Thursday, March 31, 2011

London Highlights

The gods smiled on Kevin and bestowed upon him a business trip to London last week, and they practically cooed and giggled over me by allowing me to tag along for the trip.

If you're in need of a little escapism, are curious about or planning to go to London, or just like the drone of my writing, this post of my London trip highlights is for you.

Near the London Bridge lies a series of old buildings under subway tracks where centuries ago, traders of grain, fish, meat and vegetable sold their products.  It's a bustling food market, which Kevin aptly called "Dickensian", that houses over 100 stalls seemingly randomly dropped throughout three main market areas. 

It's crowded, there are turns and twists, and a dizzying array of fresh and prepared food.  It's not really a farmers' market as it's not big on produce, but if you need cheese, bread, meat, seafood, dessert, wine, flowers, meat pies, chocolate, cider, etc., then this is the place (well, at least on Thursdays through Saturdays).

One of my favs at Borough Market was this heavenly stand that had multiple half-wheels of Raclette (a French cheese known for its wonderful melting properties) broiling away under heat lamps.  If you order a plate, the nice gentleman (he was actually relatively sullen, I'm just calling him nice because he gave me food) will slough off a layer of gooey melted cheese onto a heap of perfectly boiled potatoes and dish it up with some gherkin.

It ain't pretty, but no one said heaven was about good looks.

2.  Mayfair
One of the ritzier and prettier neighborhoods in West End, right by Hyde Park.  I loved meandering the streets and looking at all the gorgeous architecture and window shopping at the stores in Bond Street (which seems to be on the border between Mayfair and Soho). 

3. Afternoon Tea (or more importantly, Clotted Cream)
I learned that the late afternoon tradition of having tea, scones, sandwiches and dessert is called afternoon tea, not high tea. High tea is something else--what that is, I don't know.  Anyway, in the world of Mina, afternoon tea is not complete without champagne.  Even though champagne doesn't really go with desserts. That never stopped me.  Because I persevere.

The afternoon tea at the Haymarket Hotel is a little bit of a splurge but SO WORTH IT especially if you can sit in the airy and bright Conservatory.

Very rarely is there something more special than a glass of bubbly.  But when it comes to afternoon tea, you really have to talk about the clotted cream.  Somewhere between the consistency of butter and cream, this stuff is just thick gobby creamy goodness.  I mean do you see that beauteeousness?

4.  Dogs (imaginary and otherwise)
You've already met Molly, a bear of a mastiff that I met in Regent's Park:

I actually took Kevin back to Regent's Park later that day and pointed out the exact spot where I had met Molly earlier that day. Like it was some sanctified patch of dirt and grass.

But we also came upon the new window dressing for Mulberry, which included:


5.  I feel like I should have a nice number of five highlights. Hm...oh, the lemon sole at Hereford Road restaurant.  We made the trek out to this Notting Hill restaurant, opened by a chef that trained with Chef Ferguson at St. John, the restaurant that made a splash of cooking very good British food with excellent ingredients, and using all parts of an animal. At both St. John and Hereford Road we had some excellent meat, such as roast bone marrow and veal breast, but the highlight was absolutely the lemon sole.

Not a pretty picture, but this fish was delectable.  Tender yet firm, cooked incredibly well and so wonderful with a healthy dose of lemon. I admit that I don't often finish my entrees (I get full easily), but with this one, Kevin stared at me a little mortified as I, with my fingers, pinched up every last morsel that couldn't be scrounged up with my fork.  The food made up for the incredible cacophony that fills the restaurant.

There were obviously other great things, but I'll inflict those on my family.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I've been away for a while because I was in London last week. Yipee!!!!

Anyway, more on my travels later.  The title of this post relates to my next request.  Would someone please get married and use this on their cake?  I'll pay you.

And okay, I will tell you a little about my London trip right now.  Let me introduce you to the highlight of my trip.

Molly the Mastiff.  I ran into this big hunk 'o' love in Regent's Park.  We had a connection.

She showed me her big fat cheeks.

She was the size of a small bear.

Just one last shot.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Pasta with Lamb Ragu

Winter is creeping out of here, but before it completely and finally fades away, I wanted to braise something. Anything.  I haven't cooked lamb in a while, and Lidia Bastianich was on TV making a braised leg of lamb that made Kevin exclaim repeatedly "Can we have that? That looks good. We should make that. Can we have that? That looks really good." 

Lidia said the leg of lamb can also be used in a pasta dish, so I went that route.  The original recipe was for an obscene amount of lamb that requires a 7 quart french oven, which I do not have, so I adapted it for a more manageable amount.  

The general steps are to put a filling in the lamb, braise it, shred the meat, and cook down the sauce.  Then you're supposed to slice and serve, but like I said, I wanted to make it into a ragu sauce for pasta.  It occurred to me that I didn't really need the filling in that case, and the filling I made ended up slipping out of the lamb, so the filling was kind of a useless exercise.  Although guess it still flavored the meat and sauce, and overall this dish was incredibly tasty.

Adapted from Lidia Bastianich

  • 1 1/2 cup crustless bread, a few days old or lightly toasted, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 grated pecorino
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 TBS chopped parsley
  • 3 to 4 lb boneless leg of lamb, butterflied and untied (your butcher section will usually have boneless leg of lamb that is already butterflied and tied--just untie it when you get home. did I just insult your intelligence)
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 TBS olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • one 28-oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 1 lb short tubular pasta, like ziti
Ready?  Let's start with the filling.

Place the bread cubes in a bowl and pour in just enough water to cover.  Let them soak for a minute or so (shouldn't take long).  Then strain those soggy suckers and squeeze 'em to get out most of the water.  Put the mushy bread back in the bowl and mix with the pecorino, garlic, parsley, and a pinch of salt.

Unroll your leg of lamb and cut away any huge chunks of fat.  Don't worry about being perfect about this.  Or at least I didn't, because I generally find trimming fat to be a huge pain in the ass.
I first shimmied the leg out of its netting.

And here it is, in its splayed glory.  Wanton.

Drop mounds of the filling over the lamb, and spread evenly, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges.  I did less than 1 inch, and I regret that because there was sure a lot of filling that ended up floating in the sauce.  Good thing I wasn't going to serve this sliced.

Roll up the meat to form a roll, and secure with twine.  
I should have also tied a twine lengthwise around the lamb. That might help explain why I lost almost all the filling in the cooking process.  By the way those are silicone reusable strings that I received as a gift. They are cute.

Season the outside of the lamb with about 1/2 tsp salt.  Heat the olive oil in a large French oven (at least 5 1/2 quart) over medium to medium-high heat.  When oil is heated, carefully transfer the lamb into the pan.  Let brown on bottom side (about 3-5 minutes), then rotate and repeat until all the sides are browned.  Remove lamb from the pot.

Hello, you turgid piece of meat, you.

Place the chopped onions into the pot--stir and scrape the brown bits of the bottom of the pot.  Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until onions are softened, then drop in the bay leaves, rosemary and thyme.  Cook for another minute or so.

My mixture was looking a little dry so I added a bit of red wine.

Transfer the huge honkin' leg of lamb back to the post.  Pour in the crushed tomatoes and enough water to submerge the lamb by three quarters.  Sprinkle in about 1/2 tsp of salt.  Stir the ingredients around the lamb, and ladle some on top of the lamb.

Cover pot tightly and bring braising liquid to a boil  Then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Braise for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, checking every 40 minutes to make sure that the lamb is still submerged and rotating the lamb.

Remove the lamb and let rest for 20 minutes.  Remove bay leaves and herb stems from the braising liquid.  Skim off fat with a wide spoon.  Bring liquid to a boil and let reduce while the lamb rests.

Um, so here's the part where I realized something went wrong with the filling. Prepare yourself for an ugly picture that is rather gory.  You know how you're supposed to get a lovely roll of lamb with circles of filling? Hehe.

Not so much. Fuggit.

When lamb is cool enough to handle, chop/shred the meat into generous bite-size pieces, about 1/2 to 1 inch.

Cook pasta according to package instructions.  Drain, add to braising liquid.  Place chopped meat back into pot and stir around.


Again, I'm not really sure the filling was necessary and it was a fail anyway, so if I make this again, I'm going to make some tweaks.  But I would definitely make this again on a lazy Sunday.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Adorable Lunch Tote

Are you a victim of the two-bag phenomenon? You know, the one where you have your cute yet practical purse for work, but then you need another bag to carry your lunch?  

For years, I thought I was getting by just fine with the requisite purse and a fugly canvas bag, as long as the purse part of the duo was cute.  My sister begged to differ, and friend I make no lie when I tell you she had a strong point.  The canvas bag I was using was both stained and faded, and just not that attractive.

Oh yes, I tried to carry my lunch in my purse a few times, only to be rewarded by messy leaking because I had to turn the tupperware containing my lunch on its side.

So, in what turned out to be a champion week for purchases, I ordered this cutie lunch tote.

It's a bit of a splurge, but *so* much better than my sad canvas sack.  The bag is not only adorable but practical, and MACHINE WASHABLE. Get outta town.

The tote lies fairly flat when not in use.

And in this next exciting shot, you'll see that it has...a zipper! The wonders will never cease.

What I love love love about this tote is that it has a super big gusset, so the bottom expands to accommodate the 6x6-inch tupperware that I usually use for my lunch.  I had seen some really cute totes on Etsy that were tempting, but the gussets on them were only about 2 inches. No good!

This, in contrast, is good.

The material is a thick squishy something that has some stretch--sturdy yet accommodating to wide containers.  Sure, it's a bit lopsided and turgid, but this is a mighty step forward from the canvas bag that I had beaten into grodiness.  By the way, the keys are there for scale.

The handle is nice and comfy because of the material, but you can only hold it by hand.  I like to have a shoulder strap to keep my hands free if necessary (like, to hold an umbrella), so I went for the model that has a detachable shoulder strap.

I wish the shoulder strap were a little better looking, but I'll take it for those instances that I'll need it.

I'm pleased with myself. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Granola for Me, Granola for You, Granola with Fiber Makes You Go P@@


Do you eat breakfast? You do? Good for you! Gets your metabolism going and whatnot. You don't? Well perhaps you'll be inspired by the granola recipe in this post.
Kevin and I were blazing through boxes of cereal--it was one of the banes of my grocery shopping experience.  Plus, the cereals became quite monotonous after a while, and I wanted to change things up a bit.  Oh yeah, party in this household!!! Different breakfast!!!

I picked up some granola from the farmers' market that I loved--just a bare touch of sweetness, and loads of nuts and grains and other things that made it seem oh so wholesome.  One bag for $5 lasted me about 3 days. Yeah. Expensive.

So, partly inspired by a friend who makes her own granola, I took my cosmic cues and decided to whip up a batch.

I found this Power Granola from Cooking Light.  I like that it doesn't add as much oil or honey as other recipes because it dilutes those ingredients with water, but that the method doesn't affect the flavor.  The original recipe uses orange juice but I just use all water to make it easier.  I also double the original recipe and cut down on the amount of sweetener.  You can use whatever dried fruits or nuts that you want.  Also, the amounts are somewhat approximate--I buy the ingredients from the bulk section so I'm always eyeballing the amounts.

Adapted from Cooking Light

Power Granola
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup honey (this makes the granola barely sweet--if you like it a bit sweeter, obviously add more)
  • 4 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional; I almost always forget this)
  • 4 cups regular oats (as in, not quick-cooking)
  • 2/3 cup ground flaxseed (optional; I buy Anson Mills pre-ground flaxseed)
  • 1/3 cup raw wheat germ (optional; I used this a couple of times)
  • 1/2 cup chopped slivered almonds (or chopped walnuts, pecans, or whatever nut or combo you like)
  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon (or you could try ground cardamom)
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt (less if using table salt)
  • Cooking spray
  • 2/3 to 1 cup dried cranberries, raisins, and/or other dried fruit
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. 

In a small saucepan set over medium low heat, combine the water and honey.  Stir until honey loosens and combines with the water, just takes a minute or two (you could probably also do this without heating, I just did it because of the original recipe, but I think the heat is more to melt the brown sugar, which I haven't been using, and I love run-on clauses).  Stir in the oil.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, flaxseed, wheat germ, almonds, cinnamon and salt.

Realize you forgot the pumpkin seeds.  Okay add those, too. Leave out the fruit for now, because you don't want to be roasting those.

Pour in the water-honey mixture.

Stir to combine well and make sure the granola is coated with the honey mixture.  Spread granola over two baking sheets that have been doused with cooking spray.  Place sheets in preheated oven.  After 10 minutes, rotate the sheets and mix around the granola.  Bake for another 5-10 minutes (undercooked is better than burnt).

After removing the sheets from the oven, mix in the dried fruit.

Because of the nuts or something, I store the granola is a gallon sized zipper bag in the refrigerator--the first time I didn't and I think the nuts started to go rancid. I admit, I ate it anyway.

I eat this yummy stuff with some milk in the mornings. I feel so *crunchy*. 


Friday, March 11, 2011

Rikki and the Sweater

Rikki's just having one of those photogenic weeks.

Rikki is very, very lucky to have a talented auntie who knits sweaters for the pugs.  Her nimble fingers fly through the air and create snug little fashion items for our babies.

This week, Rikki was the lucky recipient (Bunni already has about 4, I'll show them to you later) of her very first, custom-knitted sweater.

Put on a show for us, Miss Rikki.

This next picture shows Rikki losing interest in the camera and gaining another one in her daddy who is behind me, to my left, making his way to the kitchen.   The meaning of this path is not lost on the pug.

He's now passed to the right side, behind me. And here is our model, lookng a little more hopeful, as one can tell by the cocked ears.

After a very upsetting minute (at least for this photographer) during which Rikki completely broke pose and chased her daddy to the kitchen, only to be disappointed, she comes back within range of the camera lens.  Good time for a side shot.

She decides that posing on the couch is passe and wants to try something new.  How avant garde!

She grows tired, and leans against the coffee table for support. Oh woe is the life of a model pug.

Thank you auntie!