Wintery (5-a-day) dhal

This is delicious, hearty and full of stuff that’s really good for you. I bet it has your 5 a day so I will call it 5 a day dhal. (For those of you not living in the UK, 5 a day is a government initiative trying to make Brits eat 5 pieces of fruit and vegetables every day). It is basically a lentil stew with carrots, potato and spinach (but I also count onion as a vegetable so together with the lentils it makes for 5 different vegetables), spiced with garam masala and cinnamon. It is very cheap. Probably £1 per serving, if even that. This is good to make in a large batch on sunday and keep eating for dinner throughout the week if you’re having a busy week ahead. Since it has lots of carrots (vitamin C), chili (anti-viral), garlic (just generally good) and ginger (anti-cold) it is a also a secret weapon during the cold season to keep the immune system boosted.
For two large portions, you need:
  • 1 potato (if you use a King edward variety they will become really soft and gooey, which I like, but if you prefer consistency then get something firmer)
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 deciliters red lentils
  • Fresh spinach
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely, chopped
  • 1 cm ginger, finely chopped
  • Garam masala. I use a Swedish variety which until recently was the only thing named “curry” you could get in Sweden. (Saying you fancy a curry to a Swede might have the same effect as if you asked for some nutmeg to eat.) A good thing about Swedish curry, however, is that it is a sweet, mild and nutty variant of garam masala with plenty of turmeric, and it is delicious.
  • 1 litre stock (I have a massive thing for veal stock at the moment, which has a very delicate and soft flavour. This ruins the dish for vegetarians, but you can of course make this with veggie or mushroom stock)
  • Chili flakes
  • Cinnamon
  • Salt

Start by frying the onion in a bit of oil, then peel and chop the garlic and ginger and add into the oinons together with the garam masala to fry for a few minutes. Rinse the lentils and add them to the pan together with the stock and chili. Peel the carrots and potato, and chop in rough bits. Add these to the boiling lentils in the pan, and bring the heat down for it to simmer for 20 minutes or until the lentils have softened and the potatoes and carrots gone the right consistency. Taste with salt and cinnamon, and stir in the fresh spinach so that it folds and softens.

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The result is a yellow mix between a soup and a stew, not too dissimilar to Innocent’s Indian daal pot (but at 15% of the price). Serve on its own, or together with some cheese grilled bread.


Blue cheese fettuccine with leek and walnuts

Blue cheese pasta is a slightly fancier student meal, but for its rich taste and fancy feel it does not cost a fortune to make (this recipe gives you food for 3 people, at £2 each. Although if you’re starving it’s perhaps more suitable for just two). A recommendation is to pick up St Agur when it’s on offer, because it lasts for ages in the fridge. This dish is super-easy to make and you simply cannot fail making it if you follow these instructions.
You’ll need:
  • 1 pack St. Agur blue cheese. Experimenting with other, cheaper blue cheeses is probably a good idea, however I’ve tried making this with english stilton and that was way too bitter.
  • 1/2 leek
  • Fettuccine (or any pasta you prefer, but the sauce works well with long, slingery things)
  • Half tub of creme fraiche
  • A few generous handfuls of walnut kernels
  • Spinach (optional)
  • 1 can of artichoke hearts in water, roughly chopped (optional)
  • Butter for frying
Put water in your kettle and prepare for boiling the pasta (the sauce takes no time to make). Get your guest to start breaking up the walnut kernels if you bought whole ones. Slice the leek and fry it in a knob of butter until it is soft. Add in some spinach (squeeze it if you’re adding frozen one, you don’t want all that water) and make that soft too on medium heat. Turn the heat down and add your creme fraiche until you have a sauce, and then add the roughly chopped cheese and make it melt into the pan. It is important it doesn’t boil, however it needs to melt enough to be smooth and creamy. Add salt to the sauce (remember it should taste a little bit too much when you taste it in the pan, for the pasta spreads it more thinly once it is served). If you fancy artichoke hearts, this is the time to add them into the sauce. Drain the spaghetti when it is done and mix it all together (serving spaghetti and sauce separately is a pet-hate of mine). Serve onto plates immediately and scatter the walnuts kernels on top. Eat!

Amy seemed pleased.


Mushroom Bourguignon

When it’s freezing outside and you’re missing homely comfort food, there is nothing better than a stew. Although I would love to be able  to cook and eat a boeuf bourguignon almost everyday, there just is no time for a five hour stew during the week. So I bring you an adaptation of the boeuf bourguignon, the equally decadent mushroom bourguignon.

Altough the main ingredient (beef) changes, the other ingredients and method remain the same (bar the five hour cooking time!). This makes a very cheap and easy to make mid-week bourguignon.

So you will need:

  • Onion, finely chopped (one per 2 person portion).
  • Carrot, finely chopped (1/2 per 2 person portion).
  • Mushroom, with no stems and chopped roughly (500 grams per 2 person portion).
  • Garlic, finely chopped (to taste)
  • Beef stock (or vegetable stock if you are a vegetarian…)
  • Tomato Paste (1 tablespoon per 2 person portion)
  • Red Wine
  • Olive Oil
  • Lots of butter!
  • Thyme (dried is fine)
  • Small cooking onions, or pearl onions if you can find them (optional)
  • Some flour (not self-raising)
  • A sturdy pan

1. Start by chopping the mushrooms and frying them in your pan in butter and olive oil on a high heat so that they brown. While they are cooking chop the carrot, onion and garlic.

2. When the mushrooms are browned, take them from the pan and reserve. Turn the heat down to medium, add some olive oil to the pan and fry the onions, carrots and thyme, adding some salt and pepper to season. When the onion starts to brown add the garlic and fry for a further 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly so the garlic does not burn.

3. Turn the heat to high, add the wine and let it cook until it’s been reduced to half its original size.

looking good already!

4. Turn the heat down to a low setting, add the tomato paste, the stock and the mushrooms with the juice they have released from cooking (and the small onions, if using). Bring to the boil and then simmer until the mushrooms are tender.

Amazing, rich stew

5. While the stew is simmering start making a roux (it sounds harder than it is) and stir it in the stew when the mushrooms feel tender but the sauce is still a bit liquid. Simmer for a further 5 minutes to thicken the sauce and check the seasoning.

Serve it over your favourite carbs. We had it over pasta, but it’s great over polenta or mash. Add a little bit of butter for extra amazingness.


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Troy – review

Troy is a quirky Turkish café along the Vietnamese belt on the bottom Kingsland road, notable for its walls covered in photos of muscular and oily wrestlers, as well as an odd but homely collection of art and miniature sculptures. Its atmosphere is friendly and familiar, with the owners greeting regulars with an handshake and (delicious) coffee on the house.

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It has a generous salad buffe of hot and warm side-dishes, which you can pick and mix next to your main as much as you want. Highlights on the day we were there included savoury taramasalata (a pink mediterranean creamy sauce made with fish roe), Turkish pickles and boiled potatoes with mashed eggs and coriander. The Dürüm (like a wrap with skewered bits of minced lamb and salad) which I had was surprisingly filling and came down well with the home-made tsatsiki. Mr Meatball had a grilled panini with mozzarella, chicken escalope and grilled vegetables which was very good value. My wrap was perhaps on the pricier side for a student eater at £5,40, but it was herby and savoury enough to justify itself. When you are in the neighbourhood, this is a friendly haven with good street views to stare at the Hoxton crowd: granting it 7,5 meatballs out of 10 (secretly 8.5 for the lovely owners).

Troy, 124 Kingsland road, E2 8DP London


Homemade Pizza – The Salted Cod cooks for the Meatball

Today I will be hosting a dinner at my house with, amongst others, Miss Meatball herself as my guest. Therefore, today you are getting both a recipe and a review of the meal. This post should be called: how to make a perfect pizza, then go on to burn your friend’s finger, destroy your oven, cook pizza in a frying pan with a wok on top, and then revive the oven and make really good pizzas again. So, skip the burning your friend/destroying the oven bit and make really easy home-made pizza.

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For the dough, you will need:

  • Self-raising flour (good flour!)
  • Warm water
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt

This pizza dough needs to rise for a few hours, so it’s best made the night before or the day before, you want it to rise as much as you can. I don’t really measure anything for this recipe and just kind of add as I go. You should probably be doing something like 200g of flour and 30cl of water for about two big pizzas, but it’s easier to measure it by looking at it. So you start by putting the flour in a bowl and making a little hole in the middle. Then you start adding the warm water, little by little and mixing in the flour and the water with a wooden spoon. Do this until the dough is mixed and can be kneaded with your hands.

 

Move to a dry surface and knead for 10 mins, adding salt little by little so it mixes well in the dough while you’re kneading. Form the dough into a ball-shape and rub olive oil all over. Put it a bowl which has previously been rubbed with olive oil, cover with a tea towel or any fabric you have in hand and let it rest for a minimum of three hours. While the dough is rising go buy some toppings and start making some tomato sauce. Our first pizza was made of tomato sauce, parma ham, caramelised onions and goats cheese, so I’ll give the recipe for the sauce and the caramelised onions.

 

For the sauce you will need:

  • 1 tin of good quality chopped/whole tomatoes (if you’re a student like me it’s a good idea to buy them in bulk when they’re on a deal at your local supermarket as it really makes a difference to have good quality tinned tomatoes).
  • half a glass of red wine (plus more to drink while you’re making the sauce).
  • olive oil
  • garlic, finely chopped (as much as you wish, I usually go for three cloves).
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • good quality tomato paste (they have some really good ones in waitrose, and they last forever).
  • salt & pepper

Start by chopping the onions and frying them in a little bit of olive oil, on a medium temperature, for about 10 mins until they become soft. Add the chopped garlic, turn the heat up a bit and fry, while constantly stirring (so the garlic doesn’t burn) for about 3 minutes, just enough for the garlic to release its flavour. Turn the heat up a bit more, add the wine and let the alcohol evaporate. Add the chopped tomatoes, half a glass of water, and a tablespoon of tomato paste. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down to very low, put a cover on and simmer for as long as you can. Season with salt and pepper, and maybe add a bit of sugar if the sauce tastes too acidic. This sauce gets better with time, so ideally you want to cook it for 1h30 hours. You can also double or triple the recipe and freeze it. While the sauce is bubbling on the side you can start making the caramelised onions.

 

You will need:

  • 3 red or yellow onions, or shallots if you’re feeling fancy (white onions don’t really work)
  • A non-stick pan
  • Olive oil
  • some balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze (this is optional).

Start by chopping the onions into strips, it doesn’t need to look perfect. Fry them in olive oil on a high/medium heat for 5 minutes then lower the heat to the slowest setting on your hob and let it cook by itself, stirring from time to time. You can add the balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze to accelerate the process or you can just let it cook until it looks dark and well caramelised on its own.

 

When all this is done and the dough has doubled in size, you can start kneading again (or you can find someone with strong arms and hands aka. Miss Meatball herself to do it for you). Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Then you need to start rolling the dough using a rolling pin (or an old wine bottle if you’re a lazy student like me). Roll it as thin as you can and transfer it to a sheet of tin foil. Your oven should be heated up to its maximum temperature, to simulate the heat of a pizza oven (although, if you have an oven like mine, it might overheat and die after half an hour, leaving you to make pizza on a frying pan and burning your friend’s hand in the process).

 

Start spreading the tomato sauce and add your toppings, leaving the cheese for last so it melts on top of everything. Now you can either put it in like that or fold it to make a calzone. Leave it in the oven until it’s crispy and all the toppings look cooked/melted. Serve with lots of wine and special Belgian beers 🙂

 

Now Miss Meatball’s review: This dough and sauce was delicious, so I am only going to comment on it by saying that this will be my dough recipe of choice for making home-made pizza next time. The sauce was dark and rich, and the dough resulted in thin, crispy beauties coming out of the oven (albeit in a asymmetrical sense perhaps). My favourite topping was the first mix, as the smooth goats cheese went so well against the salty crispiness of the parma ham and the sweetness of the caramelised onions. Drizzling a little bit of truffle oil on top of it made it the winner by me. However, the other guests seemed keener on the calzone with chorizo and lots and lots of mozzarella. It being in the shape of a calzone made it gooey and sumptuous and not the slightest dry. All in all, lovely thin pizzas. And making them provided us with plenty of action and entertainment.


Franco’s – review

9 meatballs out of 10 possible. (9/10)

Might as well be honest from the start, this is an endorsement rather than a review. I first discovered Franco’s as a 19 year old confused intern lost in Shoreditch, falling into its welcoming spaghetti arms like a soft-boiled egg (pardon the food analogy). Back in 2007 interns were paid (shocking, eh?), so I used to get lunch from here as often as I could. Neither the menu nor the prices have changed since. The former is of course a sign of quality, the latter is just… lucky for us poor diners. Food is incredibly good value. If you stick to the pasta dishes and avoid going during their incredibly hectic lunch time, it’s worth the journey from other parts of London.

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On our last visit, I had vongole, which is spaghetti with a creamy sauce of baby clams, white wine, tomato, parsley and a bit of chili. Bathed in parmesan (you get a large bowl on the table) it is sublime. In fact, vongole is so moorish and creamy and baby-clammy that I’ve never ordered any other dish in Franco’s. Mr Meatball had arrabbiata, a tomato and chili sauce with penne. Whilst that sounds plain, its smokey, garlicky aftertaste and fiery kick makes it very tasty. The portions are massive (inducing severe food coma afterwards) and the chefs work behind the counter so you can see them make your food. With a drink each and proper coffee afterwards, the bill came to £13,80 which is very reasonable. Service is nice, and the atmosphere is friendly and unpretentious (a relief given the area). Really, you should go. Right away.

Franco’s, 67 Rivington Street, EC2A 3DU. Old Street or Shoreditch High Street are the closest tube stops.