Thursday, August 14, 2008

Red Bean and Lager chili

Red Bean and Lager chili
Originally uploaded by HelenFor

Here's a pic of the chili I made today.

I'm trying Bubble Tea tomorrow for the first time!


I am quite excited at the prospect! Check out the number of flavours (ok this is a US site but still):
Tapioca Express.

My good friend, Regina, recommends Jasmine tea with or without milk. I know I am going to find it difficult to refuse. Anyway I will head to Jen Cafe in Chinatown for a taste. Apparently the tea is quite filling due to the boba or tapioca pearls that give the drink its name.

The great Vegetarian Chili-off number 1

So, after finding the bunch of chili recipes I blogged about yesterday I 'stumbled' on a site called Veggie meal plans. After searching for chili it came back with a Red Bean and lager chili and a Red Bean and coffee chili. Both sounded really interesting and unusual.

So today I went out and bought the ingredients for the Red Bean and lager chili and the Vegetarian chili with quorn. As the Veggie had expressed a preference for the lager chili I decided to make that today.

I was hoping to make it using the mexican lager Sol as I felt that would most suit it. However, my mum was picking up the lager for me as she was getting a cab home, which meant I had Skol instead. Bless her, she didn't know that it is probably one of the cheapest and nastiest lagers around. Anyway, as the alcohol would be burnt off I hoped it wouldn't effect the flavour that much.

Well... it wasn't a disaster and will probably taste better tomorrow, but it was definitely not the best chili ever either. Comments back were that it was too watery. Personally I didn't think it was very flavoursome or hot enough. I did follow the recipe to a t. Maybe the lager I used did make a difference... anyway, I will have it for lunch tomorrow and see if it is any better.

Delicious potato and pea curry

This curry has quite a dry texture and a lovely aromatic flavour. The quantities are very approximate, so taste it as you go along.

3-4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) pieces

A small bowl of peas, frozen or fresh

3 spring onions

1 green chili

Handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped

Good sprinkling of ground cumin

Good sprinkling of ground coriander

1/2 the juice of a lemon

2 tbsps groundnut oil

Good sprinkling of gram flour if you have it, otherwise use ordinary

1 onion, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

Half a thumb of ginger, finely chopped

1 tsp turmeric

1 tbsp paprika

1+1/2 tsps of chili powder (or to taste)

4 tomatoes, chopped

Cup of water

Fresh coriander to garnish

Firstly, heat the groundnut oil in a deep frying pan. Then add all the dry spices to the pan along with the onions, garlic and ginger. Fry until transparent and spices cooked through.

Add a little more oil, then the chopped potatoes, the chili, the gram flour, the peas, spring onions and the lemon juice. Fry until the potatoes are becoming golden and crispy.

Add the chopped tomatoes, the fresh coriander and the water and mix well. Taste after a few mins and adjust seasoning as desired.

Cover and simmer on medium high for about 20 mins or until the curry has reduced and become quite dry. The potatoes should be tender inside and the peas should have a crispy outside.

Finish with another sprinkling of lemon juice and the rest of the fresh coriander.

Serve with chapatis or rice and chutneys.


Red Velvet cupcakes

Continuing with the Chocolate theme these cupcakes are a real winner especially when you use some imagination with the toppings. As it is an American recipe the quantities are in 'cups' - I use an ordinary teacup.

2 + 1/2 cups of flour
2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks of butter
5 eggs
1 cup buttermilk (1 tbsp lemon juice then fill the cup with milk and mix well)

1 tsp red food colouring
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mis the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in mixing bowl. Sift 3 times. Cream together the
butter and sugar, add the eggs 1 at a time. Add 1/4 of the dry ingredients to creamed mixture then 1/4 of the buttermilk, until all mixed in well. Add the vanilla extract and the food colouring.

Spoon into fairy cake cases or a small muffin tin.

Cook at 350 degrees for about 20 mins.

Wait until cool and then decorated with icing and toppings of your choice such as strawberries and a mint leaf, grated chocolate, kiwi fruit, chocolate buttons, hundreds and thousands etc.

You can choose to add a little less or a little more food colouring as you wish. With 1 tsp the cakes will have a slightly red tinge.

These cakes have a lovely texture and taste.


The (almost) flourless chocolate cake

This is a tried and tested recipe from Jo_Jo_Ba ( that makes a lovely moist cake that is great with vanilla ice cream.

200g milk chocolate (the original recipe uses Toblerone)

50g dark chocolate
5 eggs
200g unsalted butter

2 tbsps flour
butter icing and icing sugar to top

Melt together the milk choc and dark choc with the butter, add the other ingredients, mix well and pour into a cake tin.

Cook on gas mark 5 for about 20mins.

I haven't tried it but I think it would be fine to use orange milk chocolate or another flavour to experiment with. As long as it is good quality it should work.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The perfect vegetarian chilli

As we are going camping in a couple of weeks time I am currently looking for the perfect vegetarian chili recipe. The Veggie and I are planning on getting to the site first and thought it would be a nice idea to have a meal ready for everyone else as they arrive. Chilli seemed like a good bet as it would reheat easily, is all in one pan and can be eaten with nachos, soured cream and cheese, all of which we could bring with us. Luckily are campsite has a fridge available too, so it would all be nice and cool.

These are the recipes I am considering at the moment (see below) but I would be grateful to receive any family recipes or favourite recipes. I really want this chilli to be memorable, but not too hot. It also needs to serve 8 hungry people.

UKTV Food Veggie chilli by James Tanner

Quite standard and looks easy to make but nothing special stands out.

Harrods Creeks Fire Dept Veggie chilli

I'm not sure what 'garbanzo beans' are and I don't like the idea of Bulgur wheat in the chilli but it is certainly a bit different!

BBC food Veggie chilli tacos by Simon Rimmer

I like the sound of this one has cocoa powder in and lots of different kinds of beans.

Veggie Chilli with quorn by Mostly Eating

This is my fave at the moment as it looks interesting and the pic looks great. Also nice that it already makes enough for 8 people (lazy old me doesn't have to change the quantities).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

To-by or not To-by, a carvery in Crawley

Toby Carvery
Langley Green
Vancouver Drive
RH11 7UR
01293 515 558

A lazy Sunday in Crawley with kite flying planned for the afternoon, what better than a traditional roast dinner to make the day complete. Toby Carveries are very popular in the UK and it is often necessary to wait for a table, particularly on a Sunday when it is heaving with families, hungover twenty-somethings and old folk. All are drawn to a Toby for its magic combination of your choice of roast (usually beef, gammon and turkey), yorkshire pudding, stuffing, all the vegetables you can eat, plus gravy and sauces. Many a time have we wearily entered the hallowed ground desperate for a pint of Coke and a Toby, happy to wait for half an hour for the privilege.

As we did just that for I eyed the quiz machine in the corner only to be given the 'look' by the Veggie. Fair enough, as I cannot be trusted on those machines and can easily spend a fiver if given the chance to be a 'millionaire' or play 'hangman'. The place was full of the usual Toby crowd, all eager to join the queue for dinner.

Eventually myself, the Blonde and the Veggie were shown to a good table by the window. We quickly ordered more drinks and then bags on shoulders marched off to the carvery. On offer was roast beef, gammon and turkey as per usual. I plumped for just the beef, the Blonde went for beef and gammon and the Veggie asked for 2 yorkshires and stuffing instead of the whatever lay under the suspicious puff pastry covering the 'veggie option'. The beef didn't look like the best I'd ever had at a Toby but it would do. I was given a huge yorkshire, which was fine by me, and then tried to show some restraint as I moved onto the veg selection. The Veggie bemoaned the lack of parsnips but that didn't really bother me. I added some cabbage, a couple of broccoli florets, a few carrots, some cauliflower cheese, peas and quite a few of the small roast potatoes. A ladle of gravy and some horseradish and mustard and that was me done.

Whilst the yorkshire was perfect, crisp on the outside and chewy inside, the cauliflower cheese suffered from a distinct lack of cheese. Also I found the meat a bit stringy in places but it was generally more tender than it looked. My fellow diners didn't seem to have any complaints.

I was the only one who felt able to tackle a pudding. The Veggie had already discreetly moved some of her unfinished dinner onto my plate, so it didn't look 'so bad'. She never seems to learn that her stomach doesn't have as much room as she thinks!

Anyway, I managed to persuade them to share a rhubarb and apple crumble with me. This is one of Toby's desserts that comes with a 'bottomless' jug of custard. That scares me slightly for some reason.

You can't beat a good crumble but I was glad there were three spoons attacking it rather than one. It came in quite a large round bowl, which although didn't seem to have much depth contained a surprisingly large portion. Having said that I didn't see how anyone could finish a whole jug of custard, we did! I should add that the jug is baby-sized not pimms sized! We didn't ask for more, so I do feel some sense of restraint was shown.

The total bill including drinks and a dessert came to 31.30p, which isn't bad for a decent and filling roast dinner for three.

Scores on the doors: 7 out of 10

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bubble Kitschen (Brighton part 2)

Bubble Kitschen
Kensington Gardens,

07982 660696

We needed fuel for our shopping (buying bikinis when its tipping it down is no laughing business) so headed to Kensington Gardens where many of the areas little cafes reside. The place was bustling with prams, couples and umbrellas. Finally we managed to cut through the pedestrian traffic and secure a table at 'Bubble Kitschen'. This family run mainly organic establishment was tiny inside with the small open-plan kitchen visible from the counter. Whilst I found the name a bit twee the menu looked good and was reasonably priced. Apparently the premises had changed hands and names a fair bit over the years but the husband and wife team of Miles and Lisa Heathfield seem settled here.

As you have to order from the counter we spent a few minutes deciding before sending the Veggie up to order and pay. I chose a 'Bubbles Blueberry' which was a smoothie of blueberry, yogurt, honey and banana, not bad at 2.75p. The other drinks were tea, a cappuccino and a coke, also not bad prices.

The Veggie, the Blonde and her boyfriend, the Aussie opted for the full English and the Veggie breakfast option. I decided to go for the lighter omelette with cheese and tomato which came with 2 slices of organic bread. We waited about 10-15 minutes for our food, well the others did... The very large plates of organic sausages, bacon, toast, tomato, egg, bubble and squeak (which let the other ingredients down as it looked rather artificial in its little block shape and seemed only to consist of potato) arrived but no omelette. I waited 5 minutes. Nothing. I waited 5 more. Eventually I went to the counter and said what I was waiting for. Apparently they had forgotten my order. This was a little annoying as one would have imagined that when 3 people are eating lunch the 4th normally is too... but anyway, it didn't take long to arrive and was to their credit a very good omelette. Cheesy and well-cooked it didn't take me long to polish it off although my companions had to watch me as they had already finished their dishes. The organic bread was also nice, but I'm not sure if the others noticed that their food was organic or not. I do know that the Blonde's sausage looked rather pink and she left it as it didn't seem cooked through. I would have complained but she didn't appear too bothered.

Our meals came to around 28 pounds. I felt that my omelette, plain 2.75p, 50p each for extras such as my cheese and tomato was a bit overpriced as it would have come in at 3.75p when full breakfasts were better value at 5.95p. Still it was a nice cosy place to have lunch. I think if I was to go back to that North Laines area I would try another cafe first before going back to 'Bubble Kitschen'.

Scores on the Doors: 6 out of 10

Big eats at Momma Cherri's (Brighton part 1)

Momma Cherri's Big House
2-3 Little East Street
01273 325305

You may well have heard of Momma Cherri. She was the star of a classic episode of 'Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares' in 2005, and a revisited episode in 2007.

In 2005 the then named 'Soul Food Shack' was in dire trouble, for once it wasn't the standard of food that was the problem but simply the lack of business knowhow and staff that were allowed to get away with far too much lazing around. Ramsay stepped in and helped them turn it around. Now relocated and renamed, 'Momma Cherri's Big House' still carries the celebrity baggage of the series, which isn't always a good thing for a restaurant. I had no real idea if it would live up to the hype or whether it was merely coasting on the fame. After all in the 2007 episode Gordon found he still had work to do in maintaining discipline in the restaurant and some of the reviews I had read online were less than favourable...

So it was with slight trepidation that myself, the Veggie and the Blonde (a friend from Crawley) made our way to the 'Big House'. You can't really miss the restaurant especially if you approach it going up the hill, as the exterior boasts a large and colourful design featuring Momma Cherri's cheerful face. After hours of shopping we were all looking forward to a nice sit down and this place delivered. With a cosy, if a little worn interior, looking more like a family home than a restuarant, we were shown to a table upstairs. Reggae and soul music played at a perfect level and the soft oranges and yellows of the colour scheme were warm and inviting. Little details such as family photos on the tablemats all added to the appeal.

This establishment is definitely family friendly (we were next to a rather noisy group - its probably not the best place for a first date) and although it isn't a huge restaurant it never felt cramped even as it began to fill. Our waitress, Josie, was very friendly and pleasant. We were told the specials and then handed the food and drink menus. Immediately the jug of home-made lemonade for 5 pounds stood out. We ordered one and also wine, beer and a cider. Draught beer and one of the speciality beers were off, but this didn't affect us in anyway. I suppose if you really wanted 'Red Stripe' it might, although this may have also been available by the bottle I didn't ask.

We had already decided between ourselves that the speciality 'Soul in a bowl' tapas-style dishes to share, which Gordon had helped to create as a concept, were not for us. Although you got a generous 4 starters and 4 mains for 13.50 each (this being the smallest selection), we felt that due to having a vegetarian amongst us it might be a bit difficult to have what we wanted. The menu does request that you tell them if you have any special requirment such as being a non-meat eater, but and this might put some off, you cannot select the dishes yourselves. They operate a 'Momma knows best' policy whereby you get a range of the most popular dishes. This is all very well and would suit some but as it was our first time and we weren't sure what to expect, we opted to order separately.

The choice of dishes was impressive and they cater very well for vegetarians with stuffed peppers, curried sweet potatoes, veg jambalya and a veg platter being just a few of the choices.

I was tempted by a starter of catfish goujons as I have never tried catfish before. However after some thought we all decided to skip the starter so we had some hope of managing one of the delicious sounding home-made desserts. As we umm and ahhed over the main courses (ribs, fried chicken, jerk chicken, mac and cheese etc.), we watched as other people's orders came out. They were quite large portions.

Eventually both the Blonde and I went for the fried chicken which came with sweet potato and white potato mash, gravy, cornbread and veg of the day. The Veggie decided on the stuffed red peppers with salad with curried sweet potatoes on the side. Mains ranged from around 9 pounds to 13 pounds and sides were 3 pounds. We sipped our home-made lemonade (non-fizzy as it should be but more like lemon squash than anything it still quenched our thirsts and was good value), while we waited.

Our food all came out together and we proceeded to eat in silence. It was all so good! The fried chicken was the best I've ever tasted, it was crisp, tasty and the chicken was not at all watery or greasy. The mash and gravy was lovely and the veg of the day was curried sweet potatoes, which were just gorgeous. The only thing I wasn't quite sure of was the cornbread. It came in a little square and looked like a sponge cake. It was a bit too stodgy and weird-tasting for me, but I ate it all! I'm not sure what cornbread is supposed to be like but judging by the rest of the cooking it was probably accurate. Perhaps the odd 'neither sweet nor savoury' taste was an acquired one.

The Veggie raved about her dish, consisting of two red peppers one sweet and pointed the other standard. Both with different fillings of lentils and similar. The salad came with potatoes with sweetcorn and she managed most of it. It was nice to see interesting vegetarian food being served in an establishment that you might think strongly favoured meat eaters.

The Blonde and I polished off our plates, although she left her cornbread, and declared we thought we could force down dessert. After checking what Key Lime pie was (a kind of cheesecake but with condensed milk and lime zest) I went for it. The Blonde choose Pecan pie and the Veggie the berry cheesecake. All desserts were 4.50p but well worth it. Each came with an unannounced but welcome dollop of whipped cream and small ball of vanilla ice cream and some kind of strawberry sauce. My pie was very yummy though very rich. The gingernut base and cinnamon sprinkle were lovely touches. I tried the Pecan pie which was caramelly and nutty and sweet - perfect. The berry cheesecake also got the thumbs up although the Veggie wasn't too sure about the pastry case.

All in all we had a lovely meal and 'experience'. We could have done without the screaming kid behind us (and they were provided with pens and colouring books and a kids menu!) but I would certainly go back as there are many other dishes I want to try. Our bill came to approx 65 pounds but the 'optional' service of 12.5% was already added. My only real gripe. I do hate it when restaurants do that as the tip often doesn't go to the service staff. That and we were given the wrong bill to begin with, but only a small thing really. We felt service was good enough that we wouldn't make an issue of the service charge, so paid around 73 pounds between us. 'Momma Cherri's' isn't cheap but it is good value and we felt pleasantly full not bloated afterwards. I suppose if you did opt for the tapas style dishes you could end up paying more but as a treat it definitely beats a chain restaurant. 'Momma Cherri' (Charita Jones) was nowhere to be seen (hopefully she was in the kitchen) and the toilets could use a little work, but the place has a great feel about it and I would definitely recommend it.

Scores on the Doors - 8+1/2 out of 10

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