Monday, 9 July 2012

Imam Bayildi Recipe

I'd never had Imam Bayildi (or Baildi) before until a recent trip to Budapest took us to one of their best restaurants which happened to be Greek. It's a vegetarian stuffed aubergine recipe originating in Turkey. I had a good geeky laugh over this Turkish dish being made in a Greek gaff - do those guys still hate each other?
Anyway, this is one of those dishes with a story behind it, but no-one really knows the true story - a bit like Eton Mess. Imam Bayildi means 'The Priest Fainted', one theory is that he fainted with sheer delight when he tasted the dish, the other theory is that he fainted due to the amount of olive oil used in the recipe! I'd like to think it was probably both as it's ridiculously tasty and there is a fair bit of oil in it - though I have cut it down.

This is rather substantial so it makes for a good meal between 2 if you have pilaf/any rice or potato side too. It is usually served a room temperature as part of a meal or on a mezze plate; and it stores well in the fridge for a few days thanks to all the oil!

You'll need:

1 medium/large aubergine (eggplant)
1 large onion
2 large cloves or garlic
1 medium chilli
2 tomatoes
A squeeze of tomato puree (approx 1 tbs)
1 bell pepper. Red, yellow or green  - it's up to you.

Olive oil, extra virgin if you've got it.
Paprika - 3 tsp
Cumin - 1 flat tsp
Basil - half tsp
Oregano - half tsp both the basil and oregano are dried you can use fresh too.
Sugar - 1 flat tsp

Oven temp - 175C

Aubergine Prep

First up you need to cut off the stalk and end of the aubergine then slice it down the middle to give you two halves. Next you'll need to scoop out some of the flesh to give you a well along the length of the aubergine or . Don't throw out the flesh though as you can dice it up and add it to the stuffing.
I'm a fan of salting the aubergine, it draws out the bitterness you can find if it's gone a bit old and it will draw out excess moisture which is good for this recipe. For this you'll just need to sprinkle salt along the aubergine flesh and turn them upside down on a chopping board/plate/towel for about 15mins. In the meantime you can get on with making the stuffing.

Veggie Stuffing

Dice the onion and tomatoes, crush or finely chop the garlic and very finely chop the chilli - seeds in or out at your peril.
Pour enough oil to cover the base of the pan and add the herbs and spices, warm them through until the oil starts to bubble on a medium-high heat. Then throw in the herbs and let them infuse into the oil. Don't let the spices burn though, so chuck in the onions and garlic and turn down the heat to medium stirring to coat with spicy oil. Next you can add the diced aubergine flesh you scooped out earlier.
Next you can tip in the pepper, tomatoes and chilli. You can put the sugar and tomato puree in too. If it's all a bit thick and unpleasant, a little bit of water will help loosen it up and lift up the remaining spices off the bottom of the pan. Season well with salt and pepper.
Leave this to simmer and soften for about 5-8mins.

You might want to start warming up your oven now to 175C

Wash the aubergines of their salty covering (you should see some beads of water on the flesh too) and pat dry. Sit them skin side down in a pyrex dish or at least a roasting tin with sides.

Have a taste of the stuffing mix, give it a bit more of whatever you fancy. I like a dash or two of Worcester sauce in mine but it's each to their own. I even know someone who puts ketchup in.

When your stuffing is tasting good just pile it into the aubergine. Drizzle with a little more olive oil on top.

Now you need to pour water into the dish/tray until the floor of it is covered; this is going to generate the steam to cook the aubergine flesh and skin but without losing all the tasty juices. Cover the dish/tray in foil or a lid if you're not a student and can afford such luxuries!

Place this in the middle of the oven for about 50 mins. Then uncover and cook for 10-15mins.

Variations -

Since this is veggie we had it for our Meat-Free Monday meal, but you could add lamb mince for an authentic taste, or beef mince would be nice too.

Top with breadcrumbs when you uncover for a nice crunch.

Serve with some feta cheese and a lovely light salad in the summer. Scrumptious!

Bettys York

 If you're not from Yorkshire you've probably never heard of Bettys - unless you've been to York and seen the humongous queue outside this cafe. I say cafe, it's rather a LOT more than just a humble caf! Floor to ceiling curved glass windows, silver tea sets, white china, grand piano and waitors/waitresses immaculately turned out. It's a little piece of luxury even on a rainy day. This is the place I fell in love with tea.

 Bettys was founded by a Swiss gentleman, Frederic Belmont, in 1919. He was a baker and confectioner through his teens in apprenticeships across Europe after losing both of his parents at a young age. He finally made his way to England (huzzah!), and up to Yorkshire after he lost the address he was supposed to go to and all he could remember was that it sounded like 'Bratwurst', he was heading to Bradford. Extraneous details aside he ended up opening a cafe in York, based upon the Queen Mary cruise liner, which was frequented by the Canadian 'Bomber Boys' (RAF) stationed in and around York during the Second World War. There are some brilliant photos downstairs of the Boys in the cafe!

And so to the food. There are distinct Swiss elements to many of the dishes in the menu: Rostis, lots of Gruyere, bacon. Nom. It's all delicious. There are full breakfast, lunch and dinner menus available all day and the place is open 'til 9pm too. Cream teas and no ordinary cake trolley are also available if you're going for a quick 'in and out'.

I went with the full afternoon tea though i've never managed to finish one (small stomach). Sandwiches, scone with jam and clotted cream and a plate of teeny miniature cakes on top. All served with a pot of Bettys house blend tea. There are 4 quarters of sandwiches: smoked salmon, egg and cress, yorkshire ham and roast chicken, though they are very happy to exchange one if you are allergic to egg or fish with another one. No salmon for me, take the extra ham - it's delicious.

In my opinion, these are the best scones around, they aren't too big nor are they too crumbly. Utterly delicious, you just have to figure out whether you're a cream or jam on first kinda guy/gal!

The small cakes on top were a mini lemon drizzle loaf - they must have adorable teeny loaf tins. A fruit tart with a proper creme patisserie and fresh fruit. A chocolate and coffee mini layer cake, which was beautifully constructed, was just one bite too far for me!

My dining guests (Dad and Mr TF) both had prawn and avocado open sandwiches on toasted sourdough and shared a bowl of chips which I can tell were at least twice fried for extra crispiness! Delcious. All of this plus a large mocha and a french press of Java came to £40. We put each of our debit cards into a hat, gave it a shake and asked the waitress to pull out a card to be the dutiful payor of the bill. Dad 'won', thanks for lunch.

The food is always exceptional here, I have never ever had a single complaint for Bettys and leave a happy customer each time. Bettys has a shop adjacent to the cafe where you can take baked treats, chocolate, cookies and cakes home. They do the best pralines outside of Belgium.  They also have the full arsenal of their coffee and teas which they are happy to grind to your need or seal in separate bags for you to keep fresh until opening the next bag.

Their main craft bakery is in Harrogate and you can order cakes or teatime treats online! Recently they have opened a cookery school aswell so you can learn how to make their signature dishes. Go and have a look and fall in love.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Absence Report


 I'm back. At last. A couple of days after returning from London I was struck down with one of the worst colds I can remember having! It started in the head and worked its way down to my belly and i'm almost back to 100% now. Huzzah.

 I have been painfully delaying the teapigs review too, not out of laziness but with a cold/pharyngitis I couldn't really taste much and hot things weren't that nice to drink anyway. Alas, my taste is back with full force and I'll finally be enjoying some herbal delights soon.

 I really wanted to do it today but my guest blogger has won entry to a big poker tournament so hopefully we'll have our taste test lined up tomorrow!

 Will report back then.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

London Calling


 Having just returned from a lovely weekend in London, I thought of providing you with a snippit of the gastonomique delights we sampled during our stay. We were mainly based around the Victoria area which is the most central we have stayed in London.


Being the frugal Finance graduate that he is, Mr ToothFairy had arranged a Groupon 3 course dinner at the Waldorf Hilton in the 'Homage Grand Salon'. The offer was 3 courses with champagne for 2 at £36 instead of £76. Crackin'.

The Salon is such a beautiful room, the ceilings tower over you from such great heights and the large white pillars seem to go on forever. Nevertheless, this room is more elegant and relaxing than imposing; maybe that's the delicate light from the chandeliers. The food served is classic French and English cooking, somehow perfectly befitting the surroundings.

Since we were on a Groupon the menu is, of course, somewhat restricted in offerings. There were 4 options from each starter, mains and dessert; or you could add £9.50 to your bill and get something from the grill too. Fortunately their offerings were wonderful! For starter I chose the soup of the day which was fennel, i only chose it to see how good they were to start out, it's definitely a soup that splits the good chefs from the not-quite-there-yets. The soup turned out to be delightfully delicate and was served with a sprinkling of vegetable crisps which added a beautiful texture. Mr TF had 3 small haddock fishcakes with a lovely little dressed salad, he said it was good!
For the main course I had a Coq au Vin, they used the thigh too which made it all the more tasty! The little fondant potatoes too were a dream. I can barely remember what Mr TF had as my face was stuck to the plate. I seem to recall he had pork loin with perfectly mashed potatoes and mushroom confit.
Dessert offerings were incredible, dark choc and port tarte or white chocolate cheesecake, sorbet or a selection of French and English cheeses - I chose the cheese. Retrospectively I have no idea why as I am a huge sweet tooth, it just felt right. :/

Fennel Soup with vegetable crisps and black pepper.


London is a huge multicultural city and one can rightly expect fine foods from far flung places. They also have a big China Town (not as good as Manchester, but ho hum)! Being that Mr TF is of Chinese ethnicity via Canada, we occasionally have to go for a good scoff of Asian delights. I had recently read a review about regional Chinese restaurants in London and we fancied a bit of Manchurian food.

If you're unfamiliar with the differences between the regions, Manchurian food is the really hearty stuff. It tends not to be too spicy but full of savoury goodness. Umami, if you will. If you have only really eaten Chinese takeaway food here, you have probably been eating Cantonese or Sichuan foods and probably not that authentic. I digress. The restaurant advised to us was Manchurian Legends in China Town, and a bonus was that it's pretty cheap!

I was allowed to choose the food this time and with my slowly growing knowledge of both Chinese food and Chinese language I was able to identify Beef Ho Fun from the menu. It's a bit like a Chow Mein but the noodle are large, thick and flat. Another recent revelation is green beans with minced pork and chilli. Holy Moley it's so good!
They also have the typical Asian drink of 'bubble tea', it's a cold milk based drink with balls of tapioca at the bottom. This is served with a huge bore straw and is well worth a try if you've never had one!
I can't say it's the ultimate best Chinese food I've had in London - that goes to Leong's Legend in Bayswater - but it comes a very very close second. I advise you go if you're around the area.

Beef Ho Fun, green beans with chilli and minced pork, green tea bubble tea.
We had queued for quite a while in Leicester Square after lunch to get some last minute tickets to a musical in the evening, we managed to get some of the last tickets to see The Wizard of Oz. To keep it short the show was amazing, I'm never disappointed by musicals in the West End. IT was the 4th show I've seen and they get better every time. I was shocked to find out that the girl who played Dorothy was 19 and the dog(s) playing Toto are incredibly well trained. It's amazing to see animals able to behave perfectly on stage for 2 hours.

The eternal struggle of pre-theatre eating will forever plague me, I don't know why it's something that strikes me with anxiety every time we go. Alas, we booked at a highly rated Japanese restaurant from Urbanspoon just near the London Palladium off Regent Street, we got there 10 mins early and it was closed. Not to worry, we'll read the menu outside while we wait. It didn't take long to spot that their veggie tempura was £9 and the small print said that there was a minimum spend of £20 per customer. I was outraged. We left and stumbled across a restaurant just next door to the theatre - Cape Town Fish Market. Mr TF chose the sushi. I hate it when he eats sushi, I just don't trust raw fish and never will. Especially when it comes from somewhere where when I ask for the grilled chicken to be 'extra grilled' I get a quizzical look... how hard is it to grill it a bit longer? They didn't grill it a bit longer but we were on a schedule so I wasn't going to send it back. It came with new potatoes and a pot of tomato and basil sauce and shredded cabbage with thick mayo (i assume that was an attempt at coleslaw) I got half a lemon though! They must have sensed it would need a lot of something else to make it palatable.

Mr TF said it was some of the best sushi and sashimi he has eaten in this country! Which is good to hear as he's always going on about how the sushi and sashimi is better and cheaper in Vancouver. I was told to take a picture so he could remember this moment forever... :/

Sushi platter and salmon sashimi. 

To be fair, they say they are a fish restaurant and they did the fish really well. He got a sushi platter and fishcakes for £10 when the sushi platter alone should have cost £11.50 so we weren't complaining there.


Right opposite the entrance to our hotel was what looked a bakery-cum-restaurant. It was called Le Pain Quotidien, and I was soon to find that there are a few of them around London! I really can't express how good this place is. It's not cheap but all of their food is organic and they really are wonderfully attentive. I love it. We actually went there for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday and went to buy some sourdough loaf from them to take home before leaving. Both morning I had scrambled egg with crispy prosciutto and 2 slices of their sourdough toast. Both times was delicious! Mr TF had the same but with salmon one day and a belgian waffle with fruit the second time. Ahhh I'm smiling just thinking about it again. If I lived down there it would be my regular breakfast place.

They also had what is the best mocha I've ever drunked. No bitterness from espresso but not too sweet, I certainly didn't need to add sugar - which is the norm for any mocha.

You have to go. They have nice big communal tables and pastries and they have their own jams and spreads.

Please go. Please. You will not regret it.

Best Mocha ever. with lipstick stains.

Other things:

I found a Tim Hortons in London which is actually a Canadian way of life. We have nothing like it hear. It's like a Starbucks in the way that you walk in, order and leave. And they serve coffee. But their mainstay is baked goods. And they're open all the time and have some drive-in stores too. They actually own 75% of the baked goods market in Canada, beating both McDonalds and Starbucks.
It was founded by a hockey player and Tim Hortons is now the largest corporate sponsor of youth hockey leagues throughout Canada; it makes the sport more accessible to kids and that's where we go so wrong here. I think aside from Ice Hockey it is the thing that keeps Canadians going.

Another Canadian affair we had was at The Maple Leaf pub in Covent Garden. It was pretty empty and quiet with no hockey on when we went. The menu is pretty standard with a few classic Canadian dishes. We got a plate of Poutine which is a dish famous in Quebec. Basically it's chips, grated cheese, thick gravy and black pepper. It's delicious but from this pub it was just okay. I wasn't hugely impressed.

Tim Hortons franchise in a Spar shop, I'm campaigning for them to break out over here. 

Thursday, 16 February 2012

coming soon...

Oh. My. Goodness...pause for a sip.

So far you've only seen food on here but its time to reveal the true gustatory love of my life, it's tea. The Aztecs called their chocolate drink 'liquid gold', but i'm afraid they hadn't been introduced to tea. It's our national drink for a reason.

There was a time in life when I wanted to be a tea blender; travel to the mountains of Darjeeling and the valleys of Assam scouring plantations for the finest teas to send home to my awaiting parched patriots.  Alas, it's a tough industry to get into and I got a place at ToothFairy school... I still intend to take a sabbatical and fulfil those leafy dreams one day.

It wouldn't be a stretch to say I'm definitely quite fussy about tea, it seems to be an umbrella term for dust in a cage or perfectly dried leaves in an infuser. And, well, that's just not right; I'll take any opportunity to spread the word about proper tea! My latest favourite is teapigs tea, having only drunk it in 3 nice cafe's but loved every sip, I'm setting out to explore this brand further.

The wonderful people at teapigs have mailed me some of their teas to sample and blog about. Since I'm off to London this weekend for a Valentine's getaway, courtesy of Mr ToothFairy (aww), stay tuned for a post next week giving you the verdict on these tea temples of glory. There will be extra treats too with a guest blogger/judge and some discounts from teapigs!! Excited, yes?

Just as a point of interest, this was on the BBC yesterday regarding the antioxidant content of tea and steeping time.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Hollandaise Sauce

My black pepper spotted hollandaise

 Something you will only order of a breakfast menu somewhere fancy? You need not be scared to try it at home. There are only 3 ingredients required, how hard can it possibly be? Well there are a few basic rules to follow and they follow scientific principles - which I love. So today I'm letting you all in on my hollandaise recipe with some suggestions on how to use it. I swear you will become a pro and it's sure to jazz up breakfast on a weekend/impress guests.

 I usually make this for Mr ToothFairy on a weekend, he brings out the puppy dog eyes and i'm a weakling for that. On a better note, I made this for my parents yesterday morning on an impromptu visit to stay with them last weekend. They were really surprised at how simple it was to make; so astounded was my mother that she over cooked the poached eggs. No hard feelings, Mum..hard yolks though.

So the hollandaise is one of the 5 mother sauces, the bases of all sauces, it's primarily a butter sauce. Another sauce using hollandaise as the base would be the Bearnaise - you add shallots, chervil (or a mild parsley will do) and tarragon - and that's a primary sauce for steaks - yum. So getting to know your mother sauces is quite helpful and enables you to pretty much make a sauce for any occasion.

This will make enough for 2 servings, or 1 person with it piled on.

You'll be requiring:

1 egg yolk
Lemon juice - from a fresh lemon or bottled lemon juice
50g butter - melted

Salt & Pepper to season

 Now, there are a few things to set up before you get all excited. You'll need to construct a bain marie; thats a pan with an inch or so of boiling water, sit a bowl on top and make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. Done. You'll need a separate bowl and a whisk. That's the equipment sorted.

 First off, add the 50g of butter to the bain marie and let it melt. If you're using real butter you'll get a white sediment at the bottom which are the milk fats. The stuff on top is clarified butter. Clarified butter is brilliant in other things too like sauteeing potatoes to make hash browns - it has a higher smoking point than regular butter. Also if you or your guests are lactose intolerant, clarified butter has negligible amount of lactose in. So you can use just the clarified butter or mix it up and use all of it - it's up to you.

Next, while the butter is melting, whisk your egg yolk in the clean bowl. Get it so it goes a bit paler, maybe a few bubbles, that'd be perfect. Now add about 10 drops of lemon to start. This will acidify the egg yolk and start to cook it a little. Whisk again, you should notice a slight change in texture, a bit of a shine develops too. That's the 'emulsion' bit done.

Take your butter and drizzle it into the emulsion whilst whisking constantly. You can use a dessert spoon or table spoon so you're not holding a hot bowl and trying to pour it in. The whisking doesn't need to be excessively vigorous, but you need to have a good go at it - you don't want pools of butter to be sitting in the sauce at any point. Just don't be tempted to throw it all in at once and whisk and expect it to mix.

Now this is the time where people get their knickers in a twist because this is the pivotal point where it could all go wrong. There's really no need to panic. It's dead simple. 
Here are the two principles: If you keep your bowl with egg yolk emulsion too hot and add hot butter, they won't mix and your mixture will 'split' - you'll know when it has split too. If your bowl is too cold your mixture will set hard (because butter sets when it cools) and your sauce will congeal in the whisk. Many recipes ask you to put the bowl with the emulsion on the bain marie to warm it up but you definitely risk splitting the sauce so I don't recommend it unless your bowl is getting cold and the sauce is setting. You can stick it on to warm it up a bit then. As I discovered when things went a bit awry yesterday, granite worktops absorb heat quickly and your sauce WILL set quickly too. Don't work on granite - just keep the bowl at room temp. My sauce was saved though by heating it up a little on the bain marie, in case you were wondering. 

Once all of your butter has been included you have a hollandaise. It's really that easy.

Have a taste, you can still add extra drops of lemon if you like it a bit more zingy - I sure do. Add your salt and pepper to taste. Traditionally white pepper is used but that's only for looks, I don't mind the black speckles.

Things to use your new-found Hollandaise skills on:

Well of course the traditional is Eggs Benedict: English muffin with ham, poached egg and hollandaise. You'll see our variation below with toast, bacon and poached egg.

For the veggies there is the Eggs Fiorentine: English muffin with wilted spinach, poached egg and holandaise. It's delicious. Or my version Huevos Rancheros - muffin or tortilla with avocado, tomato salsa, poached egg and hollandaise.

And for the fish fans there is Eggs Atlantic/Hemingway/Royale - you'll find it a lot in Australia - is salmon or smoked salmon replacing the ham or spinach in the traditional Eggs Bene.

Basically you can put anything between the muffin/toast and the with hollandaise and it's a winner.

Also very popular is hollandaise on asparagus or new potatoes. It really is delicious too. A personal fave is Jerusalem artichoke and hollandaise...i'm drooling.

Our version of an Eggs Bene, with miscellaneous other items that needed eating
and got chucked on Mr TF's plate - please don't judge him.

Give it a go and let me know how you get on!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Sausage Casserole

It's still ruddy cold out and I'm still trying to feed up Mr ToothFairy with traditional English winter fayre. It turns out that Canadians don't really have much tradition in the way of food. I still remember, after his first few weeks in the UK, having to tear him away from a Full English Breakfast at night - seriously, who does that?? The next obsession was Sunday Roasts on any day of the week. It just doesn't compute that we have time specific limits on some foods! Alas, this will be his first ever sausage casserole, it's a firm favourite of mine when it's done the English way (my way) or the French 'cassoulet' way. 

This recipe utilises a load of cupboard basics: baked beans, canned tomatoes, dried herbs with some standard root veggies and a pack of good quality sausages. It's such a versatile dish too, you can use fancy root veggies like parsnips, or you can use pumpkin or squash. I wouldn't advise many soft veggies like a Brassica (broccoli, cauliflower) as they will probably just disintegrate to nothing and make it a bit of a thick mess. 

So, this dish can be done in a slow cooker if you've got all day to prepare for it, one big pot for an evening dinner or a mix of pan and baking like I did today. So here it is, I massively urge you to have a go, it's delicious beyond belief.

Serves 2 hungry people. Takes less than 1hr. 

6 good quality sausages of any kind (pork and leek, cumberland, whatever you like)
1/2 can of beans
1/2 can of chopped tomatoes
1 red onion, diced
1 large potato, diced
1 carrot, diced
300ml chicken stock - 1 stock cube or Knorr stock gel. 
dash of Worcestershire Sauce
1tsp each of sage, basil, thyme. Fresh or dried. 
Black pepper

Grill or fry the sausages until they're cooked through, remove from the pan and set to one side.
Fry the onions in a bit of oil in a pan. If you have just cooked the sausages in there you probably don't need the extra oil
Add the potato and carrots to pick up the sticky sausage juices from the bottom of the pan, fry for a couple of minutes to seal in some flavour. They don't need to cook through.
In a separate pan add the tomatoes and beans and bring to a gentle simmer, add the fried veggies and the chicken stock and keep bubbling away. 
Chop the sausages into 3 or 4 pieces - depending on how big they are - and add to the big pot.
Add the herbs and season to taste. Make sure you taste before throwing salt in as chicken stock invariably has loads enough in already.
Once it's tasty-delicious just whack a lid on the pan and keep on a low heat for 15mins. 
Serve with mash, rice or on toast! Everything's good on toast. 

Alternatively you can make a breadcrumb topping and bake:
Make two pieces of toast and wait for it to cool (lets the steam out and keeps the breadcrumbs dry). You could do this at the start of the recipe to save watching 2 slices of toast go cold - the epitome of a waste of time. 
Chuck them in a blender or hand-whizzy thing with a pinch of salt, tsp thyme, black pepper. 
Whizz until they're mostly little crumbs, the odd big chunk is fine as it just adds to the texture. Mix in a drizzle of olive oil.
Pour the casserole into a pyrex dish or other ovenproof vessel and top with the bread crumbs. 
Bake at 200C for 15mins or until the breadcrumbs are toasty.