Cottage Pie: Comfort food, easy to make using roast beef leftovers. Easy Cottage Pie.
Cottage Pie: Comfort food, easy to make using roast beef leftovers. Easy Cottage Pie.
When I first came across Wagamama in London in the late 90’s, I nostalgically remember it as the perfect antidote to a night of student revelling London-style (stylie). We’d wake up and trundle down to the nearest Wagamamas and cluster around their long tables and immediately get a vitamin boost from their super green, super fresh, body cleansing, high antioxidant smoothies followed by a bowl of something spicy with plenty of carbs – if my mind goes that far back, I think my dish of choice was always a Pad Thai. It would beat going to Maccy-Ds any day!
Flash-forward over 20 years and in June 2016, after a social media frenzy of freebie tickets, £5 sittings and press evenings, we are treated to our very own Wagamama here in Gibraltar. With the stunning setting that Ocean Village provides, Wagamama, with its roots in Japanese-inspired cuisine, fits right in amongst the palm trees and ferns that line the promenade.
Upon arrival everything seems to be at one with nature –chairs are large wooden blocks with simple metal legs, rattan chairs out on the terrace; long wooden-topped tables (ideal for families) presented in a minimalist Japanese canteen style with spotlights aimed along the centre of these. Fully opening glass doors bringing the sea into the room. The 3 large mirrors at the back of the room creating a sense of depth, reflecting images of staff whizzing from station to table. And last but not least, its vast open kitchen and prep area with its denizen of chefs glancing from screens to chopping boards to woks to plates.
The menu is not organised as ‘starters and mains’ but as: Sides – to order with your main dish or to share; Gyoza – either steamed or fried dumplings filled with goodness; Ramen – a bowl of hot soup filled with noodles; toppings and garnishes; Curry – fresh curries served over rice; Teppanyaki – sizzling soft noodles with crunchy veg/meat/prawns; Omakase – 4 different Chef Specials; Donburi – a big bowl of steamed rice and stir fired meats/veg; Salads -2 stir fry salads and Extras – miso soup, Japanese pickles, ‘century’ egg, kimchee, chillies or rice/noodles.
I found the exemplary waiting staff to be very cheerful and friendly at all times. Their knowledge of the menu evident as they would translate dish numbers into dish names; scribbling your order onto your placemat. Before leaving our table, the waiter asked us if we’d been to Wagamama before so as to clarify how our food would arrive.
For the uninitiated: as your dish is created it is served – regardless of whether there are 2, 4 or 6 of you dining; there is no procession of courses.
We ordered some Gyoza to see how they fared against authentic Japanese gyoza, which are dry-fried on the base and then steamed to perfection. As the menu advertised either fried or steamed gyoza we tried the fried duck gyoza (99) – delicious, deep decadent duck meat in a deep fried gyoza, however, not what we were expecting. Preferring a steamed gyoza we ended up stopping the waiter to order some steamed pulled pork gyoza (105) which were much more authentic in flavour and texture and upon reading the menu a second time realising that the steamed gyoza are served grilled!
Trying to avoid my Pad Thai Wagamama staple, I decided to let the chef recommend me one of its four Omakase (Japanese for ‘to entrust the chef’). The grilled Teriyaki lamb served on a bed of soba noodles in a pea and wasabi dressing with grilled asparagus, kale, mushrooms and mangetout – simply scrumptious; grilled teriyaki lamb, grilled veggies, soba noodles.
Since then I’ve been again and had the chilli squid (107) crispy fried squid dusted with shichimi, served with a chilli/coriander dipping sauce – tongue tantalisingly tingly and the pork ramen (30) which even though I slurped my way through, could have been hotter – both in temp and spice, and saltier; however, I suppose that’s why there is soy sauce and chilli oil on every table!
As part of the ‘harmony, balance and chilli’ mantra that Wagamama is legendary for, ending your spicy meal with Banana Katsu (142) – banana covered in panko bread crumbs and deep fried with salted caramel ice-cream equals perfection. I’ve asked for the mochi balls (124) and the sweet onigiri (135) but unfortunately they still haven’t received them from the Uk.
I suppose that if we are dependent on Uk deliveries for the food to be franchise-exact we will, on occasion, have this wait-time on certain dishes when items expire. Next time I go I know I’m going to try the prawn itame curry (39) and here’s hoping that they’ve got the pork ribs (97) in stock!
But all is good with the world when you end your meal with jasmine flower tea…
Unsettled, squalid weather makes for a perfect cake baking day. And yesterday was such a day. Whether you opt for a sandwich cake filled with something sweet and creamy or whether it’s a cake popped out of a spring form tin, baking a cake – for yourself and/or loved ones – is a pleasurable act.
They say that baking soothes the soul. How can it not?
The smell of a cake wafting through the house providing instant comfort and security from the world outside. The sense of achievement that you managed to combine the ingredients and create an elemental change in them should never be underestimated.
Basic quantities are 225g of self-raising flour, sugar, butter and 4 eggs. Baked for 20/25mins. But feel free to create variations – e.g. for a chocolate sponge swap 2 table spoons of the flour for 2 of cocoa powder.
What filling/topping you go for is a matter of how far you allow your imagination to take you. Sandwich style cakes can be filled with fruits and or cream as well as topped with a dusting of icing sugar, chocolate ganache, or a calorific butter frosting. Whether it’s a childhood psychedelic marble cake or a traditional Victoria sponge cake, there is a nostalgic nursery-teatime quality to the custom of cutting cake. And any iced-cake is ultimately a birthday cake waiting to be called into service.
As the hazy, orange sun sets over these lazy summer evenings and the insects clumsily fly through the shimmering evening heat, the scents and flavours that I want to immerse myself in are those of the Eastern Mediterranean. However, it’s not just the food that I’m after, even though that would be no great loss (!) but the whole culinary, cultural approach. No procession of courses, eating with your hands; food to get stuck into. I envisage a multitude of different delicious dishes along a table that encourages conversation, sharing, food passed around and the tearing of bread. To me, this can only mean one thing – mezze.
“Mezze are an integral part of life in much of the Muslim Mediterranean and are considered to be one of the most civilised and exciting ways to eat.”
Mezze: the word is found in all the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire and comes from the Turkish meze meaning, “taste, flavour, snack, relish.”
At home, creating a mezze spread of eight to ten dishes is unrealistic, but creating individual pieces of a mezze every now and again can be fun.
Traditional mezze dishes include: fattoush (bread and vegetable salad), hummus (chickpea dip), falafel (deep-fried chickpea balls), köfte (minced lamb meatballs), mutabbal (aubergine salad), souvlaki (lamb kebabs), tabbouleh (bulgar wheat salad) and olives. There are several more dishes that can be seen on a mezze table with each region of the Mediterranean creating alternatives and variations.
And with BBQ season in full swing why not try to create your version of a classic mutabbal?
Whether you know it as mutabbal, aubergine salad, poor man’s caviar or baba ganoush, this smoky aubergine dip is the grown up version of the ubiquitous hummus and is a classic part of any mezze.
Levantine in origin, it comes up under a variety of names from Turkey to Egypt and can be presented in different guises: a dip, a salad, a vegetable side dish. It can be served loose and smooth to be scooped up by your flatbread or served chunky needing a fork to assist but no matter which variation you choose it will still be exceptionally good.
The principal ingredients are:
The only strict rule that I insist you adhere to is that the aubergines must be blackened on open flame – too many versions fail to recognise the importance of this. It is this process which gives this dish its distinctive, smoky taste. Cooking them in a smoking hot oven will not give you the depth of flavour you require here – a grill set to max would work but it will smoke out the entire house. Those who have gas hobs can blacken the skins on the actual hob but this will make a mess! Basically, a BBQ is the most effective and convenient method to achieve aubergines as desired. Understandably, this is not the best dish to try to recreate in winter!
My method borrows from both, I tend to cut into the aubergine creating a few incisions (face up) along the length of the vegetable, drizzle oil over and place into the hottest oven for 20mins and then grill on open flame until scorched and black.
Remove the scorched aubergine from the flames and then scoop all the flesh and juices into a blender (or bowl and use a fork). Add the juice of half a lemon, one table spoon of tahini paste, a garlic clove per aubergine and a good drizzle of olive oil to slacken the mixture. Season to taste. Add chopped fresh mint and coriander. Taste your baba ganoush and tweak the flavours to suit your palate.
Some recipes include tomatoes, after all it is sometimes referred to as an aubergine salad with tomatoes or a tomato salad with aubergine depending on which side of the Mediterranean you come from, but I find this just dilutes the intense smoky flavour that you want from your Baba Ganoush.
Drizzle olive oil in a dark green ribbon around the dish and if you’re in an extravagant mood rain over pomegranate seeds for that jewel-like touch of decadence that inspired this dish.
NB: You lit up your BBQ to cook something other than aubergines on it! Pinchitos (our beef versions of lamb souvlaki kebabs) is a perfect accompaniment to baba ganoush; serve with some BBQ-warmed pita/tortillas/flatbreads/naan bread and fresh coriander and mint sprinkled over.
Even though the first day of summer is officially 21st June, here in Gibraltar, dusting off the grill and serving up a platter of barbequed delights anytime between April/May is a good indication that summer is on its way.
Waking up from our winter/spring hibernation-state brought on by the dark, cold and rainy season. The extended hours of daylight means we leave the comforts of the home and spend more time outdoors. We start to alter our eating habits: food becomes lighter and fresher during the day and we tend to eat later in the evening. As the weather gets progressively warmer we move out of the house to cook on open flame; all strategies designed to help combat the summer heat.
Cooking on open flame can only mean one thing – barbeque.
Succulent meats flame-licked to tender perfection, grilled veggies scorched into savoury crispness, flaking off the bone ribs and sumptuous seafood designed to be cooked over charcoal.
The joy of BBQ food is that you can make it as cheap or extravagant as you want; you can cater for one or one hundred. Children tend to gravitate towards the quintessential BBQ staples: sausages, burgers and corn on the cob. Those of more diverse palate can taste grilled seafood, choice cuts of meat and even ask for these to be cooked to their liking.
But as delicious as BBQ food is, the main reason why we love a good BBQ is the social aspect of the event. These get-togethers are intimate, laid back affairs. There is no procession of courses – the way the food is eaten and served is informal. People will generally dispense with cutlery, eat standing up whilst mingling, locating drinks or foraging for food. There is no meal time constraint; food comes as and when it is ready – meats are not cooked at the same time to provide a self service style buffet; service is relaxed and dependent on whether your guests could have, “another little bite!” This can sometimes go on for several hours should the conditions be right.
BBQ role-reversal etiquette dictates that the man of the household does the cooking. Mum probably cooks all year round, slaving in the kitchen, to provide food for her family but come BBQ season, cooking becomes man’s domain. Subsequently any of the male guests will congregate around the fire and make noises of approval/disapproval as to how well food is being cooked.
Females bring salads.
Ultimately, BBQ’s are very convenient. We can use disposable BBQ sets, self igniting charcoal bags as well as disposable cups, cutlery and plates. Creating minimal washing up after the event.
BBQ’s are usually celebrated with close friends and family and have the same cathartic effect on us as other major celebrations. Everyone feels good at BBQ’s.
So whether you do it in your patios, gardens, balconies or at the beach (getting appropriate permissions) light a fire, skewer some meat or seafood, rinse out your beach towels and get grilling. Let’s enjoy the summer.
As published in Calentita Press 2014
1st: Dice the red onion and gently fry until translucent. Set aside to cool.
2nd: Mix the beef mince, a handful of grated cheese (I used Edam but Parmesan would work just as well – take care when seasoning as Parmesan can be salty) and breadcrumbs, a beaten egg, a dash of Worcester Sauce and seasoning. Once the onion has cooled mix this into the rest of the ingredients. Using your hands is best as this ensures that everything mixes properly.
3rd: Divide the mixture into four and shape them into cricket ball sized burgers. Leaving them round shows that they are not shop bought but flatten them slightly should you wish. Place onto an oiled tray and place in the fridge to firm up.
4th: After approx 20mins remove them from the fridge and fry in butter for 3mins per side. Should you like them more well-done cook them for longer or cook them further in the oven.
5th: Put them into a toasted bap of your choice with salad leaved, onion rings and your favourite sauce.
I made a spiced mayo to go with my burger using mayonnaise, ketchup, lemon juice, tabasco sauce and cayenne pepper. Make this as spicy as you wish.
Lip-smacking, finger-licking good!
I remember as a child I would mix it all together so that every spoonful was a mashed-potatoey, mince-meaty, ketchup-tangy mouthful.
And then came the correction; it’s only Shepherd’s Pie if made with real shepherds – or at least minced lamb! If made with beef mince it is a Cottage Pie. Either name, I loved it as much as a child as I do to this day (however as I’m all grown up now, I only mix it up into a potatoey, meaty, ketchupy mouthful at home!)
But even though I make it in the same way that both my Mum and Granny taught me, I recently stumbled across a recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that makes a very decadent shepherd’s pie.
The premise is that it uses up your left-over Sunday roast. And that for me is great as I’m not one to have reheated day old roast lamb. I can’t make up my mind whether it is the smell or the gelatinous texture that puts me off so this is a brilliant way of exploiting your leftovers.
1st: Heat the olive oil in a saucepan big enough to accommodate all the ingredients. Coarsely chop the meat and brown in the hot olive oil – this will render out any excess fat and make the meat crispy around the edges. Remove onto a plate.
2nd: Sweat the onions (I used a leek that was hidden at the back of my fridge and bunged in diced carrot for good measure!) make sure to scrape any meaty bits off the bottom of the pan whilst turning the onions.
3rd: Once the onions are translucent return the meat to the pan and add the red wine, Worcester sauce and ketchup. Mix in the left over gravy and season to taste. Simmer gently for a few minutes and if the mixture looks too dry add a little water. Simmer gently for 20-30mins.
4th: Have a final taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary – add more ketchup, wine, salt/pepper to taste. Again add a little water to slacken the mixture if you feel it needs it.
5th: Put the mixture into a casserole dish and cover the meat completely with your mashed potatoes. (I wanted to use up the left over roast potatoes too so I chopped these up into small dice as I want them to retain some shape. As you can see from the photo I covered half in mashed potato and the other half in diced small potatoes.) Bake at 200˚C for 30-40mins until the mash is lightly browned on top and the sauce if bubbling around the edges.
Recipe taken and adapted from http://www.channel4.com/4food/recipes/chefs/hugh-fearnley-whittingstall/hugh-s-mum-s-shepherd-s-pie-recipe
As a meal it ticks all the boxes – delicious, comforting, familiar, easy to make, and above all, thrifty. With spring warmth having finally kick started but chilly evenings this is the sort of food you want to eat for supper.
This makes a delicious mid-week supper. If you have left-over lamb that you do not know how to use up I urge you to give it a try – it may seem lengthy but to be honest there really is nothing to it as it is either simmering on your hob or baking in the oven – you are not slaving stove-top for 1hour. I preferred the diced roast potatoes on-top to the traditional mash and this would take out a whole stage of the process, alternatively using instant mash may also be an option. What I wouldn’t recommend is that you purposefully roast some lamb to create this as the whole point of this dish is to use up left-over meat so as not to be wasteful.
This recipe should serve 4-6 people but if you need to serve a large number of people you could always add some veg on the side or add minced lamb to make the dish go further.