Friday, 29 April 2011

Lunch at Aldea

Yesterday I went to Aldea which is in the flat iron district of Manhattan. The French tyre manufacturer had given them one of their special stars so I was expecting something good.

The three course set lunch is $24. That's about £15. You'd never be able to eat at a London Michelin starred restaurant for that price.

Aldea is what you'd expect from a Michelin starred eatery. Cosmopolitan and sophisticated but as it's American still very welcoming and not at all pompous.

For my starter I had pork and duck terrine. This came with a load of white wine meat jelly on the top. It's good to have some decent savoury meat jelly a substance which makes some odd people balk. It was a good starter.

For my main I went for the braised brisket. This was a truly amazing dish and may be one of the best things I have ever eaten. The perfectly cooked brisket was on top of a delicious carrot custard with celeriac, ground chorizo and asparagus. With all the bits shoved into my mouth it tasted like the greatest expression of a beef stew.

Mathilde had the farro rissotto which must of been good as I wasn't given a taste.

For pudding we both had the banana bread, bead pudding which was also pretty amazing.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Steak at Peter Luger

Peter Luger is reputedly one of the best steak houses in the world. Zagat have rated it the best steak house in New York City 26 years in a row. Its Brooklyn restaurant has been in the same site in Williamsburg for over 100 years. In 2002 they received a star from the French tyre company. Yesterday I went there for lunch.

Walking inside it's a very different atmosphere from the rest of Williamsburg. Over the last 10 years Williamsburg has become a hipster nest much like Shoreditch in London has. Peter Luger has not been affected by such shortsighted trendyness and venturing inside is like walking into proper old school New York. There are no hipsters in here (except me and Mathilde). The restaurant is full of proper Brooklyners having proper lunches. You can feel that this place is the elemental origin of the steak house. All those crap chains like Beefeater and Harvester this is where it began. This is what they all aspire to.

The waiters are all salt of the earth proper Brooklyn geezers and their customer service style is surly and honest. They roughly throw the menus on the table and in a "wadda ya want" way but they don't come across as rude.

I saw the bacon slabs on the menu and had to order one as a starter. A bit odd that a starter can consist of solely a large bit of perfectly cooked bacon. You do gat a bowl of bread on the table but it's still a bit weird as your only getting pure grilled bacon on the plate. It was the greatest bacon though.

Normally when you get a steak at Peter Luger you get a large steak for two. Mathilde now eats fish but is still off her meat bless her so I had to go for the single steak while she had the salmon. I also ordered some creamed spinach.

When the steak comes out theres a bit of theatre from the waiter. It's sizziling on the platter, they place it on the table with a small plate on under one corner so it's raised presented to you and the meat juices collect in a handy pool. They serve two bits placed artfully on top of each other with a splash of meat juice and you're then left to eat it as you want.

I will say this is one of the best steaks I have ever eaten. Also for the small single steak it was pretty big. It was about the same size as a steak for two people I've had at London pretender Goodman's.

Each table also gets a boat of Peter Luger's own steak sauce. It's a ketchupy sauce with fresh horseradish. It goes very well with the steak and also my bacon starter.

Looking around the room the size of the steaks to be shared by two people are quite scary. The huge slabs of meat would easily feed six. A culture of doggy bags thankfully means many take about half of what they have ordered home with them.

The other diners in Peter Luger do not look like the heathlest of chaps. It was a bit of a culture shock walking in from off the hipster skinny jean wearing streets into a dining room full of elasticated waist bands. Cardiac medicine is not cheap when you don't have an NHS.

If you are planning to visit New York and would like to go to Peter Luger you'll need to book about a month in advance.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Hotel Delmano Williamsburg

Hotel Delmano is not a hotel it's actually a cocktail bar. I'd actually say it's one of the best bars I've ever been to. It has the best decor I've seen in a bar. The huge antique mirrors which adorn the back of the bar show signs of age with rust stains coming through the glass. There are a load of antique rickety looking shelves which contain all the various booze bottles used to make up the drinks. To get to the higher shelves a library ladder is used.

If this bar was in London I don't think it would be as nice, as in London it would be full of pompous twats. In Williamsburg New York having an expensive cocktail is not just the preserve of the twat and quite a diverse mix of normals and hipsters can be found in the bar. That's what makes it good. You don't feel like you're out of your depth, you're made to feel welcome.

Hotel Delmano serves proper cocktails. Ones which are basically two types of neat alcohol with a drop or two of syrup and bitters. The ones that if you attempt to make at home you'll come out with perfumed nail polish. They also have a raw bar serving a variety of oysters and other cold seafood. One cool thing you can get on the menu is a tin of sardines with saltine crackers.

I went for the Williamsburg cocktail which is rye whisky based with sweet vermouth, sherry and orange bitters. Quite strong and grownup tasting. Though definitely drinkable. I also noticed that the glasses here are actually quite deceptively large. I saw the barman put at least four shots into the shaker while making and nothing was left over when poured.

Mathilde went for the hornets nest which was a rum based drink. Was very nice. Rum based cocktails are dangerously drinkable.

I also think Hotel Delmano has the greatest toilets of any bar. Look at them copper walls, antique fixtures great!

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Brooklyn Brewery

The beer here in New York is exceptionally good. There has been a real resurgence in craft brewing in the U.S over the last 10 years. When I first visited New York two years ago I was expecting it to be all Budwieser and Coors. I was not expecting what I discovered. Most of the bars and restaurants offer a wide selection of U.S and European craft beers which are well kept and poured. They regrettably put British bars to shame. One of the main protagonists in the craft beer resurgence The Brooklyn Brewery is a short walk from where I am staying and yesterday I visited to go on the brewery tour.

In the UK you can only really get the standard Brooklyn lager but the brewery creates quite a large variety of beers. They do different I.P.A's, pilsners, ales stouts and seasonal brews. They've recently started doing premium beers which have extra yeast added when bottled so they age like wine. They cost about quite a lot for a bottle so I haven't tried one yet.

During the tour I did learn some interesting things but the way they make beer might not make CAMRA purists happy. Apparently most of there beers use hops which come in pellet form. A proper British beer maker would not consider using anything but real hops. Saying that I do find that British beers can taste like dish water and everything I've tasted from Brooklyn Brewery has been delicious.

Another cool fact I learnt on the tour is that the Brooklyn Brewery logo was created by Milton Glaser the same graphic designer who designed the iconic I love NY logo which appears on many T-shirts. When the Brooklyn Brewery guys were starting out they wanted a decent logo and considered Milton Glaser the best. They approached him with a small fraction of his normal fee. Fortunately Milton quite liked the idea of the brewery and offered to design the logo without taking any money. Instead he asked for free beer for the rest of his life. Apparently a legally binding contract which states this exists.

After the tour there's a massive beer hall where you can drink the beer. You get a load of normal non-hipster locals in there ordering take away pizza and playing board games on the large tables. I tried a Brooklyn Blast which is a double strength red beer. Imagine a high quality special brew. I was quite wobbly afterwards.

This is a bottle of Brooklyn's current seasonal brew the summer ale which I have been enjoying while writing this post.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

The New York Eating Holiday Has Begun

I'm In New York at the moment on my biannual eating holiday. New York does two things very well and that's food and drink. I'm staying in Williamsburg Brooklyn as it's a bit more laid back than Manhattan. I suppose it's the NYC version of Shoreditch/Brick Lane but with much better restaurants and bars.

One small thing which I absolutely love about New York restaurants which I think all restaurants the world over should do is provide complimentary water by default. After the waiter seats you and before you get the menu your given a glass (or an old jar is some cases) of water and normally an old wine bottle full of tap water to top up when needed. So no unnecessary ordering of soft drinks it's so very civilized.

Here's a jar of my complimentary water I had next to a jar of beer. I quite like this usage of old jars and bottles.

Monday, 18 April 2011


I went to Bistrotheque in Bethnal Green for lunch at the weekend. An odd place that uses the arty Vyner Street location and the extreme cabaret it puts on to increase its trendyness. For that reason and its silly name I've alway been put off going there in the past even though it's only a short walk from my house.

Walking in to the place it's actually alright. A very functional space which has the same simple white walls and grey floors as the neighboring galleries and studios. They have a pianist on a baby grand in the centre of the restaurant and this afternoon he was playing musak versions of all of the songs on the Trainspotting soundtrack. As cool as arty places may think they are they always have a dodgy deluded taste in music.

Mathilde and I went for the £22 three course lunch menu which they have at the weekend. To start I went for the cured meat and beetroot coleslaw.

The meat was decent enough and just the right thickness.

Mathilde went for the Stichelton and chicory salad. She says the ingredients were nice enough but was bemused at the lack of a dressing.

For my main I went for the roast pork belly on caramelised chicory with jerusalem artichoke puree. It was pretty and the pork belly was excellently done. The caramelised chicory was especially nice.

Mathilde had fish and chips which was good enough but did seem to be an odd thing to find in a place like Bistrotehque which is aspiring towards fine dining. A pile of battered fish and fried chips didn't really look right opposite my intricately presented pork with well aimed jus puddles.

For dessert I had a lemon raspberry posset which was the highlight for me. Both creamy and fresh at the same time. One of the best desserts I've ever had. The freshly cooked shortbread biscuit was lovely

Mathilde had the crème brûlée which was very good she reports.

The food is good in Bistrotheque but it does feel a bit odd. The savoury meals on the menu are your typical ideas of posh food without any originality. The list of desserts however looks much more intriguing. The rhubarb and thyme crumble sounds like something to try if I ever go again.

As restaurants feeding on their art credentials via location go I'd say that Rochelle Canteen in the Arnold Circus Rochelle School studios which I ate at earlier this year does a much better job. The food there is far more honest while being interesting and original. Although you would expect it as it's part of the St John group. The atmosphere is also much freindlier and far less poncey.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Fennel and Celeriac Gratin

Two of my favourite vegetables are fennel and celeraic. They've both got strong individual tastes, fennel a soothing liquorice flavour and celeriac a strong rooty taste. Both are fresh and clean tasting.

I brought three heads of fennel and a large celeriac the other week and wanted to cook them together. Looking around the internet the recipes I could find for a gratin suggested making a califlower cheese style floury sauce before baking. I didn't want to make a cheesy and stodgy sauce so came up with my own lighter and simpler recipe.

I chopped peeled and chopped the celeriac, chopped the fennel and par boiled them together for five minutes. Once drained I put them in a ovenproof dish. I poured a small pot of whipping cream over. This is a trick I learned from the Ottolenghi cookbook. They use unwhipped whipping cream in their bakes as it thickens while cooking and is lighter than single or double cream. I also put a small grating of cheddar amongst the dish.

I found a stale roll which I blended into breadcrumbs and added a load of parmesan to give it a zingy cheese kick. The breadcrumbs were spread on top and the dish went in the oven for forty minutes until the fennel and celeraic were cooked and the topping had browned.

It came out pretty good and I served it with steamed kale.

My plan had succeeded and I've come up with a decent recipe for a celeraic and fennel gratin. As they are clean tasting the cream and cheese didn't feel heavy. If I make it again I will do individual portions in smaller oven dishes as I found it's best to have a bit of the topping in each mouthful with the veg.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Baked Feta and Frozen Peas = Posh Cheesy Peas!

Feta is one of those food items which ten years ago was quite aspirational and sold as a luxury ponciefied item. It's now so commonly used that it's available in a value version in most supermarkets. I often buy the small supermarket slabs of cheap feta without thinking about how I will use them. After a few days in the fridge I'll normally end up making this Nigel Slater recipe I originally found by in an old paper.

I like Nigel Slater's recipes. I will admit he comes across a bit odd on the TV. His passion for food makes him seem a bit pushy rather than encouraging at times but if you can get past that he is probably the best food broadcaster and writer in the country. He makes food on his programs and in his recipe books which can be made by most people in their kitchens relativly easily while still teaching them about new flavours and ingredients. Too many cooking programs and cookbooks are made by catering industry insiders making food based on the restaurant model.

The first thing I do is make a packet for the feta out of baking foil. I then put a load of olive oil, dried mint, dried oregano and dried basil in the packet with the feta. I make sure I put some underneath and on top. You can also use fresh mint if you have it as well as the dried. I wouldn't use fresh oregano or basil though as they wilt and wont give off much flavour.

The packet is scrunched together to make a seal and put in the oven for about 25 mins.

I normally use frozen peas whenever I cook peas. I find fresh peas are an inferior product which have lost their flavour by the time they have made the journey from field to shop. Frozen peas are frozen seconds after they are picked. The harvesting machines freeze them as they pick them from the fields. They have infinitely more flavour than fresh peas because of this.

I put the peas in a saucepan with water and warm them for the shortest time possible. I get them to the temperature I want them and then drain. Any extra cooking just removes their flavour. You should never put them on to boil as they will taste of nothing. Same rules apply to frozen sweetcorn.

Once the feta's been baked I take the foil packet out of the oven, try my best to empty the contents into a bowl without making a mess, add the peas and stir a bit. This posh cheesy pea concoction can now be served as a side or a warm alternative to houmous or tzatziki.

Shooters Sandwich

Fran made this great sandwich during the week and I had to put it up on here to repay the effort.

The Shooter's Sandwich was made by cooking up a decent steak, some bacon and some mushroom. A crusty loaf of bread was hollowed out and the ingredients stuffed inside while still hot. The bread was then capped and wrapped in grease proof paper and then foil. A very heavy weight was put on top of the sandwich and left overnight.

The next day the compacted sandwich was unwrapped, sliced and served with some great piccalilli from the Albion.

All the parts and flavours were squashed together to perfection. It was very pretty and tasty. The closest a savory meat sandwich has got to a slice of elegant cake. A good replacement for the pastries you get at high tea.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Aeropress Coffee

My housemate Catherine got me an Aeropress coffee maker last Christmas. I've been intrigued about this device since hearing about so it was good to get one for myself. I use it almost every day to make myself pretty decent coffee.

The Aeropress works simply by pushing hot water through coffee grounds. The air vacuum in the plastic tube pushes the water a bit like a giant coffee syringe. You put a filter in, a scoop of coffee, hot water and then push it down over a cup.

Two things about the Aeropress make it great. The first is that it is really easy to use and clean so I'm able to use it when I'm rushing to leave the house for work in the morning. The second is that the coffee you get from it is really good. It's arguably the best way to make coffee at home without an expensive top end espresso machine which would cost a few hundred pounds and require a good thorough dismantle and clean after every use.

The thing I notice most about the coffee from the Aeropress is how smooth it is. When you use it you measure the amount of water you need for the amount of coffee your putting in. If you want more water in your coffee you add it to the cup not the press. Apparently the more water going through the coffee grounds the more bitter it is. Because your controlling the amount of water you don't get bitter coffee. The other non bitter flavours in the coffee are much stronger than when using other non espresso methods such as a cafetiere or a mocha,

Obviously you only get pure black coffee out of the Aeropress. There is no crema as you would get with an espresso machine and no frothy milk to make lattes etc unless you own seperate aparatus. That in some ways is a good thing as it forces you to drink grown up proper coffee and not Starbucksesque coffee milkshakes. Infact I would say the quality of Aeropress coffee is better than your bog standard Starbucks or Pret coffee although it's no where near as good as what you get from decent baristas.

It's best to use a coffee grind which is somewhere between fine espresso grind and rough caferetie grind. Luckily most store bought ground coffee for all coffee makers tends to be this jack of all trades grind.

Now coffee people are a bit silly and they like to have silly competitions to show off how good they are. I discovered that they actually have World Aeropress championships where baristas battle it out to show who can make the best cup using the Aeropress.

When I've got time in the morning which is normally at weekends I have a go at the world championship winning Aeropress method. Which does actually give a better brew. Although I'm not actually sure if I've just convinced myself it's better.

The first step in world champ method is putting a blind press through the Aeropress of just boiling water. This is to heat the apparatus up and also to rinse any paper taste out of the filter. The Aeropress is then turned upside down, the coffee added. The water needs to be at 75 to 80 degrees before also being added. That gets stirred, the cap with filter put on and the press is turned upside down and pushed gently. You must stop pushing the press as soon as it begins to make the fizzing noise. Your World Championship method Aeropress espresso is now ready to drink.

Weirdly enoght the aeropress is made by Aerobie the company that made all those expensive frisbees in the 80's.

Next Christmas I'll have one of these:

Now who's jealous of my whippet cup?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Posh Macaroons

Macaroons are getting a lot of attention at the moment they are posher that poshway. I used to think a macaroon was a tough chewy coconut biscuit with some rice paper stuck to the bottom then about a year ago everyone started going crazy for the posh macaroon. I think it had something to do with the Paul chain of French patisseries opening up. The posh macaroon has replaced the cupcake as the desriable special sweet thing. Cupcakes are everywhere and easy to buy quality examples of in any half decent supermarket. The macaroon however appears to show real effort. The macaroon tells people you've travelled to central London to a posh shop like Laudree or Fortnum & Mason and paid hand over fist for two chews of something delicate and beautiful.

I'm always told how the skill in baking justifies the high price an how they are oh so difficult to make yourself. I decided to make my own to see just how difficult or easy macaroons can be.

A macaroon essentially is two almond meringues with some buttercream in the middle. They do come in all flavours and colours and sometimes the almonds can be substitued with pistachios and the buttercream with whatever you like. I decided to make pure and simple almond macaroons with no other flavourings or colourings apart from sugar. I had scout around the internet for recipies and found an amalgamation of two to be the best. They are this one from Timeout where they're allowed into one of Paul's kitchens and this recipe from the BBC.

Here's the meringue of ground almond, icing sugar and egg whites. I followed what one recipe suggested and sat the egg whites for a day in the fridge before whisking.

Next time I attempt this I'm going to use a piping bag. I used a sandwich bag with the corner cut off and my meringues were not perfect circles and were quite large.

In the oven they rose perfectly. It's quite tricky to get them off the grease proof paper.

And here they are. I made a really basic buttercream using butter, granulated sugar and ground almond. As I said before as it was my first time making them I wanted the basic almond flavour.

In the end I would say that they are not too difficult to make. Like all baking you follow a methodical process which actually doesn't have too much room for error as long as you stick to the ratios and timings. I definitely need to invest in a piping bag after getting in a mess shaping the wet discs.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Rice Cook It Properly with Steam

Over the last decade I have come to a realisation that the majority of people in this country do not know how to cook rice. Most people cook it as if it is pasta. They chuck it in boiling water, leave it bouncing around for 20 minutes and then drain. Some poor fools even pour a kettle of boiling water on as they drain in a futile attempt to rinse off the gunk which has formed from the woefully incorrect cooking technique. Boiling rice like pasta does not bring out the quality and greatness of one the worlds finest staple cooking ingredients. Your pastafied rice will lack flavour and texture. It will be waterlogged and glued together like wallpaper paste. In this post I will explain how rice can be cooked with a basic saucepan and hob to bring out its true taste and quality.

I like the majority of people on this planet believe steaming is the best way to cook rice. When you steam rice you only put in the amount of water the rice needs. When the rice has cooked there will be no need to drain as the rice will have absorbed all of the water. It is a more gentle way to cook rice than boiling that retains the delicacy of flavour and the texture of each grain.

Now you can get many different types of rice all in different colours and flavours. In the photos I have cooked white Basmati rice. This is my preferred white rice for general use with Indian, Jamacian and Chinese food. Any long grain white rice will cook with the method below.

The correct measurement of water needed when steaming rice is two parts water to one part rice. A simple trick I learnt from a friend is that an espresso cup is enough rice for one person. You can then use two espresso cups to have the correct amount of water.

I do not wash or soak basmati rice. washing or soaking white rice removes the nutrients and more importantly the flavour. This is also what Delia believes and her word is food gospel. The rice is already washed during the milling process. However there are some varieties of glutenous rice which require soaking for 24 hours before steaming but that's for another post.

A wide saucepan with a lid is essential. I am lucky to have glass lidded pans which allows me to see exactly what is happeneing inside. You want the water to be about a centimetre above the rice so the more rice you make the wider the pan you need.

I have an unresponsive electric hob so I need to use two hobs to cook the rice on. Before I put the pan on I set one hob to the highest possible heat and one hob to the lowest possible heat. If you've got lovely gas hobs you won't need to swap.

Now once the water and rice are in the pan and before you've put it on the heat you've got to make a commitment. "I will not open the lid until it's ready!" Opening will lose valuable steam and don't even think of stirring, that's what makes rice wallpaper paste. You must trust the rice and the water to do their magic without you interfering.

Now to begin. First the pan goes onto the hob which is on the highest heat. The water is allowed to boil. Once the boil gets to it's peak the pan needs to be moved to the hob on the lowest heat. (if you've got responsive gas just turn the heat to low). I wait until the foamy bubbles get all the way to the top of the pan and make the pan jangle from the force of the steam escaping. Once I get my jangle I move the pan to the lowest hob.

Once it's on low heat it becomes a waiting game. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to cook so leave for 15 minutes before opening the lid. Only two things can go wrong. Too much water or not enough water. If the rice is uncooked after 15 mins it needs more water so just put a splash in and carry on steaming. If you've got too much water and the rice is cooked remove the pan from the heat and swap the lid for a tea towel. The excess moisture should go into the towel. If you've used the espresso cup trick you should not have either of these issues.

Once ready I always like to give the rice a good fork to fluff up before serving. If your hobs been too hot you may find a layer of hard overcooked rice on the bottom of the pan. Try not to scoop it up while serving.

Once you steam rice a few times and get the hang of it you will not have to measure the rice to water ratios as they will become second nature. You may find different vareties of rice need different amounts of water. I myself have leant that all rices can be steamed including brown, red and wild. They have different cooking times and require different amounts of water but I've learnt what to look for when cooking and can work out what they need. Please if cooking rice in the future abandon the pasta wallpaper paste method and steam rice to bring out its beautiful fragrant flavour and to keep its delicate texture intact.

I would also recommend you read Delia's guide to cooking rice as well as mine for more professional explanation and slightly different method. It's got a good bit about stirring anxiety: