Local Hero #2 Nepenthe

04/10/2009
Photo by Buzz100Ca

Photo by Buzz100Ca

If you’re going on a road trip down the pacific coast through the Big Sur, there’s one place that everyone tells you to go, and that’s Nepenthe. In his 1962 book ‘Big Sur’, Jack Kerouac, describes the restaurant thus, “From the baths we go to Nepenthe which is a beautiful cliff top restaurant with a vast outdoor patio, with excellent food, excellent waiters and management, good drinks, chess tables, chairs and tables to just sit in the sun an look at the grand cost…”

Whilst Kerouac’s description is less than effusive, it is pretty much spot on; so allow me to add a few superlatives. The location is amazing, the view of the pacific ocean fantastic, and the food bloody tasty. We both ate the trademark Ambrosia burger, which as the name suggests (in the work of Homer, Ambrosia is the food of the gods), was pretty heavenly. The meat was clearly good quality, the bun toasted and beautifully soft, but what really set it off was the sauce – a kind of tomato, chili mayonaise. Served with a huge side of fries and a light slaw, it was a great lunch. But with a view like that, you can’t go that far wrong.

Photo by Meatmeister

Photo by Meatmeister

It’s pretty rare that a restaurant lives up to the hype, but Nepenthe does, and not much seems to have changed since Kerouac wrote his description. It’s a simple formula, but one that works, and the owners have stuck to it.

You can get the recipe for the Ambrosia burger here, but I’m not sure it would taste quite so good without that view.


How Do You Like Your Eggs In The Morning?

26/09/2009

Me and the missus just got back from a road trip in the good ol’ US of A driving down the Pacific coast from San Fran to LA, and then on to Chicago for a wedding. We had an amazing time, and a we ate like kings. I think the thing I like about the majority of food in the States is the lack of bullshit. It’s not delicate in any way, and it’s all the better for it. For the most part you can forget about foams, jus and micro herbs. But that’s not to say the food isn’t good, it’s as tasty as hell. It’s all about big, bold, brash flavours, ss you might expect from the Yanks.

Anyway, breakfast fast became our favourite meal of the day, and right here are out top four breakfasts from the trip.

Huevos Rancheros – literally ‘eggs ranch style’. Mexican style eggs (in this case scrambled with ham) served up on flour tortillas smothered in spicy tomato sauce, topped with black beans and avocado, with a side of home fries. Ay carrumba.

Huevos Rancheros at The Crepevine, San Francisco

Huevos Rancheros at The Crepevine, San Francisco

Hash & Eggs – despite the name, probably the poshest breakfast of the trip, but totally amazing. Spring onion, bacon and potato hash topped with a couple of poached eggs. The breakfast of champions.

Hash & Eggs at Rose's Cafe, San Francisco

Hash & Eggs at Rose's Cafe, San Francisco

Granola Waffles – I’m not a massive fan of majorly sweet stuff for breakfast, but these were insane. They were part of the make your own breakfast buffet at the place we stayed at in The Big Sur. When making the waffles you toss in a handful of the home made granola. Proper ying and yang business.

Granola Waffles with Banana, Nectarine and Maple at Treebones, Big Sur

Granola Waffles with Banana, Nectarine and Maple at Treebones, Big Sur

Cornbread Egg Muffin – I know this looks like some kind of Scotch Egg disaster (not that there’s anything wrong with a Scotch Egg), but these took us by surprise. A slightly sweetened corn bread muffin, a touch of chili and a boiled egg in the middle. Awesometown.

Cornbread & Egg Muffin at Sweetcakes, Chicago

Cornbread & Egg Muffin at Sweetcakes, Chicago


Jam On It

01/09/2009

The summer fruit season is pretty much done and dusted, but you can hang on to it by making your own strawberry jam. It’s a piece of piss with just three ingredients, and it’s reet tasty.

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Ingredients

500g English strawberries

75g vanilla sugar

Juice of half a lemon

Method

Hull the strawberries (remove the leafy top and pale fruit) with the tip of a sharp knife and then wash. Dry off with a tea towel and place in a large pan. Add the vanilla sugar (vanilla sugar is easy to make – every time you scrape out a vanilla pod, put the remains in a jam jar with caster sugar – after a week or so the sugar will take on a lovely vanilla smell and taste) and lemon juice and stir.

Before you put the pan on the heat, get a saucer and place it in the fridge. I’ll explain why in a minute. Next, put the pan on a high heat and bring up to the boil while stirring. Before long the fruit will start to give up its juices, and the mixture will begin to resemble jam. You need to simmer the jam for about 10 minutes to bring it to setting point. A scum will probably develop on the surface of the mixture; skim this off every few minutes.

After 10 minutes take the pan off the heat, and dribble some of the mixture onto your cold saucer. Place the saucer back in the fridge. After a couple of minutes, take it out again and perform the ‘wrinkle’ test by running your finger through the mixture. If it wrinkles, the jam is at setting point and ready to store, if your finger slides through return to the heat for a few minutes and repeat the test.

If the jam is at setting point, put the mixture in a sterilised jar. You can sterilise jars by pouring in boiling water to the top or placing in the oven for a few minutes at 100ºC.

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Leave the jam to cool and then eat or refrigerate. It should keep for 3 – 4 weeks.


Focaccia Later

16/08/2009

The best thing since sliced bread is making your own. FACT. I’m a recent convert, but I’ve totally got the bug. Making a loaf of some description has become one of the things I look forward to doing at the weekend. It’s sad but true, but when you start doing it yourself, you discover how bloody satisfying it is.

One of the first loaves I baked was a Focaccia. It’s surprisingly easy to make, and looks pretty impressive. Win win. Here’s how you make it.

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Ingredients

500g strong white bread flour (you can also use Italian tipo ’00’ flour) plus more for dusting

5g powdered dried yeast

7g ground salt

325ml warm water

Teaspoon of honey

Olive oil

Salt flakes and rosemary to garnish

Polenta (optional)

Method

Measure out 325ml of water in a measuring jug and stir in the honey and about a tablespoon of olive oil. When the honey has dissolved, add the yeast to the mixture and set aside while you measure out the other ingredients. This will give the yeast a chance to activate. Measure out the flour and salt in a large bowl and mix together. Then add the liquid to the flour and stir. The mixture will quickly come together, forming a dough. It’s best to get your hands in there now to form the dough into one lump.

When ready, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and start to knead it. The dough will feel silky and and quite giving, but will become more resistant as you knead. This is a sign that the gluten is forming as you work it. If the dough sticks to the surface, dust with more flour. You need to knead it for around 10-15 minutes.

When you’ve done this flatten the dough into a disc around half an inch thick. Then pinch the edge, pull out slightly and then fold over and stick it to the centre of the disc. Do this all the way round, and then turn the dough over. You should have a rough ball. Now make this ball more even by cupping your hands around it, and bringing your hands together underneath, almost pinching the bass of the dough ball. Rotate the dough as you do this. It’s a bit of a technique, but you quickly get the hang of it.

Cover the dough ball in a light coating of olive oil and place in a bowl or proving basket, and put it somewhere warm covered with a damp tea towel or plastic bag for about an hour. Whilst the dough is rising, take a baking tray about 26 x 36 cm and oil it. I then like to sprinkle polenta on the tray, coating the inner surface as it gives the base of the Focaccia a nice finish.

After the hour, the dough should have more than doubled in size. Take it out of the bowl and ‘knock it back’. This basically means knocking the air out of it. Once you’ve done this, place it in the baking tray, and press the dough with your fingers so it covers the bottom of the tray, up to the corners. Cover again and place it in the same warm place.

The dough is now ‘proving’, which will take about another hour. Whilst it is doing this, put your oven on as high as it will go (at least 250ºC). After an hour or so, the dough will have risen again. Take off the towel and make indentations all over the surface by pressing your index finger into the dough almost all the way to the bottom. Then generously drizzle olive oil all over the surface of the dough, filling up the wells you’ve created with your finger. Then sprinkle with sea salt flakes and fresh rosemary.

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The bread is ready for baking. Place it in the oven on a middle or high shelf and then close the door. Don’t disturb it at all for the next 10 minutes and this is when the bread will rise for the last time. After 10 minutes turn the oven down. Open the door and take a peek. If the crust is looking very brown turn the oven down to 180º or if golden to 200º. Bake for a futher 10 minutes, and then remove from the oven. Take the bread out of the tray, place on a cooling rack and drizzle with more olive oil.

It’s best eaten warm, so resist the tempatition of getting stuck in right away. Eat with a griddled aubergine, mozarella, tomato and basil salad. Nom nom nom.


Turkish Slaw

11/08/2009

My girlfriend and I visited Istanbul earlier this year. It’s a pretty crazy place. Chaotic and a bit ramshackle, but very interesting. One of the things we were blown away by was the food. We had a few memorable meals, but again it was the local places that specialised in certain dishes that came out on top. If you ever go, I can heartily recommend the Sultanahmet Koftecisi near the Blue Mosque. Amazing.

Another discovery that we made whilst there was a spice called Maras Biberi. It’s on the table of most restaurants and seems to be a kind of pepper substitute. It’s a blend of chili, olive oil, lemon juice and salt, ground up and dried. We bought some at the Egyptian Souk to bring back with us; it’s not that easy to get in London, but I have found it in local Turkish supermarkets.

We’re pretty much addicted to the stuff, and it goes into quite a lot of what we eat, including this recipe which is a remix of a healthy coleslaw.

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Ingredients

Vegetables:

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 a head of spring / pointy cabbage, thinly sliced

2 medium carrots, grated

For the dressing:

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

3 tablespoons no fat Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon hummus

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Maras Biberi

Juice of half a lemon

50 ml olive oil

Handful of chopped leafy green herbs (mint / basil / tarragon / coriander etc)

Method

Grate the carrots and finely chop the cabbage and onions and place in a large bowl. Mix the dressing in a sepperate bowl by chopping up the garlic and herbs and then adding the rest of the indgredients. Mix well until blended. Add the dressing to the vegetables in the bowl and mix well. Serve with grilled meats (lamb or chicken) or to keep it veggie some griddled Haloumi cheese. Afiyet olsun.


Eat Me!

07/08/2009

I LOVE New York, and a big part of this has to do with the food. There are obviously lots of great restaurants, but that’s not really what I’m thinking about. It’s the diners, the hot dog stands, the dollar slices of pizza and the local institutions that really get me excited.

shopsin
Kenny Shopsin. Photo: ThinkFilm

A couple of years ago whilst planning a trip to the apple, a friend told me that I had to check out this guy called Kenny Shopsin’s place in the Lower East Side. I’d never heard of him, but after a bit of digging I discovered that he’s a bit of a local hero. The best way I can think of describing Kenny is that he’s a kind of gutter Heston Blumenthal. He’s become ‘famous’ for his innovative combinations of foods, but not in a molecular gastronomy way. More thinking laterally about whats really tasty. His menu lists over 900 items, which he creatively names; dishes include ‘Slutty Cakes’ and ‘Blisters On My Sisters’. He’s also well known for his slightly unpredicatable temprament and strict house rules that are supposed to have partly inspired the ‘Soup Nazi’ character from Seinfeld.

Needless to say, I HAD to pay him a visit, and I wasn’t disappointed. The man himself took out order, and luckily seemed to like the cut of our jib. I can’t remember what everyone else had, but I ate a pretty atomic plate of huevos rancheros, which were very tasty, and we shared a plate of the slightly random, but totally delicious mac & cheese pancakes. I know. They sound a bit rank, but trust me. Drenched in maple syrup, they are ridiculous. So in honour of them, here’s the recipe:

mcp

Ingredients

Peanut oil for the griddle

Butter for the griddle and for serving

3 cups of pancake batter (American style)

1 heaped copy of cooked macaroni – tossed with olive oil and warmed before using

1 heaped cup of grated mild cheddar cheese

Warm maple syrup

Method

Prepare the griddle of frying pan and drop on the batter. When bubbles appear on the surface (after about 2 minutes) drop a tablespoon of macaroni onto each pancake and sprinkle with a thin layer of cheese. Use a thin spatula and flip the pancakes over. Turn the heat down to medium, and press the cakes down with the spatula. When the underside is golden (another two minutes), remove them from the pan and place on a plate, macaroni side up. Smother with maple syrup and devour.

shop book

I’ve just finished reading Kenny’s book, where I stole the recipe from, which is part philosophy part cookery book, and is an interesting read. As well as including a small selection of the hundreds of recipes on offer at his place, he charts the progress of his restaurant from a bodega in Greenwich Village to his new-ish home in the Essex Street Market, and how along the way he developed his own style, pallet and attitude to his customers.

Shopsin’s General Store is in the Essex Street Market, New York. His website is here, and you can see Kenny cooking those famous mac & cheese pancakes here.