Courgette fritters

I always thought of courgette fritters as something you order at a greek tavern and because they taste so amazing I assumed they would be too difficult to make at home. I do have an irrational fear of deep-frying too so that might have contributed to my reluctance. It turns out they are pretty easy, and you can shallow fry them instead. We even made a “diet” version by dry frying them on a non-stick pan. They turned out less like fritters and more like savoury pancakes, but still tasted great. I added a red pointy pepper for sweetness and some chili for a bit of a kick.

Courgette fritters

Ingredients (serves 3 as a main)

2 large courgettes, grated
1 red pointed pepper, chopped finely
3-4 spring onions, chopped finely
150 gr feta, crumbled
1-2 chillies, chopped finely
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried dill (or a handful of fresh dill, chopped)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
pinch of salt
lots of ground pepper
2 eggs
about 4 tbsp flour, to get the right consistency

Mix all the ingredients together, adding the flour slowly and mixing until you get a gloopy but not too thick consistency. In the meantime, heat some sunflower/olive oil in a frying pan; you want plenty to cover the bottom of the pan and be about 1/2 cm high. With the pan over medium-high heat, use a tablespoon to carefully drop some mixture in the pan and slightly flatten the top. Cook on one side until golden brown and then flip it to cook the other side. If they seem to be cooking too quickly you can turn the heat down a bit, as you don’t want them to still be raw on the inside. A few minutes on each side should do. Remove and place on kitchen roll to absorb the extra oil.

Serve these with tzatziki (garlicky yoghurt with cucumber) for dipping. They are also perfect as part of a greek meze dinner, as I did recently, serving them with spetsofai, a slab of feta and lots of crusty bread.

Continental Breakfast

Breakfast is by far my favourite meal of the day. It’s the meal that can really kick-start an otherwise slow, bleary-eyed, lethargic morning. And so, without further ado, this post describes one of my favourite breakfasts of all-time. It would make for a perfect start to the day if, say, you’d just spent 11 hours being shaken to fuck on a sleeper train from Berlin to Basel.
Deutsche Bahn Continental Breakfast
Breakfast (enough to stave off hunger for about as long as it takes to eat)
1 anhydrous bread roll
1 plastic-wrapped croissant (original, French)
1 20g packet of white viscous matter
1 similarly-sized packet of off-white viscous matter
1 fractionally larger packet of orange gel
1 200 ml carton of “The Flintstone’s” orange juice
Beverage and beverage paraphernalia
1 heavily insulated cup of tepid, brown, ostensibly caffeinated liquid (hereinafter referred to as the “tepid brown”)
2 small capsules of white, fatty fluid
1 sachet of sugar
So, first, brace yourself for a massive, soul-crushing bout of disappointment. This step is critical. Spend too little time bracing yourself and you’ll end up so comprehensively dismayed that you climb under said sleeper train while it’s moving at speed.
Get someone to throw all the ingredients into a cardboard box covered in multilingual bullshit about “savouring the journey”. Get said person to hand the box to you. If they can keep a straight face, ask them to present it as if the box contained an actual breakfast.
Shut up.
Open the box. Jesus Christ. I hope you spent enough time on the bracing step.
Jubilance.
Try and cut the bread roll to put a combination of the viscous matters inside it. You can’t. You actually can’t cut it. The flimsy plastic instrument with which you have been furnished has been deftly defeated by a bread roll. Seriously, on the Mohs scale of hardness, this bastard takes the crown. Step aside, diamond, Deutsche Bahn crust has stolen the limelight now.
Futile.
Unsheathe the croissant. Try and cut it in half with your mangled remains of a knife. (Moderate success awaits here.) Apply the orange gel to the inside of the croissant. Eat it. Try to savour the sparse hints of moisture therein.
In anger, throw the bread roll in the bin, along with the now-useless viscous matters.
Remove the straw from the front of The Flintstone’s orange juice carton. Use the sharpened end of the straw to pierce the tiny circle of foil on the dorsal face of the box. Squirt a bit of orange juice out of the box onto your jeans. Fuck. 
Use the straw to suck the remaining orange juice out of the carton into your stomach, at which point it will start to drag down the pH of your entire digestive system. Bile is no match for this mother.
Add the fatty liquid and/or sugar to the tepid brown, to taste. Difficult. The tepid brown is just so astonishingly bland. Staggeringly insipid. Mindblowingly tasteless. Mind you, somewhat impressively, it does just about manage to taste of brown. The colour. I don’t have synesthesia, but if I did, I imagine this particular taste/colour confusion would make a lot of sense.
Now go home, have a long sit down and think about how it’s all come to this.

Croque Madame

This is one of my favourite sandwiches ever and so great for a weekend lunchtime treat. I’ve been trying to recreate my favourite version for a while and I think I’ve finally got the balance right – turns out you can have too much bechamel sauce. Would would have thought it.

Anyway, since I’m running out of words (unless you want to hear about fracturing toughnesses and patterned grounds) I’ll go straight to the recipe.

Croque Madame 

Ingredients (makes 4)

3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp olive oil (you can use butter, but I’m Greek)
less than a pint of milk (excuse the vagueness but I never measure – you should be able to tell from the consistency of the sauce)
1/2 to 1 tsp of english mustard (to taste)
pinch of nutmeg
salt and black pepper

8 slices of bread
lots of cheddar (about 2 cups when grated)
4 slices of ham

Quickly fry the flour in the fat over medium heat until you’ve got a paste – do not overcook or your sauce will taste biscuity. Take off the heat and add a splash of milk and incorporate until you’ve got a smooth mixture. Turn the heat on again on low-medium and keep adding milk and mixing until the mixture is thick. You want it to be slightly thicker than normal bechamel so make sure you don’t add too much milk. Stir in the mustard, salt and pepper, and let it cool slightly.

Start preparing the toasties: spread about half a tablespoon of bechamel on one side, top with grated cheese and a slice of ham, and toast them using a panini press or a griddle pan. If you’re doing it on the hob, make sure it’s on medium heat as you don’t want the bread to toast before the cheese is melted.

Turn the grill on to preheat. When the toasties are golden on both sides, top with a tablespoon of bechamel each, and then more grated cheese. Place under the grill for a few minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is starting to brown. In the meantime, fry 4 eggs – I did them all in one large frying pan, so it didn’t take long.

To serve, just top each sandwich with a fried egg.

Dim Sum @ Aki Teri, Cambridge

One of my favourite Cambridge restaurants has just got better! I am a huge fan of Teri Aki and Aki Teri, and I do miss the days when I used to live about 2 minutes away. They’re not cheap but they are reasonable, and the noodles and sushi are consistently good.

Aki Teri is the most recent of the two, a mirror image of Teri Aki and, like most younger siblings, has struggled to find its identity for a while. They tried to do a slightly different menu and had a karaoke room for a while, but I think they ended up short-staffed and closed it down for a few months. It then did a stint as a cocktail bar but really, who want cocktails when you can have noodles and sushi next door?

Recently, it changed its menu considerably, and now does Chinese food instead. I’ve only had a brief look at the menu but I’m keen to return to try the hotpots. On weekends, between 12-4, you can get a dim sum buffet for £12. And it’s good.

We were advised against wasting when we sat down – apparently, they will charge you for any leftovers but presumably that’s only if you take the piss. In any case, it makes you think about what you grab from the buffet a bit more.

I loved the cold noodles with Szechuan sauce, salty and spicy although I couldn’t tell you what was in there. Had a few portions of them. I also had a silly number of gyozas, both in spicy soup (which was a bit bland on the flavour front, just spicy) and pot-sticker style ones. I particularly like the latter, with the contrast in textures between the crispy bottom and the soft, chewy top being quite addictive.

I braved it and tried chicken feet but wasn’t too keen. I found them a bit slimy but the taste wasn’t bad.

Sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves was good, although I was slightly disappointed that the filling was chicken and mushrooms rather than chinese sausage.

There were a lot of steamed pork and prawn dumplings, pork buns, and some rather lovely glazed sticky buns with some kind of chicken filling. Rice rolls were good but I would have preferred them pan-fried. And custard buns were a good way to end the meal. We were also offered a little pot of either black sesame or green tea ice cream. Good times. Basically, go.

Teri-Aki & Aki-Teri
6-8 Quayside 
Cambridge
CB5 8AB

Peking Restaurant, Cambridge

About a year ago, when I started reading loads of London food blogs, I made a list of restaurants I wanted to visit. Due to greediness, it’s been growing steadily. Due to laziness, lack of free time and lack of money, I haven’t crossed many of them off. Every now and then, I discover interesting Cambridge restaurants to add to that list. The Peking had been there for a while, and I finally forced myself to visit a few days ago, as I had a voucher for it that was expiring.

This is the kind of place you want to go with quite a few people as the menu is big and sharing is recommended. My friends managed to put up with me going on and on about how “We need to order the pot stickers. And loads of aubergine.” on the way. Not only that but, as we sat down, they asked me to choose all the dishes. I’ve got awesome friends.

The prawn fried dumplings were pretty good, crispy at the bottom and the filling was savoury and went well with the spring onion and ginger soy sauce that came with it. The dough was maybe a bit on the thick side, but it had been way too long since I had any decent dumplings; I was happy.

We then shared 5 main courses, including the much craved aubergines in hot bean sauce, double cooked pork (pictured below), tripe fried with chillies, squid with ginger and szechuan shredded beef. I thought the tripe was a bit flavourless and particularly loved the fatty pork and the very smoky szechuan beef.

All in all, great food and worth going if you live in Cambridge. But I couldn’t help but compare it to my experience with Chilli Cool, where we got more and possibly better food for almost half the price. Cambridge needs good, independent restaurants and I don’t mind paying a bit extra to avoid going to yet another chain, but if other places can do it for cheaper, why not the Peking?

High point: The beef, the pork and the aubergines were all excellent.

Low point: The bill, predictably.

The money: Without our £25 off voucher, £20 for a good (but not ridiculous) amount of food and a small beer each.

Go with: lots of people and share.

An update and a cake

I haven’t given up on this blog yet. It might look like it, but I’m still around. I just figured that, given that I didn’t spend any time lying on the beach this summer, I probably shouldn’t be spending any time writing blog posts either. Which is to say, I didn’t go back home and I am gutted. But I’m getting there.

A few weeks ago it was my birthday. I survived the day thanks to several glasses of wine at Alimentum and friends that were nice enough to put up with my complaining about being old and not being in Greece.

The day before, my boyfriend and I made me a cake, which wasn’t a great success. It looked a bit sad for a celebration cake, and it tasted just ok. A bit too damp, not chocolatey enough. I decided to take it to the office the next day anyway, as I had promised cake and it was at least edible.

I took the cake with me to coffee and it disappeared pretty rapidly (it is cake after all). Then, one of the senior people asked me if I made it myself and complimented me on a rhubarb cake I had made a few weeks ago and taken to an office garden party. I was surprised he remembered and, of course, vainly proud. So, even though most of my spare time nowadays is spent stressing about not working hard enough, I made that cake again. I like feeding people and, let’s be honest, I like cake.

The recipe is very simple to put together and quite versatile. A sponge is topped by rhubarb and then crumble. You could of course use any fruit you like, I reckon peaches or strawberries would be pretty nice. My sponge is made from a simple cake batter, with equal amounts egg, sugar, flour and butter. I think Americans like to throw some buttermilk in there too, but I never have any handy.

Rhubarb Crumb Cake

For the cake

150 gr butter
150 gr sugar (I like to use a mixture of caster and soft dark brown)
150 gr self-raising flour
3 large eggs 

Cream the butter with the sugar(s) until smooth. Add the eggs and sift in the flour. Whisk until incorporated.

For the rhubarb

400 gr rhubarb, cut in inch long pieces
2-3 tbsp caster sugar

Mix the sugar with the rhubarb and let it sit while preparing the rest.

For the crumble topping

100 gr cold butter
150 gr flour or a combination of flour and ground nuts (add slowly until the texture feels right)
80 gr brown sugar (or to taste)

Mix with your hands until it crumbly.

In a oven-proof dish, layer the cake batter, then the rhubarb with all the sugary juices and finally, top with the crumble. Bake in a 180 C oven for 40-50 minutes – you might want to start checking after 35-40 minutes by inserting a knife in the middle. It needs to come out almost clean.

You can serve this with custard or cream or ice cream or be weird like my boyfriend and have it with loads of evaporated milk. I quite like it as it is, with a cup of coffee in the afternoon.

Brown Bread and Rhubarb Ice Cream

It would appear that my last blog post was sometime in April. I would say that I don’t know how this has happened but I do –  I’ve been lost in the world of thesis-writing and car-building since then. And although it’s fun (it’s not) I would like it to end now. Thanks.

But I’ve also made some ice cream. And that’s because some really nice person noticed I was wishing for an ice cream maker and sent me one. This really nice person is called Alex aka the Fairy Hobmother and works for Appliances Online. He also spreads kitchen gadget love on the internet. He’s a good one. And the really great thing is that if you leave a comment on this post and make a wish, he could visit you! Certainly worth a go.

When it came to trying out the ice cream machine, I had two options: either go for a proper, custard-based recipe or be lazy. No prizes for guessing which one I went for. I had been eyeing up this rhubarb crumble recipe from Helen’s blog for a while, and it seemed the perfect thing to try. And as the rhubarb was cooking, I realised I didn’t have any butter for the crumble. Seriously, what kind of person runs out of butter?

So I improvised a bit.

Brown bread and rhubarb ice cream 

425 ml whipping cream*

2-3 stalks of rhubarb, trimmed
juice of half a lemon
sugar (to taste)

1 or 2 slices of brown bread, in crumbs
2 tbsp sugar

Cut the rhubarb into inch long pieces, place in a pan together with the lemon juice and the sugar and cook until soft – most of it should look like a puree, with some small chunks still intact. You can taste it to check how sweet you want it – remember that the cream won’t be sweetened though.

In the meantime, place the breadcrumbs in a large tray and mix with the sugar. Bake in a 200 C oven for about 10 minutes, or until crispy.

Allow both the rhubarb and the breadcrumbs to cool. Mix in the cream and pour into the ice cream maker. Churn the ice cream according to the machine’s instructions until it’s thick like whipped cream. Place in a plastic container and leave in the freezer until it reaches the desired consistency. If you haven’t got an ice cream machine, follow Delia’s advice.

If it stays in the freezer for a while, you will need to soften it by leaving it in the fridge for 20 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with some more of the crispy breadcrumbs if you have some left.

*I used double cream because that’s what I had. My ice cream was a bit too thick for my liking, but you could try mixing 300 ml double cream and 125 ml milk and that should work better.

Bolognese Macaroni Cheese

I’ve been having a massive craving for macaroni cheese for the last month. I blame the #meateasy.

On a hot Saturday, I woke up and knew what I wanted to eat. I’m not really big on light food when it’s hot. My cravings have nothing to do with the weather. So I made some macaroni cheese.

I had been thinking about a few versions, mainly Helen’s ultimate macaroni cheese and Ree’s fancy one. But then I had some bolognese leftover in the fridge and that combined with bechamel, cheese and pasta is basically pastitsio, one of my favourite Greek dishes. So I went for it.

The measurings in the recipe are vague. It could really be summarised in a few words: mix pasta, cheesy bechamel and bolognese sauce. Top with cheese. Bake. But here’s the (slightly) more detailed version anyway.

Bolognese Macaroni Cheese

Ingredients (enough for 6)

500 gr pasta

portion of bechamel sauce:
5 tbsp flour
5 tbsp oil/butter
1 – 1 1/2 pint milk
pinch of salt (go easy as the cheeses will be salty)
lots of ground pepper
pinch of nutmeg
bay leaf

a mixture of cheeses (I used gouda, pecorino and a couple of spoons of mascarpone)
leftover bolognese sauce (I used about 1 1/2 cups, you can certainly go for more as it was on the light side)
extra pecorino for the top

For the sauce: quickly fry the flour with the fat, making sure you don’t burn it. Turn the heat right down. Warm the milk in the microwave and add it slowly to the flour-oil mixture, making sure it’s fully incorporated at every step. Season with salt and pepper, add nutmeg and the bay leaf and let it come to boil while stirring very frequently, to stop lumps from forming. If it becomes too thick, add some more milk, whisk, and let it reach boiling temperature again. You want it relatively runny so that the end result isn’t too thick and stodgy. Remove the bay leaf.

Boil the pasta for 2-3 minutes less than what the instructions say. Toss with a bit of olive oil and set aside.

Add the grated cheeses to the sauce and stir until melted. Add the pasta and mix well. Finally, stir the bolognese sauce in.

Spoon the mixture into oven dishes (I used a couple as I didn’t have  a big one available). Top with more grated pecorino and bake in the oven at 180 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, or until the top is nice and golden.

As it’s quite an intense meal, I served it with some spring greens. I boiled them for 2-3 minutes – don’t overcook them as they will lose their vibrant green colour and most of their goodness. Steaming would work too. I then quickly fried them with a drop of olive oil, a finely chopped garlic clove, salt and plenty of pepper and nutmeg. It made for a great side dish.

No-knead bread

Yes, I know. No-knead bread has been around for ages. I’m late to the party. But it’s easy and delicious. It’s also incredibly exciting, unless your definition of excitement doesn’t include covering the kitchen floor and your clothes in flour and then staring at the oven for half an hour before pulling out a loaf of bread. And then doing a little dance while listening to the crackling of the crust as it cools down. I find that exciting.
This comes from the book “Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day” and, while I love it for introducing me to the concept, I also have Clotilde to thank for finally managing to make a nice loaf of bread. After many failed attempts, I read this and realised the obvious thing: I had been severely underflouring my dough.

The consistency of my doughs still varies, but most of my loaves now are successful. The wetter doughs produce larger holes but flatter loaves, and they are excellent for eating with soups and stews. A drier dough sacrifices the impressively hole-y interior but gives you nicely shaped loaves that you can use to make sandwiches. It is also much easier to handle, meaning that you can make large loaves easily.

The loaf pictured below came from dough slightly on the drier side – I probably used 600 gr of flour here. Stick to 550 if you would like bigger holes, but your loaves will be flatter. In all cases, you get really crusty exterior without drying up the inside.

No-knead bread

Ingredients (makes 2 medium sized loaves)

2 cups lukewarm water
1 tbsp active dried yeast (or instant yeast)
1 tbsp salt
550 – 600 gr flour (see notes for type of flour used)
extra flour for dusting

In a large bowl, mix the water, yeast and salt and leave for a few minutes until the yeast granules dissolve (you don’t need to worry too much about the mixture frothing up – if you’re using instant yeast you don’t really have to wait at all).

Mix in most of the flour (about 500 gr) and stir using a spoon until you can’t see any dry patches. Add an extra 50-100gr and incorporate using wet hands. Your final dough should be wet enough so that it slowly deforms and takes the shape of the bowl.

Cover with a plate or a lid (not airtight), and let it rise for at least 2 hours (up to 5 won’t harm it). You are done with the rising when the top has flattened.

You can use the dough now but it’s better to refrigerate it for a couple of hours as it will be easier to handle. The dough will last in the fridge for at least a week and probably 10 days, so you can make this in advance and even double it if you have a large enough container.

Take your dough out of the fridge, flour the surface and your hands and pull out a chunk about half the size of the whole dough*. Form a smooth ball by pulling the sides of the dough underneath it. Don’t overdo it or the top layer of the dough will start splitting! Tuck the ends underneath – the bottom might look a bit messy but it will even out during rising/baking.  Place it on a smooth chopping board dusted with flour.

Let it rise for 40 minutes. Turn the oven on to 230 degrees Celsius and place a pizza stone on the middle shelf 10 minutes before the end of the rising time. Place a tray on the shelf underneath.

Dust the surface of the dough with flour and make some quite deep cuts using a bread knife. Make sure the bottom isn’t sticking to the chopping board – if it is, push some flour underneath using the bread knife. Slide the dough onto the pizza stone and quickly pour a cup of hot water (from the tap) into the tray underneath. Shut the oven door as quickly as possible to trap the steam in.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the top is looking nice and golden. Let it cool before you cut a slice.

Not that I’ve ever done that!

To keep the outside crispy, I store the bread with the cut side flat on a plate.

*If it’s too wet to handle, you haven’t got enough flour in it. You can incorporate some more flour at this step, or choose to bake it in a loaf tin. If using a loaf tin, make sure you grease it well with some oil and let the dough rise for an extra 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Walkers Crisps

A very special guest post.

This recipe is bloody brilliant. The speed and ease of preparation and the flavour possibilities are only just the beginning. The recipe is surprisingly easy – a machine at Walkers actually makes the crisps from potatoes that come from farmers who are not paid much but do it for the love of crisps. Another machine puts the crisps in a foil bag. Walkers then deliver the crisps very close to your house. If this still isn’t close enough, you can buy them online and a man will bring them to your house in a refrigerated van. Opulent.

Unfortunately, the cost of the crisps can vary hugely from around 35p (in a filthy corner shop where the writing on the bag is in Turkish) to around £2.50 (in a service station or airport departure lounge). If you’re cooking for more than one person, you can buy the crisps packets in multipack bags of 6, 12 or, if you’re really going for mass catering, 18 or 24. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to hand out the bags of crisps if you’re going to be cooking for 12 or more.

Walkers crisps

Ingredients

Walkers crisps (any flavour, any size bag, maybe even a multipack)

Directions

1. Buy the bag(s) of crisps
2. Open the bag(s) of crisps
3. Put the crisps into your face (1–5 at a time)