Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fish Stew: Corfiot "Bianco" & My Love for Rick Stein

Bianco: White Fish Stew from Corfu

One of the things I unabashedly adore about the UK is Rick Stein.

A Little Background on Rick
Cornish Chef extraordinaire.

Rick, Chalky and some delicious Cornish seafood.

He is a middle-aged, awkwardly balding, ambiguously gay - but previously-married, like so many fruity British men - celebrity chef. I do have to say that I cringe a little when I use that loaded term "celebrity chef" to describe him, because Rick is just about anything but a culinarily-inclined-diva. What he is, is as non-glitzy and down to earth as someone who owns numerous award-winning restaurants, has written countless books, filmed countless cooking and travel shows, and is essentially *the* poster-boy for British seafood and therefore all of Cornwall, can be.

He is best known for his funny mannerisms, eloquent, typically British way of speaking ("it works a treat" most famously) and for toting his charming, scrappy little Jack-Russel Chalky (RIP) with him on all his world-wide cooking and eating adventures. With a degree in English from no less than Oxford University, it's no surprise all his programs have an air of the educated and refined. And his food, while both elegant and delicious, is also based on the respectable principles of sustainability, regionality, authenticity and - most importantly, in my mind - simplicity.

Currently showing on British tv are reruns of his "Mediterranean Escapes" (get the book on Amazon) and I happened to catch the one on Corfu a couple of weeks ago. I was immediately intrigued and lured in by a Corfiot fish-stew that Rick came across. It was made so simply and looked so delicious that I went out only a few days later and got all the ingredients to make it myself.

* * *

A Little Background on "Bianco"

(pronounced bee-ahn-coh)

Bianco, in Italian, means "white." Odd that a Corfiot dish would have an Italian name? Not so much if you know that Corfu was once controlled by the Venetians, which is where it and other fish stews in the Ionian sea, such as bourtheto - or "red" fish stew - (spicy and red from the tomatoes used to make it) take their origins. Though much simpler, Bianco, which is white because it lacks the "tomato" that bourtheto has, can also be compared somewhat to the Greek kakavia, a fisherman's fish soup which involves a quintessentially Greek touch - it is typically cooked on the boat, using seawater. How delicious does that sound?

What first caught my eye and piqued my interest about bianco - apart from the sheer quantity of lemon juice and garlic used in this recipe - is another important aspect of Greek cuisine that I dearly love: the use of whole, bone-in fish. As Rick sits down on a Corfiot beach, bowl of bianco before him, sun shining, and the whole giant cauldron of the stuff on the other end of his table, he makes a key observation:
"I thought of putting this on the menu in my restaurant [in Padstow, Cornwall] because I really liked it, but the only way that customers in Britain would like it would be chunks of fish off the bone, cooked in this garlicky lemon-and-peppery sauce. And I thought - nah, I'm not doing that. Because you need the bones of the fish to give the liquid its gelatinous quality. Without that, it wouldn't be the same, and someone would be bound to sue me for getting a bone in their throat anyway."
I love eating whole fish, or even chunks of fish with the bone in. It is something that the Greeks have mastered in their cuisine, and to me it is infinitely more appetizing. I've found my whole life in the US that people scare you about choking on fish bones to the point of absurdity, and for that reason we live in a boring world of fish sticks and salmon steaks. To me that is not what seafood is about.

Give me shrimp head-on. Give me a whole grilled sea bass cooked simply in butter and garlic. Give me octopus tentacles and whole baby calamari. Baby eels and live whole lobsters and crawfish, shell-on, galore. I'm so sick of people being squeamish about the food they eat. If you like calamari, don't complain about the tentacles. If you like fish, don't cry about having to pull the tail and head off - it's a FISH not just a chunk of meat!

Anyway, bianco is a great opportunity to get past the squeamishness of eating whole or bone-in fish because, as Rick says, without the bones in, the flavor is just not the same.

* * *

Bianco or "White Fish Stew" from Corfu

Serves 2

To me this dish screams summer, even though it's a stew. The simplicity and freshness of the ingredients "work a treat" on a hot summer day when you wish you were in Greece instead of stuffy old London. Fresh fish, fresh lemon, fresh garlic...I can't imagine something more appetizing.

In Rick Stein's show the Greek woman makes her bianco with a large Grouper fish. You can substitute seabass very easily for this fish as they come from the same family. I used Greek seabream because it was fresh and available that day in my supermarket. Oh and because it was Greek. :)

Here is a video of how to make Bianco from Rick Stein's Mediterranean Escape. I love watching it because it is an example of home-cooking at its best. Quantities are guest-imated, everything is chopped over the pot, and there is a large helping of Rick's commentary which makes it all the more pleasant.

1 whole Greek seabream or seabass (about 1-1.5 lbs in weight),
cut into steaks, keep the head and tail too*
1 cup lemon juice + 1 lemon cut in half
10-15 cloves of garlic, crushed and sliced
2 tbsp freshly ground pepper (don't be shy!)
1-2 cups water (or seawater!), adjust as necessary
1/2- 3/4 cup olive oil
3-4 medium potatoes sliced into thick-ish rounds
salt to taste
chopped parsley for garnish

* Ask your fishmonger to do this for you before you leave!

NB: I was tempted to add crushed red chili pepper to this, but thought it blasphemy as part of the allure is actually the spice and taste of the black pepper.


1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the garlic and let it simmer in the oil for a minute to infuse it with its flavor.

2. Add the pepper, fish (steaks, head and tail), potatoes, lemon juice, and enough water to just cover everything.  Add the salt and adjust to taste.

3. Cover the pot and allow to simmer on low for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Then simmer another 15-20 minutes with the top off, allowing the sauce to reduce. It should not be soupy but rather like a light stew. Correct the seasoning.

Serve in shallow bowls with parsley sprinkled over them, some crusty bread and extra lemon wedge on the side for good measure. Oh, and don't forget the bone plate for the fish!

A Small Bone to Pick: You can also cook the fish in the stew whole, not chopped. If you do this you can easily remove the head, tail and bones before serving and just dish out flaked or chunks of fish with the potatoes and stew. Yum without bones in your throat. :)

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Frankie's: A piece of Italian-Americana right here in Putney.

We were greeted with this image as we walked into Frankie's.
Nice. :)

This year was technically my 2nd Mother's Day, but it felt like the first because last year I found myself utterly consumed by a newborn who did anything and everything but shower me with cards or flowers. In fact, if I recall correctly, me and the rest of the world were still busy showering him with cards and flowers.

This year was much more me-centered in that regard: Matt and Roman took me to lunch at a local restaurant as my Mother's Day gift. Matt provided the champagne, Roman provided the 2+ hour nap (still in disbelief that this happened) which covered our entire lunch experience and saved us the hassle of high-chairs, bibs, and spilled spaghetti. It was a great meal, but let's face it - the nap was the real Mother's Day gift. : )

* * *

Top 5 Reasons to go to Frankie's
despite the shady-looking exterior

5. The Unabashed Swank.
Matt and I had probably walked by Frankie's hundreds of times since living in Putney but had never gone because the front looks like this:

blacked-out windows? really?

Not sure who made the call on that being appropriate way to "entice" patrons into the establishment, but at least they were smart enough to make the interior look like this:

really cool but really swanky.

It's a swanky slice of Italian-Americana right here in good old Putney. It's comfortable but cool - special enough that you want to dress up, but you don't really have to, and even if you don't, you still feel like you're one of the cool expensive-lunch crowd types who is just that understated that you don't have to flash bling.

4. Shockingly Enough: Kid Friendly.
By the time we got to Frankie's that fateful Sunday afternoon, I had already said 3 Hail Marys and 4 Our Fathers in hopes that Roman would stay asleep and not cause a riot in the restaurant. It wasn't just because I wanted a civilized lunch - I was downright worried that Frankie's was anything but a "child friendly" establishment from the looks of it. I was very wrong.

Roman didn't wake up until we left the restaurant, plump, pleased and a wee bit tipsy off champagne (us, that is). But if he had woken up, he would have been in good company. Two of the four tables at the restaurant had children - and not quiet sleeping newborns either. Toddlers, who screamed, broke glasses, ran around with checkered napkins tucked into their shirts and stuck to their shoes, and even came over and peeped into Roman's stroller.

Not only were they provided with a children's meal of a smaller size, there were highchairs and booster seats readily available, and the waitstaff was very understanding and helpful. It was no Chuckee Cheez's, but it wasn't stuffy, uncomfortable or inappropriate for kids. I was quietly thankful.

3. Marco Pierre White
Yes, once again he rears his (sorry) ugly head in my blog (see Homage to the Bouillon Cube post). He may not be a looker, but Marco Pierre White has the whole "making good food" thing down to an art.

I have, alas, never been to any of his other restaurants, nor have I ever watched Hell's Kitchen. And on top of all that, I think he kind of sounds like he was a real a$$ in his hey-day. But you have to give someone who was once the youngest chef to earn 3 Michelin-stars some respect. He had all or most of the British greats work under him - Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal, and Bryn Williams.

I guess patronizing Frankie's is about as close as I get to showing respect. Besides, if I didn't throw him a bone and he read this blog (ha!) I might end up like that young chef at Harveys, who once complained of heat in the kitchen, and was rumoured to have the back of his chef's jacket and trousers cut open by White who was wielding a sharp paring knife.
*For more incredible MPW stories, go here.

2. A très raisonnable Prix Fixe
Part of the charm of Frankie's for me was the simplicity of it. The giant disco balls hanging from the cieling weren't exactly minimalist, but the menu was. I am always both thrilled and thankful for restaurants with simple, concise menus. It makes my choice much easier because in having to cover all the main options (meat, seafood, pasta, etc) in a smaller number of dishes, there are naturally fewer things I can't decide between, and that is always a blessing for me and my chronic restaurant-indecisiveness.

At Frankie's you pay less than a twenty for either a two or three-course lunch: starter, main and dessert if you have room. The portions are perfect (and not minimalist), and the food is hearty but mod at the same time. The wine list is also fairly concise and unpretentious. Their champagne was excellent and reasonably priced. In London, this is a God-send.

1. The Spaghettini with Lobster.
Yes, LOBSTER. And yes it's on the prix fixe menu. And the supplement is minimal (a quid fifty if I recall correctly).

This pasta was cooked to perfection. A spicy tomato sauce, spiked with pepperoncino chili and lots of garlic. There was a surprisingly generous amount of lobster meat already mixed in with the pasta (I prefer this as trying to peel and eat Lobster with tomato sauce involved is inevitably ugly). And the portion was fitting of a home-style-ish Italian restaurant, but not overkill.

I am not generally a fan of very thin pastas like spaghettini or angel hair, but this one held its own with the sauce and lobster, and was anything but mushy or slimy. I loved it. And I would go back just to eat it again. And again. : )

* * *

Frankie's Express
263 Putney Bridge Road
London SW15 2PU

+44 (0)20 8780 3366

PS: Check it out! This post got featured on the Putney Local website!

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Random Spicy Encounters & My Very Own Garam Masala

Garam Masala: A little bit of homemade magic.

When we first got to London three and a half years ago, we were bombarded by quite a few new sights, sounds, and sensations. Some good (initially countable on one hand), some bad (I won't go there), and some just plain different (that's the fun part).

Just one of the big differences between London and New York (where we'd just moved from) is the immigrant populations and ensuing ethnic influences (cultural, culinary, religious) that are reflected in the city. While New York has its fair share of delicious Indian restaurants (
Tabla or Curry Leaf are just two good ones), it has nothing even distantly approaching the realm of Indian and Pakistani choices that London does, not even in Jackson Heights or Lex & 30th.

But even in London and its notorious world of Anglo-South Asian pleasures, like in all things, you get the good, the bad and the ugly: the good presumably being decently priced and ridiculously delicious Indian food, the bad being the expensive crap-"curry," and the ugly being the suspiciously greasy kebab shops selling roadkill-
doner and chicken tikka (they don't all, but just sayin'...).

* * *

Random (and rather spicy) Encounters with Masala.

I had a lot of learning to do, having only dipped the equivalent of a pinky toe in the deep waters of Indian-deliciousness while in New York. One of my first revelations after seeing the word "Masala" plastered on every other Indian restaurants name, was what that word meant:
"spice." And when I started hearing the phrase "garam masala" thrown around on cooking shows, my ears perked up but I never knew why.

cardamom & black pepper:
just two ingredients in a good mix

Three Officially Random Encounters with Masala
my life is random, what can I say?

1. My first year in London, I was informed by a nice Indian man at a food trade show that Masala meant "spice" as he handed me a small sample of his freezeable-microwaveable-chicken-tikka-masala. He then also (and erroneously) "informed" me that all chilli peppers originated in India. Surprisingly (or not) when he got a feisty (slightly indignant) Mexican retort about said supposed origin of chilli peppers, he was no longer so generous with the samples and I gruffly made my way to the next stall.

Lucky for me, that was not my only random encounter with Indian spices and their origins.

2. Secondly, while pregnant and bored, I randomly wandered into a giant store in Tooting called
Deepak Food & Wine. Deepak is a supermarket / wholesale Asian spice and food heaven (haven?). It is the only place I have ever seen 25kg bags of rice, lentils and every conceivable bean you can think of. They offer small sachets or 2kg bags of spices, herbs, or spice mixes. You can find any type of curry paste, curry powder, and even buy a lifetime supply of takeaway containers and forks if you really want to.

Besides wandering around taking a million pictures on my cell phone, I also saw and examined a bag of "garam masala" whole spice mix for the first time while in this store. I didn't buy it. But I did pick it up - and stared for a very long time.

3. One night while trawling the internet for a good recipe involving primarily cauliflower and ground beef (long story, hadn't been to the supermarket in forever, yadda yadda) I randomly happened to find
this blog. "Food for Thought" was an easily readable food blog written about Indian cuisine and the culture surrounding it.

Sadly, its owner had abandoned it long before I came across it, but not only did I find a wonderful recipe for
Keema Gobhi* - a pakistani recipe for cauliflower and ground beef - it opened my eyes to what Garam Masala - that secret spicy treasure of Indian cooking - really was, and how to make it myself. And make it myself I did.

*This recipe does not include ground beef, but this one does - and I combined the two for an excellent result.

* * *

So, no longer a "masala" virgin, and the proud owner of a varied and delicious international spice cabinet - with many of the thanks going to making Indian / Asian food at home over the past three years - I can now feel pretty confident in writing my own two-cents about the Indian / Pakistani food scene here in London. In the name of England's unofficial national food (curry, that is), here's a post on some of my favorite Indian/Pakistani dishes and places to get them here in Londontown.

My Top 7 Places To Grab a "Good Curry"
and oh-so-much-more than just that...
in London, of course

onion, ginger, garlic & bay

7. Brick Lane

If you come to London you should see
Brick Lane. It's an East End establishment: an ethnic, primarily Bangladeshi street, where street signs are written in Arabic and ethnic food shops and cool food & doodad markets abound. Amazingly, where Brick Lane meets Whitechapel Street is where one of the first murders attributed to the infamous Jack the Ripper took place. There's Brick Lane Market, but you're also a hop-skip-and-jump away from Spitalfields, which is really cool.

Sadly, the major part of Brick Lane is now made up of mediocre (if not bad) Indian restaurants. There are about a million of them and they all have "the best deal" and "the best review" posted on their windows and doors, and the stereotypical haggling doormen calling after you to go with them. We were overwhelmed and chose one at semi-random after doing a quick google search on Matt's blackberry. The food was pretty decent - and shockingly cheap by London standards! - but nothing to write mom (or the blogosphere) about.

One other cool thing to do on Brick Lane is to check out a little
Masala Chai stand that opens in part of the street-food-market on the weekends. They make fresh Masala Chai which is fun to see and delicious to drink. It is not, however for the faint-hearted: they are very generous with the cardamom. You have been warned.

6. Masala Zone
When we first moved to London we lived in the only barely charming and really-quite-boring Earl's Court. The high street featured some decent eateries, among them a place called Masala Zone. The name itself kind of put me off, plus the restaurant - though not unappealing aesthetically speaking - has all the makings of a chain. Crisp, clean modern decor and a menu that reads like a "how to order Indian food" catalogue. In their own words:
"...our restaurants serve real indian food and cuisines, in contemporary yet exotic Indian popular art settings..."
That said, I really like Masala Zone. It is owned by the same people who did Chutney Mary (see below) and is meant to be affordable and authentic - both of which it is. It is also, incidentally, pretty darn good on flavor. The fact that they offer " thali" style eating also makes tasting lots of different things and eating the way Indians presumably do much easier than just ordering a la carte. This is worth a stop if you're short on cash and looking to try several things at once.

MASALA ZONE (Earl's Court)

147 Earls Court Road

London Sw5 9RQ

5. Cinnamon Club

Ah the Cinnamon Club. It's the "good Indian restaurant" in London that everyone has heard of and wants to go to. It's not exactly a well-kept secret, nor does it want to be. It's popular with everyone from the artsy-marketing-sales" crowd to the financiers, and with a beautiful setting like the historic Old Westminster Library (floor to shockingly-high-ceiling bookshelves lining the walls and all), it's not surprising everyone likes it.

I went there for a dinner for someone's birthday in a private dining room and loved every bit of it. But the tandoori prawns are what stuck out then and stick out in my mind now. Unbelievably delicious, tender, juicy tandoori prawns served with a wedge of lemon and some saffron-laced rice. It's worth going just to taste those. But save it for a special occasion because those 3 prawns will probably cost you an arm, and the amazing wine you order to go with them will definitely take your leg.


The Old Westminster Library
30-32 Great Smith Street

London SW1P 3BU

4. Lahore Kebab House

Two words: Lamb-chops.

I've already gone on at length about this place, so please go back and read my
British "Local Color" at its Best: Lahore Kebab House post if you want to know more. No survey of London's Anglo-Indian/Pakistani scene is complete without giving them a mention. But if you don't believe me, check out celebrity-esque Indian chef Anjum's opinion. And don't forget to BYOB! : )


2-10 Umberston Street
London E1 1PY

3. Chutney Mary

What an odd name for an Indian restaurant, right? I thought it was kind of a joke when I first saw it, but then I realized that it's on King's Road in the heart of beautiful (and beautifully expensive) Chelsea, and in a very large building on King's Road at that, which meant that either whoever was bank-rolling the place was loaded with plenty of money to waste, or the place is
really good.

Luckily, the latter is true. Chutney Mary is probably the most aesthetically pleasing (to my taste) restaurant in terms of decor that I have mentioned here. And the food matches up. It's all very chic, very Indian, and very colorfully delicious. I had a great 5-course tasting menu dinner there with Matt one night. It was the kind of meal where I got more excited after every single course and started to wonder how on earth the next course could possibly top the previous (but it always did).
I loved it.

It's the type of place that makes you feel special and exclusive and in-the-know when you go there. The reception is completely separate and curtained from the restaurant. And the fact that a large portion of the whole establishment is underground and therefore dark and uber-ly swanky with mirror-lined walls doesn't hurt either.
It wasn't cheap, but for the quality of food and experience combo, it's definitely worth it.


535 Kings Road

London SW10 0SZ

2. Rasoi

I have never been to Rasoi, but my better-half has, and I trust him almost blindly (with some noteable acceptions) with regards to food. He raved about this place almost as much as he raved about Lahore (see above), but in a different Michelin-star-induced kind of way (until he realized he'd gotten food-poisoning from something he ate there, at which point he recanted and swore off Mango-lassis for life).

There's so much that seems cool about this place to me, though: it's on a private, mostly residential street, in a private-looking house in the middle of the most exclusive neighborhood (or one of them) in Chelsea. A couple of blocks from Sloane Square, Rasoi is actually just 3 or 4 doors down from my posh private dentist's office, which says a lot because that is hands-down the nicest dentist's office I've ever been to in my life.

The way Matt described it (in his good moments) was Indian food cooked and served with French technique and style. To some that may take away some of the authentic charm of Indian, but for others, it is a worthwhile culinary experience. It's like the Cinnamon Club on steroids. If I had more time, I'd probably have to make Matt swear off his blacklisting and take me there.


10 Lincoln Street, Chelsea
, SW3 2TS

1. Ma Goa

As a Londoner, you start to accumulate "locals" whether you want to or not. The mother of all "locals" is your, well, "local" which in British-English means "your local pub." You often hear people say things like "Let's go the local and have a pint" or "it's not a bad local" in reference to this phenomenon. Everybody's got one, from the Prime Minister to the random American-expat living in Putney.

In addition to the pub, you also have your local "takeout" which can refer to any number of restaurants which are "good" and deliver in your area - generally Chinese, Pizza, or Kebabs in the UK (in all fairness, while you do get
some good food here in the UK, Chinese is not one of them, so I have resisted partaking in this localness).

But the second most common and important "local" that everybody's got in the pantheon of localities is the great local Indian restaurant. Matt and I are no exception. It took us a while to agree on one, and to this day I think maybe I'm slightly more partial to this place than Matt, but no matter what he pretends, once the food is in front of him and he gets a whiff he admits it every time - Ma Goa is freaking

This restaurant is family-run and owned by a southern Indian (Goan, to be exact) family and based on the mother's home cooking - hence the "ma" in the name. Their takeaway menu is littered with references to "Ma" and what her favorite dishes are. There is even a picture of her and her son on the website (I eat that stuff up, as you can tell).

Besides doing good, hot, freshly-made takeaway - unlike many other Indian places that delivery, Ma Goa is not a nasty, greasy hole-in-the-wall with a miniature kitchen, a payment counter and a delivery man, helmet-always-on sitting inside on a dirty couch. Ma Goa is a tastefully decorated, immaculately clean restaurant with two spacious (by London standards) dining rooms and a friendly staff.

My favorite dishes - and the ones I think they do especially well - are:

Saag Paneer:
My favorite Indian veggie dish - Creamed spinach with homemade Indian cheese - there's just a hint of heat, dill and cumin in this, and I think it's superlative compared to the many other versions I've tried.

Gallina Konkan Style:
I order this almost every time I eat there. It's a spicey-sour curry sauce with tender chunks of chicken. It's the kind of dish that, after I've eaten all the chicken, I pour the rest of the remaining sauce either a) on the left-over rice or b) directly into my mouth and devour it.

Achari Murgh Tikka (or Achari Chicken):
I discovered Achari dishes by accident. Again at the aforementioned food tradeshow in 2007 I was given a cooking sachet sample by a different Indian guy. This time it was Achari spices: a type of "bruised" mixture of pickling spices with a unique and pungent flavor. This is not for the faint-hearted as it approximates eating lime-pickle served over chicken, which I, incidentally, think is also very tasty. : ) You can buy packs of Achari spices at Partridges for DIY Indian food.

Tandoori Chicken:
This is Matt's go-to dish. It gets a bad rap by a whole lot of "Indian connoisseur" wannabes because it's basically spiced, marinated grilled chicken, which does not seem exotic or complex enough to those - for lack of a better word - fools. But we know better. We, the superior ones, know that sancta simplicitas est mater-deliciousness. Tandoor ovens are one of Asia's greatest gifts to the world. And when this unique, especially-hot oven is paired with a good marinade, fresh lemon, some rice, naan and salad, you've got a perfect dinner on your hands.


Someone once complained to me that they only went once to eat at Ma Goa and never returned because their coats "smelled like curry" for a week after they left. I guess my answer to that would be, "clearly you don't love Indian food. Do us all a favor: stay home and save the seating space for the rest of us." : )

242-244 Upper Richmond Road

London SW15 6TG

*reservations are recommended for Fri & Sat nights.

* * *

My Very Own Garam Masala
Makes about 6 tbsps

highly aesthetically pleasing: my jar of garam masala

Garam Masala literally means "Hot Spice" from the Hindi words "garam" meaning "hot" and "masala" meaning "spice" or "blend (of spices)." It is found in both powder or paste form, in the latter case being mixed with vinegar, water, or coconut milk. There are as many possible permutations to the mix as there are tastebuds in India. My recipe appears to be based on a more Northwestern Indian take, as it includes black cumin, typical of that region.

Interestingly, Indian cuisine is very precise on when and how Garam Masala is added to a dish. It is often added at the very end - either sprinkled on top in the last minutes of cooking, or even just used as a type of salt or pepper just before serving.

I already had all the spices necessary for homemade Garam Masala when I found a recipe for it on "Food for Thought," so making it was easy. For some who may not keep such an extensive or "exotic" collection at home, it might be easier to buy the pre-ground stuff (doesn't keep for too long) or the whole spice mixes which you can grind as necessary. I tend to use it quite a lot now that I have it on hand for all sorts of Indian and Indian-inspired dishes, so I'm glad I've learned this skill as I can tailor it to my palate.


2 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1 tbsp cardamom pods, crushed and seeds removed (shells thrown away)
1/2 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp cloves (either whole or I used already ground for ease)
1 small cinnamon stick (or 1 tbsp ground)
1/2 tsp black cumin seeds
1/2 tsp regular cumin seeds
1/4 nutmeg, ground
2 crushed bay leaves

Mortar & Pestle


Using a mortar and pestle, crush coriander seeds & cardamom first and then add the rest of the ingredients, crushing and smashing until you get a fine powdered mixture. This could take a while so you can also use a small food processor for faster results. : )

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Goodbye London - Hello Abu Dhabi!

The English Countryside image credit

The Desert in Abu Dhabi image credit

* * *

Some things come so easily: one day you wake up and you realize you need to break up with him, or that you don't want to major in Romance Languages, or that you maybe don't actually hate Mayonnaise nearly as much as you thought. But then some things don't come so easily: actually breaking up with him, switching your major, and taking that final leap of faith and putting mayo on your ham sandwich.

Sometimes with some things every fiber of your being hesitates or even screams out in rebellion, and you have to positively choose to do something, go somewhere that is beyond your personal limitations.

Luckily for me, those types of decisions have always been, ultimately, both the most satisfying and the most exciting. While they may be excruciating for a moment, they usually result in a revelation and a great adventure - not to mention increased confidence and experience. Those are the things worth doing, worth risking for.

Mayo? Not exactly. : )

It took almost 5 months
of interviews, phone conferences, a weekend trip to the Middle East (for Matt, at least), frenzied googling, and numerous late-night discussions regarding the pros and cons involved in leaving London and going to a place that is about as foreign as most Westerners would ever be able to conceive of, to finally establish and affirmatively decide that yes, we actually will move to Abu Dhabi.

And now that we've decided and really known for about a month and I have settled it in my mind and in my heart and in my queasy-sometimes-secretly-uneasy-gut, I am really excited.

We're moving to Abu Dhabi!

It's hard to emphasize that phrase in the way I do inside my head. It's excitement and wonder and slight incredulity wrapped up in one. I can't tell you how many times I've dreamed of the day we'd leave London. Not that I hate London...anymore. But seriously, the undying hope always rested in my heart that someday very soon I'd be turning in my Oyster card and looking for a car somewhere back in the good old USA. Instead, I'm going to the Middle East, which is unexpected but fortuitous in and of itself. It's a wonderful, unique opportunity - especially in this day in age - and one that I hope will make us all grow and understand the world in a deeper more well-rounded way. Le sigh...

Goodbye London! Hello Abu Dhabi!

* * *

For those of you who, like me, know very little about Abu Dhabi, here are a couple of aesthetically pleasing images (of course) that might make you change some of your immediate and naturally biased, but somewhat press-driven impressions when I say "Middle East."

Abu Dhabi skyline, at night
photo credit

The Coffee Pot Fountain, Abu Dhabi
photo credit

Abu Dhabi's Grand Mosque
photo credit

Louvre Abu Dhabi:
a projected image of Jean Nouvel's finished museum
photo credit

Beach in Fujayrah, a sheikdom near Abu Dhabi
photo credit
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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Summer by the Sea" on My Plate: Samphire in Beurre Meunière

summer by the sea, on a plate

It is rare these days that I find something in the supermarket that I've never seen before. I've spent many a morning or afternoon, as Roman can attest to, trawling the aisles, checking out every nook and cranny to see what new has come in and what old has gone out. I regularly come home with new ingredients, spices, herbs - anything I've never tried. It is one of my favorite things to do and I consider it a luxury that Matt eats pretty much anything I put before him, no matter how odd or unorthodox, and gives his honest two-cents.

I've just re-joined my local gym, having avoided it successfully since Roman was born. Maybe it was the memories of late April afternoons spent floating like a whale hoping Roman would turn to the "optimal" birthing position, maybe it was just laziness, but it took a year for me to get back into it. I did my first aerobics class ever today. It became clear very quickly why I'd never done one before when after only 10 minutes I felt like my chest would collapse into itself and my arms stopped moving on command (let's not talk about my legs). But I stuck it out. And lived to eat another day.

Incidentally, it's after an intense workout that I most crave fresh summery foods - cucumber, tomato, lettuce, fish. Directly after the gym today I rushed to my local Waitrose and picked up some Tilapia (a fish I rarely see in the UK but which reminds me of home). And next to it, resting on ice in the fish counter, my prize for the 30 minutes of aerobic hell I'd just gone through: something I'd only heard of and seen twice in cooking shows: Samphire!

I quickly grabbed a pack, and rushed off to my kitchen, eager for a fresh, summery and tasty adventure.

* * *

Samphire: My "Summer by the Sea" on a Plate

samphire and Cornish wooden fish

Why Summer?
I know technically summer hasn't started, but for me, mentally, summer always starts as soon as May hits. As a kid in Texas, May was the beginning of the end. Pools opened, school wound down, and before you knew it you were running out those double-doors, practically flinging your clothes off to reveal the swimsuit you'd been secretly wearing to school for the past week, feral screams echoing behind you, exuberantly, shamelessly cannon-balling into the local pool.

I didn't grow up by the seaside, but I always wished I had. Maybe it's for that reason that I'm obsessed with seafood and fish. It's my way of vicariously transporting myself to a beach campfire where fresh catch is simply seasoned and thrown on a large romantic fire and cool white wine flows freely. I think Samphire is and has always been the element missing from that beautiful dinner-time mirage.

Sadly, Samphire is only a summer thing. It has a very short season from June to August (though apparently in the UK you can get it in May too!), so now is the time to pounce.

Why Samphire?
What is Samphire? It's seaweed, simply put. But a whole lot prettier than Nori or the stuff that tangles itself in your toes and freaks you out at the beach. Salicornia sp. is a seashore bush common in the UK and has bright green, succulent stems. It was once used in glassware manufacture, where it got its nickname glasswort. In fact, in the 14th Century glassmakers would locate their workshops near regions where it was plentiful as it was so useful to them. Most know it as "marsh samphire" not to be confused with its less tasty and nasty looking companion "rock samphire" (source).

I had to try it the moment I saw it. It's a deliciously bright green, and looks like every drawing of the perfect green seaweed you've ever seen in a cartoon or book. It is fresh and summery looking and tasting. The perfect accompaniment to my fake summer by the sea.

* * *

Tilapia and Steamed Samphire
with Beurre Meunière

Serves 2

This recipe can be used just as a side dish - the perfect accompaniment to any simply cooked, fresh seafood dish, but I used the sauce for both the samphire and Tilapia.

My version of beurre meunière deviates slightly from the traditional recipe in that I use half lemon juice, half sherry vinegar, and add shallots and lemon zest for a little more substance. It is substantial in flavor, but otherwise such a simple, classic sauce that it doesn't detract in any way from the Samphire or fish. The perfect summer dish, if you ask me. : )

* * *

100g Fresh Samphire, rinsed well
4 filets of Tilapia, boneless and skinless
2 tbsp flour

For the Beurre Meunière:
1 regular or 2 small shallots, finely chopped
125g or 4 oz unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
2 tsp sherry vinegar
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest, or finely chopped lemon skin
1 tbsp parsley, chopped

1. Season the fish with salt and pepper, then dredge in the flour.

2. Melt about 1/4 of the butter in a saucepan and allow it to come to a bubble. Add the filets of fish one at a time and cook for about 1-2 minutes on each side, until the fish is just opaque and slightly golden. Remove the fish to a warm plate.

3. Add the rest of the butter and allow it to come to a bubble over lowish heat. Allow it to brown slightly (as if you were making a roux). When it is golden and nutty smelling, add the shallots and cook for a minute.

4. Add the lemon juice, vinegar and parsley and cook for 30 seconds, remove from heat but keep sauce warm.

5. Steam the samphire (this can be done while you are making the sauce and should only take 2-4 minutes if it is fresh).

5. Serve immediately: plate the samphire first, with a filet of fish or two over it. Spoon the sauce over both and garnish with a thin slice of lemon.
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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Happy 1st Birthday Roman!

making a silent, slightly confused, but very "1"ish wish.

Happy 1st Birthday Roman!

At 5:20pm on May 1st last year, Matt and I were finally breathing the huge sigh of relief we'd been waiting to let out for almost a month (mine slightly more woozy and drugged-out than his): Roman Lawrence was safely, healthily, and massively (!) born; perfect, breathing, 10-fingers-10-toes-1-head-and-no-tail, and in our arms at long last!

To say it was slightly surreal but wonderful is only an approximation because becoming a parent is an experience that completely catches you off-guard. It both frightens and thrills in equal parts. And until you've done it, you have no idea what it will be like (and for the record, even after you have, you make it up entirely as you go along :) ).

Today, May 1st 2010, exactly one year later, we are once again breathing a huge sigh of relief - probably one of thousands we've breathed since that first day. Literally. Just yesterday Roman fell down a seemingly endless flight of stairs (he was perfectly fine) and tried to eat a giant wolf spider. (As if I needed heart attack issues this early in life! The nerve.)

But this time around we are breathing the sight of relief from the comfort of our home: Roman has made it through his first year in one piece!

And miraculously, so have we. All largely unscathed, better for the wear, and happy to boot.

We've laughed, we've cried, we've done it all.

Happy Birthday INDEED.

* * *

Here are some choice shots from Roman's 1st Birthday Party today.

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