Sunday 24 October 2010

Pumpkin soup

It's that time of the year again...

The nights are closing in and there's a nip in the air, who wouldn't want some pumpkin soup? This is one I made last week for myself and my uncle Kazik who is staying with me right now, doing my floors and finishing off all the stuff that the builders have given up on. Soup is always better, in my experience, when you take your time with it. Therefore, I cooked it one night, left it to cool, then blended it the next morning, adding the cream. We then warmed it up and ate it for dinner for two nights running, the second night with penne pasta, which worked really well, and made it into a more complete meal


1 small pumpkin, cut into chunks, with seeds taken out
1 leek, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 parsnip, chopped
1 green chilli 
Chicken or vegetable stock
1 tblsp butter
1 tblsp olive oil
1 small single cream
Salt and pepper

Roast the pumpkin in olive oil, with salt and pepper, at about 180 degrees C for about an hour. In the meantime, fry the leek, chilli, carrot and parsnip in the butter. Once they are translucent, add the stock (or water if you prefer) and bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer. Once the pumpkin is ready, peel it and add the bits to the soup, then carry on cooking for another half an hour or so, seasoning at the end. At this point, I turned the heat off and left the soup to infuse overnight, before blending and adding the cream. There's a Polish saying about relationships, which translates as "I don't like my soup reheated". It means that you shouldn't go back to old relationships and try to "reheat" them. I find it so strange, because soup is definitely better reheated, everyone knows that.  Conclusion: sayings that don't make any sense are annoying

Sunday 17 October 2010

My favourite restaurant in London's China Town (New World)

Just a quickie today to mention my favourite restaurant in China Town. New World is hidden down a side street off the main drag (Gerrard Place), but it's worth the (tiny) detour. It's definitely not the slickest of the lot and you will most likely need to ask for the chilli oil and the bill about three times before you actually get anything, however, the food's amazing, and it makes you feel like you're in Hong Kong, which is always a good thing

I came here with the lovely Anna before a night out in Soho, and we ate spicy king prawns, duck in black bean sauce, crispy prawn dumplings, barbeque pork puffs and pea shoots with garlic. The pea shoots are not on the menu, but worth going off-piste for. You may need to explain what they look like, in which case, see above - they're the ones right in the middle of the table. We washed everything down with Chinese tea and Tiger beer. During the day, the waiters go round with trays full of food and you just pick whatever you fancy, which is infinitely more fun than just choosing from a menu. And it's also one to remember after an evening at the pub, as it's open until midnight every single day of the week

Wednesday 13 October 2010

A healthy aubergine bake in my new kitchen

I have finally got a kitchen! Well, sort of - it's still full of crap and dust - I have a cooker, a sink and a working fridge, that's the main thing... And since I ate waaay too much brie at work today, I decided to have a lovely, light, healthy dinner. It also felt kind of appropriate to eat something clean and nutritious to symbolise the new life I plan to have here - a dinner that would be the start of things to come... so I decided on this aubergine dish that my veggie friend, Lou Lou, told me about when I went to see her in Oxford in the summer. It's last chance saloon now when it comes to aubergines, so you gotta make the most of them. To carry on with the symbolic tone of tonight's dinner, I added the (one and only) tomato I found in my garden to the sauce - you can either ignore this or add more fresh tomatoes, it's up to you. I amended the dish slightly by adding spinach and fresh chillies that a mate from work, Mars, brought in from his garden


3 large aubergines or 4 medium ones
1 litre tomato passata (you can replace some of this with fresh tomatoes)
Large handful fresh basil leaves
2 very strong red chillies (or 3 normal ones)
3 large garlic cloves
1 260g bag of spinach
80-100g parmesan shavings
1 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Most people salt the aubergines to get rid of the water for about half an hour, but what I like to do is to stick them straight on the stove (pierced a couple of times with a fork), in order to give them a charcoaled flavour. I do this for about 2-3 minutes on every side, and on a medium-high heat. I also wash the spinach and pour a kettle full of boiling water over it. For the sauce, fry the garlic and chillies in half the olive oil for a couple of minutes before adding the passata and chopped basil leaves, as well as the seasoning and balsamic. The sauce needs to simmer for about 10 minutes. In that time, chop the aubergines and layer in a greased baking tray (use the remainder of the oil for this), followed by the spinach, and then another layer of aubergines. I ran out of aubergine slices near the end of my second layer. One of my aubergines was too teeny, as you can see up there, that's why you need three large ones, as I specified in the ingredients list. Finally, pour the sauce over the whole lot, and spread the parmesan shavings on top. This goes in the oven (180 degrees C) for about half an hour. This makes four massive portions, three medium ones, or two small uns

OK, so it's not the most photogenic meal I have ever made, but I was stupidly excited to cook it - I may or may not have done a victory dance around my living room. The thing is,  I really feel that not having a kitchen psychologically destabilized me in some way. There are other things that I haven't been able to do during the renovations - such as my collages (no space) or pilates (everything covered in dust) - but cooking is the one thing that makes me feel more connected to the world than anything else, so not cooking has been making me feel ungrounded and miserable. I don't think that I ever appreciated how much I love eating homemade food and having friends round for dinner before. Though the friends' bit is still a long way off. Baby steps, Scuzie, baby steps

Wednesday 6 October 2010

A lovely little Italian cafe/deli in Hackney and the best chocolate mousse in Paris

I have to admit that, what my friend, Magda, innocently pointed out, is true - I have been more than a little hedonistic of late.  However, it's not because I have decided to go off the rails, or because I have finally cracked. I believe that it's simply a reaction to the fact that I don't have a kitchen at the moment,  and therefore I don't have the option to stay home and cook for myself, or have friends round. I feel like I am camping in my own flat at the moment, which may have seemed fun for a night or two, but now is getting very tiring. So I have been choosing to go out most nights.  And then, usually on Saturday afternoons, I come here to stock up for the week: Parioli's

It's is a great, little Italian cafe/deli that I have found in my area (Lower Clapton Road). It's amazingly atmospheric with great coffee; creamy, Sicilian pastries; wines; cheeses; cured meats and other delicious treats. I only ever usually drink coffee when I am on holiday somewhere like France or Italy, where it's part of the culture, however, I do order it here, simply because "when in Rome...". You could of course point out that I am, in fact, on "murder mile" in Hackney, and not Rome, but this cafe makes me feel as if I am in Italy, and that is the point I'm making

This is the loot from last time...

If you like strong cheeses, then I have to recommend the "provolon" - it tastes much stronger than it looks! The cafe is run by a couple, the husband being from Napoli, and the wife from Sicily, therefore the food you find in here is a mixture of the two regions. It's only open during the day, and you have to come in the morning if you are to get hold of some fresh bread

As part of my hedonism, I decided to go to Paris for the day on Tuesday (well, if you're going to be hedonistic, you may as well do it properly!). My friend, Cat, who lives in New York and I haven't seen for about two years, was there for fashion week, and emailed me just before she got on the plane, on the off chance that I might feel like popping over. And since I had enough Airmiles - I did just that. That up there, is where we had dinner last night, and I have to recommend it. It's called "Chez Janou" and it's on Rue Roger...

Apart from the best chocolate mousse I have ever tasted in my life, we also ate rabbit with mashed potato and juniper berries; aromatic grilled seabass; and simple goat's cheese and spinach salad. We had a wonderful evening catching up on the last couple of years, and putting the world to rights. Cat is beautiful and happy, and Paris is as charming as ever, so I left feeling uplifted and energized. I also have to strongly recommend being completely impulsive now and again. It's reminded me that I'm alive and that the world is an amazing place, full of opportunities to be grabbed, delicious dinners to be eaten, and lovely, interesting people to share it with