Sunday, 25 March 2007

in between America and Australia

It's been a while since I posted, but work has kept me quite busy, what with a business trip to New York and all. It's a yearly thing and it's always nice to go - NY is starting to feel a little bit like home, I have friends there, and, last but not least, it's good for some serious SHOPPING!
As usual, S came with - every year he says "I don't think I'll come this time", but every year he changes his mind and comes anyway. Which I don't mind at all of course. Last week Friday, while I was at work, S roamed the Big Apple with his camera and took this lovely picture in Central Park - 6 inches of snow last Friday, so beautiful. If this had happened in London, the whole city would have come to a standstill and the public transport would have gone all haywire. But it's NY, so everything kept on working just fine. Although getting a cab was near impossible.

Last Sunday I had the day off, so I went on my yearly pilgrimage to (the holy shrines of) Kiehl's and Aveda - a bit like going to Lourdes I would imagine. Maybe it will not bring salvation for my soul, but salvation for my skin is a given. It was a nice and sunny day, so S and I walked, and who else did we run into but Tim Robbins, speaking at an anti war demonstration. How cool is that. And we ended the day with a lovely home-cooked dinner, at our friends' home in Harlem. They have a ginormous flat (to NY standards at least) and it was nice to visit an area where tourists normally don't go. Still a bit rough around the edges (but then again, so is East London, where I live) but lovely open spaces and river views.

Apart from Sunday, work kept me quite busy, so I didn't have much time for fooding. Most of my food experiences were limited to Midtown, within five blocks of my hotel and work place, and are not really worth writing about. Apart from saying I still cannot get over how big American portions are. It's a good thing I only stayed a week, any longer and I might not fit in an economy seat on the plane any more. There was a whole list of places I would have loved to try, but didn't get the chance to. I did manage a cocktail or two with friends, and a lovely Japanese sushi dinner at St Marks Place though. Oh, and I did fit in a quick trip to Williams Sonoma and Wholefoods, where I finally found cocoa nibs (I've been searching high and low for those in London, but to no avail), some Scharffenberger Serious Chocolate (serious as in 99% cocoa) and vanilla bean paste.

Off to Australia tomorrow (I know, I have such a hard life), for a long holiday and a friends' wedding. No big foodie plans for Oz, but I'll be meeting up with W, an old university friend in Singapore, who will finally introduce me to the pleasures of chilli crab. And Jen from Milk and Cookies gave me some nice suggestions for Sydney food places.

Friday, 9 March 2007

easy-peasy midweek curry

My kitchen hasn’t seen much action in the last few weeks; even at weekends the oven and hob stay woefully underused. Last weekend was filled with DIY and a necessary shopping trip. Believe me, I can think of much nicer ways to spend my Saturday than to join the masses of shopping people in Central London, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, right? In this case: the girl had to find a dress for a wedding. And a suit for S, also for the wedding. And holiday stuff. Funny how much stuff you think you’ll need before setting off on a holiday. Weekdays are just too busy with work and last-minute preparations for a business trip to New York, followed by a visit to the gym; the exercise does wonders to clear my head after a long day at the office, not to mention my waistline, but when S and I finally get ourselves home around 8-8.30pm, neither of us has much energy left to start cooking things from scratch. So I end up nibbling cheese, salami and chocolate, hereby undoing what the exercise has done for my waistline…

All this gymming, shopping, and DYI-ing does not do much for a blog about food of course, so here’s an oldie from the archives (god that sounds ancient): the easy-peasy midweek curry. Of course there’s a bit of prep work involved and a bit of waiting around until it’s ready, but while waiting you can read the paper. Or solve a sudoku. Or think about your holiday. There’s no exact recipe; just mix about 50g of curry paste with a tin of coconut milk and heat it in the wok. Add whatever you like and let simmer until done. I like to add carrots, onions, peas, beans, red peppers and potatoes – no need for lots of preparation, I just peel what needs to be peeled and cut it up in big chunks – but something meaty of fishy would work just as well. While your curry is simmering away, cook some rice et voilĂ : a delicious meal in about 30 minutes.

It tastes even better the second day when all the flavours have fused together, so you could make it in advance and have a healthy ready-meal super-easy-peasy midweek curry. And there’s no law against making it at weekends. In which case, you’ll have an easy-peasy weekend curry.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

family lunch

For her 80th birthday, my granny organised a big party at a local restaurant and invited her extended family and close friends. That day, she got a tiny bit tipsy on champagne and we made her promise to have another birthday party the following year, just for the close family. And ever since then it has become a bit of a tradition to have a birthday lunch with her. She always tries to get out of it, claiming she needs to save her money for when ‘she’ll be old’, but of course we won’t let her. Her birthday was last weekend and, after that little shopping excursion in Antwerp on Saturday, we had her birthday lunch on Sunday (‘we’ is my granny, my aunt & cousin, my parents & my brother, and S & myself).

Both these images are from the restaurant's website (

The restaurant we always go to, De Jachthoorn, is located in a picturesque old farmhouse, set in a large garden with playground. It has a function room, caters lots of weddings and other parties and is very popular with local people – at weekends it is always packed to the rafters. The food they serve is traditional Belgian fare (a bit like French, but simpler) – not Michelin star worthy, but on the whole quite decent. Apart from their market menu, which changes weekly, the restaurant’s menu never ever changes. And I really mean never: in the four years that we have been celebrating my granny’s birthday there, the menu has remained exactly the same. Not very imaginative, but the owners probably adhere to the mantra ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. And why should they, the place is always full, so they must be doing something right.

I think we caught them on a particularly bad ‘off-day’ last Sunday though, as a lot seemed to have gone wrong. Personally, I find their food a bit too salty for my taste and, although their dishes sound really good on paper, there is always seems to be ‘something’ that doesn’t work as well as it should. Having said that, I have to admit I’m not that easy to please. And, based on my past experiences there, I know they can do better than what they served us last Sunday, so I won’t be too harsh. Like I said, on the whole their food is quite decent. Here goes.

Granny insisted we all have the ‘market menu’, which changes weekly, and which sounded really nice:

aperitif (sparkling wine)
goat’s cheese wrapped in bacon with walnut and pear salad
salmon tartar with sour cream and potato crisp

leek and shiitake soup
cod with herb crust and celeriac mash
entrecote with chicory and red wine reduction


goat's cheese parcel

salmon tartar

The amuse-bouche I forgot to photograph and none of us were sure what it was, but we think was sliced (smoked? carpaccio?) duck breast with shredded red cabbage and orange. I had the goat’s cheese starter, which was faultless and absolutely delectable: the soft, mild, tangy cheese contrasted nicely with the salty bacon and sweetness of the pear. I didn’t taste the other starter, but it got the thumbs up all around.

The soup, I’m sorry to say, was so salty I couldn’t eat it. It was an attack on my taste buds, I couldn’t even taste what vegetable the soup was made with, all I could feel in my mouth was the salt overload. ‘Too salty’ was the general consensus at our table, but everyone except me ate theirs. My dad, who loves his salt, liked it, but even he had to admit it was rather salty.

After the soup came a sorbet. I think it was raspberry, which I found a strange choice. As a dessert, this would have been perfect, but as a palate cleanser I found it too sweet. I would have chosen something more fresh and tart – lemon or even apple perhaps?


herb encrusted cod -or how I discovered how difficult it is to take a decent photograph of food in a restaurant with strange lighting

My main course was the entrecote, which came as a delicious slab of ‘saignant’ perfection, with some cress and tomato. The chicory was a bit on the salty side (I told you they like their salt there) but I absolutely LOVE chicory so I happily gobbled it all up. S’s portion of chicory also found its way into my tummy, as he’s not a big fan. There was some sort of grated potato cake on the plate as well, which must have ended up there because of a space-time continuum rupture or something like that. Not only was it completely dried out, it also had a fishy taste. Literally. The thing tasted of fish. Maybe someone didn’t clean the pans very well? The other main course was good (again, I didn’t taste it) but apparently the sauce (hollandaise?) was too sour and overwhelming.

Dessert was a little plate with cake, ice cream and fruit. The cake was some sort of sponge with vanilla cream (at least, that’s what I think it was), which was kind of heavy and so cloyingly sweet I could feel myself sinking away into a complete sugar coma after one bite. Luckily the fruit and coffee ice cream saved the day.

The verdict: not too great, almost every dish seemed to have something or other wrong with it. There are better restaurants out there in the same price category serving similar food. But, at the end of the day, we had a nice family get-together, my granny likes this restaurant very much and was really pleased to have her entire family around her, she was radiating happiness and enjoying every single moment of it. And I think that’s what’s really important…