Impeccably Gourmet

A food lover's impassioned blog.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A cheap and practical spice storage solution

A few years ago I discovered a genius spice storage device at IKEA. Everyone knows IKEA is the master of storage solutions in general, but this system is especially ingenious. I live in London, a city where kitchens tend to be small and cabinet space is limited. Also, storing your spices in your cabinet results in hard to reach spice jars that require extra time sorting through contents of your cabinet anytime you need a spice. If you cook frequently, and use many spices, this can be annoying to say the least!

This magnetic wall panel, with magnetic containers for spices that have clear lids, is space and time-saving! I hang mine on a wall by my kitchen. It's not only functional, but highly decorative to boot. I always get loads of compliments on it from visitors. Plus you can store seeds and nuts in the jars too. The Grundtal spice containers are sold in a pack of three for £5 and the Spontan magnetic board is sold for £10 and can be hung vertically or horizontally.

If your fridge door is not hidden behind cabinet doors, you could instead use your fridge as a canvas for your spice pots. The only possible improvement I might make is to stick labels with the names of spices on the board above each spice pot. After all, ground coriander and cumin are almost exactly the same colour! I might also consider expanding my spice display...Middle Eastern cuisine requires a large variety of spices. Now somebody advise me how to best store all my teas so they take up less space in my cupboard! 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Recipe: Tarte Tatin

This is a classic French apple tart recipe that I've been eating my entire life and it has always gotten rave reviews. I've yet to meet someone who doesn't love this dessert! It's especially delicious with orange blossom whipped cream on top. You can either make your own tart pastry, or if you're running short on time or hate rolling pastry as much as I do, buy puff pastry ready-made. When I do make my pastry, I prefer to use spelt flour because it has a slightly nutty taste. 

Traditionally, the tarte is made in one pan where the cooking starts on the stovetop and finishes in the oven. If you, like me, don't have a good ovenproof frying pan, you can use a regular frying pan for cooking the apples and then transfer the apples to a cake pan for the oven (or any oven-proof container). 

Filling ingredients:
  • 6 average size Granny Smith or Bramley green apples
  • 70 g (2.5 oz) unsalted butter, chopped roughly
  • 185 g (3/4 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
Pastry ingredients (optional):
  • 220 g (1 and 3/4 cups) white spelt flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 150 g (5.5 oz) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
  • 1 egg yolk
Whipped cream:
  • 185 ml (3/4) cup double cream (also called heavy cream)
  • 1 teaspoon icing (confectioners') sugar or honey
  • 1 teaspoon orange blossom water

Wash, peel and core the apples, cutting them into quarters. I use an apple corer to make the job easier for large quantities of apples. Place the sugar and chopped butter into a deep 25 cm (10-inch) frying pan, heating on medium heat until the butter and sugar combine. Place the apples tightly into the frying pan (you can use neat rows or a more chaotic layout).

Cook the apples on low heat for 35-40 minutes or until the apple is soft and any extra liquid has evaporated. Baste the apples with a pastry brush occasionally during the cooking process. When finished, the apples should be a golden brown colour. Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C (375 degrees F or Gas 5). If using a fan oven, you can lower the temperature setting to 170 degrees C. 

If you've opted to make your own tart pastry, you can do it while the apples are cooking. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the diced butter, rubbing the mixture in until it has the texture of breadcrumbs (I do this using a food processor instead, using the pulse button). Add the egg yolk and 2-3 teaspoons of cold water. Mix it until the dough gets to a uniformly smooth texture (it's important not to overmix the dough). Shape the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. 

Roll out the pastry (either pre-purchased or homemade) on a floured surface in a circular shape slightly bigger than your frying pan or oven container. Place the pastry over the apple-filled frying pan and press down to seal the edges. Trim the edge of the pastry and fold it back into the edge of the pan. Bake the tarte for 25-30 minutes or until the pastry is golden and cooked. 

To make the whipped cream, put your cream, icing sugar, and orange blossom water in a bowl and beat or whisk until soft peaks form. Serve with the tarte. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Restaurant Review: Al Waha, the best Lebanese restaurant in London

Yesterday I was invited to an Eid dinner at the last minute at Al Waha in Notting Hill. Although I had gotten some takeaway there once, I had completely forgotten about it. Last night's Eid feast was a strong reminder of the sheer quality of the Lebanese cuisine at Al Waha. We had a set menu with starters, grilled meats and rice, and some desserts.

The starters, freshly baked pitas, kebbe (a mix of lamb mince and onions encased in a shell of fried lamb mince and cracked wheat), falafel, hummus, muhammara (a red pepper and nut dip), fattoush salad, and fatayer jibneh (little cheese pies) were all delicious and perfectly prepared. I consider myself to be a pretty good falafel maker, and yet I was so impressed with Al Waha's falafel! Refreshingly, the portions were appropriate for the size of our group and we weren't left with food FOMO! Not only was the food tasty, but all the dishes were incredibly visually appealing as they were well-decorated and plated.

The main courses consisted of plates of shish taouk (grilled chicken), kafta (beef kabobs), courgettes stuffed with a mix of rice and mince,  and rice served with fried nuts on top. Everything was succulent. The chicken was perfectly seasoned and at once a bit crisped on the outside and moist and tender inside. The kafta was sublime. The rice was perfectly seasoned and the stuffed courgettes were the absolute best stuffed courgettes (zucchini) I've ever, ever had in my life. And I've had A LOT of stuffed courgettes at many Lebanese restaurants. Thoughtfully, all the grilled meat was served with pita bread laid over it so that the meat stays warm. 

The dessert was a small selection of pistachio and date pastries (all freshly made) that I had with a sip of white coffee (hot water with a dab of orange blossom water). I knew the restaurant served really good food already, but I was still amazed at just how good it was. This is definitely my favourite Lebanese restaurant in London, no question about it. I also thought the price, at 22 pounds for the set meal, was very reasonable for the quality of food. And yet, on Eid, there were some empty tables at the restaurant. I'm astonished it wasn't packed to the brim, frankly. But no matter, I will be a staunch supporter and repeat visitor many times over. In fact, I can't wait to take my dad there next time he comes to London. Eid Mubarak to all (with some Eid calligraphy by my Arabic teacher below)!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Soy whipped cream that tastes like the real thing!

I finally found a product that could make a dairy free life somewhat tolerable- soy whipped cream! Ladies and gentleman, this is not your average weird dairy-alternative product. It actually tastes like whipped cream. Yes, I'll say it again, it actually tastes like whipped cream! My friends have said they never would have guessed it was a soy product from the taste. The brand is Soyatoo. I buy it at my local organic shop, but it can be bought here as well.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Le Scheffer Bistro - Classic French Food

Let me preface this post with the fact that the average restaurant in Paris is much better than the average restaurant in London. There, I said it.

Now we can move on to this delicious French neighborhood bistro in the 16th arrondissement in Paris, the Scheffer, near the Trocadero. I had the privilege of eating there yesterday and was mightily impressed by the quality of the cuisine for a little neighborhood place. I am told it is always bursting full and reservations are a must.

For my appetizer, I (and most of the others at my table) ordered "Os à moelle à la croque au sel", which is basically cooked bone marrow presented in the bone, served with toasted bread, mustard, and sea salt on the side. I personally don't like to slather the mustard on the toast before spreading the bone marrow on top, but to each his own. I am a huge fan of this dish and will occasionally make this for breakfast if I can get my hands on marrow bones (this is probably the moment where you're thinking you never want to come to my house for breakfast), so was especially thrilled to see it on the menu. We each received three marrow huge marrow bones with the most succulent marrow inside. I can't really describe the pleasure of eating bone marrow, but think umami X 1000 and that might give you an idea.

As a main course, I had confit de canard (duck confit). I ordered this dish partly out of my cook's curiosity, to compare to the duck confit I had made a couple weeks earlier. Not surprisingly, Scheffer's duck confit was slightly better than mine (maybe they used more fat!). It was incredibly tender and every morsel melted in my mouth. It was served with little round potatoes that were just as tender and delicious as the duck. I do feel that I was slightly lucky with the vegetable side of my meal, as others at my table did not particularly enjoy the vegetables that came with their main course. The meal ended with a shared piece of apple tart for the table, though it was not particularly noteworthy.

Overall, this restaurant is highly recommended, for the wonderful traditional French cuisine, attentive service (how often can you say that about French restaurants?), and buzzing atmosphere. But maybe save your dessert calories for other places. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Merveilleux: A Meringue Cake Without Equal

I haven't had time to blog lately, but this cake is so good I had to post about it. I'm not normally a fan of meringue, but when I tried this meringue cake for the first time earlier this year, I fell in love. It comes from a French patisserie called "Aux Merveilleux", in about 6 flavors. I have only tasted one flavor ( I do have some self-restraint, after all), called the "Incroyable", a medley of meringue, speculoos biscuit, whipped cream and all coated with shaved white chocolate (second the to the left in the picture). The texture is a mixture of the crunchiness of meringue and biscuit and the smoothness of cream and chocolate. In other words, absolutely sublime.

They come in three sizes, and also the above mini-cakes. The other flavors include the "Merveilleux", the "Impensable", the "Excentrique", the "Magnifique",  and the quirkily named "Sans-Culotte". And you know what the best news is for us Londoners? They opened a shop in South Kensington in February this year. I know exactly what cake I'm having for my birthday this year...

Monday, March 11, 2013

How to Make Fruit Ripen Faster

This idea came from a good friend of mine who has worked with all types of private sector development initiatives in developing countries. Apples release ethylene gas, which makes other fruit ripen faster. For that reason, I recommend not storing your apples with other fruit unless you need the other fruit to ripen. They say you can store apples and the fruit you want to ripen faster in a brown paper bag, but heck, it even works in a plastic bag.