Monday, 23 July 2012

Can Cook, Does Cook: Home Cooking at The Barchester

Despite having an unhealthy addiction - when it comes to my bank balance that is - to eating out at restaurants here there and everywhere, I do love to cook at home. My cookbook collection is ever-expanding and if you have a look back through my posts, I'm always wittering on about my new book and which recipes I may attempt/pour over/ruin.

However I find that some of the things I cook the most come from either something my mum has made or something I've decided to try based on the extensive flicking through said books. As I've mentioned before, my mum can probably cook anything and probably has, thanks to my dad's strange and adventurous food tastes - snails, Andouillette sausages, pigs trotters... The list goes on. In fact dad once deep fried pigs ears, served them up without telling us what they were and dared us to try. Needless to say, we haven't tried that again.

My mum taught me 95% of what I know when it comes to cooking and luckily enough my parents would treat us to a lovely dinner out and about more often than me and Bro probably deserved. So my foody ways have to be blamed on them both - now they do benefit these days as I try to cook for them, with some considerable success if I do say so myself.

Mum taught me this next recipe and it's very easy and cheap. You can do it from store cupboard and freezer items - I always have a stash of sausages in the freezer because The Scouser would do almost anything for a sausage and bacon sandwich (my bribe of choice).

Sausage Ragu (feeds 4 if you aren't too hungry)

You will need the following:
1 onion
bunch of sage (or dried if you can't get it - I never can!)
6 sausages (don't need to be posh, the cheaper the better)
a few cloves of garlic (I have an obsession and so add loads)
tomato puree
little bit of red wine (normally as much as I can spare from the bottle I inevitably open)
100ml whole milk (semi-skimmed at a push, but you'll need more)
Parmesan, if you fancy it

Chop the onion, garlic and the sage - throw it all in a frying pan with some olive oil and a bit of salt. Fry this off until it's softened, but not brown. Meanwhile you need to skin the sausages - slide the knife down the sausage and peel it's skin away. Break the meat up if you can (cheaper ones can be a little sticky!) Now chuck all the meat into the sauce pan and mix it in - don't have the heat too high and try to break the meat down. You want it to be slightly larger than mince.

Once it's broken down, put approximately 2 tbsp of tomato puree in. I add a bit more but it depends on how much sauce you want. Stir and stir until the sausage meat is all covered in lovely redness. Let this cook for a minute, then throw in some red wine. I like it quite wine-y but can never bear to spare too much wine - don't put in more than a large glass. Let it cook down, turn the heat down to medium-low and add half the milk. Now this is a bit weird to add milk but don't worry - you won't taste or see it, it's to richen the sauce. Give it a final stir and let it cook for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is quite rich and thick. Serve it up on top of pasta and with some Parmesan if you're using it. Nice homely food that won't break the bank.

Mushrooms on Toast (feeds as many as you want)

You will need:
a slice per person of nice bread of your choice
some wild mushrooms if you can get them

This is not a healthy one! You don't have to use much cream or butter as somehow the mushrooms release some lovely juiciness that makes the sauce creamy - the cream is just to add a bit extra. I can get wild mushrooms from the market near my office, and as they become totes fashionable then they will be in supermarkets. Tesco do these which aren't that cheap as I can get them for £1.50/200g. I've tried this with chestnut mushrooms and it's nearly as good (and cheaper still!)

Anyway, brush off any dirt and chop up the larger mushrooms. Melt a knob of butter in a saucepan and throw your mushrooms in with some salt and pepper. They won't need much cooking, so once they've started giving up their juice, pour a little cream in and keep stirring them. Put your toast on, and once everything is warm and you have enough sauce to soak into the bread, serve it up and enjoy immediately. An easy starter or quick main if you're on your own!


Because we're totally zany and really know how to live, me and The Scouser decided to have a pizza making competition this weekend. I know, we really know how to live... I've been following the escapades of The Skint Foodie since he started his blog in December 2011. He's recently been featured in Observer Food Monthly -  a fascinating guy with a story to tell. He lives off £40 a week for food and he has some amazing recipes, I encourage you to browse. He has published a pizza dough recipe (and pizza base sauce too) so we used this for our bases. It's here if you want it

The dough was easy to make. It doesn't look like you'd get four pizzas from it but it grew! My only tip for the dough would be to roll it a lot thinner than you would like it - it expands quite considerably during cooking. We thought we would get thin crusts but ended up with deep pan!

We bought loads of toppings from Aldi & Tesco. I know, Aldi. They have an amazing selection of pre-packed meats, including parma ham, bresaola and chorizo, which is much cheaper than the overpriced Tesco offerings. As a cheese fiend, I had mozzarella and goats cheese...and maybe some cheddar. The Scouser found some spicy Mexican cheese (that was very spicy) and we got cracking...

Can you guess that mine is the cheese feast to the right of this picture? During the cooking, the cheese slid off a little - so cheese fiends, beware. As mentioned, our bases were way too thick and so could have done with a little more oven time and a little less cheese overload. But they were still tasty, the dough was so easy and this is definitely much cheaper than your generic pizza takeaway shack. Much nicer too! I'd really recommend this if you have the hour and half it takes for the dough to prove and I bet kiddies would love making their own pizza.

The other half of the dough is now in the freezer ready for the next pizza competition. It pains me to say it, but The Scouser won round one.
Pin It Now!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Holy Shucks Batman

I heard on the technological grapevine named Twitter of a new pop up on Portobello Road serving oysters and Prosecco (amongst other alcoholic delights) called 'The Mother Shuckers' (what a name). I love Portbello Road, even though it's rammed with tourists and it takes about an hour to walk the length of it. There is so much to see and spend your cash on - antiques, food, fruit and veggies, all manor of crazy things like coconut water from an actual coconut for £4.

Anyway I digress. I was meeting friends on Saturday and so I roped one of my follow oyster lovers (few and far between) into coming with me, with the promise of Prosecco - she's addicted to the stuff and so not much roping required. I had been tweeting @holyshuck already and with my excitement piqued, we battled through the torrential rain and meandering tourists to The Muse Gallery. Little note - go to Ladbroke Grove tube station as it's much closer than Notting Hill Gate - this does mean that you miss the fun of the fair...

Firstly I must say the gallery is amazing. It's owned by one of the Mother Shucker's family members and the artwork was fabulous. As it was pouring with rain, we took up a little spot inside and the Mother Shuckers Melissa & Theresa brought us all manor of treats.

We started with six oysters, with their three main accompaniments - Tabasco & lemon, shallots and red wine vinegar (my favourite) and wasabi & home-pickled ginger by the Mother Shuckers themselves (a close second!).

These were some of the best oysters I've ever had - each one tasted different. Some were creamy, some more salty than others. And the accompaniments were perfect too.

We enjoyed a couple of glasses of Prosecco, a Bloody Mary (always a must for me) with the horseradish infused vodka, and a rather adventurous shot - sake, with spring onion and habanero chilli and a whole oyster. The sake was amazing and it was an experience! Not for the faint hearted.


I guess that you may be able to tell by the tone of this blog entry that I absolutely loved this pop up. We ended up having 18 oysters, not including the one in my drink, and considering how expensive oysters can be, it was very reasonable. I think the Mother Shuckers actually undercharged us so I will without doubt return to buy them both a drink - or maybe some oysters?

If you love oysters, or maybe you're an oyster virgin and this has intrigued you, get down to see them - they will ease you into oyster-lovin' gently, I promise.

The Important Stuff: The Mother Shuckers are at The Muse Gallery every Saturday in July from 1pm. The nearest tube stations are Ladbroke Grove (for ease) or Notting Hill Gate (for a nice walk through Portobello Market). They're having a break in August but will be back in September. Follow them on Twitter @holyshuck for more details. They will also come along and shuck away at your events, you can email them for more details here:
Pin It Now!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Meat Market

Last week I took some time off work to enjoy this wonderful British Summer we're having. Well that was the plan anyway! I think the sun shone for a whole hour. We had plenty planned, kicking off with a day in the big smoke with friends. Being friends with people who love to eat, I suggested Meat Market - the bastard lovechild of Meat Liquor. I have been but I won't flood the internet with yet another blog about that place. Safe to say, I love their burgers.

So Meat Market, tucked away in the Jubilee Market in Covent Garden. You wouldn't know it was there unless you were looking for it. And I recommend you do go look for it. You can find the address here.

Firstly, let me say - do not go here if you are a veggie. I think they probably have 1-2 things you'll be able to eat on the menu. As the sign below clearly states, they've got beef with veggies, and frankly so have I!

The menu is simple and there isn't much variety in the burgers. But they all sounded amazing, I struggled to decide and settled for the Black Palace. We all had chips - definitely something you can share after we saw the humongous burgers that arrived! They were juicy and ever so delightfully greasy. Mine fell apart a little but I didn't mind, I'm the messiest eater anyway so that was my excuse. The picture below does not do this beast justice - I was too eager to get my chops around it.

I love the way this food is served, rough and ready on trays and plenty of kitchen roll. It's very messy and you just have to get on with it. We went on a Wednesday afternoon around 3pm and it was empty so don't be scared by the rumour of queues - just pick a sensible time to go. It'd be worth the wait anyway!

Again, my photography skills showing me up here - it's very modern American diner inside, rough and ready like the servings. We had some Jalapeno Poppaz that quite literally exploded in our mouths, for me a little too hot. Make sure you get some of the 'Government Juice' (water).

After we'd all got thoroughly greased up, we had to try to Miami Nice. A combination of two different 'slushies' - Pina Colada and Strawberry Daquiri. Not for the faint hearted or if you're a bit of a lightweight. These were powerful rum cocktails that were just what we needed to start off our afternoon of boozing!

So in conclusion, the burgers here aren't as nice as Meat Liquor. However, they were greasy, quick and still very tasty. The Jalapeno Poppaz are too hot but delightfully gooey all the same. The beer is still too expensive - £3.80 for a can is expensive by London standards. But I'd go back - if only for the Miami Nice.

Pin It Now!

Monday, 9 July 2012


Polpo directly translated means octopus in Italian. 
  1. A cephalopod (Octopus and other genera, order Octopoda) with eight sucker-bearing arms, a soft saclike body, strong beaklike jaws, and no internal shell
  2. An organization or system perceived to have far-reaching and typically harmful effect

I have wanted to visit Polpo for some time since I first saw it's little sister, Da Polpo in Covent Garden. It's a funny little place that looks like it's only for the most high-fashion Londoners, but it's actually got an air of cool welcome. Russell Norman, the owner, is a fascinating man - go and google him.

His fantastic creation in the heart of London certainly fits with a couple of the definitions above No internal shell - the inside of Polpo is a vintage lover's haven with bare walls and  purposefully rough and ready furniture. However, the sucker-bearing arms - yes, they drag you into this little haven with an air of fascination. It's not the warmest of welcomes, it's busy and I got the feeling you're meant to feel a little 'well, what are you doing here?' I think some people would be a little snobby about this but it doesn't bother me.

The rather unassuming exterior

We arrived and squeezed in at the bar. I'd booked a table, which you can only do at lunchtime. It's not a place for big groups and they say as much on their website - seating more than four people might be tricky. The tables are close together which gives a warm feeling, not like your fellow diners are looking over your shoulder. We were sat at the back on a high table - an excellent vantage point for the people watching.

The drinks are not overly cheap. £4 for a Birra Morretti that, even though it's The Scouse's favourite beer, seems a little overpriced for a bottle. I had a glass of Prosecco that was nice but I wouldn't have wanted more. I swiftly ordered a glass of the house white, something I never do as I pretend to be a wine snob. It's Polpo's own, a Pinot Bianco. I thought it was £6 for a glass, but that was large - my little cups were £3! Had I known, I would have drank considerably more. It was chilled and I thought it was more than drinkable. 

The menu is your placemat so you have plenty of time to browse through it and then decide if you want something extra. We asked the waitress about what we should order and she recommended 2-3 dishes each. We got some cichetti first - tiny bites - to start us off. The arancini was amazing and my brother informs me his chopped liver crostini was fantastic too. I would recommend getting one per diner as it's not easy to share these.

Then we had a bit of a feast - we managed to order two dishes each, but I could have gone for a lot more. My favourite was the buffalo mozzarella with broad beans - it was the best mozzarella I've ever eaten and the salad was so tasty. I would also highly recommend the meatballs - The Scouse had lamb and mint and they smelt as good as they tasted. I really enjoyed the mackerel tartare too - way too much cucumber but once you got that out of the way, the fish was salty, citrusy and smooth. We had the meat platter to keep us going. The only thing we weren't impressed with was the scallops - very small and not many scallops, more pancetta and peas with the broth. Don't order this if you want big juicy scallops!

Mackerel Tartare

Unfortunately we didn't have dessert as we were nicely full - not bursting. I could have ordered 1-2 more plates between us three fattys! I shall be making sure I have room next time, especially as they have a cheese plate.

Russell Norman has just brought out the Polpo 'cookbook of sorts'. I can't wait to pour over it's pages - whether I can create the foody treats is another thing. The book looks beautiful.

This organisation will without doubt have far-reaching effects but they certainly won't be harmful. You should really go and you can find more information about the Polpo restaurants (certainly not a 'chain') here - I've heard great things about Mishkin's, the older, more brash kosher brother, from my new favourite blogger Rosie The Londoner

Footnote: I've been back to Polpo since this visit. The welcome has far-improved (seems I wasn't the only one who mentioned it). We arrived at 7pm on a Saturday night to a bustling restaurant and a full bar area and were seated immediately. The service was impeccable and I think this might be one of the best places I've ever eaten. The menu has changed from the above but you must order the steak dish we had this time around (especially if it comes with truffle cream - get extra bread too). I hope to blog about the others in the Polpo family soon.

One more footnote: I am thrilled that Russell Norman read this blog when I tweeted him about it. Just wanted to boast a little.

Pin It Now!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder?

I am absolutely unconditionally awful at this blogging marlarkey. I talk about food approximately 89% of the time, yet find it hard to put these conversations, thoughts and desires into words! I shan't make paltry excuses about time, workload, general not-eating (unfortunately it's probably all of the eating that gets in the way). I like writing and so I will see if over the next couple of months I can try a little harder before my job gets truly crazy once again.

It's not like I don't have much to say is it? Plenty to write about - I even keep a list of things I want to write about here. Well, maybe my absence will now make your heart grow fonder of this erratic blog.

Last night I was at my parents house, as I like to retreat there with the dog when The Scouser is working his shifts and the house feels a little empty. The dog runs around like a maniac and I indulge in an attention that only your parents can give you. I do like to hear the sound of my own voice but I'm not sure everyone else does. Even more of a treat, my auntie was there and she asked me about my job - a surefire way, when around family, to get me yabbering on for hours.

The Marigolds I bought for Marion

So we had a favourite of mine, as ever produced by my amazing cook of a mother who has taught me a lot about cooking, amongst other things - spaghetti con gamberetti e rucola. It is very easy - I used it for a dinner party and it's good for lining the stomachs because at my house, the wine does tend to flow quite freely.

Anyway, after dinner we got into a conversation about all the recipes we love and our 'go to' chefs. If you've read this poorly-maintained blog before, you will know mine is Jamie Oliver. I have a lot of his books and it's always a success. My faves would be the Spicy Salami with Fennel pasta dish, and the Incredible Roasted Shoulder of Lamb (another dinner party fave). I will post the spicy salami recipe in due course, I can't find it on his website. My mum says her chef is Delia Smith and so ensued a very amusing conversation from my auntie about how my cousin thinks that Delia is 'a bit of a goer once the cameras are off'.

In danger of it all going a little '50 Shades of Grey', we continued to discuss recipes and I extolled the virtues of Mr. N. Slater and his newest book (I think) called Appetite. I urge you to go and buy this book as I think it's the best book I've got. It needs a bit of reading so you can understand how it's written - no measurements (control-freak-chefs avoid), lots of ideas and guidance towards making something you like rather than tricky recipes that go on for pages. You can tell he is a food writer.

What else can I witter on about?

MEATLiquor perhaps. Undoubtedly the best burgers in London, a hotly contended accolade. I shan't attempt to describe their meaty goodness as if you google the restaurant/bar/hole, you will be overcome by hundreds of bloggers and their photos of these beauts. Just go, it's cheap (I haven't spent more than £15 a head in there, with drinks) and the queue really isn't that bad. Just don't be silly and go at 8pm on a Saturday night. And when you do get in, have the fried pickles, they are wondrous.

I'm off to their 'bastard lovechild' MEATMarket next Wednesday to see what that's like - substantially lighter and quieter I expect. They appear to have alcoholic milkshakes so it's already a winner in my books. Have a look here for something a little more explanatory - a much better blog about MM

Then next Saturday I'm going back to Polpo. I'm going to write a separate blog about this dream of a restaurant. I went with The Scouser and my brother. We very much enjoyed it - not overly cheap but the quality was excellent and it's got a really good vibe (god, I hate myself for saying vibe).

Next week, as me and The Scouser have some time off together we'll go to the Two Brewers in Windsor for one of their fantastic steak sandwiches. They allow dogs so we all head off for a very middle class walk down the Long Walk then cosy up in this lovely cave of a pub with very reasonably priced and tasty wine. 

Finally, before I risk sending you to sleep, The Scouser and I will be going to Rome for my birthday in October. It's all booked and I'm already salivating over the food, planning how much I can eat in three days. If you've been, tell me where you went and where you loved.

Thank you for reading this, I'm glad you got this far. I'll treat you with a picture of the orchid my mum has grown. Not sure how she's done it, and neither is she!

Pin It Now!