Embracing cosiness: Albanian tavë kosi

We recently returned from a cosy ‘staycation’. We’re in the throes of renovations chaos in the Mash House, so the opportunity to escape the mess and spend a few days relaxing in the countryside was very welcome. Our first stop was Marlow, where we achieved the Tom Kerridge trifecta by eating delicious meals at The Hand & Flowers, The Coach and The Butcher’s Tap, as well as discovering the best hot chocolate ever in a little cafe. We found out afterwards that apparently The Hand & Flowers claims to serve the best chips in the world, but we’d already given that title to those on offer at The Coach – Ash ordered two portions!

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Take us to the April sun: Cuban arroz con pollo a la chorrera

The nights are drawing in here in South London and we’re sure it’s only a matter of time before bitter temperatures follow suit: as ever, we’ve been promised the coldest winter ever with months of apocalyptic snowfall! Confident though we are that this is tabloid sensationalism, a visit to a Caribbean island would still be pretty nice. With some fairly significant renovations getting started in the Mash House, however, we’re going to have to imagine that warming sunshine vicariously through our cooking.

Today’s island nation is Cuba. We’ve never been there, but we know people who have! Ash’s sister and her husband went there on their honeymoon and amidst their adventures of swimming with dolphins, riding around in Cadillacs and drinking pina coladas, they were considerate enough to pick up some recipes for us (and some Cuban rum!) as Thomas Cook had left a handy folder of local information in their hotel.

According to Google, the national dish of Cuba is ropa vieja, which is a beef and tomato stew. This was one of the recipes in the folder, but we ended up deciding against it because ingredient number one was ‘1kg of brisket (previously used as boiling meat for a soup)’. Now, we love brisket, but prefer it when it has been smoked long and slow on a barbecue, rather than boiling all the flavour out of it in a soup base. Instead, we opted for arroz con pollo a la chorrera, which means rice with chicken in Chorrera style (interesting, given that Chorrera culture originated in Ecuador and didn’t make it as far up as Cuba – but if the Thomas Cook recipes aren’t 100% authentic, they still came from actual Cuba, so we went with it!). Continue reading

Labour of Luxembourg: Judd mat Gaardebounen

Here we are again at a country we’ve been fortunate enough to visit. We spent a weekend in Luxembourg City in December 2015. The main purpose of the trip was to visit the Christmas markets: after visiting the markets in Hamburg a couple of years earlier and realising the delights of spending a couple of days wandering around, eating street food and drinking glühwein, we wanted to experience the same thing somewhere else. Luxembourg did not disappoint (and it wasn’t as bitterly cold as Hamburg had been!).

1153 Gluhwein

Our stomachs were well and truly indulged on that trip. In addition to the glühwein already mentioned (and not forgetting the version served with a rum-soaked and flaming cone of sugar perched on top so it could slowly melt into the drink!) and the eierpunsch (eggnog), there was the perpetual lure of bratwurst, sides of salmon smoked over an open fire and served in a bread roll, the inspired combination of marzipan-filled pretzels, and complimentary ‘executive lounge’ beverages and petit-fours in our hotel. It’s a good thing we also found time for a couple of long walks around the city!

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A celebration of onions: Haitian griot and and pikliz

Haiti is an island in the Caribbean. Therefore, as seems to be the case for most of the islands in the Caribbean, its national dish is a version of rice and peas. We didn’t want to make that again, having already made it for Anguilla, so we dug a little deeper and eventually found a recipe for griot and pikliz that was accompanied by a video of a woman (Joyce Louis-Jean) who was so enthusiastic about the dish that we figured it must have something going for it – even if griot is deep-fried pork (which Miranda didn’t expect to like) and pikliz is very vinegary pickles (which Ash didn’t expect to like).

This is a multi-stage dish, so you want to make sure you’ve planned ahead before you start making it. The pikliz needs to mature for at least 12 hours, but a few days is even better. The pork needs to marinate overnight (although if you get home late the night before you make it, you could do our trick of getting up early on the day of cooking and quickly organise it then…). The pork then needs to braise for a couple of hours before eventually being deep-fried. The aforementioned enthusiastic Haitian woman assured us that all of this effort was worth it, though, so four days before we planned to cook this dish, the pikliz process began… Continue reading

Unpretentious comma garlicky: Dominican la bandera Dominicana

We’re back! It’s been nearly two months since we made the fabulous Puerto Rican pan de Mallorcas and, to be honest, it seems like a distant memory. So much has happened since then, including (but not limited to!) a two-week trip around Italy, a long weekend in Yorkshire, the planning of some future holidays and the beginning of some much-needed home renovations. All of that meant that we were rarely home for long enough to both buy ingredients and cook a new dish! Life momentarily settled down last weekend, however, so we seized the opportunity to explore the Dominican Republic’s national dish, la bandera Dominicana.

The title of this blog post comes from a season 9 episode of Friends (‘TOW Rachel’s Dream’, for those playing along at home), in which Monica is working as the head chef at Javu, ‘kind of a classy place’. At one point during the episode, after denigrating the ‘tiny portions’ served there, an angry Phoebe describes the restaurant’s tone as ‘pretentious comma garlicky.’ Now, we are in no way opposed to a bit of classy food (we have reservations for our anniversary on Thursday at Monica Galetti’s Mere, which we are very excited about), but there was something delightfully unpretentious about this Dominican dish. La bandera Dominicana translates to ‘the Dominican flag’, and its three components (a meat stew, a bean dish and rice) come together to create a thoroughly hearty plate of food that is packed with flavour without any fussiness or refinement. There was also plenty of garlic involved! Continue reading

Clearing the cobwebs: Puerto Rican pan de Mallorcas

We didn’t even have anything to drink on Saturday night, but if we had, we’re pretty sure our three-step plan from Sunday morning would have had us fighting fit again in no time, so we would heartily recommend it:

1. Go for a walk in the woods and get some fresh air (bonus points for walking up some steep hills)
2. Try an excellent local café that you really should have tried earlier, given how long you’ve lived in the area, and sample their delicious cakes
3. Go home and make Puerto Rican pan de Mallorca sandwiches for lunch.

Puerto Rico’s national dish is actually rice with pigeon peas, but as we made that for Anguilla, we cast our recipe search net wider and eventually decided than pan de Mallorca would work as a stand-in. Pan de Mallorca is actually just the roll itself, which is a sweet, buttery scroll-style bread that can be traced back to the ensaïmada, a coiled pastry from the Spanish island of Mallorca. In Puerto Rico, however, they take it one step further and add ham and cheese, and sometimes an egg, to create a sweet and savoury sandwich combination that we just had to try! Continue reading

A lucky gamble: Tunisian kosksi

Making something you’ve never made before for guests is always a bit of a risk. We really learnt this the hard way when we made Lao dtom jeaw pla (fish soup) for a friend a few years ago. We maybe should have predicted in advance that a batch of soup containing 10-12 red bird’s eye chillies would be on the spicy side – and it certainly was. All three of us were running for the tissues by the time we’d finished eating it!

Still, learning from your mistakes is boring, so once again we decided to make what seemed like a fairly chilli-heavy dish for some friends earlier in the week: Tunisian kosksi. Kosksi itself simply means couscous, but it is typically served in Tunisia with a meat stew of some kind, and we opted for lamb as our meat, in a recipe that included both harissa and chilli powder. What sets Tunisia’s version apart from other neighbouring countries’ couscous recipes is its red colour (due to the tomato used).

The problem with most recipes for kosksi is that they assume that the couscous starts in its original, unrefined form, whereas what we get in UK supermarkets is actually parcooked, which is why you can make it so quickly. We chose a recipe from 196 Flavors because it had already been adjusted to accommodate for parcooked couscous. It was, however, a little vague on how to prepare the vegetables, so what follows is what we did. Continue reading