Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Byron Burger: The Big D

February has become a special month in the calendar for burger lovers and I was keen to get down to Byron to bag one of their limited edition, meaty behemoths otherwise known as the Big D.

Many food bloggers seem to be on the path of enlightenment, trying to find their burger nirvana, and I'm no different.  The problem is what constitutes the perfect burger? Should it be shaped more like a cricket ball or smashed down on the flat top? Flame grilled or fried? Should the bun be sourdough, brioche, bap or something else entirely?  Should there be mayo, onions, salad?  And that's before we even get started on the controversial addition of pickles...

I think, if I were pushed, my perfect patty would be medium rare (I love bloody steak but burgers can often be a little bit slimy if they're too pink)  flame grilled and served on a slightly chewy, slightly sweet, slightly toasted bun.  It would be topped with a nice, melty slice of cheese and onions, ketchup, mustard and pickles.  Plenty of pickles. 

The Big D may not be the perfect burger, but it's certainly pretty good. I ordered mine medium rare with Montery Jack and the Ewing chose American cheese.  We also ordered some fries and courgette fries on the side and a couple of Sierra Nevada Pale Ales to wash it all down.
The burgers tasted great: a 8oz patty of delicious Scottish beef supplied by Knightsbridge butcher O'Sheas and perfectly cooked, pink and juicy throughout.  The buns were fine, although they seemed a little too big for the filling and crumbled apart too easily.  The cheese was comfortingly melted and mild and was complemented with a dollop of yellow mustard.  Salad was crispy and I always love the pickle spears that come with every burger.
One Big D with  Monterey Jack

And one Big D with American

Perfectly pink

Both sides were good, the courgette fries came out piping hot and were particularly moreish and crispy.  The Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a spicy, citrussy beer that I think pairs with the burgers very nicely and bonus points too for the glasses that had come straight from the fridge.

Overall Byron's is a very decent place to get a burger.  The short menu, no pineapple or satay sauce here, shows that they care about the simple things done well.  At £10.50, sans cheese or sides, it's not the cheapest out there, but, cooked right, it seems worth it. The Byron Burger (dry cure bacon, mature cheddar, Byron sauce) is a year round thing of beauty, but the Big D is a annual treat worth seeking out.

After the burgers we headed over to the Shepherd's Bush Empire to watch the legendary Edwyn Collins. A fab night of meat and music. And a few more beers...

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Monday, 21 February 2011

Rigatoni with Salami and Chilli

Some like it hot.

I was planning to make Thai mussels for Valentine's Day but, after getting home late from work last Saturday, I had one of those 'allthisfoodinthefridgeandtheresstillnothingtoeat' moments and we ended up eating them two days early. (with a rather nice bottle of Sancerre kept under the stairs for such emergencies) Luckily the Ewing had bought me a delicious salami for Christmas and most of it was still lurking at the back of the salad drawer.  I slowly cooked some onions and garlic until they were sticky and golden, then added the fried sausage, tomato and plenty of dried chili. (Peppers are a great addition too, sliced and added with the onions.)  You can use any sausage or chorizo, just make sure it's full flavoured enough to stand up to the punch of the chili heat.

While this recipe may seem similar to the Bucatini all'Amatriciana I blogged about recently the key to that dish was a few precise ingredients, this can be improvised to include what ever you've got in the cupboard.  It pretty much resembles a meaty arribiata sauce and, with the English translation being angry or 'pissed off', it made the choice seem even more apt as an antithesis to all the usual lovey-dovey Valentine's stuff.

Rigatoni with Salami and Chilli
1 Small Salami
2 Onions
Olive Oil
1 tsp Sugar
1 Clove of Garlic
3 Dried Red Chillies
1 Tin of Tomatoes
200g Rigatoni
Parmesan or Pecorino to serve

Thinly slice the onion and garlic and slowly caramelise in some olive oil with the sugar and a pinch of salt. (about 20 minutes)
Meanwhile chop the salami into chunks and fry in a pan until crispy.
Add the drained sausage pieces and tomatoes and chillies to the onion and simmer gently until reduced.
Cook the pasta in salted water, drain then return to the pot and stir through the sauce.
Serve with plenty of grated parmesan or pecorino

While a big bowl of chilli-laden garlicky carbs may not be everyone's idea of a romantic dinner à deux, it's certainly a great way to spice things up.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Mandarin and Cointreau Granita

After my recent citrus splurge I was left with a bowl full of slightly squashed and tired specimens and needed to think of a way to salvage them.  Squeezing them lead to a rather paltry amount of juice so I decided to make a quick sugar syrup, add a couple of spoonfuls of orange liqueur and turn it into a granita.

Granita is one of the easiest, yet most impressive, things you could possibly make.   You don't need any fancy equipment or expensive ingredients, unlike ice cream you want it to become icy and grainy and the flavour combinations are endless.  It can be served as a dessert, snack, 'palate cleanser' if you're feeling posh or even, as they do in Sicily, for breakfast.  After a late night last week, eating curry and drinking lager, waking up to a bowl of this was just what I needed.

For this I used mandarin juice and a simple sugar syrup infused with mandarin zest (you could also add some chopped mint leaves, just make sure the syrup has cooled down first). Any kind of citrus juice can be used, just adjust the amount of sugar syrup to taste.  You could also use different spirits and liqueurs to flavour.  Campari goes well with blood orange, gin with grapefruit, vodka with lemons. Of course you can leave the alcohol out too, although a little bit does stop the mixture freezing quite as hard and makes the texture  lighter. Be careful though: too much and it won't freeze at all!

Mandarin and Cointreau Granita450ml Mandarin juice
150ml Sugar syrup ( made 1:1 caster sugar and water)
Zest of two Mandarins
2 dsps Cointreau or other orange liqueur

Firstly make sugar syrup by placing equal quantities of sugar and water in a saucepan and heating until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has come to the boil.
When the sugar syrup has cooled slightly add the zest and leave to infuse.
Measure 150mls of  the cooled syrup and add to juice (any leftover syrup can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge and used for cakes, cocktails, more granita etc)
Add Cointreau, pour into a shallow container and freeze.
Stir the mixture every two hours, flaking up the frozen edges with a fork, until it is completely frozen.
Serve in glasses, with a dollop of cream if your feeling indulgent.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Coffee Daim Bar Crunch

So, it's finally arrived! the fantastic, super-charged, all singing, all dancing ICE CREAM MACHINE.  I have wanted one of these for so long but have always been put off by lack of freezer space/cupboard room/cost/practicality etc. But, after countless icy, rock hard home made ice cream disasters I finally realised I had a big enough freezer and cupboard space and grabbed this bargainous little beauty.

As you can see in reality it's really rather modest and low tech. The main bowl needs to go into the freezer at least 24 hours before you want to make your ice cream.  Then, clip the motor to the lid, attach the paddle and get churning.  The main advantage of using an ice cream machine is that the mixture is constantly kept on the move as it's starting to freeze.  This stops the big ice crystals forming and keeps the texture nice and smooth. After churning the mixture will still probably be a little it too soft so it's worth putting it into an air tight container and leaving in the freezer for another couple of hours. As with all ice creams it tastes better freshly made but my efforts so far have kept pretty well in the freezer (not that they've lasted too long!)

My first attempt came from the fabulous Ben and Jerry's ice cream book.  I found this while browsing at the library and it's a great introduction.  I'm a bit of a Ben and Jerry's fan and this book is full of some of their most famous recipes (although not Chubby Hubby, my favourite and sadly now extinct in the UK) as well as being written with their trademark sense of humour.  It's also a good starting place as none of their three basic ice cream bases require fancy ingredients, they don't need any cooking and can easily be halved.  This is a real bonus when so many recipes seem to start with double boilers, six egg yolks and sieving home made custard.

The first flavour to try was Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, chosen by the Ewing.   ANY coffee ice cream seems in short supply, let alone a decent one.  (Apparently this is one of B&J's best sellers in the US but I've never seen it over here, they've also pulled the delicious Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz from the shelves, leaving caffeinated ice cream addicts hankering after their next fix.)  I halved the basic sweet cream recipe to make one pint and in the absence of Heath bars I used Daim instead.  Apart from one scary moment when the paddle started to spin the opposite way and coated the wall with mixture this was incredibly easy to make and, more importantly, very tasty too. The measurements are all in US cups, so if you haven't already, it's worth getting a set as it keeps things nice and simple.

Coffee Heath Bar Crunch
Makes 1 Quart (can easily be halved)
2 Eggs
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
2 Cups Double Cream
1 Cup Milk (I used Skimmed)
3 Tbsp Instant Coffee (or very strong espresso)
4 Heath/Daim Bars

Chop chocolate bars into small pieces and put in the freezer.
Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until light and frothy, approx 1-2 minutes.
Slowly add sugar to the egg mixture and whisk thoroughly for another 2-3 minutes.
Add milk, cream and coffee and give a final whisk to combine.
Place mixture in fridge to chill.
Freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.
Just before the mixture reaches the desired consistency stir in the frozen chocolate pieces.
Serve immediately or transfer to a container and place in the freezer to firm up further.

With all the anticipation and excitement I was preparing for this to fall short of my expectations- but I'm very happy to report it was completely delicious.  The ice cream was rich and creamy, but with a real coffee hit and some added crunch for interest.  Next time I plan to try some dark chocolate chunks, and maybe a little shot of Kahlua, as the Daim Bar is quite sweet and I'd like something a little more bitter to compliment the coffee flavour.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Bucatini all'Amatriciana

A cheeky Italian

After enjoying our delicious gelato and granita at Gelupo we stopped to have a look around the small deli at the back of the shop.  As well as picking up some beautiful blood oranges (see the last post) and some San Pellegrino Chinotto I couldn't resist the delicious looking guanciale that comes from over the road at Boca de Lupo.  Guancialeis a cured, but unsmoked, pigs cheek from central Italy that is a traditional ingredient of the classic Italian pasta dishes all'Amatriciana and carbonara.  A nice, simple pasta sauce, how hard could that be?

There seems to be a simple rule in food history: the simpler and more traditional the dish the more hotly disputed are its providence and ingredients.  Take any classic recipe and then try and find a 'definitive' version of it.  Should there be breadcrumbs in cassoulet?  Jelly in trifle?  Carrots in Irish Stew?  These are the great debates hotly contested around many dinner tables.

All'Amatriciana is no different. Hailing (probably) from the town of Amitrice in the Lazio region, which gives the sauce its name, it is made from guanciale, tomatoes and Pecorino cheese. The dish originally descended from the sauce gricia, from the village of Grisciano, which consisted of just guanciale and pecorino. It saw the addition of tomatoes, then spread to Rome and is now considered a 'Roman' classic, despite not originating there.

The real dispute comes over the addition of onions.  They seem to be disliked in Amarice, but feature in Roman cookbooks. I have eaten all'Amitricaiana in a little trattoria in Rome, but must confess I was too distracted by several black hairs in my dinner to notice if there were onions in the sauce or not...  There is also lesser debate over adding black pepper, garlic and chilis to the dish.  I love spicy food but here I have kept things simple to let the flavours shine through.

The deciding factor in the ingredients of my all'amtriciana came with the decision over what pasta to use.  In Amatrice spaghetti is used while bucatini (a slightly thicker, hollow spaghetti) is preferred in Rome.  As I had buccatini in the cupboard the decision had been made: onions it was then.

Bucatini all'Amatriciana
Serves 4

400g Bucatini
200g guanciale (or pancetta) diced
1 small onion diced
2 tins tomatoes
Pecorino cheese
Black pepper
Fry the guincale, with extra olive oil if needed, in a pan until starting to crisp slightly.  Remove from pan and drain.
Add onions to fat still in the pan and cook until softened.
Add tomatoes and reserved guanciale to pan and simmer for about 15 minutes or until sauce is thickened
Meanwhile boil a large saucepan of salted water and cook pasta until al dente (approx 9-10 minutes)
Drain pasta, reserving some of the cooking water, and return to pan.
Add tomato sauce and pecorino cheese to pasta and stir through, adding reserved pasta water if needed.
Serve immediately with black pepper and extra cheese

Apologies for the blurry photo, it really doesn't do it justice, but I was in a hurry to eat this while it was hot!  This dish really is simple perfection, fatty pork, salty cheese and the sweet tomato makes a perfect combination.  And as you can rustle it up in less than half and hour it gives you more time to relax with a nice Italian red.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Blood Orange Jelly

Juicy fruit

It seems to me that blood oranges are a lot like London buses:  bright red and you don't see one for ages then they all turn up at once.  Dubious similes aside when I was growing up there always seemed to be blood oranges in the fruit bowl (but then again Wagon Wheels were the size of dustbin lids and Curly Wurleys were more like ladders) but I hadn't see one myself for a long time.  At university I developed a bit of an obsession with Tropicana Sanguinello juice, but even that seems to be intermittently available due to first droughts, and then frosts wiping out a large part of the Sicilian blood orange crop.

So where have all the blood oranges gone?  To Soho judging from my stroll around the West End last week.  First of all we spied a crate of Moro blood oranges in Gelupo and excitedly filled up a brown paper bag.  Then while walking down Berwick Street Market every other stall seemed to have huge, blushing, piles of them.  I was in a citrus wonderland and grabbed armfuls of them to take home and enjoy.

They looked so lovely in the fruit bowl, all bright and burnished, that it almost seemed a shame to eat them, but I didn't want to miss out on any of their lovely sour, sweet raspberry-tinged flavour.  Apart from enjoying them simply quartered, with bright red juice running down to my elbows, I also made an quick jelly that captured the bright fruitiness perfectly.  I'm not normally a huge jelly fan but the advantage of making your own means that you can choose the 'wobble' factor to suit your own preference and keep the ingredients nice and simple to let the fresh flavours really shine through. If you want to make this a little more 'grown up' reduce the juice and add the same amount of prosecco or cava.  Alternatively add a little orange liqueur to lightly whipped cream to serve.  

Blood Orange Jelly
Serves 4/6
400ml Blood orange juice (approx 4/5 oranges)
150ml simple syrup (1 part water to 1 part sugar)
5 Gelatine leaves (see note below)
Double cream or Greek yogurt to served
Juice your oranges and strain liquid into a bowl.
Soak gelatin leaves a a little of the juice for 10 minutes.
To make the sugar syrup place equal amounts of caster sugar and water into a pan and heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Place juice and soaked gelatine into a clean pan and gently heat until the gelatine has thoroughly dissolved.
Add cooled sugar syrup to juice and spoon into glasses, moulds or hollowed out orange halves.
Refrigerate until set.
Serve with double cream or Greek yogurt.

(Note- Check the instructions on your gelatine packet before you start.  Sizes and weights may vary and you may need to add more or less to get it to set properly)

As well as going for the classy champagne flute presentation I also succumbed to a bit of kitsch and filled some hollowed out orange halves.  After they had set I cut them in half again and tucked in, this time without the need to stand over the sink to catch the drips!  These would be perfect in the summer but are also great way to bring a slice of Sicilian sunshine to a dark winter's day.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Gelupo, Soho

Italian gelato in Soho

A question for you fact fans:  Which US State eats the most ice cream per capita?  Those of you who answered Alaska have another flake in your 99.  That's right, not tropical Florida or sunny California but the chilly Last Frontier. I mention this as the Ewing's face seemed to crumple slightly at the prospect of gelato on a bleak and windy winter's day. True, cold weather and ice cream do not seem like natural bed fellows, but for me there is something strangely appealing about ice cream when it gets chilly. (really, when isn't a good time?) 


Down a grimy side street in Soho, almost opposite Boca de Lupo, (from which this is an offshoot) things don't seem immediately promising.  But we were soon tucked up in the warm, happily digging into our ice creams while listening to the hiss and whirr of the coffee machine and admiring the array of homemade cakes lining the counter.

First up was my choice: one scoop of the ricotta, coffee and honey. This is a homage to Crema del Pastore, (shepherd's cream) served at Il Gelatauro in Bologna, and is made from ricotta, eggs, honey and ground coffee beans.  I liked this: it was light, not too sweet and creamy without being cloying.  The flavour was quite delicate though, so I'm pleased I tried it on its own.

The Ewing went with a two scoop of Burnt Caramel and toasted pecan and Bonet (chocolate with coffee, egg yolks, rum, caramel, amaretti biscuits and vanilla).  Bonet is traditional Piedmont desert, like a dense mousse, usually served in the winter.  Here they have turned it into an ice cream and it was lovely, chocolately, alcoholic and very rich.  The Caramel was also good, slightly bittersweet with the crunch of nuts.  As you can see from the picture these ice creams were a lot softer than mine.  At first I thought it might be the alcohol, but I'm not sure the Burnt Caramel had any booze in it?  Although it was on the soft side the ice cream was still perfectly smooth, with no unwelcome ice crystals.

Speaking of ice crystals, one place they are very welcome is in a granita.  Gelupo is known for it's range of seasonal granitas and I was determined to leave room to sample them. First up was the burnt almond: this was intriguing as it managed to be both creamy and icy at the same.  With a subtle ameretti biscuit flavour and a gentle nuttiness this was definitely one to try.


While the Ewing enjoyed a well made cappuccino I tucked into my second granita (sour cherry) .  I enjoyed this but it was a touch too sweet for my tastes, although the Ewing thought it was just right. Apparently you can order this half and half with their Blond Almond granita for a 'Bakewell Tart'.  Like a high class slush puppy, the granitas were great and I would certainly be back to try the Fragola Grape or Espresso on a sticky Soho summer afternoon.

As well as the ice creams there's an array of homemade cakes, muffins and sandwiches and a small, but interesting deli at the back of the shop. Here you can buy freshly made pasta, sauces and sausages from Boca de Lupo as well as a range of Italian groceries, coffee pots, cook books etc.  The delicious looking ultra-spicy N'duja and the goose ragu are at the top of my shopping list for the next visit.

Gelupo on Urbanspoon