Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Coffee Heaven

It's official: I've fallen in love with New Orleans.  I've been here for a week now and I'm about to fly back to London.  What a fabulous city.... great food, an amazing atmosphere and uber-friendly people -  even more so than in the rest of the USA (It's a southern thing, I've been told ).

The local food is pretty good too - although probably a with bit too much deep-frying and carbohydrates  than my healthy self can handle.  Anyway - the reason why all of a sudden I thought I should post here again is that I've just had the best coffee - iced latte.  Ever.

I was on my way to a shop on Magazine road when all of a sudden I saw  this really cool coffee  place - all dark wooden panelling and straw chairs inside, but all in a minimal stark fashion. The two barrista's were, well, kinda grunge college kids - tattooed to the hilt -  and both wearing straw hats (hats are popular here - you see them everywhere).   I ordered an iced latte - two shots - and when I had the first sip I knew I was onto something.  Another sip then took me back straight to that time, about 12 years ago, when I had a cup of freshly brewed coffee in Kuching, Borneo (coffee freshly roasted, freshly ground, still warm in the bag).  It was like being catapulted into a much, much better world.  If only all coffee could taste like this.

My curiousity about this extraodinary flavour immediately made me google the name of the place and it appears to be a small chain with about 3 or 4 shops across New Orleans.  They have a small coffee roaster who only uses arabica beans and roasts them in small batches.  And it had very good reviews - the best coffee in America, apparently.  I'd be the last one to disagree.  I almost couldn't let go of the cup: my heart broke when it went empty and I had to chuck it in the bin.

The name of the place is Rue de la Course.  Try it if you get a chance.  Because all coffee should taste like this.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A winter dinner party

I've got some friends coming over for dinner tonight so I thought I'd get my menu on record!  It's also a way of keeping track what I cook!  I just made a celeriac and leek soup, and I think I might finish that with some truffle oil just before serving.  I think the truffle will go really well with the earthy flavours of the celeriac.

Main course will be a few recipes from Marcella Hazan - I was looking through her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking again last night and she never ceases to inspire me!  I'll do her pork chops in marsala and  red wine, together with braised carrots, and some nice creamy polenta to go with that.

Dessert is - as it mostly is - one of my own concoctions.   I hadn't made pannacotta for a while so I did a plain vanilla pannacotta - it's setting in dariole moulds in the fridge now.  Last night I quartered a quince and stewed that in some water with sugar and chinese five spices, and at the end I added a nice ripe comice pear - just for a few minutes so it didn't over-cook.  So that will go with the pannacotta, together with a sauce I made this morning - a reduction of dry amontillado sherry and dark chestnut honey - a last minute idea I had!  It's a pretty aromatic sauce - what with the nutty sherry and the strong flavour of chestnut honey -but then the pannacotta will be quite neutral so I think it will go well with that and the spicy pears. 

Monday, December 03, 2007


It's been a while since I've posted something here - and in defiance of the 'start a blog and never post again' syndrome I've decided to pick it up again!  One of the reasons for starting again is because I stumbled upon a brilliant blog by a young chef, Aidan, it's pretty inspirational how this guy writes about food.  Read his stuff here.

Another reason for the long silence is that lots of things have happened in my life since my last post in 2006 - not in the least that we bought a flat wit a nicer and bigger kitchen!  So I've been cooking / baking away for the last year or so.  I've also been rather busy with studying for the WSET Advanced level certificate in wines and spirits - serious stuff and quite time-consuming!  I'll tell you more about it later.  

Anyway - as I'm writing this there's a batch of lovely brioche loaves in my oven.  I've done brioche before - following a recipe by Gordon Ramsay, but this time I've used Dan Lepard's recipe from the Guardian baking supplement which came out two weekends ago.  It's brilliant - I can smell the lovely brioche with a certain undertone of marzipan!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Drink: Spritz

It's been sweltering hot in London for a couple of days now, and yesterday we had a drink at Carluccio's on St Cristopher's Place. I wasn't quite sure what to drink to quench my thirst, but one look on the menu and my mind was made up: Campari soda!

It's very much an acquired taste, I know, but ever since I fell in love with Italy I've started to appreciate the Italian preference for all things bitter. In winter I love to have a few sips of Amaro di Montenegro, and in summer there's Campari. The Campari soda at Carluccio's was perfectly nice, but after the first few sips I somehow seemed to miss something... That's when I remembered the last time I had this red stunner of an aperitif was in Venice, last August, mixed with white wine and soda water. I had liters of the 'Spritz' there, and I still think it's the perfect aperitif for a hot summer day. It works perfectly with some salty crisps or olives, and although it takes a while to get used to it's a great taste sensation!

How to mix a Spritz
1 measure of Campari
1 measure of dry white wine
1 measure of sparkling water or soda
pour over some ice cubes
add an olive or a slice of orange (optional)

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Recipe: Soda Bread

Ever since I was fourteen or so I've been a keen baker. I just love the smell of freshly baked bread, or a nice 'biscuit', or any other cake for that matter! When I moved from Belgium to London I was very disappointed by the quality of the bread here. Supermarkets are the worst: their spongy breads just don't do it for me. These days you can get better quality bread at markets but I just can't bear it to pay £3 for a simple loaf of bread when I know you can get the same thing in Belgium for not even half the price! So that's why I started baking bread after having been in London for a couple of years (although I have to admit the baking happens in phases - what with the rushed London lives we live...). A couple of weeks ago I got back into baking bread - and I don't mean the bread-machine variety! There's something immensely satisfying to knead dough with your own hands, get your clothes all dusty with flour, see the dough rise under a clean cloth, and again, smell the freshly baked bread.

One of the problems though is that fresh yeast is pretty hard to find in London (I tried the dried powdered yeast a couple of times, but it doesn't compare to the real stuff). Which is why I started baking soda bread - and for the last few weeks I've been experimenting with variations on the basic recipe below. Recently I started adding the yoghurt because the baking soda works better with an acid agent - some recipes recommend cream of tartar but I prefer yoghurt. Other recipes use buttermilk which has a higher acidity than milk - so there's no need for yoghurt when you use it. I wanted to try the buttermilk variation yesterday, but I didn't manage to find buttermilk in any of the three supermarkets I went to!

170g plain flour
170g wheat flour
200ml milk (half or full-fat)
90g yoghurt
3/4 tsp salt
1 heaped tsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 200c. Combine the flour, salt and baking soda in a bowl and mix together. Dissolve the yoghurt into the milk, and add to the flour mixture in two or three stages. Mix to a consistent paste and when it sticks together knead for about a minute (not longer than that).

Put on a baking sheet, and make a cross in the dough with a sharp knive (you can cut pretty deep so the loaf will open like a 'flower' when it bakes). Put in the oven for about 30 minutes (the loaf should make a hollow sound when you tap it). Put on a rack and let cool. Eat within 2/3 days.

Recipe: Gentse Waterzooi (Flemish Chicken Stew)

Last night I cooked this classic Belgian dish for my boyfriend and his mum... and they loved it ("that sauce is really really nice, you should make it more often!"). The recipe below is my adaptation of a recipe in an excellent Flemish book on Belgian Cooking - by Nest Mertens and Dirk De Prins (De Belgische Keuken, Standaard Uitgeverij, 1995). Basically it's a chicken stew, but in a very Flemish way: lots of vegetables and quite a bit of butter, cream and eggs (no wonder the sauce is so yummie!). This is the Waterzooi with chicken, the original version has fish in stead of chicken, but I haven't tried that one yet!

1 large chicken, cut in pieces
2 large onions
5 celery sticks
4 carrots
3 leeks
a bunch of curly parsley (it really should be the curly one, the flat parsley won't do!)
1,5 l chicken stock
100 ml single cream
2 egg yolks
juice of 1 small lemon
100g butter
pepper and salt

Cut half the vegetables in fairly large chunks (2cm), and the other half in smaller pieces (julienne). Melt about half the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot, and cook the large chunks of vegetables first, for about 15 mins (leave the lid on - or slightly askew - so the vegetables sweat and don't dry out). Take out of the pot, set aside, and add a bit more butter to cook the julienne. Again, cook for about 10 minues, in similar way.

Return the larger chunks of vegetables to the pot, add pepper and salt (but not too much - the chicken stock will have salt already). Put the chicken pieces on top, add a few stalks of the parsley and add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, and let simmer for about 20-30 mins, until the chicken is cooked through (leave the lid on, slightly askew). The stock should be reduced by about half.

When cooked, take out the chicken pieces, and put in an oven dish to keep them warm. Take out the stalks of parsley and let the stock with the vegetables cool down for a few minutes. Mix the egg yolks with the cream, also adding a few spoonfuls of the stock together. Whisk the eggs and cream in the stock, so it becomes silky and creamy (do not let boil again as the egg yolk will curdle). Add the lemon juice, and a generous amount of the parsley leaves (cut up). Return the chicken pieces to the pot, mix it all, and serve immediately.

Best served with potatoes or bread (to soak up that sauce!). If you want it really Belgian, serve with chicory.


Hey... I've just decided to set up this blog - just so I can keep track of my stuff! Two big interests of mine are food and wine, so I thought I'd create a space to collect recipes, restaurant tips, wine tasting notes and other foodie stuff... well that's the intention anyway! Here goes...

Thursday, June 01, 2006