Black Rabbit Hall caught my eye when I was struggling to find my next book to read. I go through phases like this – nothing seems to suit, and I will aimlessly meander a bookstore or the pages of Amazon until I find something that catches my eye. I hate being without a book, so I can usually find SOMETHING, but this past month I’ve been more listless than usual. I blame the pregnancy hormones!
Still, in my aimless wanderings I came across this book and it seemed to be a kind of throwback to the kinds of books I loved as a girl. I thought it would do just the trick. It took me a while to settle into it though. I think this time it was because it is a book that straddles two time frames – the late sixties, in England, Cornwall specifically, and present day in the same locations. Its a psychological thrilled, but the thriller aspect doesn’t get more than hinted at for a good 100 pages in. Still, I think this book is worth reading for any reader who like a house as a character. Black Rabbit Hall is our setting, and it is a hulking, dark, impressive animal of a character. In many ways, this grand old house is the main character.
The book is told from the perspective of Amber, a young girl in the late 60’s who loses her mother in a horrible accident, and whose father all too quickly remarries. It sounds typical, perhaps even archetypal, but there are a few twists.
Lorna, our present day narrator, wants to get married at Black Rabbit Hall despite the fact that it is all but falling down. She feels drawn to the place, and agrees to spend a night there with its current inhabitants who aim to convince her to have her wedding there. Add to this that Lorna has also recently lost her mother, and the parallels between the time periods begin. Some people have argued in reviews that the characters are a bit too pat, but I am mostly ok with this. You do have to be willing to dig in for a hundred pages or so before the story really gets moving, but once it does, it does, and I enjoyed the read. I would recommend it for fans of haunted houses, psychological dramas, and tales that unfold over generations.
My husband and I posted a big announcement on Facebook yesterday. We are expecting! As we are both writers, and book lovers, we wanted to do something literary and fun. But I definitely didn’t want to do something cheesy, or over the top. In the end my husband created this fun photo, which I think did the trick. What do you all think?
We decided to do the announcement now because we are at the end of the first trimester, and things seem to be going really well this time. We had a previous loss, so we were pretty nervous. But now we have had the first trimester genetic tests come back, indicating that we are low risk, and we also found out the gender! Who knew you could find out so early? I won’t be revealing THAT news today, but I will soon, so stay tuned :).
In any case, at this point I am also starting to feel much better. I have been pretty sick – I’ve basically felt car sick 24/7 for the last three months. The one cure has seemed to be eating carbs (sigh) and eating often. I’ve eaten more fruit in the past three months than I ever have at one time, I think, and I love fruit!
My husband deserved all the props, though, because he has been so patient, and has done a lot of the cooking these past few weeks. Since I’ve started feeling better I’m getting back on my game a bit, and even eyeing his glasses of beer and wine with a touch of envy. So we started exploring mocktail recipes. What’s a mocktail? Well, its a cocktail without the good stuff, the booze. Why would you do such a thing? I know, I know.
I think there are more reasons than just pregnancy though. At an all day event that involves a lot of drinking? At a worse event and want to avoid being the talk of the office on Monday? Have to drive but don’t want to feel left out? Am I just trying to comfort myself that anyone would ever willingly give up their gin and tonic for something nonalcoholic? Humor me friends, humor me. I have six more months to go!
I think sometimes cocktails are not just about the booze though. Its about the adult interaction. Its about winding down at the end of the day. Its about relaxing and just doing something you like. So I do think there might be room in my repertoire for mixing a few drinks that pack zero hangover risk. So we’ve been exploring options, and looking for drinks we might make without stocking up on a lot of things that don’t typically live in our house.
Last Sunday, for Valentine’s Day, my husband made me a delightful drink. It was super easy, and quick, and while I can imagine it would be amazing splashed with actual tequila, during it in a fancy glass and sipping it made me feel a little less left out. I’m going to explore more mocktail ideas. Do you have any suggestions?
1 Jalapeño, or 4-6 Tennessee Cherry Chilies, or 1 Habanero Pepper, Sliced – We leave the seeds, because they give more flavor, but this is optional. If using cherry chilies, halve, or muddle them slightly before adding to the juice.
6 oz Grapefruit Juice
2 oz water
Add grapefruit juice and water to a mason jar or shaker. Add 3-4 slices of jalapeño. Shake. I like to chill for 30 minutes before drinking, but it can be consumed right away. It will also last for a good three days in the refrigerator, but the chili flavor will get stronger, so do be prepared for that. The heat is what we like, though, in our house, so thats why we decided to experiment with different chilies. And so far the baby doesn’t seem to mind! What adaptations can you think of?
I have a confession to make. I am a pizza addict. Seriously, I could eat pizza every day. It is my junk food of choice. We eat pretty healthy and I think fast food is a waste of calories. After I studied in Italy as a student, I was ruined for most American pizza though. My college days of ordering from chain pizza places are long gone. Those super thick crusts? No. Sub par cheese and sad wilted toppings? No. Once you’ve had a quattro formaggio, with a crispy thin crust and light, delicate toppings, that’s it. You are ruined for standard American delivery pizza. When I make pizza these days, I MAKE pizza. But the dough. What to do with the dough?
I had been buying ready made dough balls from Trader Joe’s. But we recently moved, and Trader Joe’s is quite some ways away. Plus, those dough balls were always a bit too sticky and not really pliable enough. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made plenty of them in to delicious pizza, but they were a far from perfect solution. Too often, unless they had just arrived in the store THAT day and were super fresh, I’d end up with dough that would stretch too thin and leave me with holes. This makes for a messy pizza stone, and a less than perfect pizza.
I’ve also used a number of recipes to make my own crust. But two weeks ago I found this recipe from House of Yum which has changed my pizza making for the better. I found it late one afternoon at work when I was tired, hungry, and craving pizza. I had neither a ready to go dough ball nor any yeast in the house. And I did NOT want to make a trip to the store. But when I saw this recipe for a yeast free 15 minute crust, I figured, what the heck? And I am SO glad I tried it.
The recipe is as simple as it sounds. I did make a few changes, because I love herbs. What follows is my template for what I am calling a Jalapeno Popper Pizza, but any combination of ingredients is sure to be delicious. Is it the best crust EVER? Well, no. Is it quick, easy, and tasty? Yes, Yes, and YES.
Caramelized Onion and Jalapeno Pizza, aka, Jalapeno Popper Pizza
Crust Recipe From The House of Yum
I modified this recipe by adding a tablespoon of Basil and a Tablespoon of Oregano, because we like herbs in our crust. Do be careful to roll it out pretty thin, or, as some people i the comment section noted, it can get a bit biscuity. I did not find it to be that way at all though.
2 Jalapenos, sliced (if you like less spice, you can seed the jalapeno first. Remember, all peppers vary in spiciness, though)
1 onion, sliced
1 cup of spinach
Tomato Sauce (we keep a jar of marinara on hand to use for pizza sauce, but you can also quickly make your own, or use prepared)
1/4 cup goat cheese or creme fraiche
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese
Approximately 1/4 cup of olive oil
Sea Salt and Pepper to Taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Prepare the crust according to direction. Sprinkle some flour, or a bit of cornmeal on a pizza stone, or line a pan with lightly oiled foil. Once you have the curst on the pan, add your sauce, and sprinkle cheeses. I brush the edges of the crust with a touch of oil, but this is up to you.
Set a (preferably cast iron) skillet over low to medium heat. Add about 1/4 cup olive oil once the pan is warm (wnough to coat the surface with a little to spare), and add your onions. Salt well, and toss to coat in the oil. Reduce heat, and let simmer for a minimum of ten minutes (15-20 is recommended), stirring perhaps once or twice. This low and slow method is what produces that rich, caramel flavor. After ten minutes or more have passed, bring the heat back up to about medium, and begin browning the onions. Once they reach the desired color, add in the jalapenos, and continue to saute until they are softened, about 2-3 minutes. Toss in the spinach and stir until just wilted. Remove from heat.
Add onions and jalapenos to the top of the pizza, and arrange. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper to taste. Place pizza in oven and bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove when crust reacaches your desired level of crispiness/golden brownness, and allot to cool for 2-5 minutes (depending on your starvation, give-it-to-me-now level). Slice with a pizza cutter or kitchen shears, and serve. Leftovers reheat very well.
Last night, neither my husband nor I felt like cooking. But as usual, we felt like eating — we very much felt like eating — and didn’t want to go out. And I had purchased the ingredients to make the Taco Torta featured on Smitten Kitchen last week.
I adore Smitten Kitchen. I have been making her recipes for more years than I care to count. I think they are reliable and delicious. She also simplifies a lot of recipes for home cooks. I am far from being a professional chef, and as I am constantly learning, I appreciate trial and error she goes through on her readers’ behalf. As a home cook, I often don’t have time to experiment until something tastes good. I also think she has impeccable taste. So when this recipe came up this week, I knew I would make it.
Because my husband loves anything with beans. In fact, he would eat Mexican every day for breakfast if I let him. There was no way this recipe was not going to make a trial run in our house.
Place 1 tortilla in the prepared cake pan. Spread one-sixth (just eyeball it) of the bean and vegetable mixture evenly over the tortilla, then sprinkle 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the shredded cheese evenly over the top. Repeat with 5 more layers, ending with the last of the bean mixture and shredded cheese.
I was afraid the torte would fall apart when I tried to cut it. But since I baked the tortillas a little beforehand in my toaster oven, the torte held together amazingly well. We both LOVED this and will make it again. My husband calls it the taco tower. He wanted to eat the whole thing. I dissuaded him, but barely.
However, I realized that we definitely wanted something spicier than what the recipe called for originally. Spice is individual, and my husband and I both enjoy things on the spicier side. When we get Indian, we will often order certain dishes “Indian hot.” So I thought I would share how we kicked ours up – hint – with all of the spicy things!
You can read about this recipe online here. I won’t repost it. I’m just going to add my adaptations.
The recipe calls for one fresh chili pepper, chopped small. I used two jalapeno peppers, then discovered they were on the milder side, so I threw in a diced poblano pepper as well.
The recipe calls for a teaspoon and a half of chili powder. I upped it to 1 tablespoon, and also added two teaspoons of crushed red pepper, and 1 teaspoon of bourbon smoked paprika, because smoky and YUM.
I also added, just at the finish, two teaspoons of adobo sauce, and 1 -2 teaspoons of pepper sauce. We used a Tennessee Cherry Chili sauce is a salt brine sauce that’s made locally by Rushy Springs Farms and is amazingly full of flavor without a big whollop of heat. I can be generous with this sauce without taking a dish to five alarm level. The farm offers a large selection of hot sauces, and I can recommend many. The TCC though is a perennial favorite in our house!
All of these additions gave us a filling that packed a bit of heat, but was not overwhelming. At least for us. But as I said, everyone’s taste is individual, so adjust according to your desired level of heat.
Another adaptation I am thinking of making to the recipe are switching out two layers of mixture for scrambled eggs. Like I may have said before, my husband LOVES Mexican for breakfast, and I think this would make a hearty start to the day, especially when combined with a grapefruit and jalapeno drink infusion we are working on. Check back later this week for info on THAT.
So that’s recipe number one. Here’s the next: blood orange curd. It’s delicious.
Lately I’ve been suffering a bit of insomnia. I am miserably awake between the hours of 2 am and 4 am most nights. So what does one do between 2 am and 4 am? Well, if you’re me, you read and check out Twitter. Which is where I found this template recipe for five different kinds of citrus curd on The Kitchn. And suddenly I am craving citrus curd at 3 am. And there’s none in the house! However, I do have a plethora of citrus in the house right now. I love blood oranges. I can’t get enough of pink grapefruit this time of year. And the idea of making blood orange curd makes me HAPPY. I also had promised to bring in some various jams and toppings for a birthday celebration at work, and thought this would be pretty perfect.
I don’t have any additions to this recipe to suggest, it’s pretty perfect as is. Recipes from The Kitchn frequently are.
Frankly, I love The Kitchn. Of course, I’ve named two food blogs in this post that everyone probably already knows about. But that’s for a reason – they are reliable, delicious, innovative, and fun. I appreciate The Kitchn, though, because they also have technical tips and cooking lessons, or hacks. I said before I am not a chef, but what I would call a somewhat adventurous home cook. If I have something delicious out, I want to make it at home. If I see something delicious online that I want to eat, I believe that I can make it myself. Hint: This MAY be foolish and result in many long hours and me frequently deciding that just because I CAN doesn’t mean I SHOULD. But reliable sites like The Kitchn see me through to the finished product.
But I am especially grateful for these sites now, since I live in Knoxville, and there are few restaurants worth spending money at here, especially as we don’t eat barbecue. We typically prefer to make our own food, and save our dining out dollars for when we travel. Which is a thing I couldn’t do without the help of these blogs. Without the inspiration of innovative menus around me, I rely on these blogs, and a few more, for ideas. And that is also why I wanted to start this blog.
I’m nowhere near their caliber. But maybe I can still add something to the conversation by being a copycat. And imitation is, as they say, the sincerest form of flattery!
I don’t know about you, but I adore cheese. In my single days I would frequently make a meal off a creamy hunk of brie, a crumbly blue, some fresh berries, and light water crackers. How frequently? Only my dogs know, and none of us are telling 😉 But seriously, I don’t think a cheese can be too strong, or too stinky, or too creamy, or too soft, or too anything. I like it all. I like flaky fresh parmesan, triple cream brie, soft crumbly goat cheese, and strong, potent bleu. I love gouda on a grilled cheese. So when we decided to do our DIY food tour of Paris for our mini honeymoon, I wanted to explore fromageries. I in fact wanted to explore these more than I wanted to explore the chocolate shops. But I was intimidated by the idea of walking in to a Parisian fromagerie. There. Are. So. Many. Choices. And there’s that infamous Parisian attitude to contend with. After all, fromageries do require a bit more knowledge than a boulangerie, or a bakery, where one can see a cake or bread, and pretty much imagine how it will taste.
But I did a fair amount of research online, on Pinterest, and on other blogs. This post from Paris by Mouth is great, and any food trip to Paris is not complete without referring to the inimitable David Lebowitz. Add to an exploration of those, this article from Conde Nast Traveler, and this blog from a woman who made it her mission to explore ALL the French cheeses, and you’re on your way to understanding that there is SO MUCH to understand about French cheese shops that you might feel its best not to even start! But that would mean missing out on the actual French cheese, and this I would not do.
Honestly, we should not have waited til the last day, as I had about 30 shops I wanted to visit, and we only managed to visit two. We only had three days, and I have SUCH an ambitious list of places to eat at in Paris. Le sigh. Again, I was intimidated when I went in – I wasn’t kidding with all the choices. Also, I’ve read that the shopkeepers can be dismissive and impatient, perhaps more so than is the norm. But we hit up two shops, and both were pretty friendly in the end, and helped us select a few cheeses that we later shared with friends that were blow your mind good. The first was one of the oldest and premier fromageries in Paris, Androuet. The second, Laurent Dubois, was in the delightful, eclectic Marais district, and while both were small, I rather preferred it because I felt more at ease with the shop itself.
At both I found helpful shop attendants who clearly knew every one of the cheese intimately, and were willing to answer a few questions. They were not, however, eager to volunteer information. I had to ask a ew questions to get them warmed up. Once I asked the lady who helped us at Androuet for something “melty and strong, good to share with a party of four or five, and ready in three days” she loosened up, and showed me a lovely selection of cheeses. I had fun choosing from amongst them, and once she relaxed, I did too. The beauty of Laurent Dubois is that they also vacuum seal cheese for you if you wish it, and since we indicated that this was something we wanted to take on the train with us the next day, they sealed our cheese for us, which is good, as no one wants their bag to smell of a strong bleu cheese. If you’d like more info on transporting cheese, check out David Lebovitz’s post on the subject here. There are a lot of rules about what you can and can’t take into certain countries, so do do some research first.
That said, I do have a few tips for how to conquer the I-clearly-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing feeling you will have, and looks you will get. Most of it boils down to be polite! Bear in mind, I am by no means an expert on French cheese. Quite the contrary. The below tips are culled from the research I did online, a bit of what I discovered while there, and some basic common sense. They are not in an order of importance.
Be honest. You’ve never done this before? They can appreciate that. Don’t saunter in like you know what every one of those cheeses are. You don’t. I didn’t. There’s no way. Its a country of over 200 unique varieties of cheese.
The first bleeds into the second. Ask questions. If you don’t know what something is, ask. But don’t ask about every cheese. They’re there to help you, but don’t monopolize their time. Also, please ask before taking any photos!
Say bonjour (hello), sil vous plait (please), merci(thank you), au revoir (good bye). Even if you don’t speak French, you can say bonjour. And they appreciate it. It shows respect, and its typical to greet the shop owners and attendants when one enters the store. To not do so is considered rude.
If they are super busy, be willing to wait. If there’s a line out the door, that’s maybe not the best time for an educational trip. That said, a popular fromagerie can be busy any time. I let several customers go ahead of me so that I could ask my questions and choose my products without feeling rushed. Also, then I got to spend more time looking at the cheese! Which I could do for long enough to age a cheese.
Don’t touch! It is not ok to touch products in most European food stores, including grocery stores, without assistance. After I had assistance I was invited to touch several cheeses to see their consistency. But only after I had assistance and was invited.
If you take up their time, buy something. You don’t have to buy everything you ask about, but don’t waltz out after 20 or 30 minutes of asking questions and browsing without a single purchase.
Don’t assume you know a cheese. My husband rolled his eyes when I purchased a Roquefort at Androuet, which the attendant recommended as a strong blue that would be perfect in two days. “We can get that at home!” he protested. He was wrong. He ate his words, and half of the cheese. We DO NOT have Roquefort that good at home.
Try something you’ve never heard of. That’s the whole point right?
Make a note of what you tried. If you like it, you will want to buy it again. I mistakenly thought I would remember exactly what I got at both shops. I did not. I’m not too bothered by it, because all the more reason to start over when I go back, but I have this dream of trying all 200 types of cheese, just like this blogger. Hey, its important to have goals in life, right?
Don’t be afraid to tell them what you like. When I asked for something specific the shop attendant lit up. “Ah! Here’s what I think you’ll love.” Also, tell them when you plan on eating it. Tomorrow? Three days? A week? They can help you choose a cheese that will be at its perfect devouring point for your consumption timeframe.
The basic moral of the cheese story is to be polite, confident, and a little adventurous. You never know what you may find!
Do you know more about cheese than me? What are your tips?
I think there’s a reason why people joke about someone being so incompetent in the kitchen that “they can’t even boil an egg.” Think you got that down? You probably do. You are probably way better and more knowledgeable at this than me. I didn’t realize there were different techniques to boiling eggs. I thought it was place eggs in water, boil til done, peel, and serve. That, of course, was before I had a soft boiled egg. And if you’ve ever had an egg turn powdery, or green, you have overcooked that egg. That’s not normal! And that powdery green is what turns most people off boiled eggs. Which is a shame, because they can be divine.
There are four minute eggs, six minute eggs, eight, ten, and so on. Each different cooking time produces a different kind of boiled egg. For me, the perfect soft boiled egg is a six minute egg. This produces a liquid golden yolk, and whites that aren’t runny. This is the perfect egg for ramen. It makes a lovely breakfast with some buttered toast and jam, or even on its own with just a bit of salt and pepper. But for something like egg salad, an eight minute egg is better.
I honestly think egg salad gets a bad rap, and I’ve had it on the brain lately because it has been unseasonably warm here in Tennessee, and I always make egg salad in the spring. I honestly love a good, creamy, dilly egg salad. It isn’t the prettiest dish, it probably lacks wow factor, but it is comforting, and reminds me of childhood. And its pretty easy to make, except, perhaps, not quite as easy as people think. I was actually surprised the other day when someone asked me for a recipe for it. But as I thought about it, I thought, actually, that’s a question worth answering in a post. I like practical tips, and I like technique, and frankly, we all too often abuse our eggs. Have you listened to this episode of The Splendid Table with John Besh where he talks about how to make a perfect egg? Subtlety, really, is the key to eggs.
There are endless variations of egg salad – add some cajun seasoning, add some Asian spice, mash in some avocado. Seriously, mashing in a good ripe avocado means a decadent and delicious though very green egg salad. It’s really up to you. What follows is a basic recipe for the egg salad I make most often – with an eight minute egg. An eight minute egg produces an egg with a just-done but still creamy yolk, and slightly firmer egg white that hold up better to mashing.
Dilly Egg Salad with Eight Minute Eggs
1 dozen large eggs
1/4 of a large onion, preferably a purple or red onion for a more colorful presentation
1-2 stalks of celery (it adds extra crunch, which I like, but if you don’t you can omit)
1 bunch of fresh dill, or 2-3 tablespoon of dried
Mayonnaise to taste (I used about 2-3 tablespoons)
Salt and pepper to taste
First, it helps if you use slightly older eggs when boiling them. This is because the albumen, or the bit between the white and the shell, is less strong then, and therefore your eggs are easier to peel. Most recommendations I’ve seen are to use eggs that are about a month old. Frankly, though, my husband and I go through a lot of eggs. I don’t have eggs that have been hanging around that long, so when I peel them, they are often hard to peel. I compensate by boiling two more eggs than I intend to peel, so I don’t lose out on volume. There may be a better fix that you know for this – if so, tell me!
Second, I place a dozen eggs in the bottom of a pot and cover them with water – top them by about an inch. Bring them to a boil, then cover, and remove from heat. Set a timer for eight minutes. At the eight minute mark, pour out the hot water, and flush with cool water. Then add ice over the top of the eggs. Then add more cold water, and let stand for 7-10 minutes, or until the eggs are cool.
Meanwhile, I mince 1/4 of a large onion, and 1-2 stalk of celery. If I have fresh dill on hand, I mince about a half cup of dill. You can add more or less to taste. If you can’t get fresh (and I couldn’t right now because it really isn’t spring, so I had to use dried in the last batch) add 2-3 tablespoons of dried dill.
Peel the eggs, and place in a bowl. Once all the eggs are peeled, I use a fork to mash my eggs, but you may also use a potato masher, or other device.
Once mashed, add mayonnaise a tablespoon at a time, and mix in until you reach your desired consistency and level of creaminess. For me, the benefit of the softer boil for the eggs is that it takes less mayonnaise to make the egg salad creamy.
Once you’ve got your egg salad as creamy as you want it, add in the other ingredients – the onion, celery, and dill, and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve it on a bed of spinach, with crackers, or between two pieces of bread. Have a different recipe or a variation? Share it with us!
Up to this Pointe begins like many ballet books do, but it doesn’t stay that way. Up to this Pointe opens with Harper, our heroine, preparing to dance “Snow” in The Nutcracker. She slips and falls, and this, essentially, is what the book is about. While Harper does have food issues, even though her father is a baker and there are more taunting description of cinnamon rolls in this book than one would expect of a ballet book, none of the cattiness typical of most books about ballet is present in this book. Essentially, though, this book isn’t about a ballerina but a failed ballerina. A ballerina who worked so hard and was so utterly convinced that she would BE a ballerina that when she fails to get past even barre work at auditions she is sent into a tail spin. A tail spin that causes her to run, literally, to the farthest corner of the world.
Because Harper is distantly related to Robert Falcom Scott, one of the explorers of the South Pole, she is able to secure a spot during Winter Over at McMurdo station on Antartica. Perhaps a bit implausible, but Longo does an amazing job of making that very implausibility work with Harper’s character. During Winter Over, people are isolated from the rest of the world because the harsh conditions prevent any planes from taking off or landing. This makes an excellent and highly unusual setting. It feels almost as if Harper is on another planet, and indeed it is not much different.
The beginning of the book alternates between scenes at McMurdo and scenes back in San Francisco, and introduces two male love interests, Austin, on McMurdo Station, and Owen, the supportive friend of her brother back home in San Francisco. It does a excellent job of slowly unraveling the story of how she came to the realization that she was never going to dance for a major company. An it does a good job of describing life inside McMurdo station, and the scary, raw, beautiful, and isolated icy scenery of Antarctica. Longo makes it seem both otherworldly and alien, and very, very real.
Longo also has an easy hand with Harper’s voice. Her dialogue is excellently done, which perhaps comes from her background as a playwright. Indeed, I can see much of the playwright here, in her well crafted scenes, and smooth plotting. While you sympathize with Harper for her plight, you also clearly see a solution for her problems. It takes Harper time to get there, and for once, I don’t mind going along for the ride. The ending is satisfying and rather elegantly done. I recommend this book for anyone who likes character driven YA, ballet, or has an interest in Antartica. I will definitely be reading this author’s first book, and watching out for anything she does in the future.
My husband is from London and has been extolling the virtues of Yotam Ottolenghi since pretty much the day we met. Every year we get one of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks for one another as a Christmas gift, and we have favorite go to meals from these cookbooks that have made our regular meal rotation. To put it simply, I adore Ottolenghi’s approach to food. Ottolenghi is an Israeli born, Cordon Bleu trained chef who’s famous for his unusual-to-the-west Mediterranean and Middle Eastern ingredients. He’s also particularly notable for his incredible aesthetic, from the design of his restaurants, to his plating of food. He writes a regular column for The Guardian (from which I wish to make basically EVERYTHING), and has published numerous cookbooks, including two dedicated entirely to vegetable cookery, Plenty, and its sequel, Plenty More. Ottolenghi is not himself a vegetarian, which I actually appreciate. I think his approach to vegetable-as-main courses are heartier and sturdier because of it. I think he is the premier vegetable chef at the moment (though hardly just that). His dishes are poetry on a plate.
This past November, I finally got a chance to visit not just one but two Ottolenghi restaurants in person. I pretty much want to move in to NOPI, except the bathroom rather terrifies me. It’s all mirrored – even in the stalls, and gives one a sense of inertia. Especially when one is a bit (or more than a bit) hungover. Not that I was. Not at all (blushes).
We first went to Ottolenghi, because its the original, and it was our anniversary. Ottolenghi’s restaurants are noted for their clean, elegant, open feel. One can either eat at a long table, which to me is reminiscent of a medieval banquet table, updated, and made elegant, or at a few small intimate tables or a counter. Despite the white tables, counters, and walls, the restaurant has a convivial atmosphere. Perhaps its because when one enters, the windows are bulging with tasty dessert offerings, and one is also greeted by a feast-for-the-eyes cold selection. Ottolenghi’s restaurants and delis feature a selection of daily cold offerings of small plates and salads, and a selection of made to order hot dishes. But don’t let the “cold dishes” fool you – they were my favorite of the night. Check out this eggplant dish: roasted eggplant with lemon yogurt, harissa oil, rose petals, and coriander. Oh. My. God. Ottolenghi does things with eggplant (called aubergine most everywhere else ion the world) that will blow your mind. And since its probably my favorite vegetable, this was already going to be a match made in heaven. A lemon yogurt and rose petal heaven.
That wasn’t all we had though. Ottolenghi serves up small plates, and we also sampled the yellow fin tuna with mixed sesame seeds, and soy, honey, and spring onion ginger sauce. It was stunning – the fish itself practically melted in your mouth, and the brightness of the sauce with the delicate bite of ginger was outstanding. I could eat this fish every day. Seriously – I don’t know how the employees here don’t just stand around eating from these bulging platters of goodness all night. That any paying customers ever get served is surprising. OR, I’m just a greedy, greedy girl.
We rounded out our meal with pan fried sea bass with basil mayonnaise, avocado and tomatillo salsa with olive crumbs, and pumpkin and puy lentil mash with fried shallots, goat’s cheese, and fresh herbs. For a final selection we had the red, golden, and candy striped beetroot with clementine, yuzu yogurt, and spicy macademia nuts. I am a sucker for anything with goat cheese and avocado. Seriously, give me eggplant, avocado, and goat cheese and I could probably live happily with nothing else to eat for a long time. And those beets were so pretty to the eye, and so tasty on the palate. Yuzu yogurt is brilliant. Bright, citrusy, fresh – I want to recreate this at home.
But we didn’t stop here. There was also dessert. At Ottolenghi restaurants you can order dessert a la carte, or select from the colorful, tempting concoctions that sit in the street facing window, beckoning to passersby. We chose a little cake from the window – a financier (pronounced fee-non-see-ay). I had never had a financier before, but they are French in origin, and sort of a cross between a muffin and a cake, and are traditionally made with an almond base of either ground almonds or almond flour. They are not too sweet, but are just sweet enough, though this one was served with a warm vanilla custard. My husband and I shared it, but next time, I’m getting my own. Once your pour that piping hot custard over the fresh berry and almond cake you suddenly have something elevated to out-of-this-world status.
I would also add that as far as price point goes – I think it’s possible to have a very reasonable meal here, or a very extravagant meal here. My husband and I shared a bottle of wine, the dishes mentioned above, including dessert, for about 75 pounds including tip. Let’s pretend like the dollar/pound sterling difference doesn’t exist for a minute (cause insert expletive here, that one hurts), and we’ll compare it to our fish and chips night. Granted, this wasn’t from a “Chippie” or stand, but rather a sit down restaurant, and also included wine, we came out at about 68 pounds. And while I love me some fish and chips, the quality, elegance, and precision of Ottolenghi is not to be compared. Indeed, most of the meals we had out (all of which typically included a bottle of wine, so if you don’t drink, it could be different) ended up somewhere in this price range, but none compared for taste or quality. It’s no surprise, then, that while we sat at the Ottolenghi in Islington and there was a constant, steady stream of people popping in to get a few of the cold items for take out. My husband and I are jealous of their ability to do this. It has to be the best take out EVER.
Which is why I begged, pleaded, and cajoled my husband to let us sample NOPI before we left as well. I didn’t really have to cajole – my husband loves Ottloenghi as much as I do. On our last day we headed out to NOPI, which stands for North Piccadilly, where it is located. NOPI’s head chef is Ramael Sccully, with whom Ottolenghi co-authored NOPI the cookbook. NOPI bears similarities with the original Ottolenghi restaurants, yet also features full main courses one can order. The menu also has a somewhat more Asian inspired feel.
Inside it is a bright, open, airy place, much like Ottolenghi’s original restaurant, except here instead of chalk white contrast you get gleaming brass and copper accents, which give the place both a warm and bright atmosphere. Here though, they offer the more casual, communal dining downstairs, where you get a full view of the kitchen, and slightly more formal dining upstairs. My husband and I actually chose to eat at the bar, even though we had a reservation for a table. The bar was available when we arrived early, and our table was not, and in any case, I enjoyed chatting with our bartender/server.
Here we had another blow-your-mind eggplant dish. But what I am really head over heels for is the Valdeon Cheese Cake with pickled beet roots and thyme honey. I want to go back to London RIGHT NOW and have this again. Its a savory cheesecake, a BLUE CHEESE CHEESECAKE served in its own little hot copper skillet, so it impresses visually as it arrives. But then you taste it. And then you taste it again. And then you try to eat it all before your husband can get more of it. Because this cheesecake, while rich, is perfectly proportioned for sharing. Ahem. The bartender told us it is one of the items that is always in demand on their menu, and has been there since opening. I can so see why.
NOPI also has an interesting cocktail program, and their bloody mary was perfectly curative for the aforementioned hangover. They also have a great selection of nonalcoholic concoctions, or mocktails, which pair perfectly with their menu. After the cheesecake, though, we couldn’t quite face dessert here. But with two cocktails, and several small plates, our meal came to about the same as our dinner at Ottolenghi, so pretty fair I’d say.
In all honesty, I won’t make a trip to London again without a stop at these restaurants. And they serve brunch at some locations a well – so next time I’m in London, that’s where you’ll find me, bloody mary in hand. But a word of caution – these restaurants are popular, so plan to book ahead, or wait. Or you can do as we did and arrive early – we got to Ottolenghi just before 6pm, and got seated at the counter right away. But I won’t count on that happening again. We will definitely book next time.
If you go, do tell me all about it and let me live vicariously through you?