Bukhara

When I told friends I want to make my own bread they all thought I am crazy – bread making is a craft in itself, it is a combination of accurate chemistry and adaptability, it takes up a lot of time and kitchen space, and a lot of heart. That is probably the reason so few restaurants make their own bread. But I really think a restaurant should have a signature bread, baked fresh on the premises every day( preferably for every service)

File:Kalon-Ensemble Buchara.jpg

The question is what kind of bread – the obvious choice would be flat bread, which I love and is easy to make, but as the idea is to distinct myself from other middle eastern eateries, Pita bread won`t do.

The bread I need should be spongy enough to mop up sauces but thin enough to eat with your hands, and have a very thin crust. something between a pita bread, focaccia and sponge cake.

I remember something that fits the bill: we used to get it from a little family bakery at the entrance to the market in Jerusalem, and they called it Bukhara bread – A big golden brown round loaf, about an inch thick, dotted with Nigella seeds, the crust shiny and sweet, the bread soft and yielding and just a tiny bit chewy –  just what I am looking for.

I looked it up:  Bukhara is in Uzbekistan (where that is you can check yourself), it was a major trade center on the silk road, and it is sister city to Rueil Malmaison  (again, you can check yourself) and Santa Fe. Wikipedia doesn’t mention anything about bread.

A bit more research and I found a mention of something called `Bukhara obo non`, a bread scented with Nigella seeds, I could not find any recipes but I ended up watching an 8 min video on Uzbek food. fascinating, if you’re into this sort of things.

And than I found the wonderful website uzbekcuisine.com with a whole page on different bread recipes, most of them require mutton fat and contain the phrase `make a pattern with a chekish` and end with the phrase `cook in the tandoor`- which I don’t have, nor do I have a chekish, whatever that may be.

So I got the basic dough recipe,  olive oil instead of mutton fat, and took it from there.

Aren`t they pretty? quite delicious as well, even without the tandoor and mutton fat, but it needs more tweaking, more flavour. next attempt will be with sourdough starter and spelt, as soon as I get rid of these two loaves

http://wn.com/uzbek_cuisine

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Cheap thrills

I love Sardines, and I love people who love sardines.

A lot of people have an aversion to them in their fresh form, maybe they had a bad encounter with a less than fresh fish, or maybe is the little bones you cant get rid of, but the  people who clocked on to how good they are, they are the smart ones, in my book.

 Sardines, with all the other little oily fish – herring, anchovies, have the same taste apeal as oysters – the briny, mineral sea flavour, but with a firm bite and buttery texture. And the are cheap – for the price of a single oyster you can buy a pound of them.

I got these at the Portugese fishmonger on market row, brixton market. I must admit, most of the fish stalls in the market (and butchers, for that matter) are quite disgusting, but these guys are ok, if you know what your`e looking for. The ones on Atlantic Ave. are not bad either. I didnt plan on getting anything, but when you see sardines as fresh and nice as this, you just buy them.

And when they are as fresh and nice as this, they need as little intervention as possible. After they are cleaned and trimmed thouroghly,  they get a good sprinkling of salt, and are left to cure with vine leaves, a bit of lemon and a tiny bit of garlic.

               

After a few hours the fish will have changed colour slightly, and it is ready to eat. It can be left to cure for longer, but I think that it should be as close as possible to raw. Cover it now in oil and you can keep it in the fridge for a week or longer, but I rarely do – on a plate with some olive oil, a bit of parsley and a squeeze of tomato, and I doubt you ever got that much joy out of £2.30.


big boys don`t cry

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Not Kidding

Still havent sign the lease. My lawyer has taken a long weekend and I won`t have any news untill tomorrow. The estate agent is not returning my calls and I am that much closer to a complete meltdown.

But there is some progress – I have finally opened a bank account for the business and oddly enough, I bought the chairs. I know its strange, but at least now I have something tangible, an evidence that one day there will be a restaurant. That or I will have 22 chairs at home.

Nice aren’t they? Second hand, so I bet they have some stories to tell, not quite the `jubillee banquette at Buckinham palace` type,  more like the `staff lunch at ASDA Croydon` type, but so what? ASDA provides excellent value shopping, and plenty of nice things came out of Croydon, though none come to mind at the moment.

No progress on the bread front, but I did make goat stew.

 It was disgusting.

Eating goat, or kid, is an excellent idea: It is tasty, it is lean, it is cheap and because it’s not an industry, it is usually free range.

And it is very middle eastern – or used to be – and also very Brixton.

The first time I tried goat meat was in east Jerusalem, cooked with wild sage on hot coals, it was magic. I had it again  in St. John, Shared a whole shoulder of kid with friends and that too was magic – the meat was braised in a delicate stock and was buttery and full of flavour. I cooked kid once before, in Melbournes` excelent MoVida, where I worked for a day – Cooked with onion, carrots and vermouth but mostly with its own juices, it was again, magic.

I thought I was on to a winner, but as we know, nothing good comes easy – I bought this meat at a Brixton butcher, it was labeled ` curry goat`. I braised it with garlic, onion, spice and potatoes for over six hours, expecting an eat-with-a-spoon kind of thing, but it didn’t happen.

Dinner time came, my in laws came over, I ended up serving this tough and leathery affair.

 It was a very quiet, very tense evening.

So what went wrong? Before I take the blame I like to try again with kid from a different butcher. Judging The quality of a type of meat your`e not overly familiar with is tricky, but this is the reason I experiment before the restaurant opens. 

I feel really bad  about the  In laws though, I`m affraid they took it personally.


chairs in paradise

No luck with the bread yet. Because I didn’t make any. I ended up running up and down town looking at furniture, equipment and more furniture.

I saw some really good chairs In Kensal Green of all places, which goes to show that anything can happen. For those of you who have never heard of it, Kensal Green is a north London suburb, most famed , if I can use that term, for its Victorian graveyard and a pub called paradise.

 Not a joke.

My designer friend sent me there to a salvage shop – I suppose the graveyard location naturally attracts salvage shops, And the place itself does have that graveyard feel, but in a good way.  I saw some chairs I really liked, reasonably priced and there were enough of them, but it felt silly to buy them before I signed the lease. What do I do with 27 stools if the deal doesn’t go through? But what if I lose them? something to think about this weekend.

Scary how fast this week went, and how little got done.


Half baked

The difficulties of setting up a restaurant? where to start; Still trawling the UK banking system in an attempt to find some loose change to fund my restaurant with.

My lawyer, a sweet but super scary lady, has taken over negotiation from me,  and the gap between how by-the-book she is and the estate agents` ghetto ways  leaves me  in constant fear that something will go wrong. They have exchanged 4 e-mails trying to establish the property number. I had to go down there and count houses.

I would love to post pictures of the place, but not untill the lease is signed. Bad luck you see.

Had a design meeting with my designer friend, who came up with some really important insights, and some great ideas. It was great fun talking to someone professionally about how to realize all these notions I had, and to see the beginning of a floor plan forming. Exciting stuff.

But the one thing I can’t seem to nail,  the biggest hardship so far has been the issue of bread –  I can’t decide what sort of bread I want to serve in the restaurant.

 I know the obvious choice for middle eastern food is flat bread or pita, but I really want to avoid the obvious, and there are so many types of bread that can work, But getting it right takes a while: you can only taste the result when the loaf is ready, and then you have to start from scratch, adding 10 gr. of yeast or half a teaspoon of salt. And if something goes wrong, It goes horribly wrong. This was meant to be a beautiful loaf of spongy type bread I thought will work beautifully, and I really hoped to have a golden-crusted-crown-of-bread  picture for the end of this post.

That won`t be the case. I will spare you the details, and myself the embarrassment  but due to a unique combination of cold weather, lethargic yeast, oven malfunction and incredible stupidity on my part, this loaf did not provide the Kodak moment I was hoping for, and was quite disgusting to eat as well.

tomorrow is designated bread day, hope to do better than this.