A Gluten-free Adventure

I’m sure you will have heard about how evil gluten is. I’ve been told numerous times that I should try cutting it out in order to ease my digestive troubles, but I’ve always been very unwilling due to my insatiable love for bread. Gluten seems to be lurking in the tastiest things; breads, cakes, pies, pasta, most salad dressings, flavoured crisps, cookies, chips and soups are all on the ‘avoid unless labelled gluten-free’ list. I know that some of the items on that list are pretty obvious no-nos if you’re striving for a healthy diet, but it’s items like salad dressing that get me really peeved; quite often I would consider a nice dressing as the best part of a salad – but no! It’s not allowed.

If you’re wondering how to detect gluten in a list of ingredients, you basically have to look out for these four baddies:
>Wheat
>Rye
>Triticale (a mixture of wheat and rye)
>Barley (malt products like malt vinegar and anything with malt flavouring usually contain barley)

Despite my initial fear that a world without gluten would be unbearably dull, I’ve started to come around to the idea that it actually wouldn’t be bad at all. In fact, if the food is still delicious and I’m relieved of discomfort, why on earth have I been putting it off? For the last week I’ve been trying out the diet almost unintentionally, just because of working at Filmore and Union. It wasn’t until I talked to someone who’s been cutting it out in order to relieve symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) that I realised: my usual post-food stomach pain has pretty much entirely disappeared! I feel more energetic, agile and far less bloated… maybe gluten really is the root of the problem!

So, I’m going to bite the bullet and stop biting anything containing the g-word. It certainly can’t hurt. I’ll keep you updated on how it goes and will make sure I post my favourite recipes on here for anybody who might be considering a similar venture.

Check out Filmore and Union for their exciting gluten-free options. Gluten-free-girl is another great source for diet-friendly treats. I’m really grateful to live in the age of blogging; information on this kind of thing is so accessible and, especially if you already love experimenting whilst cooking, it really doesn’t pose too much of an inconvenience on everyday life.

20131008-224741.jpg

Ayoush, Eton – Restaurant Review

Stars out of 5:

  • Food: ****
  • Drinks: ***
  • Environment: *****
  • Service: **

Occasionally, as you’re walking down a high street, a restaurant will just jump out and entice you: Ayoush is definitely one of those places. With exciting little nooks and crannies dotted about, cushioned areas for large groups and a shisha garden at the back; the Moroccan restaurant certainly promises a memorable eating experience. But did the mezze live up to expectations?

After many months of promising myself a trip, I finally managed to find the time to try Ayoush for a pre-theatre snack, a couple of cocktails and some shisha under the colourful veranda. Although we only had the time (and money) to try the shared mezze starter, it was enough to ensure that I will be returning when I next get the chance. The selection of dips and nibbles, served with steaming hot, wholemeal pitta, was absolutely delicious – from the refreshing baba ghanoush to the smoky falafel. In fact, the only slight disappointment of the dish (which offered 4 different dips) was the hummus, which was slightly bland; other than that, the array of tastes worked perfectly together and, for someone who is relatively new to Moroccan food, it was an exciting culinary expedition! The baba ghanoush, in particular, was like nothing I’ve ever tasted before – I loved the contrast in texture provided by the popping, crunchy pomegranate against the smoothness of the eggplant.

What’s a pre-theatre meal without a cheeky beverage? Well, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to indulge in the half price happy hour, was I? We went for the strawberry mojito and the Bloody Mary initially, both were beautifully presented and it was possible to customise the strength of the Tabasco in the latter which was a welcome offer. However, mid meal, I was asked if I would like to try the classic mojito as well, which mislead me to believe that it would be on the house. I was rather surprised to discover that I’d been charged for a cocktail that I wouldn’t ordinarily have ordered; had I been asked if I’d like to order another drink, rather than pushed towards one in particular, this confusion would have been avoided. The staff may want to avoid this kind of suggestion in the future in order to avoid a narky confrontation when it comes to paying.

Once we had finished with our food, we were taken outside to smoke the shisha. The décor was fab; a special mention must go to the wooden carving of an old, jovial, moustached gentleman, which was mounted on the wall near us (see gallery below for a photo). Our drinks were brought out to us and we were asked if we’d like one more before we left to catch the play. We expressed that we would need to be leaving within the next 15 minutes and so ordered a pina colada to share under the proviso that it would be with us quickly so that we weren’t having to neck it and sprint to the theatre. Unfortunately, it seemed as though our little outdoor party had been forgotten about and we ended up having to abandon the final drink in order to make it over to Windsor in time.

I would love to visit the restaurant again when it’s slightly busier, I imagine the atmosphere would be fantastic – this time we had to arrive in the early evening in order to accommodate our other plans. Although the service could definitely benefit from some attention, our experience wasn’t sullied by the misunderstandings we came across. In fact, I’m itching to try more of the food… and I might also order a, slightly unconventional, bucket full of the baba ghanoush. Once you’ve tried it, you won’t be able to fault me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ayoush Eton – Tel: 01753 865 516

http://www.ayoush.com/

Launching a Restaurant

Apologies for being quiet over the last couple of weeks. I’ve mentioned it briefly before, but I’m now going to talk in a little more detail about my latest culinary venture.

I’ve opened a tapas restaurant in Surrey. To my friends and family, this came as a little bit of a shock! I only handed in my final essays (thus finishing my degree) on the 29th of April, and the launch of the restaurant was on the 13th of May – what a crazy and incredibly exciting couple of weeks it’s been!

After months of offering to volunteer in kitchens around my area – to no avail – and having received many rejections after applying for jobs in the catering industry (due to a lack of professional experience), I was lucky enough to find a business owner who was willing trust the belief I have in myself. I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, saying that I’m qualified enough to work at a top restaurant; I am, however, certain that with time, effort and commitment I am capable of learning the catering trade as I work. I decided to throw myself in at the deep end and re-open/re-brand the kitchen of one of my local pubs.

Firstly, I need to highlight how unbelievably fortunate I am to have friends and colleagues who are supporting my ambition. I honestly could not have done this without the people who have taken a punt on the project. At the moment, everyone involved in the business is aware of the fact that the first few weeks are going to require a hell of a lot of work, without much cash return – therefore, all of us are working for free. I’m currently still employed at the Body Shop and have starting working at the bar as well as running the kitchen at the Foresters Arms so, as you can imagine, I have basically no free time at the moment. I genuinely don’t mind though – I’m working on my ambition to become a culture/food writer and the reward of tiptoeing closer to that goal is more than enough to keep me going!

After seeing how many people attended the launch, I’m suddenly feeling as though this project could not only be valuable for my personal experience; it could also be lucrative once we’ve covered our starting costs. I am absolutely determined to make this work.

SO! Here is a little sneak peek of the menu at ‘La Cocina‘!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We are open weekdays (apart from those days on which the restaurant is booked out for a private event) from 17:00-22:00 with last orders being taken at 21:30. If you are ever in Egham, please come along to The Foresters Arms on North Street. If you quote ‘Nibbles’ to the waiter when you take your seat, you’ll be given a 15% discount and I’d love to come and talk to you!

Once I’ve got used to this new, busy routine, I will find time to blog regularly again. Stay tuned for more photos!

My Favourite (Affordable) London Food Spots

Just because you have to eat on a budget, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on great food experiences. In my opinion, these are a few of the best and most reasonably priced places to eat in England’s capital. Click on the titles for more information and addresses!

Thai Cafe Restarant

Nearest Tube Stops: Leicester Square or Covent Garden

Favourites: Prawn Pad Thai w/glass noodles (£9.50), Tom Yum Goong (£6.50), lemongrass and ginger ice tea (£4.50) – prices before student discount.

From the stylish décor to the delicious food, Suda has got it spot on, and their offer of a 10% student discount makes the experience all the more enjoyable. Tucked away in St Martin’s Courtyard (just off Upper St Martin’s Lane nr. Covent Garden), it’s not exactly a tourist hotspot, but it’s central and the secluded location provides welcome refuge from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city. Make sure you take a look at the cocktail menu!

KEILY_SUDA_110  IMG_5769  Suda-London

Mexican Market Eating

Nearest Tube Stops: For Westfield – Shepherd’s Bush, Wood Lane or White City

                                      For the Southbank – Waterloo or Embankment

                                      For Covent Garden – Covent Garden or Leicester Square

Favourites: British steak burrito (£6.95), fresh tomato salsa and chips (£2.95), horchata (£1.75)

Wahaca’s take on Mexican street food is tantalising and so cheap! The menu works in a similar way to that of a tapas restaurant; it offers a mix of small and large dishes, meaning it caters for everyone from the hungriest to the most modest of eaters. The salsa really is the best I’ve ever tasted. It is so juicy that it’s almost thirst-quenching and it provides the perfect amount of heat. If you’re going for a burrito, make sure you add extra cheese for an even more intense foodgasm. Then wash it all down with a delicious glass of horchata, a soft drink made with rice and almond milk, subtly flavoured with cinnamon; it is the perfect complement to spicy food. The chain has restaurants all over London; the locations I’ve listed above are the ones I’ve personally visited, but click on the title if you’d like to discover the others.

salsa  3977164966_4b44287832_z  wahaca2

My Favourite Paella

Serves 4

I think this might be my favourite dish to cook. Ever. Paellas and risottos are actually very easy to prepare, but getting the balance of flavours right can take a lot of practice. After many tweaks and experiments, this is my recipe!

Ingredients

  • 450g chicken fillets (diced)
  • 180g chorizo (roughly chopped)
  • 250g raw king prawns
  • 240g paella rice
  • 900ml chicken stock
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 1 clove of garlic (finely chopped)
  • pinch of saffron
  • pinch of smoked paprika
  • 1 red chilli (finely chopped)
  • 1 red pepper (diced)
  • 4 beef tomatoes (quartered)
  • 1 cup frozen garden peas
  •  splash of white wine
  • tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lemon (juice of)
  • salt & pepper

Recipe

  1. It’s a good idea to lay out a mise en place for yourself before starting to cook because, once you begin, you have to be on the ball with timings. In other words, make sure you have all of your ingredients prepared as they should be, so that you’re ready to throw them into the pan at a moment’s notice! 
  2. Start by frying the chopped chorizo in the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic once the meat has started to release its orange coloured oil. Stir as you fry.
  3. Once the onions have softened, add your paella rice. Keep stirring to ensure that the rice is fully covered in oil.
  4. When the rice becomes slightly translucent, add the wine.
  5. Once the wine has fully reduced, add a quarter of the chicken stock.
  6. Allow the stock to heat up before adding the chilli and all of the chicken. By cooking the chicken in the stock, the meat stays succulent and tender as opposed to becoming chewy, which often happens if you fry the chicken with the chorizo.
  7. Add the peppertomatoes, saffron and paprika then cover the pan with tin foil and leave to simmer until most of the stock has been absorbed by the rice.
  8. Once the rice has absorbed the first quarter of stock, add another quarter of stock and leave to simmer again.
  9. Repeat step 8 with the 3rd quarter of stock.
  10. When the 3rd quarter has nearly been absorbed, try some of the rice to monitor texture. It should be plump now; soft on the outside, but slightly hard on the inside, resulting in a detectable bite. If you’ve achieved this texture, you will not need to add any more stock. If the rice is still slightly too hard, keep adding small amounts of the remaining stock (letting it absorb in between additions) until the texture is to your liking.
  11. Add the peas and stir. Because you’re adding a frozen ingredient, the temperature of the whole dish will lower. Allow the heat to build back up by covering the pan for a minute before adding the prawns.
  12. Turn the hob down to low heat. Add the prawns and lemon juice, then stir. The prawns will turn from grey to pink very quickly; once they’re fully pink, you’re finished!
  13. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  14. Serve generously on warm plates.
  15. ENJOY!

Chocolate Fudge Brownies

Makes 9 brownies… Serves 1 chocoholic/9 restrained individuals

This is the best brownie recipe I have EVER come across. They are slightly flaky on the outside and wonderfully gooey on the inside, not too sweet, and ridiculously moreish. Again, thanks go to Laura Vitale for her culinary genius! (www.laurainthekitchen.com)

Ingredients:

  • 200g dark chocolate, melted (70% cocoa +)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 140g unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 2 tbsp warm water
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 85g plain flour
  • 200g caster sugar

Recipe:

  1. Preheat oven 180 C. Grease a 20 x 20 cm baking tin, line with greaseproof paper and also grease the top of the paper. This will ensure the easy removal of the brownies once baked. 
  2. Mix the warm water with the espresso powder and save for later.
  3. Whisk the sugar and butter together in a large bowl. Make sure the butter is soft and at room temperature. Cream until fluffy.
  4. Once the sugar is fully incorporated, add the vanilla extract, eggs and the espressoBeat until completely combined.
  5. Add the melted chocolate and mix, followed by the remaining dry ingredients (salt, flour, cocoa). This is also where you’d add walnuts/chocolate chips or any other ingredients you may want to include. Mix until incorporated, but don’t over mix. You still want the mixture to sustain its fluffiness. It should be a very thick batter.
  6. Spoon into the baking tin. The mixture isn’t self-levelling, so you will need to make sure you smooth it into all of the corners equally with a spatula.
  7. Bake for 40-45 mins. To test, poke the baked brownies with a tooth pick; if it’s coated with moist crumbs it’s done! If it’s coated in wet batter, pop then back in the oven for another 5 minutes at least.
  8. IMPORTANT: Make sure you leave the brownies to cool for at least 10 minutes in the tray before transferring to a cooling rack. The brownies are very moist and removing them from the tray immediately could result in them falling apart.
  9. Serve with ice cream or cream!
  10. ENJOY!

Step 6

Image

Step 9

Image

Eggs in Purgatory

Serves 2 starving people/4 peckish people

This is a delicious, healthy Italian dish! I’ve adjusted Laura Vitale’s recipe slightly, check out her videos on YouTube, they’re fantastic and very easy to follow – CLICK HERE. You don’t have to use passata if you can’t get your hands on it; tinned tomates would be fine. The passata just gives the ideal texture because it’s strained of seeds and skins. You can also try substituting the bacon for chorizo if you want to add a Spanish twist! If you do decide to do this, you won’t need to add the chilli because the chorizo will provide enough heat for the entire dish.

Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs 
  • 500g tomato passata
  • grated parmesan (enough to cover eggs)
  • 2 slices of smoked bacon (chopped into lardons)
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1/2 red chilli
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp oil (for frying the bacon)

Recipe

  1. Fry up the bacon in a high-rimmed frying pan to render the fat. 
  2. Once the bacon is slightly crispy and has gained some colour, add the finely chopped garlic and chilli – fry for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the passata, season to taste with salt, pepper and the first tbsp of parlsey. Stir and allow it to heat through.
  4. Crack the eggs into separate ramekins, this makes it easier to drop the eggs into the sauce precisely.
  5. Drop the eggs into the bubbling mixture, space them out in a ring.
  6. Grate the parmesan so that the yokes are completely covered.
  7. Cover the frying pan with some tin foil and allow the eggs to poach for 3 minutes on medium heat.
  8. Garnish with the remaining parsley.
  9. Serve on a bed of brown rice, 2 eggs per person if serving 2, 1 each if serving 4.
  10. ENJOY!

Click here for more ways to use your eggs! Courtesy of my friend Kelly.