Comfort food at its finest with Nigella’s Gochujang Beef & Rice Bowls…

When I’m cold, I want comfort food. I want thick, stodgy and satisfying and I wanna be warmed up from the inside out. I don’t know about where you are right now – and honestly, I’ll be delighted and only marginally excessively jealous if you’re somewhere that isn’t making you toy with the idea of smuggling a hot water bottle down your jumper – but it’s absolutely freezing here in London at the moment and I am having to resist the urge to go out in my fricking duvet.

It. Is. Bitter.

Those baby blue skies have seduced me into thinking it’s a lovely mild autumnal day. Well it’s not. I’m cold and I want my comfort food.

IMG_4865

Many pretenders to the Queen-of-the-Kitchen crown have appeared over the past few years but my heart still lies with Nigella. I reckon if I turned up on her doorstep wrapped in my 10.5 tog comfort blanket, she’d have me in some cashmere lounge wear sipping boozy hot chocolate in front of her fire in her fairylight lit kitchen faster than you can say ‘can I have some Bailey’s in that please?’ Until that day arrives, I’ll have to make do with this dish of praise-be-to-the-heavens simplicity from ‘Simply Nigella’ and if you need something to get your inner central heating going, this slow cooked rice & beef gochujang bowl will do just that. Nigella bills this as a dish to make in your slow cooker but if you don’t have one, as indeed I do not, then the oven made version she gives is just as lazily fabulous.

As well as being ridiculously easy – I almost feel bad for actually numbering the steps below – the filling and comforting textures are a perfect vehicle for soaking up the gorgeous ripe tomato & gochujang flavours. Gochujang is a spicy Korean bean paste that might sound a bit scary but hey, you can buy it in Waitrose which means it’s thoroughly middle class and mainstream now I’m happy to tell you/afraid to say. It won’t blow your head off but it will lend everything a gorgeous rich colour and warm full flavour.

I love the added crunch of the bean sprouts and am always looking for something to throw a poached egg or grated cheese on top of which is why my version of this comes with both those very things; I promise you when that egg breaks and golden silky yolk spills onto everything else, you’ll understand. Chuck it in the oven, put your pyjamas on, watch something cosy – I won’t even hold it against you if the title contains the word ‘santa’ – and get ready for some serious comforting.

SLOW COOKED KOREAN BEEF & RICE BOWL (serves 6 small portions or 3 greedy people)

INGREDIENTS

  • 500g beef mince
  • 200g short grain brown rice
  • 1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes (or plum tomatoes broken up)
  • 4 tbsp. gochujang paste
  • 4 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 300g beansprouts

Optional topping: grated cheddar cheese, poached free range egg

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

METHOD

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
  2. In a heavy based pot with a lid – a ceramic casserole dish is perfect – mix together your beef mince, brown rice, tin of choppd (or broken plum) tomatoes, gochujang paste, soy sauce and 125 ml of warm water; try not too mash everything together – you want to keep those textures nice and separate.
  3. With the lid on, cook your dish for roughly 2-2.5 hours; your rice should be tender but still possess a little bite and the water will have fully absorbed though you can top your liquid up slightly if you feel there’s a risk it will cook away to nothing while the rice still needs a bit more time.
  4. Turn your oven off and plunge your beansprouts into boiling water for a minute before draining and mixing then to the pot.
  5. Keeping the lid on your pot, poach your eggs and grate your cheese if using.
  6. Spoon the rice-mince mixture into serving bowls, top with the eggs & cheese and serve immediately.

A gift to the carnivore within; that would be Smokehouse, Islington…

In the time honoured tradition of spilling secrets to strangers, I’m starting today by confessing something…

…I eat very well in London. I get excited by new openings but much like my love for NKOTB (if you have to ask, you won’t understand), I also remain loyal to the things that delight me; when it comes to proclaiming my love for anywhere that fits the bill of holy trinity London dining – delicious, stylish, affordable – I’m just a few serpents away from being the kind of preacher normally found on cable channel 985.

Lately though, I don’t know what it is but I feel like something’s been missing. It’s been too long since one of those can’t-stop-thinking-about-it-for-days-afterward meals and to be honest, in a city where eating has become a national past-time, that can’t be good.

Thankfully over this past weekend I was pacified by somewhere only moments from my own sofa so listen up because I’m about to sing like the proverbial Tweety Pie about a place I’m both selfishly reluctant and proudly dying to share with you all.

image14

J is a man for whom I would, in the words of Jimmy Stewart, lasso the moon if I could. Alas, I fear I’m more Blazing Saddles than John Wayne when it comes to rope twirling so while the moon will have to stay put for now, I have found a more than decent substitution for showing my devotion to him, for celebrating his birthday and for wriggling my way further into his heart through his stomach…

Opened in August 2013, Smokehouse Islington is one of five restaurants owned by a group of food-professional friends including Scott Hunter & Maria Larsen, the duo behind Islington’s Pig & Butcher, and chef Neil Rankin, formerly of Barbecoa, Pitt Cue & John Salt…in other words, a man who knows a thing or two about the magic that happens when good meat & burning charcoal hunker down for a saucy night in together.

image13

Having realised in the past two years of our N1 life that the only way we could live any closer would be to enforce squatters’ rights to the fairy-light lit garden, I was determined this was not a place we would miss out on. Fact is, now I can’t think of anywhere else I want to go back to more and it’s not just because of the food which FYI, is bloody marvellous and totally upholds the first statement on their website – ‘we only use the best produce & ingredients we can’ – but because it’s one of those rare places that cares as much about the experience of eating as what is on your plate.

Understated and heartily minimal elegance catch your eye from the outside and continue through the interior decor; warm wood and blackboards feel welcoming and clean, while spotless white walls are dotted with antlers, the smallest of which are the perfect size for Halloween pug costumery. Our Saturday night visit found the place packed with people looking understandably smug with their choice of weekend restauranting but unlike other establishments, the number of tables inside was acceptable…anyone else really quite over going for dinner with one person but knowing at least 6 others by the end of the night because they’re practically sat on your lap feeding you bits of the bread basket?

image3 image4

The chance to try goat for the first time had me excited; the description of Somerset Goat Tacos with Chipotle Aioli & Green Sauce nearly had me storming the open kitchen for a taste. Soft small tortillas were generously stuffed with light & tangy shredded meat, not as richly heavy as lamb nor as dourly chewy as mutton; I could have eaten a dozen without apology or shame…run and hide now goats of the world, run and hide.

image1 image2

An accompanying starter of Chopped Brisket Roll with Gochujang was crunchy on the outside, dark and lusciously tender on the inside and big enough to cast a hefty shadow over the pool of velvety gochujang that lay puddled before it.

image5

Some people might look upon its sizable girth with apprehension and think it perhaps too big…those are not people I care to associate with and honestly, neither should you.

image7 image8

A plate of Short-rib Bourguignon was magnificent in both stature and flavour; deep, rich and dark, perfectly charred round the edges, melting in the mouth and painted with a glossy sauce and a generous handful of crispy shoestring onions.  The first bite caused eyes to widen and although a lusciously creamy mash mountain nestled next to it, the arrival of the mains also heralded the appearance of Caramel Roast Potatoes, humble spuds so crunchy and fluffy and lightly sticky that I would happily answer to the name of ‘crazy lady in the corner who comes in once a week for a bowl of these alone’.

image9 image10

A plate of smoked duck with crispy, gloriously stodgy potato hash cake, kimchi that set the belly on fire and perfectly fried egg more than held its own against the regal short-rib; the smokey flavour was so subtle but absolute it completely filled your mouth, appearing as if by some kitchen witchcraft without ever being harsh or uncontrolled.

image11 image12

Although the concept of Banana Bread French toast with Caramelised Bananas, Pecans & Dulce de Leche made me want to loosen the belt another six notches and get busy with a portion, I always prefer to try this things I could never re-create at home which is why I was drawn to Smoked Strawberries with Cream Cheese Mousse & Praline for dessert. Prettily presented berries were juice-running-down-your-chin sweet and ripely piled on top of silky whipped cream cheese, dotted with nutty praline shards and dolls-house-tiny ribbons of basil, this was a simple, beautifully light way to end the meat-feast that our dinner had been and it charmed me into total submission.

Staff were charming & friendly with a real love for their job shining through; big shout out to our waiter, known only as ‘Irish’, who was affable, sincere and possessor of excellent pale ale knowledge; his recommendation of the British Redwell Steam Lager that we rounded off our evening with was dangerously drinkable with a mellow, buttery, almost caramel flavour.

In the vast expanse of dining options that is London in 2015, it’s all too easy to feel suckered out of your money & your time by gimmicks, Liliputian portions & sad plates that are embarassed by their own appearance. Smokehouse Islington delivered quality of food that was worth every penny and the love of smoking, cooking & butchering was visible in each dish, each plate, each mouthful and that is something that will never go out of style.

Steak, curry sauced chips & prawn toast. Japanese food with a twist at the deliciously unpronounceable Shackfuyu…

image1 (1)

Pop-ups. Over recent years they’ve been appearing on the pavements of London as if conjured up by some apron-wearing, whisk-bearing Dumbledore; sprouting on side streets, car parks & market cobblestones, they shower those nearby with all manner of things eye-widening & buzz-generatingly delicious.

One of the more recent ones to emerge, not blinking & sleepy but flinging open its arms & singing a breezy greeting to the bright spring sunlight of Soho, is Shackfuyu. Descendant of the Bone Daddies family (whose soft, cloud like, sticky duck filled buns I’m already well acquainted with), this is a pop-up that, in their words, offers Japanese flavours, global culinary styles, cold beer, strong cocktails & rock’n’roll.

In love yet?

I was, the minute I started hearing about some of the dishes on the small but flawless menu that were inducing gentle hysteria across the napkins, forks & mouths of London’s food obsessed. This absolute need to try a new take on the food of Japan sent J and I down to Old Compton Street one pretty Saturday lunchtime in search of steak, prawns & a green tea dessert whose description alone had me dangerously close to popping with anticipation.

I thank the heavens for J every given day but especially those on which we go out to eat. I casually ask what he thinks looks good on the menu, all the time understanding – as I’m pretty sure he does too – that I know exactly what I want us to try. It’s not that he doesn’t get a say – far from it because I love knowing what sort of food gets other people excited – it’s more that whatever he’d like to try is probably going to end up on top of what I’d like to try. Our tables get crowded, our tummies get full, I can’t deny that I love it and hey, isn’t that what afternoon naps were made for…? Read More