Our weekly food diary shares on-trend ingredients, fun foodie events, Instagrammable restaurant dishes and must-try street eats.
What we ate in February...
Veggie ‘bleeding’ burger
It’s here! The ‘bleeding’ veggie burger. Yes, you read that right – a plant-based burger that ‘bleeds’ like real meat. We tried the ‘Impossible Burger’ in America and the concept now comes to the UK thanks to Moving Mountains. The burger launched on Saturday 24 February at vegetarian restaurant Mildreds in Dalston, London. We’re not sure what kind of genius (and/or witchcraft) is involved, but the bloody effect somehow comes from a combination of oyster mushrooms, peas, potato, wheat and soy proteins, beetroot, coconut oil and added vitamin B12 and makes a burger so satisfyingly meaty, veggies may feel guilty for eating it. That said, it boasts zero cholesterol and roughly a fifth of the calories of a beef burger. Good news for veggies and omnivores who simply want to eat less meat. Mildreds serve the patty with their signature basil mayo, tomato relish and salad in a vegan bun. Delicious! Don’t believe the hype? Try it between 12 noon and 2pm for a tenner.
We’ve managed a week without mentioning gin, which begs the question: what’s on-trend in the world of drinks now? Well, the answer is fig. Yep, the drinks industry is getting figgy with it this year – we’ve noticed a rise in the number of fig-based liqueurs and spirits emerging on the market recently. The latest to land on our desks is Esprit de Figues, billed as "the world’s first true fig liqueur". Made in Bordeaux, France, the recipe uses fresh Violette de Bordeaux figs infused in French beet spirit for three months (the same used in other French liqueurs like Chambord and Cointreau) to release their delicate flavour. The result is a unique drink with a deep purple colour (that comes from the skins of the fig) and all the sweet, jammy flavour of a fresh fig. It’s delicious neat over ice, or topped up with cava or prosecco, as the base of a vodka martini or a fruit punch mixed with prosecco and soda water, finished with sliced fresh figs.
Charcuterie is on the rise in the UK, in terms of popularity and quality. This year sees the launch of The British Charcuterie Awards whose winners will be announced at BBC Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace in August. With this in mind we've already tried some of the most melt-in-the-mouth, umami-flooding flavour bombs we’ve ever had the privilege to taste. With judges including some of the nation's favourite chefs Angela Hartnett, Adam Handling and Ben Tish, it’s bound to be a big event. In the running are succulent salamis, creamy pâtés and fall-apart coppa (pork neck), spicy nduja from Wales and delectable lardo (pork backfat) from Islington. But our personal favourite is the venison bresaola (pictured) from Devon charcuterie Good Game, founded by three friends after a road-trip to Morocco opened their eyes to the delights of cured meat. These snacky sticks of fennel-flecked game salami are beautifully flavoured and soft as butter with a perfect balance of spice and bite. British charcuterie like this deserves to be celebrated.
You can wipe those dubious looks off your faces because, yes, chocolate sourdough bread is a thing – and yes, it’s good. Inspired by this chocolate-fuelled time of year, spanning both Valentine’s Day and Easter, the loaf was created by Roy Levy, head baker at Gail’s Bakery last year, and proved so popular that they’ve brought it back. Sourdough is a speciality at Gail’s and this chocolate version is made using cocoa powder and studded with chunks of bittersweet chocolate. Admittedly, we were sceptical at first, but it works – the loaf has the same slightly sour tang and chewy crust of a normal sourdough, but with a hint of cocoa flavour, then those all-important chocolate chunks. We had ours lightly toasted (emphasis on lightly – toasting it properly would cause the chocolate to burn) and slathered with butter. It would be great with marmalade, too. Accompanied by a hot cup of coffee, it makes an indulgent breakfast that’s somewhere between toast and a pain au chocolat. Intrigued? Find it at branches of Gail’s Bakery in London, Oxford and Hove or buy it online (£4).
Just when we thought we’d tried every kind of egg there is, we were served this onsen egg at a special dinner by chef André Jaeger at Sopwell House in St Albans. Named after the hot springs that are dotted around Japan, the egg is lightly cooked, in its shell, at 42C (the same temperature as the springs) in natural spring water, lending it a velvety smooth texture unlike any other egg dish you’ve tried. The whites become super silky while the yolks are firm but custard-like. Although onsen eggs can be eaten with plenty of different dishes in Japan, they're most commonly served at breakfast in dashi (a kind of Japanese broth) with soy sauce and mirin. André took his version up several notches by setting the egg in an umami-rich dashi jelly which he then topped with caviar for that extra pop of mellow saltiness.
Has there ever been a more mouth-watering combination of words uttered than ‘cookie pancakes’? Possibly not. This epic amalgamation of two of our favourite sweet snacks was created by cookery writer Sophie Godwin in a battle of the pancakes with cookery assistant Elena Silcock on Shrove Tuesday. Both used the same basic American pancakes recipe, but while Sophie went for the flavours of a cookie – using three kinds of chocolate chunk and a dollop of salted caramel inside (as well as drizzled on top, of course) – Elena was inspired by Elvis’s favourite sandwich. That's peanut butter, bacon and banana, which she then topped with maple syrup, more peanut butter and cream. The results were two of the most outrageous (and utterly delicious) pancake stacks we’ve ever seen. Lots of you tuned in to our broadcast on Facebook Live (which you can still catch if you find us on Facebook) and voted for your favourite. The winner? Follow the link to find out. We aim to bring you more cooking inspiration every few weeks on Facebook Live, so do follow us and keep an eye out.
Crispy lamb skins
At a special dinner held for the winners of the 2017 YBF awards, we were amazed by a canapé of crispy lamb skins with rosemary hoisin, soy pickles and goat’s curd. That’s not to say the rest of the menu was a let-down. Far far from it. The main course, Cow of the North, featured a striploin of three-month-aged shorthorn beef with a foie of calf brain wrapped in buttermilk-fried chicken skin, kimchi braised cabbage and a ginger & onion relish. You may not be surprised to hear that chef Luke Cockerill is a protégé of Michael O’Hare from The Man Behind the Curtain in Manchester. Still, among all this outstanding food, it was the lamb skins that had us in raptures; crisp on the outside with a melting middle of creamy goat’s curd and tangy pickles that deliciously offset the richness of the fat. It demonstrates the level of excellence upheld by the Young British Foodies, with the awards now in their seventh year. Entries for 2018 are now open with 10 diverse categories where you can nominate yourself via the YBF website. Entries for Food Writing are open until 17 June and the deadline for all other categories is 31 July.
At this time of year seafood lovers and Norwegians are all skreiming about (sorry)... skrei season. It is a particular type of cod, in season between January and April, and last weekend we flew to northern Norway to try and catch our own skrei. The flesh is firm, very white and flakes when cooked. It’s a favourite among chefs and in Norway every part of the fish, from the liver to the stomach, is eaten in a dish called mølje. The ‘tongue’ (or throat of the cod) is a particular delicacy that is removed with the cheeks and sold separately. Only 10% of the 400 million or so migrating cod (from the Barents Sea to the Norwegian coast) are allowed to be tagged as skrei, and then only if they tick various boxes: They must be fully grown (about five-years-old), caught in the right place, undamaged, packed within 12 hours of being caught and stored at the right temperature. In other words, mighty fresh. Skrei are very lean and much of their fat is stored in their liver, which is cooked quite simply in water and has a texture like butter. We ate it with boiled potatoes. Look out for skrei now – you’ll find it at good fishmongers and restaurants.
Greggs does Valentine’s
Oh yes, Greggs have done it again. Just when you thought they couldn't beat that epic Advent calendar stunt with baby-Jesus-as-a-sausage-roll fiasco, they’ve gone and teamed up with OpenTable to take bookings for a one-night-only romantic dining experience for Valentine’s Day. As you can imagine, it has caused a web sensation with all tables across the country getting booked up in a jaw-dropping 20 minutes! We were lucky enough to attend the press night this week, sampling their special four-course meal which includes firm Greggs favourites like sausage rolls, doughnuts and their signature steak slice (with a special pastry heart on top, obviously). And it didn’t end there – a cheesy cellist set the mood, and the waiting staff were as ecstatic to be there as we were. So, it’s a big “yay!” to Greggs, and for those of you who missed out on tickets this year, we're sure they’ve got more pastry-hyping plans for 2018…
While the idea of eating heart, or any kind of offal makes some feel squeamish, the current shift in the food industry towards zero waste means many restaurants are using the whole animal. In turn, cheap and underused cuts of meat, including heart, are back on the menu. The latest dish to convert our offal-wary cookery writer Sophie Godwin was served at Carousel, London, courtesy of chef Rosie Healey. One of The Sunday Times’s chefs to watch in 2017, Rosie worked at Ottolenghi and Jago before moving back up to Glasgow to open her own restaurant Alchemilla. At Carousel for this week only, Rosie is serving a four-course menu of simple but incredibly well considered dishes with a Mediterranean influence. All four courses seriously impressed, but the ox heart stood out. For the final savoury course, it was perfectly cooked with a rich irony flavour balanced by a sweet drizzle of pomegranate molasses, a hit of punchy green chilli, and a hefty sprinkling of za’atar.
Missed an entry in our food diary? Find out what we've eaten previously...