Category: Foodie Friday

Cookie Time

Well it’s that time of year again. Time to start baking cookies, eating way too much, drinking more than you ever thought possible and telling yourself that diet is going to start on New Year’s Day. Well today I’m going to help with one of those things because if you know you’re going to do this you might as well do it right. So this week I’m going to share a few family recipes for some Xmas Cookies.

One of our favorite things to do around the holidays is get together, bake cookies, listen to some classic carols (and some not so classic ones) and drink some hot cocoa (possibly with a little booze in there). This year I won’t be home for the holidays at all so I’ve had to bake cookies out here in London and then proceed to eat them all. It’s fun and delicious but not the same. So hopefully you enjoy these recipes as much as I do!

 

Coconut Macaroons – I’m a big fan of all things coconut

14 ounces shredded coconut

1 can condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 egg whites

Pinch of salt

Chocolate Chips and/or Nutella

 

Preheat oven to 325° F.

Whisk 2 egg whites with the pinch of salt. Add coconut condensed milk, vanilla and almond extracts together with the eggs in a bowl and mix.

Spray baking sheet with cooking spray or rub with butter. Scoop tablespoon sized balls of the mixture onto the sheet. Bake for 23-25 minutes.

Let them cool for at least 15-20 minutes before adding either nutella or melted chocolate to the tops of the finished product.

*I also highly suggest storing them in tupperware or an airtight container. When they come out of the oven they may be crispy but storing them properly will remoisten them. The other option is to add a touch of water to the tops of them before applying the topping to achieve the same texture*

 

Hello Dolly Bars – this was a recipe from my great Aunt Ann and are also known as 7 Layer bars

1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs

3/4 stick of melted butter

1 package chocolate chips

1/2 package butterscotch chips

1 cup coconut

1 cup chopped pecans

1 can condensed milk

 

Preheat oven to 325° F.

Mix graham cracker crumbs and melted butter together. Spray 9″x13″ pan with cooking spray or rub with butter and press the mixture into the pan so it is even and flat.

Add, in order, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut, chopped pecans. Evenly pour the condensed milk over it all.

Bake for 25 minutes. Let it cool for 20-30 minutes before you cut and serve.

Buckeyes – While I hate Ohio State I love these cookies

1 jar peanut butter (I recommend creamy for this recipe)

3 cups powdered sugar

3 1/2 cups rice krispies cereal

1 stick melted butter

Dark chocolate

 

Combine and mix peanut butter. powdered sugar, rice krispies and melted butter in a large bowl. Shape into tablespoon sized balls.

You can either make your own dark chocolate or melt dark chocolate chips.

Dip the balls into the chocolate completely covering them. Place the finished balls on a tray covered with wax paper and put in the fridge until cool and hardened.

 

Coffee and Spice Cookies – this was my favorite cookie from my nana growing up

2 sticks butter

2 cups brown sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup and 1 tablespoon strong, cold coffee (you will split this into 1/2 cup for cookies and 1 tablespoon for glaze)

3 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup golden raisins

1 cup powdered sugar

 

Mix butter, brown sugar and eggs together in a bowl and beat well. Add 1/2 cup cold coffee to the mixture and stir.

Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon into a large bowl. Add the raisins and mix. Add the wet and dry mixtures together into the large bowl and mix.

Cover and chill this mixture for 1 hour in the fridge.

To prepare the glaze mix powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon of cold coffee (aka the rest of it) together and beat well until smooth. (You can add more powdered sugar if it’s too thin/watery or more coffee if it’s too thick/lumpy)

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray or rub with butter. Add tablespoon balls of the mixture to the sheet and flatten them a bit. Make sure the flattened sides are 2″ apart from the next closest as they will spread.

Bake for 8-10 minutes. Let cool for 1-2 minutes then add the glaze while they are still warm. You can either cover them carefully (so you don’t pull the glaze off) or throw them back in the fridge to harden the glaze quicker.

*Most important note for this one is don’t use shitty coffee, do yourself a favor*

 

Peppermint Bark – this makes regular peppermint bark taste like shit; warning it’s also as addictive as crack

*Okay I’ll put my disclaimer at the beginning for this one. It’ll either be the easiest or the hardest “cookie” you’ll make depending on if you have a double boiler or not since that is the trick. Pretty much it comes down to melting chocolate and adding peppermint oil & candy but there are a number of ways to do it. Here’s the proper way. Also the amount can be varied based on how much you want so I’ll let you decide that*

Equal parts dark (or milk) chocolate and white chocolate

A few drops of peppermint oil

Candy canes to your liking

 

Using a double boiler melt the dark (or milk) chocolate down. Place 2 drops of peppermint oil into the melted mix and stir. Place the mix into a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Place in the fridge (or freezer).

Let the chocolate set before continuing. Proceed to do the same thing with the white chocolate, meting it down and adding 2 drops of peppermint oil. Place the white chocolate on top of the hardened dark (or milk) chocolate. Sprinkle crushed candy canes on top of the white chocolate and place back in the fridge (or freezer).

Once both are set and solid break it up with a knife into smaller, bite-size pieces.

 

Well that’s all I’m going to share for now, that should keep you busy and give you a nice mix of cookie choices for the holidays this year … or that day in mid-January when you have the winter blues and decided the diet isn’t working.

– Beard

OKA.

When we lived in San Francisco one of our Sunday night traditions was going to get sushi at one of our local joints. Why we always both had a craving for sushi at the end of the weekend was anybody’s guess but the feeling was always there. Now we knew that of all nights you could possibly eat sushi, Sunday was arguably the absolute worst.

Think about it … most deliveries are made Monday through Friday (Saturday sometimes) but usually not on Sundays. Now there were some places that got certain types of fresh fish from the markets or fishermen but not all of them so it wasn’t the absolute freshest day you could go but it was our thing.

Since being out here not much has changed and it’s usually Sundays that we crave some sushi although London isn’t exactly crawling with great spots that don’t cost an arm and a leg or as the Brits say, a bomb. Luckily we are almost next door to a pretty solid little spot called OKA. which has 2 locations in London.

We haven’t visited the seemingly larger location in Kingly Court between Piccadilly and Oxford Circus although we’ve been by it  on our way to one of our favorite cocktail spots, Cahoots (which will earn its own post because it’s that good). The smaller version is right here in Primrose Hill on the high street. First thing I’ll say is that you should absolutely make a reservation online if you’re going to go. It’s not a big place holding maybe 24 inside and another 6 outside when it’s nice and always busy.

Plus even when it doesn’t look busy they are strict (sometimes a bit too much) about holding their tables for upcoming reservations … even if there is plenty of time to grab a quick meal. So while we’ve been 3 times so far we’ve probably tried to go at least 6-7 in total. But it is busy for a good reason and that is their food.

Not only is it a sushi restaurant but it’s also got a pretty full Pan-Asian menu and their larger spot is also a Robata Grill restaurant. As with just about every sushi or Japanese restaurant we start with sea salted edamame. It’s funny because one of the big, hit things here in London is chili edamame although it’s (as expected) some weird semi-spicy, semi-sweet, not real chili paste.sauce slathered over the edamame … stick with the original is my recommendation.

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Sea Salted Edamame

Next up is maybe our favorite item there, the miso soup. This isn’t your normal miso soup however … sure it has the tofu, spring onions, etc but they have 2 other ingredients which make it. The first is edamame beans. I mean how can you not love them, they’re just so good. The second, which is the real winner, is kimchi. This gives it a very rich and full flavor which pops, in a good way.

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Miso Kimchi Soup

Now we’ve tried a lot of the Pan-Asian and side dishes but tonight it was all about sushi and sashimi. We did 3 rolls and a plate of amazing (and huge slices of) sashimi. First up was the basic and kinda boring Spicy Tuna roll with avocado and cucumber. Next we went with the Dragon Roll which is prawn tempura, asparagus, spicy mayo topped with avocado. Finally we got the Jalapeno Salmon Roll which is pretty self-explanatory but is an inside-out roll with salmon, spring onion, shichimi spices, avocado and cucumber rolled in tempura crumbs with citrus mayo. This one was by far our favorite roll as the salmon was absolutely dynamite and the jalapeño gave a nice kick to it plus the crunchy tempura flakes always get me.

Now the sashimi we got was so incredibly delicious, as I mentioned earlier, that I wasn’t able to get a picture of the full plate. But I will assure you that there were 3 pieces of both Salmon and Tuna on there plus the little side salad with peanut dressing. Another neat thing they have is incredible wasabi. It’s not some green-tinged paste that is scooped out of a 5 gallon jug. It’s tough to describe (you can see it on all the plates above and the one below, but it is a slightly more liquid base with actual chunks of wasabi cut up as opposed to being pulverized into a paste (we always ask for extra).

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Tuna & Salmon Sashimi

Now of course the meal wouldn’t have been nearly as good if I hadn’t gotten some sake because, as you could tell from yesterday’s post, I’m kinda on a sake kick. So I went with some Dewasakura “Oka” Sake Junmai-Ginjo. It was nice and light with tons of fruit flavor (pear and green apple) and seemed pretty simple from some of the ones I tasted the other day but still perfect for what I wanted.

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So next time you find yourself craving some sushi and in the Primrose Hill or Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Circus area, stop in at OKA. if for nothing else than some miso kimchi soup and wasabi.

– Beard

Name: OKA.
Address: 71 Regents Park Road
Closest Tube: Chalk Farm (Northern)
Tip: Make a reservation and sit outside if it’s nice enough

I Miss Mexican Food

I knew there would be some things I would sorely miss moving from San Francisco to London:

  • Going to the Baker Beach and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Hiking up in Muir Woods
  • Trips to Wine Country or down to Carmel and Big Sur
  • My “Compassionate Health” Card

I was expecting good food to be high on that list as well but the first few days we were out here we were quite blown away at how things had turned around. We were finding surprisingly good food in everything from nice restaurants to pubs to food stands/trucks. It wasn’t just greasy fish & chips and Indian curry that were your go-tos … it was Thai, Turkish cuisine, Spanish tapas, artisanal burgers, and of course non-greasy and much upgraded fish & chips.

Surprisingly one of the things we had a bit of trouble finding great options in was Indian, not for lack of places within the city but we simply didn’t seem to be picking the right ones. We’re slowly getting better and have kept a list of the places we eat/drink for future reference.

Of course the one cuisine we figured we’d miss most was Mexican and boy were we right! It’s amazing for a city and food scene that is so ethnically diverse and cultured that Mexican, and especially good Mexican, is by far the hardest thing to find. There are Italian spots everywhere, Chinese take away and fancy dine-in places, sushi, Ethiopian, you name it.

Now it’s not for lack of places because you can find Chilango which is basically a Chipotle-style place.  They’re not bad and a good alternative for something quick if you’re dying for some Mexican-like food.

Then there is Tortilla whose slogan is “Real California Burritos & Tacos.” I tried one and it’s the only time I’ve been sick out here … allegedly they’ve never been to California to do their market research. They’re everywhere around town which is sort of a giveaway that it’s not going to be super authentic, I mean even their chips & salsa wasn’t great … a lot of heat in the spicy salsa but no real flavor.

One I haven’t tried yet but still want to because I hear their salsa is good and spicy is Benito’s Hat. Again they are plenty of them around town but I’m willing to try it.

Then we come to the more upscale spots, one of which we’ve tried. La Bodega Negra has 2 locations around the corner from one another. The first is a casual café, bar restaurant atmosphere with an open kitchen, views of the Palace Theatre and the busy intersection of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue. It’s lively, loud, open and usually pretty busy for lunch, after work drinks/quick snacks as well as dinner.

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I did stop here to have a drink before we ate at their restaurant around the corner. It did have a lot of atmosphere although like most drinks out her it wasn’t particularly strong. So we walked around the corner to the restaurant for our reservation. I’ll start by saying that the ambiance, atmosphere and setting was amazing and, unfortunately maybe the best part.

You walk into a door that, from the outside, looks like it leads into a sex shop. Big “XXX” and “Live Girls” neon signs and other signs fill the windows with a blacked-out door. Once inside you’re in a small room with an unassuming host dressed in all black and a small clipboard. They act like they don’t know they’re a restaurant unless you have a reservation in which case they take you downstairs after you check any coats or bags.

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Once you get downstairs it livens up and you walk into a cave-like room with an openish kitchen, a bar and small dining room to your left and 2 other dining rooms to your right. We were in the far dining room to the right which had amazing ambiance. Again you have the cave atmosphere with the wall you entered through being stone with a neat archway. The wall to the left of that features a number of pictures, murals and mirrors. The wall behind us was made of old wine barrels stacked up from left to right and top to bottom. The other wall looked like they bombed out a small section to put in a large U-shaped booth in a rather good size nook.

Things were looking up and we ordered drinks. The Pisco Sour was pretty good I must admit although the few Mezcal Old Fashioned drinks I had afterwards were a bit better. We got quite a few things from the menu and maybe half of it was good although not a bunch of it was as traditional as I expected.

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After we ordered we looked around and saw some interesting takes on Mexican cuisine such as something that looked like a pizza or flatbread. Our first dish came out and it was the Quesadilla Rustica with quatro queso, roasted tomato and epazote. Turns out it’s not really a quesadilla at all but that flatbread thing we just saw. While the flavor wasn’t bad it was open-faced and on a crispy tortilla, how do you mess that up?

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Luckily the tacos that came next were better. They were smaller 2-bite guys (which we ordered more of after our mains came). The char-roasted mushrooms were good but I heard the winner was the braised beef (although I didn’t try any of those). It was also a bit random for them to have ceviche on a Mexican menu but we figured we should try 1 of the 3 so we went with the Ceviche Baja. it consisted of Seabass & Citrus. This was actually one of the best things we had there!

We did both of the tostaditos as well which were maybe the biggest rip-off of the night as it was 1 rather small tostadito per order. We did both the nopales with black beans and queso fresca and tuna with chipotle, avocado and jalapeño. The nopales one literally had no flavor at all and the tuna one, for £7, was a slice of sashimi tuna on a tostadito with a hard piece of avocado, 2 small jalapeño slices and a dash of chipotle sauce.

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Finally our mains came and they were, again, interesting and a bit pricey for what you got. The habanero soft shell crab (another odd choice) was tasty and presented nicely but very deceptive on how many pieces you actually get … hence us ordering more tacos afterwards. The Chilli Poblano Relleno Quinoa was a pretty good vegetarian option although they don’t know how to properly utilize cheese in this country. It’s treated like it’s caviar out here or something because they are not at all liberal with their cheese in any dish which is, along with salsa, beans and rice, a backbone of a good Mexican dish.

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So while it was not bad once you know what to order, for the price of the bill at the end of it, it’s not someplace you can go often. So for anyone who is in or around London:

What’s your favorite Mexican food restaurant, taqueria, stand, food truck, etc?

Have Oyster Card … Will Travel!

– Beard

Recipe Roundup #2

The first Recipe Roundup was a big hit so I figured I’d provide another one for everyone to enjoy and try at home! once again big thanks to my sister, Maggie, for helping me out with this post. With the fall (or autumn depending on what you prefer) upon us I figured we’d get into some things to warm you up. Without further ado, here we go.


 

For an appetizer we’re going to look at one of my favorite items in the kitchen (and one that, in moderation, is shown to help lower cholesterol along with Pomegranate Juice) … that ingredient is the Date.

Fresh Dates Stuffed With Pistachio Cream Cheese

What You’ll Need:

  • 4 oz. Low Fat or Fat Free Cream Cheese
  • 3 tbs Finely Chopped Pistachios
  • 1 tbs Local Honey
  • Dash of Cardamom
  • 12 Whole, Pitted Medjool Dates (cut in half)

Combine the Cream Cheese, Pistachios, Honey and Cardamom and beat well.

Lay the halved Dates flat on a serving plate. Place the mixture in a piping bag and pipe 2 tsp into each Date.


For our main course we turn to one of my go-to cool weather dishes which you can play around with based on your specific tastes for onions, beans, spices, etc. Although it doesn’t get much better than this in my book!

White Chicken Chili

What You’ll Need:

  • 4 Organic Chicken Breasts
  • 1 Garlic Clove (minced)
  • 1 cup Onions (chopped)
  • 1 tsp Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp Cumin Seeds
  • 1/2 tsp Cumin Powder
  • 2 1/2 cups Organic Chicken Broth
  • 2 packages Frozen White Corn (12-16 oz. each)
  • 2 cans Diced Green Chiles (4 oz. each)
  • 3 tbsp fresh-squeezed Lime Juice
  • 2 cans Northern White Beans (15 oz. each)
  • 1/4 cup White Worcester Sauce
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Bag of Tortilla Chips
  • Bag of White Monterey Jack Cheese

Boil and shred the Organic Chicken Breasts.

Saute the Garlic and Onions in the Olive Oil. Combine this with the shredded chicken in a large pot.

Add the Cumin Seeds & Powder, Chicken Broth, Frozen White Corn, Diced Green Chiles, Lime Juice, Northern White Beans and White Worcester Sauce. Turn the stovetop on Medium-High heat and cook until the contents are hot.

In your bowl break up and line the bottom with Tortilla Chips. Place the White Chicken Chili in the bowl and top with White Monterey Jack Cheese.


 

Finally we need a dessert to finish off the evening. In sticking with the fall theme let’s add some sweet potato and/or pumpkin into the mix! It’s your choice and don’t worry it’s not a Pumpkin Latte.

Sweet Potato/Pumpkin Pudding Cake

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 cup Golden Raisins
  • 2 tbsp (or more) Golden Rum
  • 1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 tsp Nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1 3/4 cups cooked Sweet Potato or canned Pumpkin
  • 3 Organic Eggs
  • 1 can Coconut Milk (14 oz.)
  • 2 tbsp Unsalted Butter (melted)
  • 1/2 cup Shredded Coconut
  • 2 tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 1/8 tsp Cinnamon
  • Pam Spray

Preheat oven to 350º

In one bowl toss the Raisins and Rum and let them soak for at least 30 minutes. In another bowl mix the Flour, Nutmeg and Salt.

Mash Sweet Potatoes or dump out Pumpkin into another bowl. Add eggs to this bowl and beat on medium speed.

Add Coconut Milk, Brown Sugar and Butter to this same bowl and beat together until all are combined.

Stir in the dry ingredients with the mixture. Mix well.

Stir in the Raisins and remaining Rum with the mixture. Mix well.

Spray Pam onto a 9-inch Springform Pan and evenly spread the mixture in.

Combine Shredded Coconut, Brown Sugar and Cinnamon. Sprinkle this mixture on top of the mixture.

Bake at 350º for 60 minutes and check the mixture. You may need up to 75 minutes depending on your oven but you should be able to insert a toothpick or knife and have it come out clean to know it’s done.

Cool for 10 minutes before removing side ring. Cool for an additional 60 minutes on the counter. Refrigerate 3 hours before serving.


Hopefully you read all 3 recipes first as you should probably start with the dessert first as it will take the longest to complete. But all are well worth the time and the White Chicken Chili will be good for 4-5 days in the fridge otherwise you can freeze it to keep it fresh much longer.

– Beard

 

 

 

Greenberry

No not pinkberry, or blueberry, or blackberry but today we focus on greenberry as in Greenberry Café. This lively neighborhood spot in the Primrose Hill area has become one of our favorite stops for a meal since we’ve been here. Now maybe it’s because they have avocado in at least one of their salads daily or that they have multiple, delicious salads or the odd trend we’ve noticed where 90% of the customers seem to be American. Either way between the normal “accents” and avocados we feel right at home.


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With both indoor, outdoor and a few bar seats there’s certainly a spot for just about everyone although on a nice evening or a weekend I’d come armed with a reservation because it can be tough to get into as we’ve learned on more than 1 occasion. Obviously our hope is that they’ll recognize us soon enough if we keep going and have no problem scoring a seat when we need it.

The other thing that we love is their menu set-up. Not only do they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner (which we’ve sampled all 3 so far) but they also have a hand-written specials board and an all-day ‘traiteur’ board. Now I wasn’t sure exactly what this meant except that it always had at least one thing I wanted to, and usually did, order from it. So naturally I did a little more research both from the web and from the help of a local St. Louis chef.

First of I’ll say that the French word ‘traiteur’ has ties to the Italian word ‘trattoria.’ However the difference has more been in the evolution of what the word represents. Originally in France dining out meant going to the house/kitchen of a guild member who served up a meal for the evening to patrons. Depending on what was delegated to them, they would usually only have 1 prix fixe menu per day which was written on a board. Now the name wasn’t used for the board but rather the guild member or their local traiteur.

Flash forward to modern-day France where the name traiteur has become a caterer but also includes take-out or home delivery service nowadays. While there are still a handful of traiteurs who do banquets or have seating in their place of business it has become quite rare. Most are smaller shops set throughout markets or towns where they rely on their window displays to draw customers in. In the US and UK we know them by the much less desirable name of a delicatessen but the idea is the same. The other thing that remains quite similar among most are the staple foods they serve … salads, cold meats and seafood dishes.

So here at Greenberry the traiteur board usually has a couple of salads, one of which is the Greenberry Salad which is an ever-changing one depending on the season and what they have just gotten in fresh. They also have a selection of charcuterie as well as at least 2-3 seafood dishes on there, usually 1 cold and 1-2 hot dishes. Finally this will also feature their special 2 or 3 course prix fixe menu as a throwback to the old days. It consists of a soup, main and dessert with the 2-course at £11.50 and the 3-course running you £13.50. Usually the soup and dessert are things that can be ordered à la carte off the regular menu but the main is a special for the prix fixe meal. The specials board will have some other selections as well from salads to appetizers to mains and are normally items that are seasonal enough they didn’t want to print all new menus right away.

I will say that in the 5 or so times we’ve been there thus far we have seen at least a couple different menus and very different special and traiteur boards almost every time. So today I’ll highlight our last trip there which was for a nice midweek dinner. As always we decided on a couple of entrees and a starter to share.

The starter was one I hadn’t seen on the menu before but it may have been the highlight of the meal. It consisted of 2 large fresh figs stuffed to the brim with creamy goats cheese and drizzled with a nice concoction of a homemade honey mustard glaze and a generous helping of pine nuts. In the middle was some mixed greens and on top were 2 perfectly crispy strips of bacon. It was a good 4 bite per person appetizer which was the perfect way to start.


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Next came our entrees … now the nice thing about Greenberry as I mentioned before is their selection of salads so you can at least imagine you’re being healthy. So tonight we balanced out the healthy and the gluttonous with a salad and a burger. First up was the Greenberry Salad which was again one I had not seen there before. It consisted of some arugula and heirloom tomatoes as a base then had quinoa, grilled corn, avocado, mango, coriander, feta and a chili & lime dressing. I thoroughly enjoyed it although Lindsay wasn’t as wild about it. Now just remember how I said I loved this place because they always had a salad with avocado? I didn’t always mean that the avocado tasted anything like it does back the states. In fact they are rather tasteless, it’s more the texture which this place does well. At least they feel like avocados should when you bite into them as opposed to most places where you almost break a tooth on them because it’s still hard but if they were to let it ripen one more day they’d go bad. It’s a fine line with no preservatives and pesticides to keep your fruit and vegetables from spoiling too soon and growing extra-large. Plus you have a smaller window for that “prime” eating time which I am absolutely okay with. So without further ado, the Greenberry Salad.


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Finally we were between about 3 other things for our last dish but decided on the burger. Now even though I am getting back into meat (out here in the UK) the one thing I still have a hard time eating is beef. Luckily this was not a beef burger! Instead it was a Moroccan spiced lamb burger and anything with Moroccan spices gets me just about every time, there’s something about those warming spices that always make me feel good. I’m a sucker for cumin, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and cayenne or some combination of those. So the burger this week came with pickled cucumbers (or pickles to the lay person), lettuce, harissa mayo and sweet potato fries. The fries were delicious, especially dipped in the mayo. The burger was very well done (not temperature wise but just good) although it was a little oily. However you could tell it was handmade and on a soft and buttery sesame seed bun.


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So rest assured we’ll be back to Greenberry plenty and with the hope they’ll know our names and faces after too long. Also I touched on a subject that I’ll expand upon in another post down the road and that is the quality of food, namely fruits and vegetables out here. Until then though, and since we started this post by diving into a French word, why not end it with another one … Bon Appétit.

– Beard

 

 

 

 

Dinner In The Cotswolds

As I mentioned earlier in the week we were in The Cotswolds this past weekend. I of course had done some research on spots to dine in a few of the different towns. The Wheatsheath Inn popped up as both a neat spot to stay and local, farm-to-table spot for dining. The others I’d found were a bit further away and after exploring all day we didn’t want to come home to change/freshen up and then get back on the road for another 30+ minute drive. So this one not only stood out from the beginning because of the food but also hit the distance criteria because upon searching I realized that it was located in the town due south of Bourton-on-the-Water called Northleach, a less than 10 minute drive.

We knew they didn’t have any reservations available until after 9:30pm so, after calling to make sure, decided that we should just take our chances and drive down anyway. Luckily we found more great British hospitality this night as they said they’d try to accommodate us. After waiting for a couple minutes they escorted us back. We walked through the main dining room/bar area upon entering the place and, while small, had a happening and lively atmosphere. We then came upon the large outdoor back patio area which was also packed and full of people even on a slightly cool evening. They had made up the bar for us in the back kitchen/bar area however we actually ended up with our own table in the same room as it was vacated earlier than expected. So we went from possibly not being able to get a seat anywhere in the restaurant to now having our own private room, things were again looking up!

We ordered some drinks, a couple of old-fashioned and a bourbon sour plus a local ale for me while we perused and drooled over the menu. We again went family style on the menu since we wanted a ton of the items and were blown away by literally everything we had. This is one that I highly recommend on a trip to anywhere in The Cotswolds since all the towns are close enough and this is literally in the dead center of the region.



We started off with 2, yes two, of the twice backed cheddar soufflés with spinach and grain mustard and they were absolutely to die for. Good thing we ordered 2 for each of the couples to split or there would be some fighting going on for the goodness in the pans. The soufflé was cooked to perfection the placed in a skillet pan on top of some wilted spinach and covered with some flavourful English cheddar cheese sauce with grain mustard added in to give it that perfect bit of kick. Then it was popped back into the oven to bake for a second time to not only warm it up but caramelise a bit of the cheese along the edges. Truly mouthwatering …


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Next we got 3 entreés to split, all different but equally delicious. The first was the full size of the heritage tomato salad with buffalo mozzarella and basil … very good but pretty small for a full size but it was a blessing in disguise as it gave us room for dessert. There was a bit of balsamic drizzled on top for good measure and the mozzarella was nicely pulled and melt in your mouth. The charred Evesham sweetcorn and spring onion risotto with Berkswell cheese was incredibly tasty. The spring onions were quickly roasted on an open flame and it tasted and looked like the corn was done in the same manner then carefully cut off the cob. We even commented that we’re so used to mushroom or pea risotto with truffle oil in the states that we weren’t sure about this but it was a favourite at the table. Finally we got the special which was Dover sole with lemon, broccoli and almonds and french fried potatoes sticks. I always forget to ask whether it is a filet or a full, bone-in fish. It of course was the latter but after the first bite when I had to discard some bones, I realized it was cooked to perfection as the meat smoothly and easily slid off the skeleton of the fish and was absolutely delicious with the sides. The fish didn’t have a whiff of fishy smell or taste, the broccoli was not too hard or soft, the lemon and almonds added great flavour and texture to everything and the “french fries” were literally large chunks of potato fried up nicely.



Luckily we saved room for dessert where we decided we needed to order off the pudding menu and boy were we glad we pushed ourselves to the limit because, like the rest of the meal so far, they were spectacular. We narrowed our choices down to the carmelised bananas with toasted hazelnuts, spiced maple syrup and gingerbread ice cream and the sticky date pudding with salted caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. Naturally we got both and didn’t regret one bite of it.



Oh and the fresh mint tea was delightful (and massive) and the 3 hot chocolates with marshmallows for everyone else seemed to cap off the night on the highest note possible. The service was quite attentive for being in our own room but luckily it was because a bar and the kitchen was part of the room so we had a few people to flag down if we needed anything. I’m also pretty sure they didn’t need to do any dishes this evening because those plates left our table without a speck of food left on them. So if you find yourself in The Cotswolds make sure to grab a reservation for dinner at this centrally-located and lively spot for a wonderful meal, refined country atmosphere and down home service.

– Beard

noma

So obviously this week has been dedicated almost entirely to København and what visit there would not be complete without a stop to the one of the top restaurants in the world (#1 in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014). Of course I’m speaking of the absolutely incredible and world-renowned noma. I was lucky enough to get there last year (2014) with my sister for not only the best lunch but best meal I’ve probably ever experienced. We planned our time in Copenhagen to coincide with the 5 days a week they’re open and were on the computer at 1am and 3am in our respective time zones back at the time in the U.S. 3 months ahead of time to try and get a reservation in April for July. Luckily we landed this lunch reservation on July 4th … I mean what better way to celebrate America’s independence than eating at the #1 restaurant in the world!?

Anyway I could on and on absolutely gushing about how great the food, service, ambiance, overall experience was. I could give you incredibly in-depth descriptions of every dish, the wine and juice pairings, the beer pairing I made them provide me as well because a glass of wine with every course wasn’t enough. I could explain the tour we got at the end and how it felt to shake the hand and talk to the man himself, René Redzepi. But what I want to do is simply let the food speak for itself because they’re truly works of art. Therefore I’m going to give you a picture of each course with the description from the menu and let you drool over your keyboards. Here we go!


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So there you have it 22 courses of pure bliss, creativity and delicious food. Now remember how I said I wasn’t going to go into detail on the restaurant, its workings, etc … I lied. I was just really anxious for you to see the pictures but I do have some other thoughts on things other than food when it comes to noma.

First off when you conjure up an image of dining at a 2-star Michelin restaurant that was routinely #1 in the world you get a bit, as silly as it may seem, nervous. What do I wear? Will I use the wrong fork? Am I allowed to put my elbows on the table? How many food pictures are too many? Will I sound stupid if I ask a question about what something is? While this may be the case in quite a few upper echelon restaurants (although less and less I feel) this is could not be further from the truth here. Upon walking in you are almost put at ease by the rustic, serene, comfortable and approachable (literally) yet very polished and clean at the same time feel of the place … cue more pictures.


 


 

So immediately we felt at ease, the champagne welcome may have helped as well but who can really tell. So after having a seat in the lounge, because of course we got there early to soak it all in, we were escorted to our table which was essentially right next to the kitchen. Now normally this means that you’ve gotten shafted and have one of the worst tables in the house but I’d say it’s almost the opposite at noma since it’s an open kitchen and is where the magic really happens.


 

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See, not a bad view from the table ehh??! Anyway after the afore-pictured meal at the table and a stop back in the lounge for coffee/tea and the last 3 dessert items pictured above, and of course another beer for me as I had to try both of the special ones they had had made for them. I had the other one with the 2nd/3rd courses before my wine pairings started 🙂


 

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As if that weren’t enough we got to take a brief tour of the kitchen and meet some of the chefs who not only prepared but presented and described the food during some of the courses. What a great way to not only get the kitchen staff out of the kitchen but let them highlight the dishes they themselves have come up with and prepared. You know that at a place like this they’ve spent weeks and weeks getting that dish you’re eating just right before René signs off on it so it’s a true sense of pride, accomplishment and dedication.



 

We also got to peep in the upstairs area, although after slaving away all day in the kitchen this was the staffs dinner/break time so I felt bad intruding but still snapped a few pics. They also take turns making this meal and while it’s not necessarily a place to test out new dishes they may serve in the restaurant I’m assuming this is one of the better staff meals out there. In addition to being their dining area they also have a massive test kitchen up here with hundreds of boxed and labeled containers of experimental spices, leaves, dried fruits, grains, etc, etc, etc. Now we also took a walk over to the noma boat (what?) which is another special spot they do plenty of tests while perfecting their recipes and dishes, messing around with insane stuff like aging things for years at a time and essentially geeking out with food of all sorts.


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So we were told that Rene actually wasn’t there today, which even they said is rare, but he had a good reason. His wife was about to go into labor any day with their 3rd child. So as bummed as we were not to meet him we, begrudgingly, understood. However a funny thing happened on the way up to the staff kitchen area as we peered out the back window, we saw a small Danish man on his bike talking to a chef out by the dumpster. Amelia’s face lit up and I think she squeezed my hand hard enough to almost break it as she “whispered” THAT’S RENÉ!!!! So after coming out of the test area/dining hall, sure enough there he was in person just checking in, casual as ever, sampling the staffs cuisine for the night.

He was maybe the most gracious and good-hearted person I’ve met, when you really take into account everything that was happening. First he was probably dropping in methodically between lunch and dinner service so he could show his face; second he had a wife at home who was about to give birth at any time; third he was not only talking to us but engaging us in questions of where we’ve been so far, what else we have planned, offering suggestions and genuinely caring even though he had just met us and had no idea who we were except patrons at his (very fine) establishment. Now as I said Amelia was a bit excited so forgive the shakiness of the first picture as she was slightly amped up.


 

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So our experience was now more complete than we could have ever imagined. As much as I recommend this experience, since that is what it truly is, to everyone I will say that if you can’t make it to Denmark anytime soon you may still be able to experience the mastery of noma elsewhere. In recent years they’ve started making a habit of picking up and trying out a new town for a bit. Usually this coincides with work being done at noma but makes for a great experience for the entire staff, lets them test out new dishes, cuisines and ingredients from different parts of the world. They don’t just bring their normal Scandinavian cuisine to a new town but take on the feel and local cuisine of the place they set-up shop. So far they’ve done London (2012 for 10 days), Tokyo (2015 for 2 months) and will be in Sydney (January 2016 for 10 weeks).

Also be sure to check out my good friend, Sarah’s, blog post as they went there this month! It was really fun to read her post to see not only how different their food was but how similar our overall thoughts and experiences were. Consistency is key! And as Sarah said in her blog, do yourself a favor and follow their instagram feed and lets hope this documentary actually comes out next year or sometime soon as the world deserves to witness his genius, creativity, love of foraging his backyard and overall goodness.

One final thing I love about their entire philosophy is how they receive so many accolades but stay humble, laid back and acknowledge the people who got them there. There is a section on their website entitled noma Alumni which is dedicated to some of the people who have gone on from noma to run, own or work in other restaurants around the world. Now obviously they can’t list every single person who comes through the kitchen but the fact that they take any time at all to do so is refreshing … almost as much as that Nordic Coconut was.

– Beard

noma
Address: Strandgade 93 DK-1401 Copenhagen K
Hours: 12pm-4pm and 7pm-12:30am (Tuesday-Saturday)
Fun Fact: It’s a fact that you’ll have a tough time GETTING A RESERVATION so be sure to set your alarm for a fun time in the virtual waiting room and keep your schedule open when trying to book a table there
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