Monday, April 28, 2008

Making a splash in Splott

A group of young street artists from the Powerhouse Youth Club in Llanedeyrn have been brightening up our corner of Splott this weekend.

From the NewsWales article of 25 April,
"In partnership with the Canteen on Clifton Street, the youngsters will be spraying their designs on the exterior walls to add a splash of colour and flair to the building on Saturday April 26.

"That's better than just going around and spraying random graffiti tags which people rightly see as vandalism," says youth worker Jon Evans.

The group of a dozen 12 to 17-year-olds have been researching and designing lettering and images suited to the theme restaurant and hope to produce a form of their art which can be shared and appreciated by the rest of the community."

Read the rest of the article by clicking the NewsWales link.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tough Teff

This week has been dominated by our trials with teff. This is a traditional grain used in Ethiopian cooking to make pancakes, called injera, and other breads. It is gluten free and rather sour and spicy in taste. It is also incredibly expensive, a whopping 5.30 a kilo, and so mistakes are costly. I've made a few. Injera are made by mixing the freshly ground teff with water and allowing this mixture to ferment for three days. This results in a separation of the sponge and water, the water is poured off, and some of the sponge is mixed with boiling water, thickened then stirred back into the sponge. More water is added to create a pancake batter, then this mix is allowed to stand for an hour before being finally turned into pancakes. If the teff is not freshly ground then add some yeast at the first stage.

That was long-winded in the writing but twenty-fold so in the making. I failed the first time, no yeast, and succeeded the second. Why the bother? It's our Millennium menu and we had committed to the menu without prior cooking (not so smart - Ed). When we looked at the book, the teff they used was in seed form, and was used to make a porridge. The flour makes an unattractive grey sludge, worthless and expensive. We couldn't get the seed so were stuck with the flour. In order to make the plate as attractive as possible we also made some teff bread. This was met with various degrees of enjoyment from the diners, from disgust all the way to grudging appreciation. It could not be eaten alone, the grain produces a sour, gritty flour, but has to be eaten as part of the wat. It then enhances the whole flavour. By Saturday we had developed a cheats recipe for the injera, using teff, wholemeal bread four, self-raising flour and soda water. It's not authentic but it's much easier.

Here's a recipe from this menu. It's the fig cake and shows how easy vegan cooking can be.

demerara sugar
160g soft brown sugar
200g self-raising flour
50g ground almonds
tsp almond extract
tsp vanilla extract
100 ml veg oil
200 ml soya milk (i'm not  sure about this, could be more or less)

Mix dry (except demerara) and wet ingredients separately, then mix together to form cake batter.
Sprinkle demerara into a 8" springform cake pan lined with baking paper, place halved figs (fresh or dried and re-hydrated) on the sugar and then cover with the batter.

Bake in the oven at 170 Deg C until the cake is set, allow to cool for five minutes then turn out while the caramel is still hot.

Serve with lemon anglaise. I'll give you that recipe again.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Best of menu results

The final results from the best of menu are:

best of starter: bhajias
best of main: arabian lamb
best of dessert: sticky toffee.

It is slightly bizarre that, in an ostensibly veggie and vegan restaurant, that the best selling main was a meat dish. however we should take some heart from the fact that our aim, to welcome everyone, seems to be being taken up. 

We now move forward with our next menus, the Millennium menu, which is next and vegan, will be followed by an Italian menu then a Mexican. These will run for two weeks, meaning that I only get to play golf on the second wednesday. One of the great advantages of the three week menus is that I get to play on the second and third weeks, so perhaps we'll follow with a three week after that, else my handicap will suffer (can it get any worse? - Ed). 

Speaking to the diners this week, whilst the bhajias were most popular, the dish that provoked the most discussion was the ravioli. Several diners had it as a main, the last having come straight from a concert at 9.45, especially for them. To reward such vigilance I will share the recipe.

I don't have quantities. Plain flour, in a food processor with the cutting blade, say 200g, that will probably do two people. 
Add  some oil and with the blade running add water until it forms breadcrumbs. Check it is tacky enough to come together by pressing it in your hands. If it forms a ball it is probably too wet, so add more flour.  
Roll this out using a pasta machine, taking it down to the second thinnest setting, then stretch it a little. 
Alternatively you could use pre-bought fresh pasta, for example wonton wrappers.

The filling is butternut squash roasted with fennel seeds. Mash this with crushed vegan amaretti, recipe is on the Canteen on Clifton Street website.

Cut the pasta into squares and place a teaspoon of the filling on the top-half of your square. Bring the ravioli together aand seal with water or just pinch.
To make the sauce you will need a shallot, some sage leaves, some lemon juice, vegetable stock and butter.

Sweat the shallot in oil until soft, then add the sage leaves, lemon juice and stock. Reduce a little. 
Cut the butter into squares, plop in the stock mix and blend with a stick blender. 
How much lemon etc. you put in is up to you. Personally I like my butternut sweet and my sauce nice and sour. If you are posh you can add and reduce white wine as well. For a vegan sauce blend in some soy marg instead of butter.

Top tip: do not use butter to sweat your shallot, if you do when you blend the rest in later it will split.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lazy Sundays and happy days

Sundays are the days I like to relax, play football, read the papers and generally chill out. It's a time when I don't have to wonder when our insane main cooker will stop the gas coming through, when we'll have to hit it with a hammer, kick it, do anything that starts the slow stream of gas. Once it starts, we know we're ok, the power will come back. One day, though, you won't eat. At least not that quickly, don't say you weren't warned (it's been fixed - Ed). 
This Sunday I've spent looking back over some of the places that made an impression on me in Vancouver 1990-92. I was a phd student at the economics department at UBC and lived on west 14th. Two places made a lasting impression, the Fringe Cafe and Benny's Bagels. The Fringe was the place that got me through my theory comps. After spending the whole day answering the toughest questions our professors could come up with, myself, Henry Thille and Benoit Delage would leave UBC at about 7.00 and head for the Fringe. The question when you walked through the door, there was probably an obligatory line-up (queue) for five minutes or so, was 'do you have the intention of eating?', 'yes' would satisfy BC's arcane licensing laws and you could then drink for as long as you want. Usually we'd find room for a plate of nachos but mainly it was ESB. I've just searched for it on the web and it says the closing time is 1.00 a.m., maybe so but on many occasions we left well into the early hours, to be faced with the same travails the following day (and night).

The second place is Benny's Bagels. When we opened we had on our menu the double cheese melt that I ate here dozens of times. This was a favourite haunt in the even later hours. The night club of choice was the 'Luv Affair', playing the best of eighties music, as well as heavy industrial house (I think it was, whatever it was, it was all beat and bass). Usually we'd leave here in the wee small hours, walk across Granville bridge and then along Broadway. I lived at 3065 w14th and Benny's was on the way back. And it opened all night. Every time we walked we stopped for coffee and bagels and the variety and quality is still staggering, especially when you think we are still stuck with 4 or 5 varieties. Google Map location:

The third place is the Luv Affair, which iIve just checked out and it closed on 1/2/2003. Check out what people said, it really was a great place. The only downside was losing on the pool tables all the bloody time.

The thing that strikes me is that these places were great at the time and what marks them out is their longevity. Both the Fringe and Benny's is still open and the Luv Affair shut after 27 years. It gives us some hope. Let's hope the oven still works.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Not so good biscuits

Well, two days later we tried the vegan/coeliac biscotti. the dental bill could run to thousands. they looked great, tasted great, but were dental wrecking balls. back off the bar and back into the kitchen tomorrow. the amaretti, on the other hand, are playing an integral role in the butternut squash ravioli. they're easy to process as long as you get a good run-up with the rolling pin. if anyone tried the recipe, i hope you ate them within the first couple of days. i suppose next time we'll wait before making grand claims for our products. 

This brings me onto a couple of other things. I was watching 'House' the other night and Foreman was maligning house's diagnostic techniques as being anarchist; by which he meant chaotic, without rules. this drives me nuts. anarchism, to me, is a system of enlightenment where the need for rules is replaced by a shared set of beliefs. anarchy, as portrayed today, is used to describe a system to be feared not to be embraced. the really annoying thing is that it makes you wonder why the writers have used the word in this way. such usage continues to reinforce the mis-conception about anarchy; is this because the writers are confused, is this their belief or are there other motives? this brings us on to the power of language and the way in which language can be used as a tool. is it the case that because house is produced in a capitalist system, that it is used, explicitly or implicitly, to support that system. who knows but it bugs me.

To a small degree we've been mis-represented on the web. on a blog there has been some discussion about our place where it was reported that my wife was a vegetarian whereas i was not. the fact that this information is completely false can be seen from a reading of our web-pages or listening to my radio interview (admittedly something i haven't done). it shows a lack of rigour, an unwillingness to do research, that can reinforce prejudice. if anyone wants to know about what we are trying to do, get in touch. I love to talk. favourite topic of the moment, philosophy of food.

love and light

New beers

We have just introduced two new beers into the restaurant, Fuller's ESB and Fuller's London Pride. Both of these beers fit our requirement for containing no animal products, but unfortunately they are not Welsh produced. So far we have failed to find Welsh vegan beer, but we will continue to look.
ESB was first brewed in 1971, and is a flavoursome and well balanced beer. With an ABV of 5.9% it packs a powerful kick! 
Andrew Jefford, the respected drinks critic, sums up ESB's flavor thus: "An ample, grainy-nutty aroma and a broad, authoritative flavor, with lashings of dry marmalade-like bitters". Renowned beer connoisseur Roger Protz describes "an enormous attack of rich malt, tangy fruit and spicy hops in the mouth, with a profound Goldings peppery note in the long finish and hints of orange, lemon and gooseberry fruit".
London Pride is a smooth and astonishingly complex beer, which has a distinctive malty base complemented by a rich balance of well developed hop flavours from the target, challenger and northdown varieties in the brew. At 4.7% ABV in bottles, London Pride is an ideal session-strength premium ale.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Italian Biscuits

The new menu does not present too many problems for delivery, we've done the dishes once before, however it does require some thought in widening the options available to our customers who are gluten intolerant or vegan. today we made a couple of breakthroughs and i'd like to share them. I've been trawling through American vegan and coeliac cookbooks in a bid to make a decent biscotti and amaretti biscuit.we tried a few recipes, had some success with one for biscotti from 'my sweet vegan' but the resultant biscotti didn't look as nice as they tasted. today we adapted our own recipe for biscotti and had some success. here's the recipe for anyone interested. it suits both vegans and coeliacs.

100g cornflour
100g polenta
120g doves farm gluten free bread flour
1 tsp baking powder
150g golden caster sugar
150ml soy yogurt
50ml veg oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
80-100g chopped almonds

Mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, then bring together and form a dough. it should not be too sticky.

Using some more flour split dough into four and roll into sausage shapes. bake at 170C for 20 minutes or so on greaseproof paper, until still slightly soft. remove from the oven and cut each sausage at an angle to make biscuits. place back on the greaseproof and bake for a further five to ten minutes, turning the biscotti once. this will dry them and lightly brown the insides.

The amaretti, whilst not as crispy as those on sale, were redolent of Farley's rusks, bringing back memories of childhood. i must admit to still buying the occasional box in to my twenties. here's the recipe.

Follow the instructions on the orgran egg substitute box to make the equivalent of two stiffly beaten egg whites. this takes some beating so use an electric whisk unless you need the exercise. once beaten add sugar, 100-150g, and ground almonds, 150g, and beat in. then add enough doves farm gluten free bread flour to make a sticky dough. it should not come away from the sides of your bowl. using wet hands takes teaspoon measures and shape into balls, then place on a tray covered in greaseproof. bake at 170C until lightly browned, take out, turn over and dry the bottoms for five minutes. these were tasted by one of our chief tasters, Theresa, who gave them the thumbs up.

Have to go now to watch the man u game. happy baking.