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.


And so, to work…

The lease has been agreed, I hired a lawyer to go through the details, hope it will all go smoothly. Now that it’s all happening I realize that I havent done as much as I could these last few months: I still don’t know where to get all the equipment, which bank offers the best rates, what the place is going to look like, and to my shame, even the recipes are not final (on the plus side, I am the holder of the spider solitaire house record, and have mastered the dish `linguini marmite`). Not much I could do over the weekend except cook.

Cooking in olive oil is a very turkish thing to do; In any restaurant in Istanbul you are more than likely to get at least one vegetable cooked this way, usually as mezze. I don’t mean frying in oil, but actually submerging  a vegetable in oil and aromatics and gently simmering – somehow it accents the flavor of the main ingredient, and gives it a unique buttery texture.

of course, cooking in olive oil is not cheap, but you can use the same oil again three or four times, and the result will actually be better for it. In fact the oil that remains has so much flavor, it makes for amazing seasoning.

Don`t judge this dish by this picture, It is really delicious and special, and my favorite way to eat fennel. About the pictures, I really thought I would get better at this, but the picture quality of this blog seems to be going down by the post. Drastic action must be taken I know. If anyone has some entry-level food photography advice or links, I would be very grateful.

Supposedly, This week should see me setting up a business account, starting to work on finding equipment and on the design,  finding builders to do the place up, and to work on bread and dessert recipes, a task I was dreading to tackle. Again, any advice from readers of this blog who are not married to me is most welcome.


Preserved lemon and mint chicken

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This one is inspired by  one of the best chef I know, a woman called Margaret Tayar who cooks in her restaurant, on a terrace by the  beach in Jaffa.  not a fancy place –  concrete floor, the furniture is old white plastic and the tablecloth is clearly made out of old curtains. She is around 60 I guess. with crazy black locks, beautiful blue eyes and a constant smile that was showing braces last time I was there.If she is not in the kitchen she is sitting at the entrance on a manky wicker chair, bare feet up, vegetables piled up around her that she would prep with her cousin, or sister, who are also the waiting staff. the food she cooks is based on north african traditions ( I think her family are Tunisian or Algerian), but is a thing all of its own – `mediterranian magic` might be a possible title. she is famous for her mezze salads, grilled fish, couscous dishes and her magic touch – some people, very few, have such an instinct for food, an instincts that guides them when they choose ingredients, decide when it is ready to cook, how to cook it and with what, and these are the people whose food you want, time and again, to come back to.

 But it’s not only the food – she is one of the happiest people I know contaigiously happy, and always seconds away from laughing.I never heard her complain about anything (except  the fish monger who tries to rob and cheat her every day for so many decades now) and she would always say that it’s the restaurant that keeps her happy, just making food for people.

I thought about it now, when the idea of a restaurant is actually getting a bit more real, and I am starting to freak out and ask myself if I really want this – the constant anxiety, the  18 hour workdays, miss seeing movies,  friends and wife (in order of importance). If I will become even a bit more like Margaret, I would consider my efforts well spent.  Still Waiting to hear about the property.

Back to business – her preserved lemons are amazing. Rumor has it she gets truckloads of special lemons from the Sinay desert in egypt – tiny and fragrant, and so flavoursome, and she pickles them for the year. She makes this sauce using those lemons, mint and garlic, and serves it with grilled fish, burnt aubergines, roasted peppers. Whatever she puts it on explodes with freshness.

This is my version of it, I hope she would approve. In the restaurant I will use it with boned chicken thighs on the grill, as a marinade and  a sauce ( here I used whole little chickens that I butterflied and roasted). the recipe requires a lot af mint, fresh and dried, garlic, and preserved lemons, which  Normally I’d  preserve myself, but as they take at least a month to cure I sent my wife to the market to get some, and some dried mint. These lemons she got from the portuguese deli on Atlantic road and they were great – it’s a great deli. As for the mint, well when someone comes back from Brixton market with a bag of dried leaves looking like this, you know you are in for a treat, whatever it is.

   

 

When I ate this I was transported to that balcony by beach, and I could almost hear Margaret saying to her cousin – why didn’t you tell me it’s for them? I would have used the good fish! (that really happened once, it’s that kind of place), so I was worried it might be sense memory that make me enjoy this dish so much, but my friend Ben enjoyed it as well, enough to eat with his fingers, which is the biggest complement an Englishman can offer a chef. Than again, maybe it wasnt dried mint after all… Read the rest of this entry »


Is this the one?

An hour till the bank meeting, and I am flipping. Because I saw a property just now that is pretty perfect, all things considered, and I put an offer on it.

a few months ago we were still looking for a flat. In fact we were flat hunting for 18 months. I am not joking. 18 months. this is how it went – we would see this many properties,  I would get hung up on one, usually something way over our budget, I would want to get it at any cost, borrow the maximum we can, steal from family, I did one night check online how much you can get for a kidney (who didn’t…). My wife, thankfully, is sane, and would hold me back, and so we were saved from losing vital organs and family ties, but every time it would happen, It took me weeks to recover and go back out there. this cycle repeated more than I care to admit, but I like to think that I`ve grown from it and am a different man now.

so I placed my offer and now I coolly get it out of my mind.  Not flipping – breathing slowly. que sera etc.

wish me luck though.


say it with cauliflowers

Again, excuse the cheesy pun. It was that or  ‘cauliflowers in the attic’ but as it is my wife’s birthday, and she is so far the only reader of these lines, I opted for something more romantic (Maybe I should have stuck with it, she does have a creepy relationship with her siblings).

This salad is another contender for the mezze section of the menu. The pairing of tahini and cauliflower  is very common in Palestinian cooking and is as simple as it is delicious – you simply deep fry, or in this case roast the vegetable, plate it and  spoon some plain tahini (this brand is amazing! from green valley off Edgware road) and to cut the richness squeeze a tomato or lemon on top, and some herbs – I thing spring onion rounds it off nicely.

 instead of squeezing the tomato I tried this simple tomato sauce made with fresh grated tomatoes, chillies and olive oil, as I`ve seen done in a few places.A nice touch but as this is such a good dish, it can do without.

On the business plan front, my friend Ben, star that he is, came through and mailed me some very good work, or at least I think its good, as I really am clueless about these things, and I don’t speak a word of corporate( note to self – make sure no potential investor reads this blog).

But I still have a lot of work to do before my Wednesday meeting, which I will have to do on Tuesday because as I said, it is my wife’s birthday today.We are not doing much, as our birthday budget was blown  on anti aging face cream made of pearl dust and mashed up babies  that costs like a ski holiday, and a sunday roast at Hix oyster and chop-house( which was meant to be amazing but was actually pub grub quality at thrice the price. Such a shame, when there are so many nice places we could have gone to in this town) so with no money left for a present, I promised her a poem, and I only do Haiku, so here goes –

I want to give you all I have

all I have

is you

So to my only reader and the love of my life, my beautiful, fat, white swan – Happy birthday.


Let the beet rock

I wonder how many food bloggers have used this pun. For me it was this one or ‘let the beet go on’. so cheesy.

I had this salad as a mezze dish on the menu of my imaginary restaurant since forever. it is based on something a mother of a childhood friend of mine used to make – I think it  is Algerian or Tunisian but I`m not sure –  she would dress boiled beetroot with oil and orange juice, fresh ginger, currants and coriander.

 Combining beets and oranges makes perfect sense, as both are winter things and the fresh ginger, that somehow combines the beets earthy notes and the oranges` sharpness really  brings it all together.

 Years later, when I tried to make it, I couldn’t get the orange flavour to come out enough unless I added buckets of juice,and it would overpower. I ended up making a sauce with whole oranges, vinegar, honey and chilli, like a spicy marmalade, and leave it quite chunky, so you get a big hit of orange every now and then. I didn’t think the currants were very useful there, and the coriander was replaced with sweet, fragrant basil, and the result, I think, is quite special, and delicious.


There are a few ways of cooking beets – you can boil them in water, but then you dilute the flavour and sweetness. I would always roast them in the oven whole, which concentrate their flavor, than just squeeze them out of their skin, but I recently saw a friend chef of mine peel the beets before roasting them, which seems like a lot of unnecessary effort, as peeling them after they are cooked is so much faster and a lot easier. but he said that this way you get a far better result, with the added flavor of the roasted, slightly charred surface of the vegetable.  I had to try it  but I really didn’t want it to work. it goes against my grain to do things in a certain way when there is an easier, more efficient way to go about it. I had visions of myself  doing nothing but peeling bags of beetroot, walking around with stained hands all the time… bit of a drama in my head. but you can glean from that something about the person I am, and also how busy I think the place will be. Got the beets in the oven, sauce cooking, camera cleaned of beet stains and cleaned again after this picture was taken

 There is no comparing the amount of flavour in these beets compared to anything I had before.they were so sweet and earthy, so intense and just a bit smokey, completely worth the extra effort that ,dramas aside, is not that much of an effort after all.

Dice the beets, dress with olive oil, fresh ginger and salt, orange sauce and basil on top, and wish my photographic skills will one day be able to this beautiful dish justice


The man without the plan

These past few says have seen me trying to complete my business plan, before submitting it to potential investors, bank managers, friends and wives.There are a lot of web guides to writing a business plan, none of them state hours of spider solitaire as an essential step, likewise going to matinees at the Ritzy, reading the Argos catalogue, going to buy shelves, hanging shelves, going for coffee, talking to elderly neighbours… you get my drift – no progress was made on the business plan. I gave myself a deadline, set a meeting with a bank guy for next Wednesday to discuss my finance options, so I will have to be ready with something. I put all my hopes on my friend Ben, a marketing Exec, who is  in town on a visit and is coming over for dinner, or so he thinks : The plan is to sit him down in front of the screen and starve him untill he comes up with something presentable. This guy is gonna have to sing for his supper tonight.

Didn’t turn out quite like that.  ‘lets see what you’ve got so far’, it’s not much, but I’ve shown him.                                                                     have you ever seen a spreadsheet prepared by a chef?  not a pretty sight, and not something you want to inflict on your friends. To be fair to Ben, he did try, and he gave me some very useful pointers, while polishing off glasses of Pinot.  thirty minutes in, second bottle already half empty (half full?)  we both get quite hungry, I give in and bring the food, and we all forget all about the job at hand.

I’m the first to admit I am not a numbers man, and not a business man, if I was I would have had a real job. Sitting in front of a spreadsheet is my idea of hell, and the prospect of taking my ideas to the bank is something I would do a lot to avoid, but it is an indispensable part of what I`m trying to do, and if I can`t do it, than I have failed before I started. so goodbye spider solitaire, Argos catalogue, DIY jobs and  dear old neighbour Reeny. at least untill next Wednesday.

Dinner came out nice, will write all about it later. I think I can get at least three posts out of this dinner, maybe four, if you count this one. maybe I am not such a strategic disaster after all.