Sweden is a country I’ve longed to visit for some time; particularly its capital of fourteen islands, Stockholm.

I’ve only ever heard great things about the quality of life here – one of the most unpolluted cities in the whole of Europe with waters so clean you can, and are actively invited to, fish for salmon in them. Imagine that, fishing for salmon within a capital city – no need for a permit. 

And on the note of salmon, the Swedes don’t half love the stuff. I’ve eaten more of it raw and cured, enjoying its unmistakable deep orange pink flesh in the past four days than I have in the past six months – I believe my annual omega 3 quota has been fulfilled.

When in Stockholm you are never far from water; usually serenely calm and in our case reflecting the brilliant unbroken sunshine and blue skies for the full duration of our stay.

Imposing and statuesque medieval and Renaissance buildings jostling for space on the gently rippling surfaces were interrupted by solitary shards of ice floating between the islands from the winter just passed. Yellow ochre plaster of the towering 18th century buildings line the steep cobbled lanes of Stockholm’s old town, Gamla Stan. 

To the east lies the large and green island of Djurgården - former royal hunting grounds and heavily wooded, forming the northern side of Stockholm harbour. Prolific with the signs of early spring – crocuses and snowdrops huddling in colourful groups against the early morning frost amongst newly emerging grass; red squirrels with their tufty ears galloping like little dogs across pathways, up trees and onto Matt’s head; great tits and blue tits perching on my finger tips to feed straight from my hand. 

To the south lies Södermalm (where we stayed), rising steeply from the water and is something of a city in itself with its own character, charm and dialect. The slopes are lined with old wooden cottages providing an unrivalled view of Stockholm along with a plethora of restaurants and bars and a lively night life.

An integral part of any international visit I make is sampling the typical local dishes. It was the promise of pickled herrings, meatballs, s
mörgåsbords  gravadlax, dense rye breads, Swedish coffee and cinnamon buns that was the deciding factor for the next city break to cross off the list. 

I’m pleased to say this rather charming city with its abundant and fit waterside joggers, edgy fashion sense, good looking waiting staff and air pure enough to clean out these London lungs did not disappoint. I’ll share a little about my culinary experiences whilst staying here.

water side buildings of Strandvägen in Östermalm

Money Money Money*

One thing you may have heard about Stockholm is that it can be pricey. 

People have provided similar warnings about a lot of cities I’ve visited – New York, Reykjavik, even my home town of London itself – none of which I’ve found to be particularly expensive. This isn’t because I have bottomless pockets but because these preconceptions are often simply down to a lack of research. 

Spend a few minutes of pre-planning and it’s not difficult to locate and plot on your Google maps good value places to eat that the locals themselves would frequent, going against the grain of typical tourist traps and their inflated prices and often poor quality grub. 

But I’ll tell you what, I may well have been defeated in Stockholm. Eating here is expensive. We’re talking on average around £20-£25 for one plate of food at dinner time i.e. the main course. If you’re after something focussed around a steak or perhaps a fillet of elk with some vegetables, we’re talking £30 plus. Add to that starters or dessert and alcohol at around £6 for a glass of wine or pint of beer and your bill will soon tot up.

It's not that these restaurants are particularly high-end, it's just that these are the average prices of eateries in Stockholm. The only cheap eats that really exist are McDonald’s, Burger King, or hot dog stands. So my advice would be to just accept the prices early on and get over it – it’s the only way you’ll enjoy yourself. 

But also, bear in mind this one tip that can go some way in helping you to try and get round the swift departure of your well-earned krona; it seems to be something both tourists and locals alike partake in. Eat your second (after breakfast) and final meal of the day in the late afternoon, say around 3-4pm

Restaurants tend to have lunch menus available until this time which serve similar if not the same food as in the evenings, but for quite a lot cheaper. This tactic worked nicely for us as we filled our bellies with such gusto for breakfast that we weren’t hungry until about 3pm anyway. Punctuate these two main meals with a Swedish coffee and a cinnamon bun (£5-£6) for a fika at some point (see below) and you will be more than satiated for the day.

*ABBA reference intended


I’ve mentioned it before in this post about how much I look forward to and actively revel in the joys a hearty breakfast can provide. Once decided upon a destination, our hotel choice almost entirely comes down to the range and quality of breakfast on offer. I don’t want scrambled eggs and baked beans on cellophaned white bread – I can get that easily enough in London. I want to make like the locals and eat like they do. And the breakfast at our hotel certainly delivered.

If presented with foods that are not a standard in your daily consumption, it always takes at least the first day in a hotel to work out what you like over everything else. And it’s then this combination that you’ll tend to stick to or hover around for the remainder of your stay. But you should try everything on offer before you decide – one of my pet hates are people who won’t try something before deciding they don’t like it. How on earth do you know you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it? Looking at it is not enough.

My pick of the breads available included a freshly baked large loaf of mostly white flour and I suspect enriched with butter or eggs - it had a wonderfully flavoursome chewy crust and an open and light texture. 

There was also a dark and dense rye with a sticky glaze, each slice punctuated with generous chunks of walnuts. And my goodness this bread was impressive – every time I had a bite I felt the urge to declare yet again just how good it was, having already exclaimed it every morning, several times. 

On a large slice of the former I smashed up a soft boiled egg and topped it with crispy bacon rashers. On the rye I spread cream cheese, layered thickly cut succulent chunks of moist cured salmon, and topped it off with pickled gherkins and a twist of pepper. I looked forward to the salmon on rye as early as dinner the night before – that’s when you know you have a good thing going at breakfast. 

With these I also had a bowl of fruit, a cup of Rooibos (while the Swedes do excellent coffee, they also love their tea – a vast range available in every café), a shot of the home made smoothie available that morning (my favourite was the raspberry, strawberry, ginger and rhubarb combination),  and washed it all down with an excellent cappuccino and croissant.

Three slices of dense rye with cream cheese, salmon
and gherkins. Soft boiled egg and bacon on the loaf.
My assembled concoctions, along with a bowl of fruit,
shot of home made smoothie and cup of Rooibos

All finished off with an excellent Swedish cappuccino
and an oversized croissant

You would be correct in thinking that this is quite a lot of food for one sitting. But as the saying goes, 'breakfast li
ke a King..'. It certainly met the criteria of adequately fuelling us for most of the day ahead whilst still being completely delicious.

Mariatorget 3, Stockholm (Södermalm)

'Fika' - the Swedish coffee break

fika or to fika - you decide as it can be used as both a noun and a verb. The fact the Swedes have a specific expression to describe their institution of taking a break to socially interact with friends, family or colleagues over coffee demonstrates that this is a pastime to be taken seriously.

According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), Sweden ranks second in the world after Finland in terms of coffee consumption per person, and it is through fika that this coffee drinking culture is fostered.

Fika is often enjoyed with freshly baked pastries such as cinnamon buns (kanelbullar), collectively called fikabröd. What makes the concept of fika so intriguing to us foreigners is the sheer frequency at which it is observed each day

It’s apparently not uncommon to grab a cup of coffee after breakfast, after lunch, before dinner and after dinner. This tradition is an opportunity for Swedes to set aside a few moments each day for quality bonding over coffee, and it’s a tradition I fully support.

We found a great little place to fika on the island our hotel was on, Södermalm. Gildas Rum was packed full of clientèle when we entered, but we managed to nab two armchairs and a little table in a cosy corner of the room. 

The décor is stylishly kitschy, with muted red and gold tones and the bookshelf pattern on the wallpaper and those comfy armchairs lend the feeling of an old-fashioned reading room. The counter was heaving with home-baked goods of which I decided upon a square of brownie. And hands down, this was the best brownie I’ve ever tasted – gooey, deliciously dark, speckled with chunks of walnuts and topped with some sort of chocolate cream. 

It went perfectly with yet another very good coffee. An excellent venue to rest weary feet after a day of meandering across the city.

Skånegatan 79, Stockholm (Södermalm)

Swedish meatballs

One of the main reasons anyone pays a visit to Ikea is not to fulfil a burning desire to ogle flat pack MDF and buy tea lights, but to eat the meatballs in their restaurant. Few would dispute that they're pretty good (whether they contain horse meat or not - which I don't have a problem with, incidentally). 

But you haven't tasted true Swedish meatballs until you've eaten them in Sweden. And after a bit of research and review reading to source the most favoured meatball establishment in Stockholm, I decided upon Pelikan. Assisting with this decision was the visit paid by Anthony Bourdain in his 'No Reservations' episode on Stockholm - if he went, it must be good.

The high-ceilinged
interiors of Pelikan

Pelikan is regarded as somewhat of an establishment in the city and serves traditional Swedish fare through and through in its rustic, high-ceilinged beer hall setting. There's a lot of wood and waiters in black and white suits to help ease you into the warm atmosphere of its old world charm. 

The menu is brief, I always regard this as a good sign of the quality of what's on offer. Do what you do well, and leave it there. I also suspect it hasn't changed for years, and why should it when locals and tourists alike regularly fill out its seating area. 

Starters consist of the ubiquitous pickled herrings, roe with eggs and anchovies, soups or duck sausage. 

We decided to share a plate of the assorted pickled herring and cheese (£12). It included herring in a sweet dill sauce, herring in cream and chives and herring with red onion and seasoned with pepper. In the middle of the plate was a soft boiled potato and the cheese was speckled with something slightly sweet, perhaps lingonberry. Whilst conservative in its portion, this was a tasty little appetiser to ready us for the main to come. 

The mains on offer include cured salmon with dill and potatoes, potato dumplings, Swedish hash with eggs and beets, boiled knuckle of pork (what Tony had on his show), spring lamb in red wine, and a schnitzel of veal. But of course, we came specifically for the meatballs. And at £20 for a portion, I was expecting great things.

What I probably wasn't expecting was the sheer mass of what I was presented with. I had heard the Swedes were generous with their portions (and I do wonder if this is an attempt to appease the high prices of their food in general), but these were almost laughable. 

Four huge and dense meatballs on both of our plates, each the size of a snooker ball. Served with pickles, wonderfully sweet and slightly tart stewed lingonberries (mostly whole rather than saucy) to cut through the weight of the plate, and a dish of soft smooth mash. 

Estimating, I reckon there was about 350-400g of meat there. Think of a pack of mince you purchase in a supermarket being 400g-500g - there was a lot of protein on our table.

the meatballs at Pelikan

But praise be to the Viking gods, these were exceptional. Soft and melting in the mouth, these were moist and beautifully savoury, detecting a good amount of heat from the liberal use of pepper in the seasoning. 

We were trying to work out how they would have gone about cooking a parcel of mince of that size without drying it out - I'm not sure we figured it out. The dish was delivered submerged in a pool of meaty gravy of which the waiter happily fetched some more at Matt's request. 

I coupled this with a glass of beer (it was a beer hall after all) and despite not having had lunch (see above for the big breakfast reference), I was defeated. It was me vs. the meatballs and the meatballs won

I managed to polish off two and a half with some difficulty along with some of the mash, but I couldn't accommodate another bite. They were just so BIG. Matt put in a sterling performance and through controlled breathing and mopping the meat sweats from his brow, he managed to clear his plate.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and if I visited again, a single portion of these shared between two along with the mash, table bread and a starter would have more than sufficed. As well as help keep down the costs. But regardless, you must try meatballs if you visit Stockholm and I highly recommend trying them here.

Blekingegatan 40Stockholm(Södermalm)

Vegetarian Stockholm

Eating so much meat and fish will invariably result in a yearning for at least one meal away from the delights of the flesh. Not to mention it being good for the gut. 

While deciding upon a meal for our third day, we happened across some favourable reviews for Hermans, a well visited and reviewed vegetarian restaurant serving buffet style meals for £17 a head. This includes unlimited tea, coffee and tap water but does not include any additional drinks or desserts.

The restaurant is situated on the north side of the island of Södermalm and provides some beautiful views over Stockholm. The bill is paid for in advance at the till, where you are provided with a plate per head and let loose on the buffet. 

The buffet consisted of both salads and hot foods whilst involving flavours from around the world including: creamy mushroom potato gratin (my favourite thing there - delicious), fantastic humous, tzatskiki, Greek salads with feta, antipasti with roasted peppers, aubergines in yoghurt with dill, dhaal with raita, tiny spiced florets of cauliflower, diced beetroots with cashews, red cabbage and white cabbage salads - the list went on for quite a bit more. 

It was all plentiful, fresh, colourful and delicious.

We wrapped the meal up with a slice of gluten free chocolate cake (£6) to share which I initially didn't care for with my first bite, but quickly grew to like the unusual paste-like texture due to the lack of standard flour, I presume. 

Washed down with some quality filter coffee on Matt's part and a few cups of organic Rooibos for me (caffeine after 3pm means I won't sleep) and we were happy to call it a very successful meal. The place was packed at 4pm and whilst a little bit hippy-dippy with some of its wall art, I really enjoyed it. Quality buffet style vegetarian meals should be available in London - I would visit.

Amen to that
That's what all the
tree-huggers say

Fjallgatan 23Stockholm 11628(Södermalm)


A s
mörgåsbord is typically Swedish and is a meal served buffet style, with multiple courses of both cold and hot food. I was keen to have one reasonably blow-out meal in Stockholm and trying out the s
mörgåsbord at the Grand Hotel is reputedly the best way to fully appreciate the experience in the city.

They've provided a little excerpt on their website titled 'The art of enjoying a smörgåsbordto whet your appetite:
  • Everything is delicious, but start with your favourites. It’s easy to overdo it
  • Make sure to make room for all the courses. Make several trips to the table, taking a clean plate each time
  • Start with the herring dishes, traditionally served with hot new potatoes, crisp bread and cheese. Accompany it with the perfect libation, a cold beer or home made snaps
  • Then it’s time for the gravlax with hovmästare sauce. Don’t miss the smoked salmon with pressed lemons
  • Now sample the salads, egg dishes and charcuterie
  • On to the hot dishes! Don’t miss our home made meatballs with lingonberry jam
  • For dessert we recommend a little of everything, but he fruit salad is a must. Finish off with a cup of coffee and an ice-cold punsch. Skål!
I''m actually going to stop there as I think this meal is deserving of a post all on its own, so watch this space for a link to it soon. It will be a good'un.

This post has now been written and can be found here.

Grand Hotel
Sodra Blasieholmshammen 8Stockholm 103 27

Stockhom is a stunning city and I'm almost certain I'll return. The people are incredibly friendly and have the right mentality when it comes to enjoying the good things in life

Now that my Swedish fix has been fulfilled, I find myself with the unenviable task of trying to source that impeccable glazed and fresh walnut rye I had for breakfast, somewhere here in the UK. I don't think the Ikea food shop is going to cut it.

Afiyet olsun.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

lahori karahi - review

the best lamb chops I've ever had - served sizzling

The deep-rooted British love affair for a good chop-walloping curry is no secret – glance down any high street across the land and you’ll be spoilt for choice with a vast array to bestow your Friday night order upon. Whether your penchant is for a pleasant pasanda or a face-melting phaal, it’s unlikely you’ll have time to generate even the bare bones of an appetite before you happen upon your nearest curry house. There are more than 9,000 of these establishments across the UK, with some of the famous hotspots including Birmingham’s ‘balti-belt’, London’s Brick Lane, and Bradford holding the esteemed title of the
UK’s Curry Capital two years in a row in 2011 and 2012.

Such great choice welcomes the opportunity for healthy competition when it comes to both cost but more importantly, quality. The sheer number of curry houses out there inevitably means that some will be rubbish, and equally some will be quite excellent. Most of us will be more interested in the latter - ask any Brit you know where their favourite curry house is and you’ll more often than not receive the names of a good handful in response, let alone just one. I am no exception to this rule and the one at the top of my list is Lahori Karahi in Hounslow.

Lahori Karahi - picture from website

Much to my lament (but probably best for the waistline), the location of my favourite curry house in London is not exactly local to me. I live in south west London and this place is seriously west London, to the point that it's on the verge between London and Middlesex. Don’t let this put you off though – despite its location, Hounslow East station is easily reached by the tube on the Piccadilly Line and is just a short walk from the restaurant. The reason I know about this place is because it is local to some of Matt’s family and due to its proximity and excellent food, is often the preferred choice for a good old fashioned family get together. I’ve visited a handful of times now with the in-laws and company, with the most recent being this journey down to gorge to our hearts content for a family lunch and incorporate a visit to a new-born member of the clan. If it wasn’t for these reasons, I probably would never have encountered it as it’s a bit out of the way. And that’s why I’m here writing this post, to tell you this place exists.

Coincidentally, there’s an establishment of the same name (but not affiliated) in Tooting about 10 minutes down the road from where I live which has received many rave reviews online. It’s appeared in an article in the Guardian declaring it as one of the top five curry houses in London (written by Niamh Shields – one of the UK’s most successful food bloggers) and Niamh herself has written a whole blog entry about its greatness. In a fervent attempt to try and replicate the flavours and full-blown pleasure of the Hounslow Lahori Karahi in a location that was closer to my home, Matt and I tried this local Tooting one out one evening. I expected great things – I expected it to be as lip-smackingly wonderful as the one in Hounslow. Especially since reviews said it was excellent. But it wasn’t. It really wasn’t. Whilst it was almost collapsing under its own weight of clientele (it was a Friday night – we surely could have picked any other day) of which some were clearly regulars, the food was not up to scratch. At best it was just a ‘good’ curry house. At worse, it was downright disappointing. The chops were charred beyond acceptable and measly in their offering of meat; the dansak barely had any lentils; the bhajis were unfamiliar and sad looking round flat things – almost unrecognisable as an onion bhaji. I expressed my disappointment of the food to Niamh directly via Twitter and informed her of the Hounslow alternative – she said she had never heard of it. I put this purely down to its non-central proximity.

So Lahori Karahi in Hounslow. Why is it so damn good? It’s difficult to put a finger on it exactly, especially when there will be so many other very good curry houses out there that it has to compete with. But there are certainly a number of components which together in my eyes create an offering that is more than worthy of the longer than usual stint on public transport to reach it. Firstly, consistency. Having sensational tasting curries is all well and good. But if the little extras on the table like your poppadoms, naans, chutneys and raita are as mediocre as a supermarket’s shop-bought, then that is not the mark of a great curry house. Lahori Karahi is on top form with everything it puts in front of you. I’m not even that much of a poppadom fan, but the ones from here were top notch. Wonderfully fresh, savoury and speckled with the seeds of spices incorporated into the dough. Dipped into the accompanying fiery home made chilli sauce followed by a swift cooling off by the raita with garlic and cumin seeds, it more than delivered in its objective to whet the appetite for the delights to come. Whilst consistency in quality across the full range of what’s on offer is important, equally important is consistency over time. A single exceptional visit out of a handful is not good enough. I want great food every time I visit, and this place does not disappoint.

The other differentiator of this Lahori Karahi to any other curry house I’ve visited, are the lamb chops. Glance over your shoulder at any table, and I’ll put good money on almost every one having a plate (most likely just a pile of completely stripped bones  – these disappear in the blink of an eye despite the sizzling temperature they’re served at) of these quite impeccable meaty morsels. It’s one of the things the joint is famous for and if it was the only thing they served, we would still go out of our way to visit. Walking into the establishment you will immediately notice the numerous metal containers in the fridge housing the raw chops marinating in their top-secret curry paste of perfection – think of all of your favourite flavours from the Indian sub-continent and they’re probably in there. Ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, chillies, and everything around those and in between. I suspect they either get these going each morning or the night before – either way you can taste that they’ve been absorbing those palate-punching flavours for an optimal amount of time with the end result being truly delicious and succulent meat on bone.

onion bhajis
With onion bhajis being ubiquitous attendees at the table of any curry house and another good indication of the standard expected from the rest of the meal, these need to be pretty special to get me excited about what’s to come. And as bhajis go, these were delicious. A very light batter and without a spot of moisture in their coating – their crispness indicative of their freshness, only just emerging from the fryer. Matt’s mum does little in the way of deviating from her favourite curry on the menu – Butter Chicken. And if you’ve got a good thing going, why should you. I decided to try it out having previously ordered biryanis or something of a medium heat and lamb based. And, well. This was the sort of curry that forces even the most ardent of agnostics to raise their hands towards the sky in exaltation and utter a turn of phrase with religious connotations. Maybe there is a God. Needless to say, this was excellent and has nabbed the top spot of the best curry I've ever tasted. Let's see how long it manages to hold it.

Butter chicken - likely not so great for arteries.
Clue is in the name

It's worth me acknowledging something here that would probably result in a telling off if I didn't mention it, and rightly so. If you happen to know anyone with roots from the Indian sub-continent, (that is the modern countries of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh - and I know a good few of them), they will be the first to tell you that the curries you find in curry houses in the UK are nothing like the curries that are cooked in their homes, or the curries you'd find in the countries themselves. You're probably more likely to find beef barbecuing on a skewer in India than you would a pasanda, phaal, rogan josh or vindaloo. Almost all of the entries on a standard menu from a UK curry house are dishes that exist specifically to please the local (non-Asian) palate and whilst they can be very good, they aren't truly authentic. Authentic food from the Indian sub-continent is highly regional - there are no five curries that represent India, for example. 

But as curry houses go, this one is great and I highly recommend a visit. But if you want a true taste of the Indian sub-continent then I suggest you start making some friends and get invited round for dinner, or begin planning for a gastronomic trip of a lifetime to eat your way through what those destinations have on offer. I've done quite well with the former. Still working on the latter.

Alfiyet olsun.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

hot cross buns

It's a little early to be making these - usually I'd make them over Easter weekend itself. But I won't be around this year, I had a hankering for some warm soft pillowy buns, and so they manifested themselves this week. I walked into the house after work and began making them almost immediately having only decided I would as the key reached the lock. Luckily, the ingredients required are staple baking ones and so I already had stock for everything I needed.

I've attempted these in previous years and I recall even though the flavour was there, the texture just wasn't. This was before I had fully mastered the art of baking (but I'm no pro - I'm certainly still learning). I would knead the dough, but never enough for it to reach the required consistency that would render a light and fluffy end product. So the buns tasted good, but were too dense and leaning more towards cake like than bread like.

Since finally learning how to properly handle enriched dough when making panettone this Christmas (after three years of trial and error), I am now confident of the consistency needed to get an excellent rise in the bread. As anyone tenured baker will tell you in books or on TV shows, there's only so much that can be done with machinery - the rest needs to be done by hand for you to become accustomed to, and handle your way towards, the end dough product.

The recipe below is from
Paul Hollywood's How to Bake, with some minor alterations.

Hot cross buns

Makes 12

500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting

10g salt
75g caster sugar
14g instant yeast
40g unsalted butter, softened
2 medium eggs, beaten
120ml warm milk
120ml cool water
150g sultanas (optional - I didn't use)
80g chopped mixed peel (optional - I didn't use)
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges (optional - I didn't use)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp allspice

Tip Instead of the mixed peel and orange zest, I used some Aroma Panettone which I have left over from Christmas. This oil adds the aromas and flavours of candied fruit, vanilla, honey and spices without having to add the ingredients themselves which can in fact slow fermentation in yeast dough - according to the website. I used it mainly because I didn't have any candied peel or oranges though. So you'll of course be absolutely fine following the original recipe.

For the crosses

75g plain flour
75ml water

For the glaze
75g apricot jam

Tip I didn't have apricot jam either, so warmed up some honey in a saucepan and used that instead.

Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and sugar to one side and the yeast to the other.  Add the butter, eggs, milk and half of the water and turn the mixture round with your fingers.

Continue to add water a little at a time until you have picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl. You might not need to add all the water - you want a dough that is soft but not soggy. Use the mixture to clean the inside of the bowl and keep going until it forms a rough dough.

Tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and begin to need. Keep needing for 15-20 minutes. Work through the initial wet stage until the dough is no longer sticky and forms a soft smooth skin.

Tip The dough will be really wet at first and the best way to tackle it is to shape one hand into a claw and repeatedly draw a circle in the dough. Use a dough scraper to bring any wandering bits of dough back to the main mass.  This is an enriched dough and so behaves a lot like the dough in my panettone post, but to a lesser extent as it doesn't have quite as much butter or as many eggs as the panettone. However, take a look at that post to get an idea of what this dough will look like at the different stages of kneading. In summary, you need to be patient and persistent - I was hard at it for about 20 minutes before I achieved the end result. Don't be tempted to short cut by just adding more flour - this is what I used to do and you'll end up with dense bread instead of it being light and fluffy.

You will eventually end up with something like the below.

When the dough feels smooth and silky, put it into a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to rise in a very low oven until at least doubled in size - at least one hour but two or even three are ok. If you are proving in a low oven, make sure it's barely switched on, so around 30C or so.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Scatter the sultanas, mixed peel and orange zest, cinnamon and all spice on top. Knead in until evenly incorporated. Place back in the bowl, cover and leave to rise for another hour.

Tip The only reason I didn't use any currants or mixed peel is because Matt isn't a big fan of them, and so I generally keep them out of my baking. At this stage, I added a teaspoon or so of the Aroma Panettone instead.

Fold the dough inwards a few times until all the air is knocked out. Divide into 12 pieces and roll into balls. Cup your hands around the balls with your little finger against the work surface, and drag the dough towards you to create a taught surface for each ball of dough. Place them fairly close together on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper or silicone paper.

Wrap the tray in cling film (allow give for the buns to rise) and put back in the very low oven for another hour until they have at least doubled in size. They should look something like the below (without the crosses, yet).

Whack the oven up to 220C while you cross the buns. To do so, mix the flour and water to a paste. Use a piping bag with a small nozzle to pipe crosses on the buns in long continuous lines.

Tip If you don't have a piping bag, cut off a very small corner of a sandwich bag and use that - works just as well.

Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. These buns will colour very quickly because of the butter and egg content, but won't mean that they're actually cooked. If they start to get too dark, cover the tray with foil, turn the temperature down a bit and continue to cook for the full 20 minutes.

As the buns are cooling, warm up your jam with a tiny splash of water in a small saucepan to loosen it up. Brush over the warm buns to glaze. Cool on a wire rack.

Tip The warmed honey worked just as well, although once they had fully cooled the glaze wasn't shiny any more. That seemed to be the only difference.

The best way to eat these are warm out of the oven when freshly baked. However, even the most enthusiastic of couples can't consume a dozen between them in one sitting. If eating these over the next couple of days, just warm them up in a low oven (80C or so) until piping hot and that will bring them back to their former glory.

If you still have some left over after a couple of days, wrap them in cling film and freeze. Reheat in an oven until piping hot when desired. 
Serve with a slathering of butter or your favourite conserve. 

Should you find yourself faced with a wet weekend (a sign from the heavens to get baking in my eyes), give these a go. The flavour from one of these made by your own two hands is on an entirely different level to anything you can buy in the shop. Happy Easter!

Afiyet olsun.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

fresh spring rolls

The sticky pork ribs contained flavours from the Orient - soy, Shaoxing rice wine, Sichuan peppercorns, garlic and ginger and I knew they'd be crying out for something light, fresh and crisp to help compliment the viscid richness of the glaze smothering all that meat. Sticking with the theme, some fresh spring rolls with a punchy dip was decided upon.

I've mentioned the huge Chinese supermarket
Hoo-Hing a few minutes walk from my house before here, and it was from Hoo-Hing that I procured some rice paper sheets for the spring rolls. It's the first time I've used them and they're pretty cool - hard and brittle circular sheets of what initially looks and feels like plastic with some sort of embossed pattern on them. To transform them into something more workable, simply dip into a bowl of luke warm water until they become soft and delicate. They tend to stick to themselves once out of the water so it takes a couple of goes to get the knack and not tear them.

Rice paper rolls are common in Vietnamese cuisine - served soft and can be filled with crisp vegetables and herbs and eaten cold, as opposed to other spring rolls people may be used to which use thin pastry as the casing, are fried and served crispy and hot.

You can really compose the salad of anything you want. For example I haven't included any bean sprouts or water chestnuts, both of which would provide some lovely additional texture. But stick to the dressing / dip and tweak to taste as you wish. And of course, serve with those sticky ribs.

Fresh spring rolls

Makes 12 - 14

For the salad
50g dried vermicelli or fine rice noodles (see Tip below)
1 baby gem lettuce
2 spring onions
1 large carrot, grated
A load of chopped coriander
A load of chopped Thai basil
A load of chopped fresh mint leaves
Juice of two limes
12-14 rice paper sheets

For the dipping sauce
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp rice vinegar
60ml fish sauce
2 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and grated
1 spring onion
A sprinkle of chopped coriander
A sprinkle of chopped mint

To rehydrate the vermicelli noodles, soak them in boiling water for 3-4 minutes until they become soft. Drain and refresh under cold water. Shake off excess water and leave to one side.

Tip You can see the brand of noodles I bought in the picture, also from the Chinese supermarket. You might have difficulty finding this and rice paper in a standard supermarket. It's certainly worth locating your nearest one if you haven't already. And they're actually 95% mung bean - which I thought was cool.

To make the dipping sauce, mix the sugar, rice vinegar, fish sauce, chillies and garlic and mix well until the sugar has dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix, taste and adjust accordingly.

To make the rolls, roughly chop the noodles in a bowl and mix with the vegetables and herbs. Add the lime juice along with 2 tablespoons of the dipping sauce and mix together. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more of the sauce if needed.

Dip a rice paper in a bowl of luke warm water until soft and pliable. Splash a board with a little water before placing a rice paper on it (this will stop it sticking). Put a spoonful of micture into the centre of the paper and fold the bottom up and the sides in, then roll up tightly into a spring roll shape. Repeat with the remaining mixture and rice papers.

Tip If your water is too hot, the rice paper will become soft too quickly for you to be able to handle properly and you'll inevitably end up tearing them. So stick to luke warm water.

Tip You can make the rolls ahead and keep them in the fridge until you're ready to serve. I think it's better this way as the rice paper gets a chance to harden slightly which in my opinion provides a better texture.

Serve them with the dipping sauce on the side and enjoy.

Alfiyet olsun.

sticky pork ribs

Ribs are a meal that defiantly bear a cross to the face of etiquette and utensils; like a sanguivoriphobe (Google it, it's an actual thing) to a blood sucker - they are not welcome here. There's something liberating about pulling meat off bone with your teeth - throw into the scene a spread-eagled woolly mammoth rug and a couple of tusks as leaning posts and I could well be making dinner for a pair of grunting Neanderthals. You'll find rib sauce systematically migrate across your face, further reaching with every bone you gnaw and suck dry as you throw back to the ways of our ancestral cavemen and get your muzzle in amongst all that juicy meat - embrace it.

Sticky, chewy, sweet and sour, these ribs are impossible to resist and tick all the boxes for any animalistic tendencies you fancy exercising, with a little bit of added finesse when it comes to flavour. The glaze is packed full of vibrant citrusy notes and the sweetness from the honey counteracts the spices very well. The secret is to get the ribs really well caramelised before adding any of the other ingredients. As they braise in the oven, all that colour turns into the most amazing flavour with a hint of the Orient. This recipe is one from Gordon Ramsay's book Ultimate Cookery Course.

Sticky Pork Ribs

Serves 3-4

1 kg pork ribs, separated
Olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
3-4 fat garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
5 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1-2 tsp dried chilli flakes (to taste)
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
2 whole star anise
4 tbsp runny honey
150ml soy sauce
2-3 tbsp rice vinegar
300ml Shaoxing rice wine or medium dry sherry
5 spring onions, sliced
400ml chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Season the ribs with salt and pepper, pushing the seasoning into the meat. Heat a roasting tray on the hob with a little olive oil and brown the ribs for 5-10 minutes until  they are coloured on all sides.

Tip If you don't have a roasting tray that can be used on a hob, you can colour the ribs in a large frying pan instead.

Add the garlic, ginger, chilli flakes, Sichuan peppercorns, star anise and honey and continue to cook over the heat for 2 minutes until the honey begins to caramelise. Add the soy sauce, rice vinegar and Shaoxing wine and bring to the boil, simmering for 1 minute. Taste and adjust the flavours, adding more vinegar if necessary. Add the spring onions and stock and bring to the boil. 

Tip If the above was done in a frying pan, now transfer all of the contents into a roasting dish that's been heated up in the oven.

Place the roasting dish back in the hot oven and cook for 1 hour until tender, turning the ribs halfway through the cooking time.

Remove the pan from the oven and place back on the hob (or tip the contents back into the large frying pan). Heat the marinade and reduce for 8-10 minutes until the sauce is thick and syrupy. Turn the ribs in the sauce to ensure they're fully coated. Serve - with napkins.

If you can't quite manage that amount of protein in one hit, leave any remaining ribs sitting in their sticky marinade for a day or two which will help develop their flavour. When you come to finish them off, give them about 20 minutes in a hot oven to ensure they're well heated through.

These rich ribs work very well with some fresh spring rolls; how we ate them and the next post to be added - watch this space.

Alfiyet olsun.

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