Friday, 15 June 2012

Review: Home Taste

A friend of mine has recently moved house, and therefore takes a walk from Tollcross along the Grassmarket on a daily basis on her way to work. It's not an area I frequent particularly often, unless looking for a specific 'something' that I know i'll get there, which is daft, because there's lots of lovely little independent shops and restaurants in the area. Home Taste is slightly round the corner on Bread Street. Knowing my love of small and local restaurants, my friend suggested it as a perfect antidote to a horribly rainy Edinburgh evening.

I knew I was going to like this place when I walked in. My glasses steamed up, and one of the waitresses brought me a tissue. That's a good sign right there. I was seated, smack bang in the middle of the room, and she brought over a hotpot plate. I got excited. I should probably warn you - there is nothing fancy about this restaurant. It is probably the Chinese equivalent of a greasy spoon, and they have Tesco smart price tissue boxes on the tables rather than napkins.
We ummed and aahed over whether to have hotpot, or whether to go for a different dish from their menu - and after seeing the table behind us have their food delivered, we decided to go for the menu. It was vague in its descriptions, but we ordered well.
We decided to share some beef skewers (which actually turned out to be pork, probably a translation issue on our part), which were amazing. They were salty and spicy in a hot way, lots of spices coating them, and a slight cumin seed taste. They appear to have been slow cooked over charcoal, which made them really tender. Delicious.
My friend went for a pork belly and pepper stirfry dish, with a side of rice. The pork was, again, gorgeous, nice and freshly flavoured, and not too greasy. Very spicy though - lots of green chillies.
I went for a hotpot soup, which was amazing. It contained a little bit of everything that you'd get if you had a hotpot - seaweed, mushrooms and fungi, glass noodles, chunks of fish, fishballs, and a generous middle dollop of glass noodles. I'd asked the waitress how hot is 'hot', and she laughed and said she'd ask for a not-so-hot version. Even though I'm a fan of heat, it was on the spicy side for me and I was glad I'd whipped out as many of the dried chillies as possible when it arrived.
I have to also mention the 'condiments' trolley in the middle of the restaurant. It was one of the first things I saw when I arrive, and both bemused and excited me. Here we have bowls of fresh herbs, a massive bowl of peanut sauce, diced garlic, diced chillies, soy sauce, chilli sauce, and vinegars. It was brilliant, and I got quite carried away using the little bowls on the tables to mix away and dunk my seafood.

I love restaurants like this - they are so much more relaxed, and provide tastier, healthier food than most of your average Chinese restaurants. I was a little alarmed to see the chef hacking into an enormous box of meat when I went to the toilet (which was as functional as the dining room), but for food this good, I can forgive the basic kitchen and bathroom areas. Strongly recommended.

Meal for two, with rice for one, a side order and soft drinks: £20-£25

Home Taste
27 Bread Street

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Recipe: Pan-fried Duck with Pea and Pea Shoot Risotto

There are a lot of things that I've not cooked before. Some of them I'm too lazy to attempt (anything that involves starting it the day before), some of them I'm too stingy to mess up (lobster, truffles) and some of them I'd love to, but I've never got round to it (mussels). I have, however, ticked another thing off my list - I have cooked duck. Mr F and I treat ourselves to nice meat from the Stockbridge Farmers Market every now and then, and although I've been a bit scared of cooking the duck and left it in the freezer for a couple of weeks, I am now a convert.

We debated what to have the duck with. I had a flick through my alarming number of cookbooks, but couldn't find anything that we fancied. Although I'd usually go straight to an Asian recipe and get the 5 spice out, I wanted to get this right, and actually taste the lovely meat. In my mind, I had an image of it nestled on top of a pile of risotto, but I couldn't find a suggestion I fancied online, so I did the geeky thing and tweeted Nigel Slater. His reply? "maybe think about a classic risotto with masses of peas and peashoots in. Duck is always happy with peas". He was right, it was good.

Pan-fried Duck Breast with Pea and Pea Shoot Risotto
Serves 2

2 skin-on duck breasts (preferably free-range)
150g Risotto rice
1 leek, sliced into rings
25g butter
500ml hot chicken stock
150g peas
50g pea shoots
50g parmesan, finely grated

Firstly, prep your duck breast. On the skin side, cut through the fat with a sharp knife in a diamond pattern. Make sure you only cut through the fat, not the meat underneath. Pop the butter, and leek into a saucepan. Cook gently until the leeks start to soften and turn translucent, then add the rice. Stir through and toast the rice for a minute before adding a small amount of the chicken stock. Continue to add the stock, stirring regularly, and adding more as needed.
While the risotto is simmering away fairly comfortably, in a large skillet (if you have one), or in a large frying pan, place the two duck breasts skin side down, and cook on a meduim heat. You don't need to add oil - so much fat will come out of the duck that you'll have to spoon it out to stop it spitting and burning the sides of the duck (if you're feeling frugal, or can't bear the thought of throwing it out, stick it in a ramekin and use it to cook roast potatoes in). Cook gently for 10 minutes or so, until the skin has started crisping up - use tongs or a fish slice to check it's not burning. Turn them over when they're nice and crispy. Cook for a further 4 minutes (although this will depend on how thick the meat is, and how rare you like it. We went for pink, which was 4 minutes, but we did have to push it down a wee bit with the tongs every now and then to make sure it was cooking evenly). Turn it back onto the skin side and poke it, to make sure it's cooked. Do the thumb muscle test - you want it ideally middle finger to ring finger bouncy.
Take it out of the pan, and rest it on a wooden board until the risotto is cooked - this should be about 5 minutes. When the risotto is cooked to your liking, stir in the pea shoots and allow to wilt slightly - a bit of texture to the stalks is nice though. Mix through the cheese, reserving a little for a sprinkle on top, and add a good sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.
Serve as you wish - to keep the duck skin really crispy, it's probably best served on the side, but it does look pretty nestling amongst the green risotto!

Further ideas:
* To make a vegetarian risotto, use a veggie parmesan-style cheese and vegetable stock.
* This would be a great base for pan-fried fish, using a fish stock instead - a sustainable white fish with a crispy skin would be great.
* If you're feeling frugal but fancy the idea of having it with fish, smoked salmon trimmings or smoked mackerel are both very cheap, and are both delicious flaked with this risotto towards the end.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Inspiration: Soda Bread

I love fresh bread. The smell, the spongey texture, the warm filling - a good fresh loaf with butter is not far off perfection for me. It's brilliant.
Mr Foodie is from Northern Ireland - a land where bread is Different. Good different. Soda bread is hard to get hold of in Scotland. Actually, I should clarify - it's not hard to get hold of, but it's not "right". Apparently, Soda bread should be simple and white, unlike this, which Mr Foodie reckons is more like Wheaten Bread. Are you as confused as me? I hope so... I was nervous when I decided to make my own.

I'm not a natural baker. I get frustrated at the size of tins (how and why do I never have the size specified in the recipe?) I don't understand how you can magically tell if you've kneaded dough enough, and the hundreds of types of flour overwhelm me. The last time I made bread rolls, they were more like hockey pucks. I was not optimistic about Soda bread - it doesn't rise until it's in the oven, it seemed very wet, and putting soured milk in bread seemed - well - wierd. But it worked!
I used this recipe by Rachel Allen, the Queen of Irish cooking and baking. Really easy. I didn't bother with the 'floured' surface, mostly because I couldn't find the antibac kitchen spray. It took about 5 minutes to mix in, and was ready by the time I'd showered and dried my hair - perfect emergency breakfast bread. Particularly good with....
Eggs, crispy bacon and spinach
 Scrambled eggs, spinach and smoked salmon
Bank holiday weekend brunch heaven.