Month: June 2009

Recipe: Spicy tofu salad

One of my favourite quick and easy meals is a spicy tofu salad. I hesitate to call this or most of the things I make a ‘recipe’ because it usually consists of me throwing a lot of a things in a pan/bowl/receptacle and hoping it turns out well.

For this salad you’ll need:

(L-R) sweet chili, soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, ponzu, togarashi, sriracha, Soy Vay
  • Sweet Chili Sauce
  • Soy Sauce
  • Mirin
  • Sesame Oil
  • Togarashi or any other Japanese pepper blend
  • Ponzu
  • Sriracha
  • Soy Vay Island Teriyaki
  • Greens
  • Panko
  1. Take one packge of extra firm tofu and cut it up into 1 inch strips about a half-inch in width. In London I just use Cauldron. It’s cheap and you can pretty much find it anywhere.
  2. Make a mixture out of a generous squirt of sriracha, about one tablespoon of mirin, about three tablespoons of ponzu and a little bit of soy sauce. If you have it handy, you can add ginger or finely minced spring onions.
  3. Toss the tofu in the mixture.  If you have time, marinate it for a couple hours. If not, it won’t kill the salad or flavour if the tofu is only soaked for a few minutes.
  4. Lay out the tofu on tin foil and shake a generous amount of togarashi on top. Sprinkle with sesame oil.
  5. Bake at about 175C for about 15 minutes. Turn over, cover new side with togarashi and sprinkle sesame oil. Bake for another 10. Mix them all up, turn up the oven to 200 and bake for an additional 5. They should be golden and crispy, but not dry on the inside.
  6. spicy tofu

  7. In the meantime, clean and tear up some mixed leaves or spinach and toss lightly in the Soy Vay Island Teriyaki sauce. Technically you should be able to use any light teriyaki sauce or dressing, but I really prefer Soy Vay. It’s fabulous and versatile. You can find it at Whole foods for about £4.89. Seriously, go buy it now.
  8. When the tofu is done, toss the pieces in with the greens, top with panko, and  pour a few drops of sweet chili sauce on top.
  9. om nom nom.
  10. spicy tofu salad

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Taste of London

Last week I won two VIP tickets to Taste of London through the MetroTwin blog (British Airway’s site promoting the London/NY similarities, and also BA’s routes to and from), which included fast-track entry, access to BA’s VIP lounge, a glass of Champagne and 40 crowns – Taste of London’s made up currency (£1 = 2 crowns). My lovely friend from work, Elaine, was kind enough to accompany me.

The event itself is where some of the best restaurants in London set up shop in Regent’s Park to sell smaller versions of their best and new dishes.  Basically, it’s a way for cheapskates like me to go sample food I would never be able to afford otherwise.

Naturally I wanted to try everything and naturally there wasn’t enough time, money or room in my stomach to do so. So here are the highlights:

Cocoon – Regent Street
Sizzling Wagyu beef on hot rocks with champagne teriyaki

Wagyu beef Cocoon

Beef was seared just right. Full of richness, although I didn’t taste what was supposed to be the sauce.  No matter though, the beef had enough going on that even if the marainade wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have realised.

Asia de Cuba – Covent Garden
Honey-rum glazed pot roast of pork with sauteed bok choi, fried plantains and enoki mushrooms

Pork asia de cuba

Asia de Cuba does exactly what it says on the tin: Asian food with a Cuban twist. Sounds weird, but it’s amazing how well it works.  This dish was absolutely AMAZING. I couldn’t get enough. The plantain gave it some sweetness, as did the glaze, but it was balanced nicely with the saltiness of the pork. I will be going here for lunch or dinner as soon as I have enough money get the chance. If you want to join me, I have a voucher for a free cocktail with every meal. Score!

Pied-a-terre – Goodge Street
Soup: Pickled crab with chilled pumpkin and ginger soup with toasted seeds

pied a terre soup

Another winner here.  This chilled soup was perfect for a summer’s day. Only problem was by the time we made our way over here, the temperature outside had dropped dramatically!  The soup itself was light and creamy, and the crab added just the right amount of buttery-ness to it. Love it. It reminded me a bit of one of my favourite Ann Arbor restaurants, Pacific Rim‘s, chilled avocado soup, which is also delicious and has a bit more spice, which I love.

The Grill at Dorchester – Park Lane, Mayfair
Ballotine of ham hock, apricot chutney and country toast

dorchester ham

Seared scallop with sardine pie and cauliflower puree

dorchester scallop

My dining partner wanted the scallop and I wanted the ham, so this is the only time we opted for two dishes from the same restaurant. They both were lovely, but I preferred my choice.  The apricot chutney on the ham dish was  sweet without being overly so. Very nice. However, the country bread left a little to be desired. It didn’t seem to be too fresh.

The scallop was perfectly cooked. They’re so easy to mess up. I was a little weary of the cauliflower puree because I’m not such a fan of the vegetable, but it was great. Sardine pie was just ok.  The pastry shell tasted a bit like it was ready-made.

Hereford Road – Notting Hill
Braised Rabbit with fennel and old spot bacon

hereford road rabbit

My least favourite dish of the night.  It’s not that the flavours weren’t pleasant, but it was incredibly difficult to eat.  There were bones everywhere. I hate biting down into something yummy, only having to fish around my mouth with my fingers for whatever it is just poked me on the inside of my cheek. The fennel, however was perfect.

The Ledbury – Notting Hill
Dessert: Strawberry and hibiscus bellini with a warm strawberry and vanilla doughnut

I should explain: The thumbs down is not because this wasn’t good, it’s because I’m an idiot because I spilled half of it all over myself. To be fair, the bellini glass was perched precariously on the plate and it was very wobbly from the beginning. What of it I did try was a little too sweet for me. The doughnut was perfect. Only doughnut I’ve had better was at Fino.

The Ledbury had some other amazing dishes that we didn’t get to try. The celeric baked in ash with hazlenuts looked particularly interesting. I want to go so I can try it.

Tom’s Kitchen – Chelsea
Dessert: Vanilla and raspberry mouse with raspberry jelly

toms kitchen mousse

This is the last thing we tried and it was at the very end of the night. It must have been popular because they had to serve it to us without the foam that was supposed to go on top. I wish that they had the foam, it was a little too sweet without. While it was good, it wasn’t very original. I kept thinking that I’ve had similar sort of dessert in the form of the mousse jelly cups you get at Tesco. Presentation was not its strong suit.

Of course in addition to the restaurants at Taste of London, you get access to hundreds of other little goodies that will ensure you pretty much won’t have to eat for at least a day after. Best sample by far has to be this lovely tiramisu-esque trifle tart thing from Almondy.  It was just about the tiniest sample at the event, but my god was it good.  I think I actually liked it better than the other fancy-schmancy desserts we had.  Two thumbs up!

Almondy

And of course I should mention the VIP lounge. It was very nice to be able to take a load off and enjoy our free champagne. Even better we got free 15-minute head and shoulder massages, which in hindsight probably wasn’t a good thing since it showed me just how many knots I have in my back.  I’ve now spent the last two days trying to find a cheap, but amazing deep tissue massage because – omg – do I need it.

BA VIP

Coming attractions

So I have a whole night off to catch up on blog posts, and what do I do?

Leave my camera at work.

I’d say that pretty much makes my posts useless. So instead… look at this set of photos when my friend and I took a week and ATE London.

Wild boar and enoki rolls inamo

Wild boar and enoki rolls from inamo

I have reviews coming up for Benito’s Hat and Taste of London. Soon.

Best cupcakes in London recipe

Some may remember my intense excitement over being asked to help judge the best cupcakes in London. The winner was online cupcake retailer Faircake. I did complain that they’re a bit expensive, so if you don’t feel like shelling out £35 for 9 cupcakes, Londonist and TikiChris have posted the winning recipe.

Yum!

Faircake cupcakes

White Chocolate and Limoncello Cupcakes

Ingredients (makes about 16 cupcakes):
For Cupcakes
150 gms unsalted butter
3 tbsp corn flour
1 unwaxed lemon (zest only)
175 gms caster sugar
2½ tsp baking powder
4 medium eggs
2 tsp good quality vanilla extract
284ml (1 pack) buttermilk
220 gms self raising flour

For Icing/Frosting
1 portion of Easy Buttercream
Recipe
100gms White Chocolate
Good Glug (60 ml) of Limoncello +
extra sips for the baker

Method:

Here is the winning recipe that won the Londonist Cupcake Throwdown
in every single category. Enjoy!

Preheat oven to 150C Fan or 160C otherwise.

Ensure that the butter is very soft. You can either leave the butter out
of the fridge overnight, or zap it 20 seconds at a time in a microwave.
The butter should be as soft as possible without melting. Put all
measured ingredients, apart from the flour and buttermilk, in a kitchen
mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix until light and fluffy.
Now mix in half the flour and half the buttermilk, on low speed. Mix in
the remaining flour and the buttermilk on low speed. The consistency
of the mixture should be a bit like heavy custard and it should plop
nicely from a spoon. This mixture is enough for about 16 or so
cupcakes, depending on the size of your cupcake liners. Fill cupcake
liners between ½ and ¾ the way up. Fill ½ way up to get an even flat
shape, fill ¾ way up to get a nice dome shape. Use a muffin pan,
otherwise the liners spread into ghastly shapes.

Bake for 20 minutes in the middle of the oven, but check after 15 by
inserting a little cocktail stick. If there is anything stuck to the stick,
then bake for the full 20 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for
around a minute and then take them out carefully and allow to cool
outside the pan.

For the icing, make one portion of the Easy Buttercream (recipe on Fair
Cake website). Melt the white chocolate carefully in a double boiler
and cool to room temperature and mix in with the buttercream. Add
around half the limoncello to the icing. If you are not satisfied with the
limoncello-ness of the buttercream, add more.

Now, and this is the secret, make a thin-ish liquid mixture of the
remaining half of limoncello with 3tbsps of the buttercream. Using a
skewer or knitting needle, make a little hole in each cupcake and pour
down ½ tsp of this mixture. Make some more if you run out. Sneaky,
eh?! Then slather the cupcakes with icing. Win win!

Zizzi (and all London pizza chain restaurants, really)

I love that in the UK there are no Applebees or Macaroni Grills (though there are TGI Fridays of which refuse to step foot in on principle). The UK has its own class of restaurant chains, and in the midst are the highly popular Pizza Express and Zizi, which are essentially the same restaurant with different toppings.

Both Zizzi and Pizza Express would not be nearly as popular as they are without vouchers (or coupons to my American friends). In the recession, the two have been synonymous with the word, and if you enter one with out a 2 for 1 deal, you’ve very much been had.  It’s been said, therefore, that no one in London has not been to at least one of the two in the last 6 months. It’s a good business plan.

So when my friend asked if I wanted to grab a bite to eat, I said yes, under the condition that we go cheaply.  Zizzi, it was.

We met at the Charlotte Street location, which is just a 5-minute walk from my office.  I’ve been here a few times with mixed results. Lasagna, good. Salad, not so good. Pizza, it depends.

Tonight I had the Sofia Pizza – spicy chicken, sausage, pepperoni, green chilies, fresh mozzarella and rosemary. Not being the biggest fan of pepperoni, I swapped it for olives. The pizza itself was just ok. I could see how it might be good if I got it straight out of the oven.  Instead, it tasted like it had been waiting around for a while. The chicken and sausage was dry, the fresh mozzarella just more like normal mozzarella, and the crust very difficult to cut through. Even so, the flavours were pleasant, and the rosemary was a nice touch.

Zizi Charlotte Street Sofia Pizza

But the most amazing thing about my experience at Zizzi was the service.  The UK is notoriously bad for restaurant service.  Unless you’re at a really high-end restaurant, you can expect to be treated like a nuisance (and even there there are probably far too many exceptions).

Tonight, however, I was completely blown away.  Our server apologised for making us wait barely five minutes when we sat down. When I asked for no pepperoni, she actually offered a different ingredient, hence the olives. She came back shortly after we started eating to ask if everything was alright – even the manager did the same!  For my American friends, this may not seem like much, but here – and in a chain restaurant – this was nothing short of a miracle.

I’m willing to overlook my tough pizza crust, and give this one a thumbs up. Service with a smile goes a long way.

Zizzi
33 Charlotte Street
Fitzrovia, London, W1T 1RR
View on a map

Through the end of June, it’s buy one main, get the second for 10p. Download your voucher here.

Freebird Burritos, Soho

Oh, Mexican food in London, how elusive art thou.  Despite several recommendations of ‘amazing’ places I find myself constantly disappointed (Taqueria, anyone?).  I’m starting to lose hope!

Tonight I got a glimmer of it back…

I just had a chance to try Freebird Burritos at the Qype Summer Party at 93 Feet East, and while it was a very good burrito, I just kept thinking, ‘Well of course it is. How hard is it to screw one up?’  And then I remembered the sloppy mess of a burrito that I tried out of a food stall in Camden Market three years ago and promptly shut up. Burrito making, I’ve concluded, must somehow be an art.

Freebird works off of the Chipotle school of thought: Take a tortilla the size of a  newborn and stick it chock full of rice, beans, tomatoes, salsa, guacamole, cheese, lettuce and if you fancy it, sour cream;  wrap it up in tin foil and present it like a compact log:

freebird burrito soho london

I love Chipotle, so they were off to a good start.

Taking a bite, the tortilla was nice and fresh.  I’m not sure if they make them in-house, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  It was very good.  The other ingredients were tasty as well.  Even the salsa had a good kick to it. I’m also glad they had a black bean option.  Finding black beans in London has proved trying to me in the past. I usually have to go to Whole Foods for them. Sooooo much better than pinto beans.

freebird burritos soho london

All in all, a tasty little concoction. It’s not the best I’ve ever had, but it would certainly do for a drunken 4th meal if I’m ever in Soho on a Saturday and feeling vulnerable.  (That said, I hope they keep late hours. I can’t find them online. They would make a killing around 2 am on Wardour)

Or at least until Chipotle finally comes to London.

Freebird Burritos
Rupert Street @ Winnett St

Soho, London W1D