Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Cat Bento!

 By: Mrs Robot

Working on games magazines for a living, I am surrounded by people who really love all things Japanese. And several of my favourite foodies are likewise obsessed with the place. Me? I'd love to go, though other places always seem to bump it from my travel list, and when it comes to cooking the food looks so elaborate. As much as I admire the precision and artistry involved, I'm too chaotic a person to make it.

Only now I have to control my chaos, because Mr Robot bought me a bento box designed like an adorable little cat, so it's bento lunches for me from now on.

He got me a Hello Kitty bento cutlery set and some sweet little animal-headed sauce bottles too. And, most helpfully of all, a recipe book. That was very reassuring, because the lunches in it didn't look half as elaborate as the ones I see online, which would probably take me half an hour or more to make – and I only have about ten minutes at most to cobble together a lunch. It's nice to know no-one actually expects me to recreate the hanging gardens of Babylon or the works of Studio Ghibli using rice and cherry tomatoes.

Monday's lunch was basmati rice plus beef, green beans and carrots in oyster sauce (leftovers from Sunday night), plus cherry tomatoes and cucumber as a snack, and today it's what I hope is a more correct rice* with duck in a sweet and slightly spicy soy-heavy sauce, plus cherry tomatoes, and melon and nectarine as a snack. The duck was left over from last night. Already a pattern is developing...

As I mentioned, I've never really cooked anything Japanese, and I suspect Cat Bento will end up full of confusion cuisine. I got some deep-fried tofu from the Chinese supermarket as until now I've been sticking to pure fruit and veg at lunchtimes, and while I'm prepared to introduce rice and possibly egg, I'm not sure I want meat in my lunch too often. The cookbook has a recipe for Japanese omelette, which I should give a go. I do appreciate the portion control dictated by the size of the compartments.

Anyway, watch this space for the continuing adventures of Cat Bento...

*The Chinese supermarket in Bath stocks Chinese and Korean foods, and this rice had Korean script on the bag but also a little English script calling it 'sushi rice'. As far as I know there's no Japanese shop in town. I also tried the Thai shop, but they just had jasmine rice or readycooked sushi rice. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Yak Yeti Yak - I'll be back!

By: Mrs Robot

Last night I went with a few friends to Yak Yeti Yak, Bath's Nepalese restaurant. I'd been years ago and had liked it but not felt it was anywhere to rave about. Perhaps their food has changed in the intervening years, or perhaps I have, but last night's meal was excellent and has left me keen to go back with Mr Robot at some point.

The setting is lovely, in a little basement in the centre of the city. It's not at all dingy; there are windows onto an 'area' so natural light does get in, and the walls are painted white and the rooms are decorated with Nepalese art. We're currently experiencing a heatwave, so being below ground level is lovely and cool.

For a starter I had aloo dum. I know 'aloo' means potatoes and 'dum' to a method of cooking in a sealed pot. We had an incredible aloo dum with parathas on the way to Chandernagore when we visited India earlier this year, and I wanted to see how the Nepalese version compared. Well, it was completely different, but every bit as delicious! Cool potatoes, with herbs and onions. There was a fresh, sharp note that I couldn't identify – I'd guess some sort of fruit as it wasn't vinegary – that made the whole thing really refreshing. This morning I've had a look online and it seems there are as many Nepalese recipes for aloo dum as there are people who cook it: some with sauce, some without, most hot, and none with the sesame, but the online recipes for aloo ko achar look rather more like what I ate, with plenty of sesame and a souring agent. I guess I'll just have to keep going back to the restaurant and trying out recipes till I get it right... hard life!

My main course was a Dal Bhat Masu. 'Dal' is obvious, and from the menu I got the impression that 'bhat' means rice, so I'm guessing it all simply translates to 'lentils rice meat'. I chose black dal and pork bhutuwa for the meat. There was also a side dish of small dark chickpeas, a little pot of achar (chutney) and a mountain of rice. Oh, and a poppadom on the side. I didn't manage all the poppadom or rice, there was that much. The chickpeas and pork were the highlights, the former deliciously buttery, and the latter perfectly soft, spicy and savoury, but without chili-heat.

I really enjoyed the meal and definitely won't leave it as long before going back next time.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Zero dim sum game

By: Mrs Robot

Soooooo many good food things that I haven't told you about, from our trip to India to Mr Robot's birthday dinner at Henry's restaurant in Bath. So I am breaking my duck with a quick shot of today's lunch. 

The prawn and chive parcels are taken directly from Helen and Lisa Tse's book Dim Sum: Small Bites Made Easy, and the spring rolls are based on their recipe - s I didn't have any bean sprouts I subbed in julienne (not grated; I wanted bite) carrots and chopped water chestnuts.

I'm not sure whether there's something wrong with my portioning or the recipes overstate how many of each should be made, but I literally managed only 50% of the quantity each recipe should produce (yes, even when following the spring roll recipe properly). But they tasted great, and make a good al fresco lunch. It's a good job we have more chives growing, because those prawn parcels are going to become a robot family favourite.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Tasty New Year

By: Mrs Robot

And back to work we go! Back to work, with resolutions to be a bit less fat in 2018 than in 2017. But yesterday we had a day for one more slap-up meal. I was really in the mood for spice, as between Christmas and yesterday we'd kept things fairly British. We'd had roast turkey for Christmas, home-cooked ham, and roast beef, with leftovers of the three used in all sorts of ways, and okay one of those was curry, but curry made with leftover turkey isn't quite the same, even though I made a proper sauce base. (Thinks: maybe I should have got out the curry powder and made a retro-style British 'curry', the sort of thing my granddad doubtless suffered through for 50 years after leaving Asia!) Mr Robot  was definite that he wanted a lamb curry for New Year's Day, not a chicken one, and for some reason the lamb curries in most of my books really weren't grabbing me. I'd been meaning to make one of Bibi's recipes for ages, and Kathmandu-style mutton curry fitted the bill.

I don't have a mixie, so my marinade didn't come out as smooth as I'd have liked, though it still smelled heavenly. And in cooking my curry wasn't as red as Bibi's, but I put that down to not having Kashmiri mirch and making do with paprika and cayenne. Regardless of what you think about how it looks, it tasted utterly amazing; rich and deep and just the sort of thing you want in cold weather. I paired it with Meera Sodha's daily dal (our favourite dal), a cachumber made with cherry tomatoes and shallots, and roti. Is it possible to be addicted to a salad? I almost always do cachumber with curry nowadays as its freshness sets everything off so well. Really should try a different vegetable dish at some point...

I always make a trifle during the Christmas break, and this year left it right to the last minute. I probably wouldn't have bothered as I've been a lazy toad this holiday, but we'd bought all the cream and I'm a skinflint who detests food waste, so it needed to be used and eaten. But how do you make a trifle to follow a curry? With pistachio cake and fresh mango in the base, drizzled with fresh lime juice and triple sec, a luxurious home-made custard (six egg yolks and a pint of extra-thick double cream) flavoured with rosewater and saffron, and whipped cream lightly scented with cardamom, that's how. All those eggs and cream are why I only make trifle once a year - my arteries need 12 months to recover - but it's worth it.

Happy New Year to you! May it be filled with good food, and good company to eat it with.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Talking turkey

A dish of prawn cocktail and a glass of champagne
By: Mrs Robot

We had turkey for Christmas dinner this year.

"Yeah, yeah," you say, "everyone has turkey at Christmas." But we usually have goose, so this was a bit of a departure for us.

We also often have visitors on either Christmas Day or Boxing Day, but this time it was just the two of us (plus two greedy cats). It made the whole thing much more relaxed than usual. Mr Robot took over cooking duties. We started with prawn cocktail. That can sometimes be a bit of a sad dish, with teeny little prawns and some sweetener-laden glop out of a bottle, but in this case the sauce was made from scratch, covering the big, beautiful prawns we had in the freezer, and it all felt really luxurious. The prawns were so large the six we had each felt almost too much. And the hint of smoked paprika in the sauce really benefitted the whole dish. I could eat a lot of that!

After that we moved on to the classic turkey dinner.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Hari Ghotra at Walter Rose

By: Mrs Robot

Chef Hari Ghotra was at our butcher, Walter Rose, last Saturday promoting her book Easy Indian. We had to go and get our weekly shop anyhow, so stopped and had a chat. She was really friendly, and the chicken dish she was cooking smelled amazing, though we didn't stick around long enough to try any of it as we thought it would be rude to monopolise her time.

We'll review the book properly once we've cooked a few things out of it. We're probably not the ideal readership as we don't actually own a slow cooker, which is what all the recipes are designed for, but I'm hoping some of the dishes will be the sort of thing we can leave in the oven on Low while we go to the gym. I also plan to try some of the recipes from Hari's website as they look really tempting.

Hari's also bringing out a range of spices-and-masala packets. We're big fans of Anjum Anand's 'Spice Tailor' range as an easy option when we're feeling lazy, and these look like doing the same job. They'll be in Morrison's, which we don't have, but if you shop at a Morrison's they'll be worth looking out for to keep as a cupboard standby.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Rangoonies (never say die*)

By: Mr Robot

It's been a busy, exciting time at Casa Robot lately. The other weekend for example we had the great joy of heading to London for a Rangoon Sisters Burmese supper club.

We've been Twitterchums with them for a few years so I'm not going to pretend to be objective here - best consider this more an extended gloat than a review - but while it was lovely to meet up with them, I can honestly say with hand on internal fluid-pump that the food alone was worth the trek.

And it's fair trek at that - from darkest Wiltshire to the big city, out into Zone 3, past Olympic Stratford (and what a corporate hell-hole that looks) to the charming Coffee7 at Forest Gate. Hosted, incidentally, by Masterchef hero Michael Sanders, who turns out to be jolly nice indeed.

Having sufficiently disrupted Emily & Amy's preparations, we settled down with very fine lemongrass-infused G&T's, and gently thudded the table in anticipation, in the manner of spoilt schoolchildren, which we basically are.

First up by way of an amuse, we had some delightful Shan tofu: essentially a chickpea batter that's been set and deep fried, and served with tamarind dipping sauce. This was great because when Mrs R attempted it she completely destroyed the fryer, so we've been waiting years to try the stuff. Unlike her basket-o-goop, these were light and crisp, mildly nutty and went very well with the tamarind. They disappeared in seconds amid the first of my many curses at being forced to share.

What is this "sharing plate" of which you speak?

The first course proper was Nangyi Thoke, a spiced chicken noodle salad with squillions of accompaniments (as is the Burmese wont) that I've had a go at making in the past. Not only was it absolutely delicious, it was gratifyingly close to my own efforts. 10 points to me.

More importantly it set us straight to reminiscing about the food we'd had in Burma: the little cafe on Sule Pagoda Road in Yangon; the breakfast curry in Pyin Oo Lwin; street food at a festival in Mandalay... Now you may say "I should hope so - that's kind of the point" but this was the most familiar dish of the evening and these are such happy memories for us it was wonderful to have them brought back so powerfully.

Nangyi Thoke - humbly suggesting you rethink your idea of chicken salad

In any case, the other guests around us - not familiar with Burmese food - loved it too, so there.

Main course was a three-pronged affair of smoked aubergine, the traditional pickled-tea salad (Laphet Thoke) and a fabulous deep, rich shin of beef curry called Amehnat we'd never had before - heavy with (I think) ginger and turmeric and which I WILL have the recipe for, or we shall have words. It was stunning. I know the photo's dreadful but if you could smell it you'd understand - you don't mess around with that in front of you.

Yes, yes - how could I be so mean to one so lovely?

The tea salad was a proper treat since it's uniquely Burmese and not easily found. To my mind this well exceeded the one we had in Burma (a tourist trap in Bagan - the guide let us down that day), though Mrs Robot managed to get bonus shrimp so struggled a bit. Frankly that just meant one less competitor for me.

More tea, vicar? Laphet Thoke

Pudding isn't really a thing in Burma but we weren't let down with a pavlova riffing on the Burmese favourites of mango and coconut, and the most extraordinary jaggery praline that's now top of my list of Swank Things To Put On Things. Pick any sense you like, it was as beautiful as it looks.

Mangoconut Jaggery-pokery

Amy and Emily popped out from the kitchen afterwards (along with their respective husbands who'd been on waiter duty) so it was great to be able to chat a bit afterwards. If I was a touch over-gushy in my praise, well what are you going to do? Anyway, there had been Wine.

All too soon we had to brave the TfL line and head back to the relative comforts of Zone 1, but given my way I'd still be there now.

I understand the next supperclub is planned for some time in September so keep an eye on their website - if you're even vaguely nearby, it's well worth it. Even in Zone 3.

*Mrs Robot insisted I did that in the hope it would make people watch The Goonies, which seems cruel and unusual. Besides, for all I know "die" could be something really sweary in Burmese, in which case they may well say it quite a lot.

All images (c) PP Gettins