[instagrammed] – Pork & turkey ragu

We all have our comfort foods. Those few dishes that never fail to make you feel better, the dishes that put a smile on your face no matter how rubbish your day has been.

Whilst most of my comfort foods are Malaysian/Chinese, I do have a few non-Malaysian ones – and ragu is one of them. My take on ragu is by no means authentic, but it is the way R and I like it. 🙂

Someone on instagram asked me for this recipe, so I thought I might as well post it here. A blog post is long overdue anyway!

I used a mix of pork & turkey this time around, but alternative meats include beef, lamb, wildboar, or even duck. I tend to use two types of meats, as I find it gives that little something extra to the dish.

Do note that this recipe makes a fair bit of ragu – I always cook with the aim of having leftovers (hello, packed lunch!), plus meat usually comes in 500g packs. The recipe is easily halved though. Also, amounts for seasonings are approximate: please taste as you go along!

Pork & turkey ragu
Serves 4-6, generously!

  • 500g minced pork
  • 500g minced turkey
  • 1 onion, diced finely
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced finely
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms, diced/sliced finely (optional) – sometimes I use carrots
  • 3 tbsp red wine
  • 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar (I use castor sugar)
  • 4 small bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat some oil in a large pan (one that has a cover – you will need this later), over high heat. Fry the chopped onions and garlic for several minutes, until they become fragrant.
2. Add the pork and turkey mince to the pan, and fry until lightly browned.
3. Add the chopped mushrooms to the pan (if using), and fry for a minute or so until they shrink slightly.
4. Add the red wine to the pan, and stir for 1 minute.
5. Add the sugar, Worcestershire sauce and chopped tomatoes to the pan. Bring the sauce to a boil.
6. Once the sauce is bubbling, turn down the heat to low. Add the bay leaves, salt and pepper to the pan. I’d advise underseasoning with salt/pepper at this point – it’s very easy to add more salt, but very much harder to save a dish that is too salty!
7. Cover the pan, and simmer on low heat for at least 1 hour, until the oils float to the surface of the sauce.
8. Taste and add more salt/pepper as needed. If the sauce is too wet for your liking, you can leave it to simmer for a further 10-15 minutes, uncovered.
9. Serve with a carbohydrate of your choice – pasta, rice, couscous, polenta, freshly baked bread… it all works! In the photo above, I served the ragu with some pappardelle.

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San Sebastian – pintxos galore!

I have to admit, I’d never really thought of San Sebastian as a holiday destination.. As I’d not really been aware of its existence. I know, it’s shocking. But no matter, because I now know that it exists – and more importantly, I know what an absolutely great holiday venue it is.

San Sebastian is famous for their take on tapas, which they call pintxos (pronounced pin-chos). Pintxos are essentially small plates of food that are eaten at bars, usually accompanied by a drink or two. In a way, it is the ultimate bar food: small, delicious. Some bars have a selection of pintxos laid out on the counters, which you pick and choose from, some do a “cooked to order” menu, and some do a mixture of both.

Ordering pintxos is an art in itself. Most pintxo bars are completely rammed with customers, and one must be brave and make your way into the sea of people to shout your order to the people behind the counter. Most bars have the menu written on a chalkboard behind the counter, usually in Spanish. The servers usually don’t speak very much English, and you should have seen me fumbling and trying to order food with my almost nonexistent grasp of Spanish…

But you know what, you don’t need to know very much Spanish to feast on pintxos. You just need to know some key words… (I might have mistranslated some of these words, so please correct me if I’ve made a mistake as I’m not known for my language abilities!)

Gambas = prawn
Vieira = scallop
Txipiron (“chi-pi-ron”)= squid
Bacalao = salted cod
Txangurro (“chang-gu-ro”) = crab
Antxoas (“an-chos”) = anchovy
Cochinillo = suckling pig
Costilla = ribs (I think)
Carrilera = beef/veal cheek
Jamon = ham
Pulpo = octopus
Foie = foie gras
Queso = cheese
Hongos = mushroom
Morcilla = black pudding
Txakoli (“cha-ko-li’) = sparkling white wine, the signature wine of the Basque country

We visited a number of pintxo bars, and literally bar hopped for much of our time there. On one of the days we actually had a three hour lunch! Then attempted to climb Mount Urgull – which is not a good idea after a heavy lunch, let me tell you.

LA CUCHARA DE SAN TELMO
One of the my favourite bars. This teeny little pintxo bar was always filled with tourists (mainly British ones, interestingly), but this was definitely not one of tourist trap places you worry about going to when on holiday… because the food was absolutely delicious. All the pintxos here were made to order, and were all excellent. In fact, the food was so excellent that we ate here three times, and tried at least two thirds of their menu!

Bacalao faroe contitado con patata y breza – Salted cod with potatoes and a herb sauce. Crisp skin, tender cod flesh that flaked away with the touch of a fork, finished off with some smashed potatoes. Incredibly good, and I can happily declare a newfound love for bacalao. Despite it’s name, it’s not actually very salty at all – so don’t get too worried!

Carrillera de ternera al vino tinto – Beef cheeks braised in red wine. I don’t think I’ve actually eaten beef cheeks prior to this, but you can sign me right up to the beef cheek fan club. It’s a great cut of meat which becomes incredibly tender when cooked this way.

Cotxinillo (cochinillo) letxal asado x 6hs – slow roasted suckling pig (I assume for 6 hours). The crackling was much better than I ever expected in a small humble pintxos bar – it was amazingly crispy, and I was very impressed. I did think they’d gone slightly overboard with the sprinkling of sea salt flakes though, as it was a little on the salty side.

Foie cuchara con compota de manzana – Foie gras with an apple compote. I tell you something, the people in San Sebastian really like their foie. It was featured on the menu of most of the places we went to! I suspect it’s because they are very close to France.. I just wonder how often the locals eat foie, as it’s not really the healthiest thing in the world! This was good, but just a little too rich for me. You’d love this if you’re a foie lover though.

Manitas de ministro con tximi txurri – Pork trotter with chimi churri sauce. I can’t believe they eat trotters in Spain, I thought it was a Chinese thing!

Pulpo roca con hojas de berza asada – Octopus with a side of cabbage (or at least what tasted and looked like cabbage). This had a great sauce, which had a hint of citrus.

Queso de cabra relleno de verduras asadas – goats cheese wrapped in ham. This was ridiculously good, and even R who normally finds goats cheese too overwhelming loved this.

Risotto (forgot to take down the actual name of this dish) – this was made with orzo, which is a rice shaped pasta sometimes called risoni. This totally blew me away, and I have since recreated a risotto dish made with orzo in my own kitchen. I preferred the texture of the orzo to the more ‘claggy’ texture of arborio rice – the orzo just makes the risotto taste lighter, if that makes sense.

Viera – pan seared scallop. Now, La Cuchara normally has a ham/bacon wrapped scallop dish on their menu. Unfortunately, we never got to taste it as we didn’t know what scallops were called in Spanish on our first visit, and it wasn’t on the menu the next two times. However, the server at the counter recognised me and and must have sensed my desperation to try this (haha)… He took one look at me and went like “Oh, viera!”. In any case, he offered me an alternative of a grilled scallop, but with no ham. Which I obviously said yes to – and I’m so glad I did, because check out the SIZE of that monster scallop. It was absolutely scrumptious, and perfectly seared.

This is the madness you’ll be face with in La Cuchara during dinner service… absolutely bonkers, but so worth it. Despite it being extremely crowded, it is very civilised and you actually have friendly chats to the people around you whilst waiting for your order to be taken. This system would never work in Malaysia, as everyone would just push forwards and be kiasu ‘afraid to lose’ (reminiscent of the horrendousness of the Malaysia Night at Tralfagar Square).

Much less madness at 12pm on a Sunday afternoon… you can actually see the counter. 😛

La Cuchara de San Telmo
Calle 31 de Agosto, 28
http://www.lacucharadesantelmo.com/
Closed Mondays

CASA GANDARIAS
This place was part pintxo bar, part restaurant. I only took notice of the bar though, and we visited twice, primarily for one pintxo which I absolutely fell in love with…

… this one: bacalao and pimento pepper served on a slice of crusty white baguette. This was SO GOOD! I suspect the reason why I enjoyed it so was because the entire pintxo was deep fried – how would it be possible to not like this? This is one of the pintxos that are displayed on the counter, and they even ‘heat it up’ for you when you order it. Be warned that ‘heating it up’ means popping it in the deep fryer again though. 😉

Solo Mio – seared beef fillet with a slice of pepper. This was good stuff, the beef is a bit on the rare side though, so best to steer clear if you’re queasy this. This was made to order.

Brochetta gambas – grilled prawn bruschetta. Good, but just not as good as the brochetta gambas from Bar Goiz Argi…

Txangurro – crab and pepper mix, served atop some bread. Very flavoursome, and bursting with crab. A little oily, but when who cares when you’re on holiday? Hehe.

Hongos – mushrooms. This was a fairly popular pintxo, and was something which was being served in a number of bars. Casa Gandarias adds their own twist to it by adding some ham, because who can say no to ham?

Bar Casa Gandarias
Calle 31 de Agosto, 23
http://www.restaurantegandarias.com/

A FUEGO NEGRO
This bar prides themselves on their modern and creative take on pintxos, and offered some very interesting dishes which I enjoyed.

Makobe with txips – Mini kobe beef burger with banana chips. Best bar snack ever! It was just the right size for it to be chomped down in two easy bites.

Oreja skabetxada con mole hezado – pickled pork ear with frozen mole. I don’t know about you, but I’d never eaten pig ears before and was quite curious as to what this would taste like. The best way I can think of describing this would be to call it a more cartilagenous (is that a word?) version of pork belly. I enjoyed this.

Txitxarro-gerezia-menta-ardia – mackerel, sheeps cheese, mint and cherry. Basically a mackerel tartare with cubes of sheeps cheese, served atop a cherry meringue base. Refreshingly different.

Txangurro-aguakatea-regaliza – crab, avocado and liquorice. A very modern take on the traditional Basque txangurro (brown crab) tart. And SO good! I absolutely adored the liquorice ice cream, and I’m normally not a liquorice fan. Great combination of tastes, textures and temperatures.

Paloma, tiro, PUM! – Wild dove breast with beetroot sauce (or beetroot blood in this case). This was such a fun dish, where it was plated to look like blood was splattering from the dove that had just been shot. They even had a little edible sign with the word PUM on it, which I thought was really cute. The dove was perfectly cooked as well.

Y un huevo – con hongo y jamon – egg with mushrooms and ham. This was no ordinary eggs and ham, and the liquid yolk like liquid had hints of mushroom in it. The paprika like powder on the top was actually ham bits, I only wish there was more of this.

Bakailu (bacalao) enkarbonao con pepitas de pimiento – “coaled” cod with pepper pips. Yes, yes. More bacalao. What can I say, I am obsessed.

A Fuego Negro
Calle 31 de Agosto, 31
http://www.afuegonegro.com/
Closed Mondays

BORDA BERRI
This place was similar to La Cuchara, and had some very good dishes.

Arroz bomba de txipiron – Paella rice with squid. Flavoursome, with just the right amount of bite in the rice grains.

Carrillera de ternera al vino tinto – Beef cheeks braised in red wine. This was very similar to the one at La Cuchara, and it was hard to pick a favourite between the two. The meat was more tender at Borda Berri, but the sauce was more flavoursome at La Cuchara. A tie then perhaps?

Risotto de hongos – risotto with mushrooms. One of my top 3 pintxos of the trip. The meatiness of the mushrooms was extremely evident in every mouthful, and it was so good that we went back to have another plate as a post-dinner ‘snack’. Like the risotto in La Cuchara, this was made with orzo. Such a revelation!

Queso de kabra tostado – grilled goats cheese. Goats cheese tastes so much better when cooked this way, I don’t know why we don’t do this more often here in England.

Viera asada con pure coliflor – Scallops with cauliflower puree. Nothing like fresh and well cooked scallops to make for a wonderful dish.

Kallos de bacalao – cod guts/tripe. I found this a little too slimy for my liking, but R liked this.

Borda Berri
Fermin Calbeton 12
Closed Mondays

BAR GOIZ ARGI

Brocheta de gambas – prawn bruschetta. This is what Bar Goiz Argi is famous for, and I can see why. Perfectly grilled prawns topped with the best salsa I have tasted in a long time. Excellent.

Chipiron a la plancha – grilled squid. This couldn’t have been more simple – grilled squid topped with olive oil and chopped parsley. Yet it was so delicious, and a perfect example of how you don’t have to do very much to good ingredients.

Hongos – this was one of the things I picked from the counter. By this time I’d already copped on to the fact that I was a huge fan of their mushrooms, so this was a no brainer really. 😉

Ma Juli – salmon and anchovies on bread. Good, but nothing mindblowing. I’d rather have another brocheta gambas over this I would think.

Bar Goiz Argi
Calle Fermin Calbeton 4
Closed Mondays

BAR TXEPETXA
This place is famous for their anchovies, and they offer a selection of 14 different variations of anchovy pintxos.

We tried four types – from front to back: foie y compota, papaya, jadinera (salsa) and huevas de erizo mar (urchin roe). My favourite was the papaya version, it was refreshingly different and not something I’d ever thought would work together.

Bar Txepetxa
Calle de Pescadería 5
Closed Mondays

MUNTO

Txipiron relleno y jamon iberico – squid stuffed with ham. The stuffing was nice and creamy, but I must say I didn’t taste too much ham in the filling though.

Txipiron a la plancha – grilled squid with caramelised onions. This was good, and the caramelised onions added a nice sweet touch to the squid.

Tarteleta txangurro – brown crab tart. The creamy crab filling was delicious, but the pastry could have been a little bit more crumbly and buttery. I like my pastries to ooze calories. 😛

Munto also served this massive plate of fried stuff, which I think was cheese. I saw a group of people next to us eating it, and was extremely intrigued by it. Shame I was already bursting with food, so didn’t get a chance to try it! Next time, perhaps…

Munto
Calle de Fermin Calbeton 17
Closed Mondays

LA CEPA

Platter of jamon jabugo – I almost squealed in delight when this was brought to the counter, as it was meat galore! Pricey, but oh so worth it.

Tortilla bacalao – cod omelette. I had seconds of this, as it was so good. They were very generous with the bacalao in this, and there was an abundance of cod flakes in the tortilla. I can only imagine how good it would have been if it was piping hot. Mmmm.

Hongos a la plancha – grilled mushrooms, served with an egg yolk. Now, this plate of mushroom goodness did not come cheap (it cost about 18 euros, much more than all the other pintxos in San Sebastian), but it was mindblowingly good. You know the meatiness of Portebello mushrooms? Well these ones were twice as meaty as Portebellos. Absolute heaven. I don’t think it even needed the egg yolk, as it was already amazing on its own. If I could I would not eat any other type of mushrooms, ever.

Ham sandwiches. We actually packed a few of this away on our last day in San Sebastian, as we (correctly) suspected we would have difficulty finding dinner in the airport at 9pm.

La Cepa
Calle 31 de Agosto, 7
http://www.barlacepa.com/

HIDALGO 56 – Gros
The only bar in the Gros district that we managed to get to… there was too much food, and too little time!

Antxoas… a humada – smoked anchovies. I was very impressed with the presentation of this, with smoke and all. The lady was obviously proud of this dish, and even pre-warned me when she was about to lift the cover, so I could take a photo. The anchovies themselves were plump, juicy and perfectly cooked.

Volcan de morcilla, yema, pasas, y manzana – black pudding with egg yolk, raisins and apple. Now I never tend to order black pudding as I’m not a huge fan of it’s texture, but had to try this because it sounded intriguing. Am very glad I did, because it was really, really good. The raisins and apples added balance to the salty black pudding, and the egg yolk brought everything together.

Lasana de hongos crema de foie gras – mushroom risotto with cream of foie gras. This was only so-so, and I couldn’t taste much foie gras, I suspect the balsamic glaze completely killed any hint of foie gras there might have been in the dish.

Hidalgo 56

Paseo colon 15
Gros

Also worth a mention is BAR ZERUKO – I was really looking forward to eating here, but they were CLOSED! They were on a month long break, and we were there right in the middle of their holiday. All the more reason for me to go back….

* A special word of thanks to Rachel of The Pleasure Monger, Guan of The Boy Who Ate The World, Ann & Jeff of Pig Pig’s Corner and the site Todopintxos for all the pintxo recommendations.

Byron: Hamburgers and A&W root beer floats!

Everyone loves a good burger. I mean, how could one resist freshly toasted buttery buns, sandwiched with a delicious hunk of meat (or even vegetables!) and finished off with lots of melted cheese? Pure heaven.

In fact, I’m such a burger lover that I even make my own from time to time. But you know what, making everything from scratch takes time. The burger buns themselves take a good few hours as they need time to rise and proof and all that. And that’s clearly not going to work if you have a sudden burger craving at six in the evening.

Enter Byron. They pride themselves on serving “proper” hamburgers. They have a few main principles that they stick to: “good beef”, “freshly made”, “cooked medium” and “proper buns”. The beef is sourced from small farms in the Scottish Highlands, and this beef is made into patties each morning by the Byron chefs.  And you know what, it shows. When you bite into a Byron burger, you know that it’s good beef.

But they not only serve good burgers: they also serve A&W root beer floats!! Drinking root beer truly reminds me of growing up in Malaysia, as this was always something I ordered when I went to A&W (admittedly I never went very often). A root beer float is basically a scoop of vanilla ice cream, topped with the root beer. Believe me when I say it’s ridiculously good. The photo above is just plain root beer, I didn’t get a float on that occasion – not exactly sure why. I never order any other drink when I go though, it’s always the A&W root beer. Possibly because it’s one of those drinks that isn’t always easy to come by…

The main event is of course, the burger itself. There are 6 burger options: Classic (6oz hamburger), Cheese, Byron (bacon, cheddar & Byron sauce), Skinny (bun free, with a salad on the side), Chicken fillet and Veggie (grilled Portobello mushroom, roast red pepper, goat’s cheese, aioli, and baby spinach). There’s also an option for a double patty, which I’ve never had because I honestly do not think that I could finish it all. I tend to order either the Cheese or the Byron, with an extra slice of cheese and a Portebello mushroom. The burgers range from £6.25 for the Classic to £8.50 for the Byron, and additional toppings cost £1.50 each.

As you can see, the meat is cooked medium – you get a beautiful flash of pink when you cut into the burger, just how I like it. I’m not sure if they ever serve up well done burgers, but I’m sure they could do so if you prefer your meat less pink.

Not only do they do great burgers, but they also do fantastic sides. These courgette fries (£3.00) are my staple side order everytime I’m at Byron. Lightly battered and deep fried – yum. Of course, I’m not going to say that this is healthy (because let’s face it, it’s deep fried), but at least it’s still part of your 5-a-day. My only whinge is that it’s sometimes very greasy, especially when you get right to the bottom of the bowl.

Onion rings (£2.75) – these babies are delicious, and have a thick layer of crispy batter coating each individual ring. They’re seasoned well, and are a great complement to the burgers. Again, possibly a touch too greasy, but then again I haven’t found a non-greasy onion ring yet. (If you do know somewhere with good onion rings, please let me know!)

You get a selection of sauces to go with your burger and sides – mustard (both French and English), tomato ketchup, and hot sauce. I love using a mix of ketchup and mustard, there’s just something about the sweet & spicy mix that just works so well!

So yes. I can safely say that to date, Byron is my “go to” place for burgers. I’ve tried burgers at Goodmans, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Giraffe, but I still prefer Byron’s. Have yet to try the Bar Boulud burger though, which I hear is pretty darn good. I’m sure I’m missing out on some other burger joints, so do let me know if you’ve got a favourite burger place that I haven’t mentioned here – and you can bet that I’ll end up trying it! 😛

Byron at the Intrepid Fox
97-99 Wardour Street
London W1F 0UD
020 7297 9390
http://www.byronhamburgers.com/

* They also have branches in Covent Garden, Islington, Canary Wharf, Kings Road, White City and Gloucester Road.

Beef and broccoli noodles

I was one of those children who hated vegetables. I still remember how I would only eat a very small group of vegetables: beans, beansprouts, carrots and cauliflower. No leafy greens ever made it onto my plate. Surprisingly, my mum would never force me to eat them – she would offer them to me, and if I said no, that was it. Turns out my mum hated vegetables when she was a child, but then grew up to love them… and she figured that I would be the same. And how right she was!

From being a terrible child who only ate a very limited amount of vegetables, I have turned into someone who loves them. I happily eat almost any vegetable now (with the exception of okra which I simply can’t like), which I sometimes find hard to believe. Funny how things pan out, really. Thinking back, I’m very glad I was never “forced” to eat my portion of veg when growing up, as I suspect it would have made me hate them forever. (Please note that this does not mean I advocate not eating your greens when you’re young though!)

But why am I telling you this seemingly unrelated story of my childhood? Well, because of this dish. Beef and broccoli noodles to be exact. Broccoli was one of the major “no no’s” in the younger me, but is now something I eat on a regular basis. When cooked well, broccoli tastes absolutely amazing. But overcook it and you end up with a pile of green mush that no vege lover in the world would want to eat.

I tend to cook my broccoli the “Heston” way – see this article for more details. The broccoli is cooked in minimal amounts of hot smoking oil, and then covered with a pot cover to allow steam to build up and cook it all the way through. I like his method because it not only tastes a lot nicer, but also means you retain the nutrients within the broccoli (which you lose via boiling).

This beef and broccoli noodle dish is inspired by this recipe from Steamy Kitchen. Sometimes you see a photo of a dish, and you immediately know you *must* try it because you know it will be amazingly delicious. The first time I saw the photo for this dish on Jaden’s blog: that was one of these moments. And I was right, because this is so so good.  On another note, I challenge you to look at Jaden’s photos of this dish and NOT want to lick your screen. I assure you it is quite impossible. My photos look so amateurish compared to hers! Oh well.

I didn’t follow the exact recipe because, well – that’s me. Instead of using stock in the sauce making process, I add extra oyster sauce/rice wine/soy sauce to make up for it. I also use lots of black pepper because I enjoy the extra kick it provides.

Beef and broccoli noodles
Adapted from this recipe on Steamy Kitchen (original recipe from Noodles Every Day)

  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 5 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 5 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 500g frying steak/beef sirloin (cut into 3cm x 5cm pieces)*
  • 600g fresh noodles (I used 2 x 300g packets)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 400g tenderstem broccoli
  • Freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce, oyster sauce and rice wine in a medium bowl. Add the sugar and mix until completely dissolved. Add the sesame oil and beef, and mix well. Marinate for 20 minutes. Drain and discard the excess marinade.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the noodles until 1 minute shy of being done, and drain.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a pan or wok over high heat, and stir-fry the garlic until fragrant, about 15 seconds.

4. Add the beef to the pan and stir-fry until tender, 3-4 minutes. Remove onto a plate and set aside.

5. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, and stir fry the tenderstem broccoli for 2 minutes. (You’re aiming for half cooked broccoli at this point)

6. Add the remaining soy sauce, oyster sauce and rice wine to the pan.

7. Add the noodles, and stir to ensure the noodles are coated with the sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes until most of liquid is absorbed.

8. Return the beef to the pan, mix with the noodles and broccoli.

9. Season with freshly ground black pepper (to taste), and serve.

* you can cut them into smaller pieces (1cm x 3cm), but remember to reduce the cooking time accordingly

The food of Florence [Part 2]

It has been very warm in London lately, and the sun has brought back many fond memories of my recent trip to Florence. In an ideal world, I’d jump on a plane and fly out to Florence again (because it has truly won its place as one of my favourite holiday destinations)… but for now I’ll just have to be content with looking back at photos and reminiscing.

As I mentioned previously, the only part of the trip I planned (besides where we would stay, of course) was the food. I actually had a list of restaurants tucked in my handbag, which I constantly referred to in the time we were there. One of the places that was high up on that list was Osteria I’Tozzo di Pane. I read many good reviews about this cozy little Italian tavern, tucked away in a quiet street away from the bustling tourist spots. It took a while to find it, but boy am I glad we did. The food was simple, but oh so good. And to top it all off, they had the most beautiful outdoor dining area – if only we had similar places in London! I can’t think of how to describe the area, so I’ll let a photo do the talking.

Isn’t that just so beautiful? We dined at an odd time, so the restaurant was almost empty. From what I hear, it gets really busy during dinner service – and I can imagine why! We dined there twice, but both times were during lunch so we never got to see the outdoor dining area by night.

I was happily snapping photos of my surroundings whilst waiting for the food to arrive…

Carpaccio di bresaola con rucola, scaglie di grana e limone (very typical salami beef with salad and cheese).  So simple, yet so good. The beef carpaccio was seasoned to perfection, and complemented the bitter rocket leaves well. The cheese was just icing on the cake, because what dish doesn’t taste good with cheese? (Please note that I am an utter cheese fanatic though – when I was younger, I used to throw cubes of cheddar cheese into Chinese style soup because err.. well, I liked the meltiness of it. My mum thought I was completely bonkers by the way, so I won’t be surprised if you are appalled by this.)

Salsiccia di cinghiale con carciofi marinati e mozzarella di bufala (wildboar sausage with artichoke and buffalo mozzarella). I was on a slight artichoke-mad phase whilst in Florence, and would inevitably be attracted by any dish that had artichokes in it. Based on the deliciousness of the wildboar ragu at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, I decided to order this and I was very happy with my choice. I sometimes find it amazing how simple ingredients can taste so good, because this was what it was. The meatiness of the wildboar, woodiness of the artichoke, the freshness of the buffalo mozzarella and the sweetness of the tomato slices went really well together, and I truly enjoyed this dish.

Carpaccio di carciofi con scaglie di pecorino e limone (artichoke carpaccio with pecorino cheese and lemon). More artichokes, yes. I’m unstoppable when I’m on a food craze. Also, artichokes are rarely used as the star of the dish in London, and it was really nice to see it being featured so heavily in Florence. This was very good, and the artichoke carpaccio was perfectly seasoned. I suspect meat lovers may feel that the dish is lacking ‘meat’ though.

Orecchiette con salsiccia, cavolo nero e semi di finocchietto (pasta with pork sausage, black cabbage and fennel seeds). I absolutely LOVED this dish. I’d never even heard of black cabbage (also known as black kale/Tuscan kale) before eating this dish, and I’m so glad I now know that it exists. I felt that the addition of the fennel seeds elevated the pasta sauce to something really special. I was planning to order it again when we returned two days later…. but alas, they didn’t have it on the menu! (The menu had changed ever so slightly… it’s good though as it probably means the food they cook is dependent on the produce that is available on the day.)

Garganelli di pasta fresca con zucchine spek e zafferano (fresh pasta with smoked ham, zucchini and saffron). Now, we’ve all cooked a ham and zucchini/courgette pasta at some point. But I’Tozzo goes one step further and adds saffron. And my oh my it does it work well. This was a perfect example of how Italians manage to keep their pastas simple but so wonderfully delicious.

Spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams). Again a wonderful example of how you don’t need many ingredients to create a stunning dish. I always find it hard to plate pasta/noodles, as mine inevitably ends up looking really un-artistic and ugly. I can only look at the wonderful pasta and noodle photos in Donna Hay magazine and hope that one day, I will learn how to plate noodles properly. Anyway, I digress. I meant to say that I loved how this was plated, and the sprinkling of chopped parsley added more colour and vibrancy to the dish. No paramesan with this dish: our waiter pleaded “please don’t use parmesan, pleeease” when he brought this to the table. Heh.

Filetto di maiale all’aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar pork fillet). I daresay this was R’s favourite dish in I’Tozzo, as he ordered it on both visits. It doesn’t look like much, but it definitely delivers on taste. The pork fillet was beautifully tender and each bite gives you a huge hit of balsamic vinegar. I enjoyed this, but not as much as R – but that’s because I have very sensitive teeth that don’t do very well with acidic foods like vinegar. Having said that I did eat a fair bit of this… as much as R would allow me to anyway!

Straccetti di manzo al vino rosso e finocchietto (beef in red wine with fennel seeds). This was good, but not as good as all the other dishes that we tried here. The beef chunks, whilst perfectly seasoned, were ever so slightly tough – which made me not as fond of it as I could potentially have been.

Panna cotta with a chocolate sauce. Now, compared to the panna cotta at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, this was much much creamier. I could literally feel the pounds piling on as I ate this. Not that it stopped me from finishing it, of course. My only gripe about this was that the chocolate sauce wasn’t thick enough.. perhaps an attempt to not make the dessert too cloying? If I could, I’d eat the panna cotta from I’Tozzo with the chocolate sauce from Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco. If only.

So yes. This is just a glimpse of the wonderful dishes at this cozy and friendly osteria. I daresay we experienced the friendliest and most helpful service here – our waiter (whose name I forgot to ask for!) was the most cheerful waiter I have EVER come across, and was constantly humming/singing. It also helps that he recommended an excellent gelato shop to us, and even marked it on my map! (I shall blog about gelato in a future post.)

Delicious food and excellent service. Could a girl want any more?

Osteria I’Tozzo di Pane
Via Guelfa 94/r
50129 Firenze
http://www.osteriatozzodipane.it/en_home.html

Beef bourguignon

The first time I ate beef bourguignon was when I was in Paris – mind you, this was so many years ago that I barely remember what it tasted like. This was also way before I started my love affair with cooking and baking. What I do remember though, was that it managed to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, which is always a plus when it’s cold and gloomy outside.

This dish truly is very simple, and although it may seem like it takes quite a while to cook, you don’t actually need to do very much as you can just leave it to simmer on the stove. Very different from a dish like risotto where you would have to constantly stir it every 2-3 minutes. What more could one want on a cold and gloomy winter’s day?

I love eating this with a dollop (okay not a dollop, more like a huge mound) of mashed potatoes or polenta, as I personally feel they complement each other really really well. I favour polenta over mash, as polenta is much easier to whip up and requires less washing up. Always a winner when it’s been a long day at work – in my books anyway!

Another plus is that this dish can actually be turned into a vegetarian dish – simply by omitting the beef, and replacing it with more mushrooms. I’ve cooked both the mushroom and beef versions countless times, and I honestly can’t choose between the two.

Beef bourguignon
Please note: I know this may not be the most traditional (or correct) way to cook this, but it works well for me.
  • 500g stewing beef
  • 100g pancetta cubes
  • 4 carrots, diced (I use a lot as I love carrots)
  • 6 shallots, quartered
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms (use them whole)
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 600-700ml beef stock (I use stock cubes)
  • 350ml red wine
  • 2-3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed from the stems
  • 1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed from the stem
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat 1tbsp of olive oil in a pan/pot over medium high heat, and brown the beef on each side (usually takes 3-5 minutes). Remove from pan and set aside.
2. In the same pan, cook the pancetta cubes until they start to release their oils. Add the quartered shallots, diced carrots, mushrooms and tomato puree to the pan, and cook for 5 minutes until everything is nicely browned.
3. Return the beef to the pan, and stir to combine.
4. Add the red wine, beef stock and herbs to the pan, and bring to the boil.
5. Turn down the heat, and simmer over medium heat for 2-3 hours. Alternatively, you can slow cook it in a 150°C oven.
6. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with your choice of polenta or mashed potatoes. Or maybe even some pasta!

For the polenta:
Use a 1 part polenta: 4 parts water* ratio. Put polenta into a pan (over medium high heat), add the water and bring to the boil, stirring constantly the whole time. Be forewarned that the polenta will bubble madly, which is why you need to stir it whilst it cooks. The consistency you are aiming for is that of mashed potatoes.Season with salt and pepper. I also season it with garlic olive oil to add some extra flavour.

*I sometimes use an equal mix of water and milk to cook this as I find it makes the polenta creamier.


A birthday cake (and some food)

I still remember the first time I baked a birthday cake – it was about 4 years ago in my tiny little kitchen, where I impulsively decided to bake a simple chocolate cake for my flatmate. Being completely clueless about cake decorating, I just used halved strawberries along the sides of the cake, and was happy when it looked reasonably presentable. Fast forward to 4 years later, when I start planning what cake to make at least a week in advance, and inevitably ending up with too many ideas.

I went through the very same process during R’s birthday, and didn’t actually manage to decide which cake I would make until I was shopping for the ingredients. Shocking, I know. Anyway, I finally decided on Tartelette’s chocolate, mango and coconut cream cake. The vibrant colours just looked so beautiful, and I knew R would like the tropical theme of the cake.

(Edit: Just a note to say that all this took place more than a month ago, I just didn’t get around to posting till now. :P)

As you can see, I didn’t do terribly well with the cake as I am completely incompetent when it comes to splitting cakes into half. I have much to learn! 😛 Alternatively, I may just bake each layer in a seperate tray instead of trying to split an already thin cake into half… Despite the rather “uneven” look, the cake was delicious. The sponge layers were the best sponge cakes I’ve ever baked, and I think I’ll be using Helen’s recipe from now on. I did find that the mango mousse was not “mango-ey” enough for me, but this may have been because I used canned mangoes instead of fresh.

I topped the cake with some raspberries, lemon swirls, and dried mango slices (only thought of the mango once I sliced it up, which is why it’s not in the photo above).

And of course, it wasn’t just about the cake – there had to be some food as well…

A very simple proscuitto wrapped tomato/buffalo mozzarella salad, topped with fresh basil leaves and a dash of olive oil. This was inspired by a recipe in Donna Hay magazine (as always!), and was wonderfully delicious. I chose this primarily because it was very simple, and because I knew I would be spending a long time on the cake. Definitely something I will make again in the future.

Beer bacon wrapped beef fillet with a mushroom sauce, served with cheesy semolina. This was also a Donna Hay recipe. I was originally slightly disappointed as my sauce was not as dark as it appeared to be in the photos that accompanied this recipe – but as it still tasted amazingly good, I just had to be content with less attractive photos.

In the end, we were so stuffed from all the food that we couldn’t even eat the cake. That’s saying something as I always have room for dessert. R just blew out the candles, and we had to wait till the next day to eat the cake.

The recipe of the chocolate mango and coconut cream cake can be found here.

Beer bacon wrapped beef fillet with mushroom sauce
Adapted from a recipe in Donna Hay magazine, issue 40

  • 2 rashers bacon
  • 3/4 cup dark ale
  • 2 x 200g beef fillet steaks
  • olive oil, for brushing
  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 150g chestnut/white mushrooms
  • 150g oyster mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup beef stock
  • 2 slices of cheese (I used raclette)

1. Place the bacon rashers in a bowl, and pour the ale over it. Leave to marinade for at least 1 hour.
2. Remove bacon rashers from the bowl, and reserve the ale. Wrap a bacon rasher around each beef fillet steak.
3. Heat oven to 180°C. In the meantime, brush the steaks with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4. Cook the steaks in a hot ban for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until they brown. Place the browned steaks in a baking tray and cook for 8-10 minutes (I like my beef to be medium-rare). Set aside and keep warm.
5. Heat some oil in a pan, and fry the mushrooms until they are browned (should take 1-2 minutes). Add the beef stock and reserved ale, and cook for 2 minutes. If you want to make the sauce thicker, either add some cornflour to the mixture, or cook until it reduces.
6. Place the steaks on a plate, top with the raclette cheese, and spoon over the mushroom sauce.

Note: I also served this with some cheesy semolina. This was simply semolina cooked with milk and some soft cheese.