Monthly Archives: May 2012

Recipe: Panzanella

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If you were to ask me (and to be honest no one has so far) what is the mark of a great cook, my answer has nothing to do with perfect souffles, or homemade pasta. My standard of a great cook is someone who can produce great food with leftovers. If you can open your fridge and find nothing inside it that’s within sell-by date and still produce something work eating, you qualify!

The subject today is leftover bread. There are plenty of recipes that deal with this: toast, bread and butter pudding, french toast, poor knights of windsor (french toast for UKIP), but they all deal with your standard sliced loaf. What to do with the last few inches off a baguette which has done its usual magic trick of turning from crusty to fossilised in a few hours, or ciabatta? Well one suggestion is to put it in a salad. In this case Panzanella.

I’m not really going to do a recipe for panzanella because beyond six basic ingredients what you include depends on what you like and what’s available.

What you need for it are:
fresh tomatoes, chopped, about 3 medium tomatoes per person
stale bread, in 1-2cm cubes
olive oil
vinegar (any type as long as its not malt)
salt and pepper

Put the chopped tomatoes in a bowl, add the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and mix well until the juices are coming out of the tomatoes. Add the bread cubes and mix into the tomatoes. Leave to stand so the bread absorbs the juices and softens.

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This is definitely a summer recipe. You want fresh tomatoes. Many of the recipes I’ve seen mention waiting for gluts of tomatoes at the end of the season, which is great if you grown your own. In my case, a two-for-one offer at the supermarket does just as well. Just make sure the tomatoes are ripe. The standard salad snooker ball will not work with this recipe.
Beyond the basic ingredients, what you add to it is up to you. Capers, olives, cucumber, spring onion, red onion, veggie tapenade, basil, mint, flat leaf parsley, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes – keep it mediterranean and you can’t go wrong.

I like this so much I sometimes buy more bread than I need so I can have the leftovers to make it. Shocking, I know!

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Restaurant Review: Pho, Wardour St

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I don’t know what it is about noodles, but I love them, especially soup noodles. Maybe it’s the texture, maybe it’s freshness of ingredients, maybe it’s the danger of the whole lot tipping into your lap, but since my first taste of Tom Yam at Manchester’s Tampopo, I’ve been hooked.

Wagamama’s, of course, will do for a quick fix, but I’m always on the lookout for something different. The latest place on the noodles trail was Pho in Wardour St.

Maybe Friday night wasn’t the most sensible time to go visiting a new restaurant, but there were only two of us and we got there just after 6:30pm. It was already full. We had to wait just over 15 minutes for a table, although to be fair, we could have been seated immediately if we’d been happy with the high-stools at the communal table.

We got seated near the door and so had a good view of everyone else coming in and being told how long they had to wait. It was nearly 40 minutes at one point for a table of four. I think you can safely say the place is popular. They don’t do bookings, either. Don’t show up at 8pm with a party of ten and expect to get seated, at all. (And yes, we did see this happen!)

The menu from a veggie perspective is brilliant. How many places give you the option to have veggie stock and say which sauces are OK for you to eat?

I went for the Cha Gio Chay (veggie spring rolls).
Cha Gio Chay, Veggie Fried Spring Rolls
They weren’t the crispest I’d ever had, but they were nice and chewy. Quite often veggie spring rolls are heavy on the beansprouts and light on internal texture. These were very satisfying, so much so that I had to check with my companion that I had ordered the veggie version.

I suppose at my first visit to a place called Pho, I should have tried the pho. I nearly did, but Bun Chay Hue was described as hot and spicy. I will crawl over broken glass for something described as hot and spicy.
Bun Chay Hue, Hot and Spicy Tofu and Mushroom Soup
Not pictured there is the little plate with beansprouts, coriander, basil, mint and red birdseye chillis to customise the soup. It was lovely. The broad, rice noodles were soft but not squishy. There was plenty of tofu compared to mushrooms. The stock was flavourful and with enough heat not to need the chillis on the side (but I did anyway!)

My one gripe is that the noodles came with one of those bamboo ladle things. I don’t know why restaurants do this. There are other ‘authentic’ spoons that don’t mean you have to hold something up past your ear to get some soup into you.

I had the coconut ice-cream to finish with, which was nice, but unremarkable. My companion had the strawberry and basil sorbet, which was much better. However, next time I think I’ll try the iced coffee. They also serve weasel-pooh coffee!

I really liked Pho. It was cosy without feeling that you were sitting at your neighbours’ table. The lighting was a bit subdued, hence the less than stellar quality of the photos for this post. I only had my iphone with me, next time I’ll take a camera with a flash.

The meal for two with fruit juice and tea came to £46 including service.

I’ll be back. Several times, I should think. There’s quite a few more entries on that menu I want to try.

MacSween Vegetarian Haggis

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The veggie haggis

A comment on the Guardian food blog introduced me to the concept of Vegetarian Haggis. The commenter recommended it for Christmas Dinner. Well, Christmas is long past, but when I spied <a href="http://www.macsween.co.uk/our-products/macsween-vegetarian-haggis/macsween-vegetarian-serves-2-3/"the MacSween vegetarian haggis in the supermarket, I had to give it a go.

I’ve had the real haggis a few times when I was a meat-eater and enjoyed it. It’s far tastier and nicer than its ingredients suggest it was going to be, so I was intrigued to see how the veggie version was going to stack up against it.

Naked haggis

The instructions with the pack said that it could be microwaved, but you have to take it out of the casing to do so. The texture is quite open and crumbly, but that is true of traditional haggis. It kept in slices when put in the dish and microwaved.

After cooking

It tasted light and savory. The predominant flavour is lentils, with a chewiness provided by the oatmeal and mushrooms. It is softer in texture and far lighter in flavour than the traditional haggis and they went easy with the pepper as well.

Serving suggestion

Served with veggies and gravy it made a satisfying meal.

The MacSween website has a list of recipes for their vegetarian haggis, somehow I feel that Vegetarian Haggis Crostini will remain untested in my household!

Verdict: A tasty and filling ‘nut’ roast. It may well show up at Christmas this year. But it’s not haggis.

Restaurant review: The Lido

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Tapas at the Lido in Bristol

There’s nothing like watching other people exercise to help you build up an appetite. And I can heartily recommend sitting on a terrace with swimmers ploughing up and down beside you in the bluest pool you’ve ever seen, with pastel-painted changing huts down one side.

The Lido is tucked away in a mainly residential area of Clifton in Bristol. You have to be a member to swim there, but the restaurant is open to all-comers. It’s all stripped floorboards and bistro-style chairs and tables, with the occasional comfy sofa. And you can also eat out on the terrace if you don’t mind being splashed by enthusiastic swimmers.

It’s picked up reviews in a couple of the nationals, including the Guardian and the Indie, and I note some of the online sites have been lukewarm about the quality of the food and the portion sizes in the evenings. A quick look at the menus that are available via the website suggests there’s not a lot there for vegetarians, and the breakfasts would be a non-starter for those of us who don’t eat eggs. Shame, as the swimming and brekkie package sounds fun.

I can’t fault the lunchtime tapas menu, though. We were there for nearly four hours, and there was no pressure on us to move. We had coffee when we arrived, shared the tapas for lunch, splashed out on a glass of wine each, then went for the dessert, followed by more coffee. That came in at under £50 for two people.

Tapas is always something I long to sample more often, but I rarely end up anywhere where there’s a decent veggie selection. And there’s always that indecision as to whether you won’t order enough or whether you’ll end up with so much left over that you’ll need a doggy pantechnicon to take it home with you.

The last place I went to was a Spanish place somewhere near the Old Vic in London which looked like a slightly upmarket transport café, but which served a fantastic range of non-meat tapas. The Lido didn’t offer a colossal selection, but what they had was delicious – and there was plenty for two.

We ordered everything that was vegetarian – hummus, crusty bread with oil to dip, a green salad with a tangy dressing, a big slice of tortilla, a lentil dish, and beetroot and dill salad.

I always tell people that aside from not eating meat, fish or eggs, I’ll eat pretty much anything. At a pinch I’ll eat things with egg in if it doesn’t taste eggy, but I’d rather not. The tortilla, though, turned out to be delicious – chunky and crammed full of potato. Beetroot is one of the foods I’m always slightly wary of – I blame pickled beetroot bleeding all over salads when I was little! People assure me that it’s yummy roasted, but I’ve never been quite convinced. I may give it another go after this dish, though. As for the delicately-seasoned lentils – I’d have eaten those two or three times over!

Pudding was a chocolate and hazelnut tart – and it tasted like there was a splash of alcohol in there, as well as sea salt. I could happily have licked the plate.

So the Lido turned out to be somewhere different and pleasant, and felt like a little oasis in the city. We’d got used to going to Brown’s in Clifton, which is a safe choice – but also limited on the veggie, unless you like pasta every time. I’d try the Lido again for lunch, but might need convincing to go in the evening.