Thursday, 30 May 2013

Asparagus Soup

I don't think anyone would disagree with the fact that it has not been a classic season for English asparagus (pesky rainy weather). Nevertheless, it is still an annual treat to ram as much of these delicious green spears down as possible. Earlier this week I picked up a particularly thick bunch (in contrast to the more desirable wispy stalks) and was trying to work out what to do with them.

Perusing BBC Food for inspiration (doesn't everyone?), I came across this James Martin recipe for an asparagus soup. Given the delightful spring day (note heavy sarcasm) and the state of the asparagus, a soup did appeal.

The soup was rich and smooth, but surprisingly light. The crispy potatoes and asparagus tips meant that every mouthful had lots of different textures. The watercress was slightly odd (but I didn't de-stalk) and I would leave those out in the future.

Definitely a good way to use up either old or less aesthetically pleasing asparagus.

Asparagus Soup (based on this James Martin recipe)

2oz butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme
300g asparagus, stalks roughly chopped, tips set aside for the stir fry
10fl oz chicken stock
2tbsp sour cream
For the garnish:
4oz Jersey Royal potatoes, cooked and cut into cubes
Asparagus tips
1. Sweat the onion and thyme in butter for two minutes.
2. Add the asparagus stalks and cook for one minute.
3. Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 7-8 minutes, until the asparagus is just tender.
4. Remove from the heat and blend until smooth.
5. Return the soup to the pan over a medium heat and add the cream. Stir well and season, to taste.
6. For the garnish, fry the potatoes in olive oil until beginning to colour.
7. Add the asparagus tips and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, or until the asparagus is cooked through.
8. To serve, divide the potato and asparagus stir fry equally among the centre of shallow soup bowls and ladle the soup around each.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Morrocan lamb, asparagus and rhubarb

My first proper dinner guest for quite some time (potentially the first this year). I went very seasonal with the menu and also made use of some rhubarb from a colleague for pud. We had:

Lamb "Pastilla"
Asparagus Risotto and Watercress Salad
Rhubarb Cheesecake

Lamb Pastilla

This was quite involved for a starter: a lamb filo parcel (the pastilla), a red pepper sauce and tzatziki. The three elements really worked together. The lamb parcel was crispy and full of fragrant and savoury lamb (although it could happily have coped with more apricot). The red pepper sauce added some heat and moisture. The tzatziki cooled the heat and provided a creamy contrast with a fresh herbal hit.

I'm very glad that all the effort was worthwhile.

Asparagus Risotto and Watercress Salad

A nice spring risotto which brought the asparagus to the forefront (highlighted by lemon). The watercress salad helped to keep the meal fresh. And I finally managed to make a decent Parmesan crisp!

Rhubarb Cheesecake

The cheesecake wasn't as good as I hoped. Not to say it wasn't tasty, it just wasn't very rhubarby. It was simply too lemony which overpowered the rhubarb.

It was a baked cheesecake, which I haven't really made many of in the past. Mainly because I just don't see the need to bake a cheese cake; I don't see what it adds. Yes it was incredibly creamy and had a velvety smooth texture, but the base was soft. I love the contrast of the traditional biscuit and butter base.

There's no picture as late season rhubarb is never as pretty (i.e. pink) as the forced stuff. Also the cheesecake was supposed to be marbled. However, the rhubarb just sank to the bottom. Nobody's life will be enhanced by a picture of a white slice of cake with a stripe of green and brown at the bottom.

The rhubarb crisp garnishes were great though. Thin strips of rhubarb steeped in a vanilla stock syrup (100ml water, 100g caster sugar and ~1tsp vanilla extract) until soft. Then baked at 100°C for ~10mins until dried out.

Here is the recipe for the lamb starter. The risotto is pretty straightforward. Just make a risotto in the normal fashion. For the asparagus I sliced the spears thinly, reserving the tips. The asparagus was blanched in the vegetable stock until tender (~1-2mins) then stirred into the risotto at the end. The cheesecake definitely needs some work and I'll post a recipe once it's up to scratch.

Lamb "pastilla" (makes three)

250g lamb mince
Star anise
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2tsp allspice
1/4tsp chilli flakes
1tsp cinnamon
1tsp cumin
2tbsp dried apricots, finely chopped
1tbsp parsley, chopped
3 sheets filo pastry, cut in half
Melted butter
Sesame seeds
For the red pepper sauce:
2 red peppers
1tsp tomato puree
Garlic clove, sliced
1/4tsp paprika
Pinch cayenne pepper
Lemon juice
For the tzatziki:
Greek yoghurt
Mint, chopped finely
Half cucumber, de-seeded and grated
Lemon juice
Olive oil

1. For the red pepper sauce, char the outside of the peppers, leave to cool and then remove the skins and chop roughly.
2. Gently fry the red peppers and spices in olive oil for ~1min. Add the tomato purée and fry for ~1min. Add the garlic until it just started to colour.
3. Add 100ml vegetable stock and simmer for a few minutes. Liquidise the pepper mixture and return to a clean pan.
4. Reduce the sauce to a suitable consistency (covering the back of a spoon) and season with salt and lemon juice to taste.
5. For the lamb, chop the apricots and cover with boiling water and leave to rehydrate.
6. Fry the mince with the star anise in batches over a high heat. Remove the mince as soon as it is browned.
7. Add the onion and fry till brown. Add the spies and fry briefly.
8. Combine the mince, onion and spices, drained apricots and parsley in a bowl and mix. Season to taste.
9. Take a sheet of filo and liberally douse in melted butter. Repeat with another sheet of filo. Put a third of the lamb mince along a long edge and then roll tightly and place on a baking sheet. Repeat until all the mixture and filling has been used up.
10. Liberally brush melted butter over the outside of the filo tubes and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 200°C for 20mins until the pastry is browned and crispy.
11. For the tzatziki, put the grated cucumber in a sieve and leave to drain for a few hours then squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
12. Combine the Greek yoghurt, cucumber, chopped mint, lemon juice and olive oil to taste. Season.
13. To serve, put a puddle of pepper sauce in the centre of the plate. Cut the pastilla in half and place on the plate. Serve the tzatziki separately.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Cinnamon Kitchen

Tonight, I was going out for dinner with a friend I haven't seen for a while. As it was a Friday I'd suggested a curry down Brick Lane or maybe some kind of "gourmet" fast-food in one of those swanky Shoreditch places that seem to be all the rage at the mo (Could the end of that sentence sound more patronising? (even though I didn't mean it to at all)).

Things didn't quite go to plan as we ended up at the Cinnamon Kitchen

Not that I'm complaining, but clearly a cheap night was no longer on the cards especially when I had the £40 meat tasting plate. This had distinct portions of lamb, red deer and Scottish angus beef. Each was spiced and garnished in a complimentary fashion that brought the flavour of the meat to the fore. The lamb was absolutely epic. The deer was nearly as good. Remarkably the beef was bringing up the rear flavour wise.

The excellent gin and tonic beforehand and accompanying red wine may have tarnished my memory of the meal somewhat. Consequently, I can't really remember more details of the meat dish or what I had before (I do remember that there were some perfect examples of three breads). We were both so full that there was no danger of any pudding going down. (Although somehow we did end up in Androuet for cheese and port).

I do know that it our meal at Cinnamon Kitchen was excellent and I would gladly go back.

Cinnamon Kitchen on Urbanspoon
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