Saturday, 25 December 2010

Twas the night before Chirstmas...

... when all through the house.
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
So to the kitchen I went, wooden spoon in hand.
To cook up a frenzy as a one-woman baking band!

Chirstmas! Food! Stuff yourself stupid until you can't move and pass out!

I always love coming home for Christmas - the fridge is full to breaking point with half the contents on Marks & Spencer and there are so many exciting cheeses, chocolates, wines and more that I could easily eat myself silly for a good month without leaving the house to refuel. So, as if there wasn't enough to consume already I decided yesterday that how better to get in the festive spirit than to bake cinnamon stars and mincemeat cheecake and then slump in front of the TV to watch Love Actually (again). So that's exactly what I did...

Now I'm not a fair-weather cinnamon-junkie, oh no for me it's a year-round obsession that can fortunately be flaunted publicly as the official 'essence of Christmas' as soon as the Starbucks red cups come out. It might have been gold, frankincense and myrrh that the three wise men brought to baby Jesus that night but really who knows what frankincense and myrrh smell like (gold is gold who cares what it smells like when it looks so pretty), I think we should update the tale and bring on cinnamon, cloves and, oh go on then, gold. Anyway before I re-write the entire story of Christmas, thankfully it's not just me that's obsessed with cinnamon: the Americans LOVE the stuff and the Germans are pretty fond of it too, bringing us our first creation:

Cinnamon Star Biscuits
(makes about 40 depending ohn the size of your stars)

300g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 to 1 tsp cinnamon (depending on the level of obsession...)
100g softened unsalted butter
200g golden caster sugar
1 large egg, beaten

Sift the flour, baking powder, spices and a pinch of salt together. Cream together the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, then gradually beat in the egg (left).

Add the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly, add drops of cold water as needed to bind the dough.

Press the dough into a disc and wrap (in clingfilm or a plastic bag) and pop in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 180 (160 if it's fan). Well flour your surface (don't want your stars to get stuck and deformed now do you? I totally didn't do that the first time, uhum...) and your rolling pin and roll the dough out to about the thickness of a pound coin. Stamp out your shapes (stars are the classic but go rogue and go for Christmas trees if you fancy a bigger biscuit) and keep re-balling and re-rolling and stamping until you've rinsed out your dough for all it's worth.

Lay on parchment-lined baking trays and pop in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until they are gorgeously lightly golden. Let cool (and do a taste test, of course). You could ice them to be trad but I didn't bother because that'd only dilute the cinnamon...

But my festive baking frenzy didn't stop there. I'm not a huge fan of Christmas pudding. To be honest, I think I may have never had it on Christmas Day (I may, shh, never have had it at all...). My grandmother alway used to bake the most gloriously fluffy, goo-ily meringue-y pavlova for Christmas dinner. I know, higly unconventional but how could you opt for a solid fruitcake over that glory? Everytime. Anyway my grandmother has now stopped baking so I thought it was high time I took up the alternative Day dessert mantle. I saw Nigel Slater's Mincemeat Cheesecake recipe in the OFM a few weeks back and that was it. Suitably festive and suitably tempting, he'd done it. And a new era of family Christmas dessert is born (hopefully).

Christmas Cheesecake
serves 8-10

As Nige says, you might find that your cheesecake cracks across the top as it cools (mine did - I maintain it adds to the 'homemade' look - and you can hide it with a bit of festive holly...). But if you are anti-cracks, Nige suggests you bake it in a water bath. so insted of placing on a baking tray, half-fill a roasting tin with water and lower the uncooked cheesecake into it and bake as suggested.

For the base:
65g butter
300g digestive biscuits or shortbread (it's Scottish innit so obviously went for shortbread)

For the filling:
600g full fat cream cheese
200g  golden caster sugar
4 eggs plus one extra yolk
zest of one small orange (plus some extra to garnish)
few drops vanilla extract
300g sour cream
250g mincemeat

You want a round cake tin with a removable base about 22cm in diameter and 7.5cm deep. Line it with baking parchment. To make the base first smash up your shortbread (or biscuits). Food processor would be best, but in its absence I improvised with a mashing mallet and angry thoughts.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and mix in the shortbread crumbs. Tip the glistening crumb mix into the tin and smooth out (don't mash it down). Put in the firdge for half an hour to set.

While it's in there, set the oven to 140 and make the filling. Put the cream cheese and sugar in a bowl (or food processor) and blend for a couple of minutes until smooth. Add the eggs then the extra yolk one by one, beating thoroughly and scrapping the sides inward if needed. Add the zest and the vanilla extract and blend with the food processor or hand blender. With just a spoon or spatula, mix in the soured cream. Then fold in the mincemeat gently.


Take the base out the fridge and place it on a piece of baking parchment on a baking tray. Pour in the filling mixture. Bake in the oven for an hour. The middle will still seem uncooked and wobbly but do not fear. After the hour, turn the oven off but leave the cheesecake in the hour for another hour with the door shut. After, remove from the oven, allow to cool then set in the fridge overnight (do this, you don't want a wobbly cheesecake). In the morning (Christmas morning!), remove from the fridge and garnish with orange zest, and if you fancy, holly. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

SW London goes global

The latest in my series of SW London restuarant mini-reviews for the lovely people at Heaver Magazine - took the ol' hood global with a whistle-stop culinery tour through Korean, Italian, Japanese, French and Argentinian (Entrée (French), Bistro Delicat (Austrian), Lola Roja (Spanish) and Doukan (Moroccan) are other notiable entries that missed out on the global stage as they'd already been reviewed).

Manson (SW6)
The owners of secret-gem gastropub The Sands End have upped their game to a fully-fledge restaurant in Manson, bringing in ex-Ramsay protégé chef Gemma Tuley to give a very un-pubby gastro French flair to their brassiere-style offering. Knowledgeable young things explain the menu peppered with ‘my favourite’ and appetite-whetting descriptions of the more inventive twists on classics sitting t alongside the untwist-ables such as oysters, terrine and lobster thermidor with truffle mash (don’t leave until you’ve tried it). But it’s the sharp presentation and interesting execution which lifts Manson head and shoulders above your average local restaurant and that will make it a classic.

676 Fulham Road
Parsons Green
020 7384 9559

Red Monkey Lounge (SW11)
Past the burly Friday-night bouncer and through the dimly-lit, packed bar isn’t where you expect to find fine sushi but find you shall, with an Asian-infused cocktail in hand. The menu is tapas-style and with a kitchen headed up by ex-Sake No Hana chef Pawal Wiktorek, these are no average bar snacks. Platters (kushiyaki, katsu or tempura) offer an easy introduction, with the grilled ‘kushiyaki’ selection including buttery belly pork, marinated just-done beef and a multitude of marinated veg. Sushi is super-fresh, while tuna katsu and spice ika (deep-fried strips of squid) are battered with the lightest of hands. Plus with three karaoke ‘pods’ downstairs, you can even sing for your supper.

Just a couple of tempting snaps (it was very dark and I, um, kept on diving in before I snapped... well I did say they were tempting - spider maki and the lightest tuna katsu)

Red Monkey Lounge
50-52 Battersea Rise
SW11 1EG
020 7924 6288

Franco Manca (SW9)
All the accolades heaped upon Brixton pizzeria Franco Manca don’t weigh heavy on their produce – the sourdough bases are feather-light, while meticulously-sourced toppings are more-ishly minimal. With only six pizzas and two wines to choose from on the menu, it won’t be long until your choice is out of the wood-fired ovens specially imported from Naples and in front of you. Only open when the market is (which roughly equates to Monday to Saturday lunchtimes) the queue is almost as famous as the food, but if you’re not one for queuing (or lunchtimes) the recently opened Chiswick addition is an authentic export with an added reservations line.

Franco Manca
4 Market Row
Electric Lane
020 7738 3021

Santa Maria del Sur (SW8) - you know how much I love this one!
Argentina is generally known for two things: Evita and steak. Focusing on the latter (sorry Madge) has seen Santa Maria’s steady rise to South London fame and a recent appearance on Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word. You don’t come here for anything but steak, starters are nothing sensational (grilled cheese, chorizo, Serrano ham), but the steaks, oh the steaks – from 8oz to a pound of fillet, sirloin, rib-eye or rump – are served plain and simple (you can order sauces but that would be defying the point). The wine list, like the beef, is born and raised Argentinean and equally juicy and delicious. Argentina will be crying that this one got away.

Santa Maria del Sur
129 Queenstown Road
020 7622 2088

Cah Chi (SW18)
Korean food might not get the top-billing of its Chinese and Japanese neighbours, but Cah Chi is no bit part. The star of the SW London Korean scene at their New Malden branch, the Earlsfield incarnation loses some of the more unusual dishes but excels in the crowd-pleasing barbecued fare. But don’t dive straight for your hot plate: glistening translucent dumplings and spicy stir-fries whet your appetite nicely before the table-top barbecue is revealed and your choice of meat sizzled then wrapped in a lettuce leaf with spring onions and Korean ‘miso’ called chang. With green-tea cheesecake and sake to round things off, plus a BYO on wine, Cah Chi is sure to come to play a regular role.

On our visit we opted for the set menu - hit me:

Our 'amuse bouche': fried soya beans, various (slightly mystery) pickled veg and a very-mash-potato-like potato salad... not a highlight, but there was plenty more to come.

Miso soup and more salad, we're getting warmer...

Now this was more like it and they were coming down thick and fast: vegetable stir fried noodles...

Delicately shiny pork dumplings...

And hot hot hot squid stir fry... yum.

But this is what it's all about: the barbeque. Over came the waitress, the middle of our table taken out, hot plate lit and we watched on tender hooks as she deftly chopsticked the sizzling pork (it was near as damnit bacon, mmm) until it was crispily perfect.

Then to add a 'healthy' element the bac...uhum.. pork was wrapped in a little lettace leaf 'pancake' with shredded spring onions and kang (miso-like) sauce... refreshingly delicious.

Now I don't normally opt for desserts in Asian restaurants a) because I'm normally so stuffed and b) I have, shall we say, a few bad experiences. But green tea cheesecake? My favourite dessert on a health kick? How could I resist. And I was pleasantly surprised... especially when washed down with sake and sticky sweet plum wine.

Cah Chi
394 Garratt Lane
SW18 4HP
020 8946 8811