Lunch in The City Part 1: Verde & Co.

In the wasteland that can be The City lunch experience, I have discovered a few choice locations to help ease the monotony of Prets and EAT.

The first is Verde & Company in Spitalfields, conveniently located about a 10 minute walk from Liverpool Street Station at 40 Brushfield Street.  It makes for a nice little walk to clear your head from that stale office air and fluorescent lighting.  From the outside, it’s not entirely clear what it is – gourmet food shop? chocolate store? maybe possibly some lunch? – but with a line out the door you know it must be good, which is how I discovered one day back in February, wandering the neighborhood in search of something from a non-chain restaurant.  I’ve been a convert ever since.

Verde specializes in salads and sandwiches – the menu is the same for both, it just comes on top of a green salad with sunblush tomates, or between two pieces of bread (brown, white or baguette).  Depending on size and ingredients, they run 5-7 GBP each.  You can also mix and match ingredients to make your own.  Highlights include suckling pig with piquillo peppers, bresaola (which I usually pair with fresh mozzarella) and smoked chicken with guacamole (and bacon if you’re lucky!).  The salads are served with vinaigrette dressing ladled out of a large olive oil tin with the top cut off.  They also serve two homemade soups every day – recently tomato and piquillo pepper served with fresh basil and parmesan – and mini-quiches, as well as an assortment of Bakewell tarts, brownies and other goodies.  There is also a fridge with Pellegrino and Panna water and a selection of fresh juices.

bresaola and mozzarella sandwich

Most people get it to go, but you can also eat in at the handful of high chairs dotted around the tiny interior of the shop.  And if the weather’s nice you can sit outside on one of their bench seats with convenient little table-trays built in for your lunch or coffee.

Pretty much everything you see in the store is on sale – the homemade marmalade on that shelf over there, the fresh pasta in the window, the wooden tea caddy, even the silver teapots.  There’s actually a good selection of specialty and gourmet items – mostly Italian – and they usually have some fresh produce for sale.  The cherries and peaches in the summer were to die for.

The seating area

Jam for sale

But best of all is the Pierre Marcolini chocolate.  If you’ve never had it, you are in for a treat.  Based in Brussels, he makes a range of yummy truffles as well as sinfully rich chocolate plaques (they aren’t really bars) that come in all different chocolate flavors (Zimbabwe, Cosa Rica, etc.) They don’t come cheap but they are worth every penny.

The Chocolate

And to fortify you for the long afternoon at the office that now lies before you, grab one of their fab coffees on the way out.

Vital Statistics:
Location: 40 Brushfield Street, E1 6AG London
Tube: Liverpool Street Station
Website: http://www.verde-and-company-ltd.co.uk/
Prices: £7-10 for a salad or sandwich and a drink

Check out Lunch in The City Part 2: Street Kitchen

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Light and Fluffy Pancakes

On Saturday morning my uncle Christopher offered to make pancakes for the hoard of people who had descended on his and my aunt Erin’s house on Martha’s Vineyard. And man were they good. Some of the all time best pancakes I have ever had, and I have had a lot of pancakes.

I asked from whence came this delicious recipe and was presented with a dog-eared photocopy of two pages from Cook’s Illustrated January 1996 copied more or less verbatim here:

Serves 3-4 (makes about eight 3-inch pancakes) (note: I think we made a quadruple recipe for 6 and it was perfect, with a few left over for an afternoon post beach snack)

1 cup all purpose flour
2 t sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup milk
1 large egg, separated
2 T unsalted butter, melted

1. Mix dry ingredients in medium bowl. Pour buttermilk and milk into 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup. Whisk in egg white; mix yolk with melted butter, then stir into milk mixture. Dump wet ingredients into dry ingredients all at once; whisk until just mixed.

2. Meanwhile heat griddle or large skillet over strong medium-high heat. Brush griddle generously with oil or butter. When water splashed on surface confidently sizzles, pour batter, about 1/4 cup at a time, onto griddle, making sure not to overcrowd. When pancake bottoms are brown and top surface starts to bubble, 2-3 minutes, flip cakes and cook until remaining side has browned, 1-2 minutes longer.

If you use salted butter or buttermilk, you may want to reduce the amount of salt. If you don’t have any buttermilk, mix three-quarters cup of room temperature milk with one tablespoon of lemon juice and let stand for five minutes. Substitute this “clabbered milk” for the three quarters cup buttermilk and one-quarter cup of milk in this recipe. Since this milk mixture is not as thick as buttermilk, the batter and resulting pancakes will not be as thick.

Editor’s note: the batter looks really lumpy. Don’t worry, just go with it.

Editor’s note 2: the deliciousness of the pancakes may have been augmented by the beautiful view from my aunt Erin’s breakfast room

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Lobster & Blueberries, or eating my way through Maine

Last Friday the 12th of August I set out from my Marylebone, London apartment for Northeast Harbor, Mount Desert, Maine. I had been boring my coworkers for weeks already talking about steamed lobster, blueberry pie, lobster rolls, blueberry ice cream – did I mention the lobster and blueberries?

To whet my appetite, when I touched down at Boston Logan 8 hours later, I grabbed a bar stool at Legal Seafood and ordered my summer staple – my dad’s favorite drink to which I have converted many a friend – Mount Gay rum, tonic, splash of orange juice and squeeze of lime, and four oysters.

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A short flight to Bar Harbor later, my chauffeur (aka Dad) picked me up and we were off for our first lobster of the trip, at Stewman’s in the center of the town of Bar Harbor.

Order: 1 1/2 pound steamed lobster with corn on the cob and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

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= Heaven. And it came complete with one of those cunning plastic lobster bibs. Très chic.

The first must-do Maine dish (lobster) was quickly followed the next day by the second: Blueberries:

Bought at the Blue Hill farmer’s market – they were delicious.

The next culinary experience of note was tea at Jordan pond.

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Jordan Pond is right above Seal Cove on Mt Desert and is an island favorite. You can hike a number of trails of varying difficulty, or cheat and drive in (which we did). They have a solid seafood chowder and good sandwiches, but the real reason to go there is the popovers:

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The bring them around, piping hot, in a basket along with butter and strawberry jam. (Make sure to order extra jam, they are kind of stingy with it.) and then when you’ve finished the first one they bring you a second. Despite having polished off a mediocre bowl of clam chowder at another restaurant previously, I managed to eat two popovers. Which is nothing compared to my ten year old cousin Peter who polished off an astounding five.

The garden at Jordan Pond:

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Next up: A Homecooked Meal courtesy of my cousins Mara and Thomas

We started with St Germain soup – a deliciously fresh soup whose main ingredient is peas. The rough recipe as related to me at the dinner table is:

Sauté some onions and scallions
Add butter lettuce, carrots, celery and sweet peas
Cook until soft
Purée in a blender
Garnish with chopped mint and bacon

This was followed by tomato and mozzarella salad, corn on the cob, steak done on the grill, and spinach.

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A delicious summer meal.

(Side note: The china you see in the photos was hand painted by the Sisters of Bethlehem in upstate New York.)

And now for the final stop on the Maine epicurean trail: Islesford Dock on Little Cranberry Island, without which no trip to Acadia would be complete.

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Little Cranberry Island is about a thirty minute motor boat ride from the mainland. We took a private boat but there are ferries throughout the day and water taxis readily available at night. It’s run by an ex-Goldman Sachs partner who retired to run the restaurant cum gallery in the summer and I don’t know what in the winter. They have famously good burgers but I was all about the (surprise!) lobster.

I started with cantaloupe gazpacho served with beetroot chips and a lobster meat claw:

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which was a bit on the sweet side but a lovely thick consistency and the sweetness somewhat tempered by the lobster and beet chips, and nicely refreshing.

Also of particular note were the ribs appetizer which came slathered in a sweet spicy sauce topped with peanuts and coriander. Delish.

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I followed my soup with the seafood Gallimaufry: a whole steamed lobster, plus crab claws, mussels, clams, corn and fingerling potatoes in a spicy broth. I needed a lot of help to finish and we still had mussels left over – a real travesty.

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But one must leave room for dessert after all, which for us featured both blueberry and raspberry cobbler. The raspberry pictured here:

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And all this against a most spectacular sunset:

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We practically rolled out of the restaurant back onto the boat, by which time dark had fully fallen and we maneuvered our way, sans headlight, among the many lobster pots that dot the bay, and promptly fell into bed upon getting home.

Home, by the way, for me was the Asticou Inn during my four day stay. A wonderful throwback to a bygone age, it is “shabby elegance” at it’s best. The rooms have old school flowered wall paper and claw foot tubs, first rate beds and very nice linens. The rooms on the front face the bay (very nice view) and breakfast is served on the terrace weather permitting. The hotel restaurant is pretty good, service a bit short on finesse but long on enthusiasm. I did get food poisoning one night at a party they catered but everything else – including the plain chicken with rice they made me the next day – was well done.

The Inn:

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The View:

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My Room:

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And now off to Martha’s Vineyard, of which more later.

Eating Italian in London

Last night my wonderful Italian friend Marco took me to dinner at a great find: Princi in Soho, located at 135 Wardour Street W1F 0UT.

Apparently it’s a Milan staple recently exported, and it certainly felt very authentic. The concept is food – from bread to tiramisu to lasagna to pizza to insalata caprese – all ranged under glass cafeteria style. A waitress at the counter that wraps around two sides of the room takes your order and loads up small plates onto a wooden tray, you pay at the register and seat yourself.

Marco ordered, in Italian naturally, a piece of pizza with mushrooms, artichokes and ham; a sort of prosciutto sandwich with meat between two pieces of olive oily flat bread (delicious); and (for me) zucchini salad with a green olive tapenade, and a perfect ball of mozzarella (why is it so hard to get that in the States?) with tomatoes and a little bit of rocket. All washed down with a glass of white and some good conversation.

There was also a yummy looking range of pastas and some little ricotta and spinach stuffed rolls. (Those will be for next time…)

Added bonus: it’s open late! We arrived at 10, and when we left at 11ish they were still going strong.

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Eating in Italy

This past weekend, I went to Lake Como in Northern Italy (Ketan, the map is for you) with 4 friends.  We rented a house lakeside, tooled around on a motor boat one day, and generally ate our way through the weekend.

Here are some highlights:

Dinner at Bilacus in Bellagio.

Bilacus means Two Lakes in Latin, which is the ancient name for Bellagio, a town that sits between Lago di Como and Lago di Lecco.  It was a wonderful meal, especially following our Carte d’Or out-of-a-frozen-plastic-container dessert experience the preceding evening at the Tre Rose Hotel in our little town of Nesso.

The scene is a rooftop garden in Bellagio, overlooking a steep cobblestone street, up from the main lakefront promenade.  It started with prosciutto e melone – the melon served in a glass bowl over ice, and the prosciutto sliced paper thin at room temperature.  The combination is exactly what that appetizer is meant to be – a juxtaposition of taste, temperature and texture.  The melon is sweet, crisp and fresh, the prosciutto salty and soft.

The melon rinds also looked particularly artistic after I had polished off every last bite:

This was followed by spaghetti alle vongole (clams), one of my favorite dishes ever.

It was served in a simple, light tomato sauce with fresh clams.  Delicious.

For dessert, scarred as we were from the night before, and full as we were from our delicious meal, we ordered tiramisu to share.  But when it arrived I took one bite and ordered my own.

Tiramisu is already one of my favorite desserts, and this one ranks pretty well towards the top of the list.  Super creamy, lady finger cookies falling apart soaked in coffee and liquor, cocoa powder on top.  Heaven.

 

 

Another highlight was lunch in Lezzeno at Aurora’s, a small town between Nesso and Bellagio.  The Aurora is a hotel with a large terrace restaurant overlooking the lake.  We had a prime spot right by the railing from which we could enjoy the view of the lake, plus laugh at the children playing on the floating trampoline.  Sadly, they rushed us to order as the kitchen was closing, and I was thus out-ordered by my fellow diners, notably by this enourmous dish of mussels, which, if you can believe it, in this photo has already been picked over by two people:

There was also an Aperol spritz – inspired by my trip to Venice in May where everyone drinks them:

Note the two large, blue straws.  Very important for efficient consumption.

 

But perhaps the best meal was homemade breakfast on our final day which included french toast (admittedly not very Italian), salumi, cheese, apricots and little green plums.  All washed down with some strong Italian coffee expertly brewed by my housemates.  It was difficult to leave a few hours later, to return to England’s green (and cold and wet) land.

 

A picture of the view from our house, for good measure:

Brunch at Kopapa

A number of my friends had been raving to me about Kopapa in Covent Garden, so finally a few months ago, I stopped by and ordered an iced latte at the bar.  Steve commenced to make me probably the best iced latte of my life.   And it was so beautiful, I even took a picture:

I returned a few weeks later, and ordered the same from the girl working the bar.  Big disappointment.  So when Steve turned up as our waiter last weekend, I ambushed him to make sure this time it would come out right.  And it did, right alongside an excellent Bloody Mary made with wasabi. YUM.

I then ordered the Chili-Chipotle waffle with bacon, piquillo peppers and rocket served with pureed avocado.

Epic. A true brunch item – eg, a mix between breakfast and lunch, instead of having to choose an item from one meal to eat at a time in between them. The avocado was tangy and smooth, the bacon was, well, bacon, I mean, need I say more?  I finished it in about 5 minutes.  I also have it on good authority that the vanilla soaked figs were delicious.

Kopapa is owned by the same people who own Providores, on Marylebone High Street and right around the corner from my house.  The owners are Australian, and at Providores all the wines are from Down Under.  The food at both restaurants is international fusion – Latin, Asian, European – and in my opinion is very successful.  It’s all small plates, which probably helps, since, as my friends will attest, I love to share.  Providores also has a nice long table in the middle of their restaurant which is fun to sit at for tapas and drinks during the week.

Added bonus: Kopapa’s kitchen is open until 10pm Monday-Thursday and until 10:30 on Friday and Saturday.  New Yorkers, you won’t understand the beauty of this until you have experienced London’s chronic early closing times. 24 hour diners, what?

Vital Statistics:
Location: 32-34 Monmouth Street,
Tube:
Website: http://www.kopapa.co.uk
Prices:

Pulled Pork

It all began when my friend Emily mentioned she had been craving pulled pork.  And then when a Tasting Table email with a mouthwatering recipe arrived a few days later with a recipe, it was fate.

So I invited over a few friends for Monday night and planned my menu:

  1. Homemade guac
  2. Pulled pork sandwiches with nectarines and honey (as per the above)
  3. Potato salad from one of my favorite all time cookbooks, Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food
  4. Carrot salad, also from Alice Waters
  5. Key Lime Pie – recipe courtesy of my friend Jessie Chalkley, written on the back of a receipt in 2007 – with homemade crust and whipped cream

Come Sunday morning, I hit up my local farmers market (literally in front of my house) and picked up fresh veggies, then to Waitrose (also, literally, under my house) for the dry ingredients where I really put the staff to work looking for condensed milk, jalapeno peppers, tomato paste (called puree here).

My final stop was at the butcher up the street, the Ginger Pig, where I picked up a hefty package of pork shoulder.  Note: if you try the Tasting Table recipe, ask for de-boned pork shoulder.  This is not explicit in the recipe but after watching the butcher expertly cut the meat off the bone, I am really glad I didn’t try that at home.  He looked at me rather sceptically and told me he hoped it worked out okay.

Meat

Back at home, I had planned to spend all afternoon cooking, but ended up going to brunch at Kopapa and hanging out on a rooftop in Dalston instead.  (See next post).  So, at 8pm Sunday evening the cooking began.

The Pork:

You can read the recipe on the Tasting Table website, so I won’t recreate it here, but those of you with small kitchens will be happy to know you can substitute a large stainless steel saucepan covered in tinfoil for a dutch oven.  I cooked mine for 3 hours, instead of 2.5, but apparently you can’t realy overcook pork shoulder (yes, I googled it), so it doesn’t really matter.

While it sat in the oven I made headway on the salads, and, finally, the pie.

Key Lime Pie:

Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t find any Key Limes in London, so I used regular limes.  It worked out fine.  For crust, I turned to my trusted French mother’s recipe:

100 grams butter, melted, and combined with 4 T water and 3 T sugar (if desired) or pinch of salt.  Mix with 200 grams white flour, poured in all at once.  Combine until the dough forms a ball, turn out into the pie tin and spread with your hands.  To make more crust, you just need double the amount of flour as butter.

At 11 pm, I nervously took the pork out of the oven.  To my relief, it did exactly the right thing – eg, pulled apart easily when attacked with two forks.

Everything then went into the fridge and I went to bed.

Monday evening, great success – I even succeeded in converting my English and Viennese guests to the deliciousness of pulled pork, despite scepticism about the nectarines at the beginning.

The Sandwiches

The Salads

The Party

And, on Tuesday, I was even able to convert my very English office to the delights of Key Lime Pie.  I had to give them a wikipedia link to explain what it was though.