Dinner for 5 at Home – Courtesy of Ottolenghi & the French Countryside

Mrs. LF and I invited three good friends over for dinner on Friday. She did all of the cooking – unfortunately, not much new there – although I was working all day. We had a wonderful evening, which was part inspired by Ottolenghi and part inspired by the French countryside. Not a bad combination, I say!

The starter was directly from the Ottolenghi cookbook, which my wife swears is the best cookbook she has ever bought, and I can attest to the results – bloody excellent every time, and she’s made about 10 recipes so far.

The dish she chose was ‘Chargrilled asparagus, courgettes and manouri’, although we substituted halloumi for the manouri cheese as we can’t find it nearby our place. Although it looks like a simple salad, as with many of Ottolenghi’s recipes, there is more to it than meets the eye, and it did require quite a bit of prep work, and had a lot more ingredients than you would imagine…but that’s what makes their food so tasty, memorable and recognizable.

The Ottolenghi went down a treat

The Ottolenghi salad went down a treat

A close-up of the deceivingly simple salad

A close-up of the deceivingly simple salad

As an aperitif and to go with the starter, I had selected a slightly chilled Georges Deboeuf 2008 Beaujolais Nouveau, which was really excellent (you can get it at Whole Foods for a discount right now).

The Georges Dubeuf 2008 Beaujolais Nouveau (Cuvee Speciale) was light, fruity and highly quaffable, just as a good Nouveau should be - nice and light with the salad

The Georges Duboeuf 2008 Beaujolais Nouveau (Cuvee Speciale) was light, fruity and highly quaffable, just as a good Nouveau should be - nice and light with the salad

The main course was made possible by Mrs. LF’s cousin, whose parents own a large country home in France and whose mother grows her own vegetables and keeps her own chickens. She stayed with us a few week’s ago and brought a freshly slaughtered chicken in her bag on the Eurostar (how do they allow this, I know?!), so we had been keeping it in the freezer to bring out for a special night with more than just the two of us…as it was one big bird.

The chicken was very ‘free range’, as you could tell when you saw the joints and bones, which were larger and darker than any chicken you can get in UK supermarkets. The meat was also generally darker and a bit tougher than a UK supermarket chicken, which is the way it should be, and it really had a great flavor running through it. As usual, Mrs. LF had roasted it to perfection, with the skin thin and very crispy, and the bird moist throughout. It was served with fresh green beans, roasted potatoes (which is a secret recipe from her mom) and garnished with roasted garlic and a mish-mash of apples, onions and such. Delish!

The properly 'free range' chicken smuggled in from France, all set and ready to go!

The properly 'free range' chicken smuggled in from France, all set and ready to go!

A close-up of Mrs. LF's main course

A close-up of Mrs. LF's main course

We still had some Pouilly Fumé left over from our wedding earlier this year, and thought it would go nicely with the chicken, which it did. To me, it had the trademark ‘cat piss’ smell on the nose, and was very citrusy and acidic, which cut through the sweetness of the fruit/onion accompaniments and melded well with the bird.

2007 Pouilly Fumé, Domaine del Bel Air (Mauroy Gauliez): sharp citrus flavor with good minerality and acidity, a good compiment to the chicken

2007 Pouilly Fumé, Domaine del Bel Air (Mauroy Gauliez): sharp citrus flavor with good minerality and acidity, a good French compliment to French the chicken

The dessert was also an homage to Ottolenghi, and was a re-creation of what is probably our favorite of their desserts, the dangerous and renowned lemon and marscapone tart. This was Mrs. LF’s first attempt at making pastry and it turned out well overall. One of the secrets to this tart – and, by the way, they don’t tell you how to directly make this dessert in their book, but do give you the three processes of pastry, lemon curd and marscapone cream in different places throughout the book (!) – is the lemon zest in the pastry shell and the subtle crunchiness (maybe of semolina) that it has when you buy it in the store. It didn’t turn out as an exact copy of the version you can buy in their shops, but it was still darn tasty. I will  let the picture do the talking here – ’nuff said!

A re-creation of the famed Ottolenghi lemon & marscapone tart

A re-creation of the famed Ottolenghi lemon & marscapone tart

Our guests wanted a dessert wine, and unfortunately I didn’t have one that would work with the lemon tarts in my little faux cellar (and Mrs. LF said I was not to buy anymore wine, as she wants us to drink what we have first…urgh!).

In any case, we opened a bottle of some really lovely white sweet wine that we found on our travels to Switzerland last year around Christmas time. We had a remarkable Swiss Syrah wine when having a steak at the legendary Café de Paris in Geneva, and liked it so much that we hunted down the winemaker (Bernard Coudray of Domaine La Tourmente) and set up an appointment to go and visit him in the Valais canton the next day, even though he was officially shut :). We bought some of the Syrah, some of a red blend which is the only one he ages in oak, and some of this, the very fruity and acidic Johannisberg. While it didn’t go with the tart (way too acidic and therefore cancels out the fruit taste of the wine), it was still nice to have, and I drank it more as an after-dessert drink.

2007 Chomoson Johannisberg (La Tourmente): one of the nicer little sweet wines I've had in a while - but good luck finding it outside of Switzlerand (they only export 3% of their wine!)

2007 Chomoson Johannisberg (La Tourmente): one of the nicer little sweet wines I've had in a while - but good luck finding it outside of Switzlerand (they only export 3% of their wine!)

Well, after that we finished up with a digestif of Thunder toffee vodka (I know, a bit strange, but we had bought some at Taste of London and wanted to see how it was), which had been in the freezer for days. It definitely tastes more like vodka than toffee, but it does have a subtle burnt caramel taste to it…not bad.

All in all, it was a wonderful way to end the week and usher in the weekend :).

Monty’s Dry French White, Roasted Quail & Proper French Beans

A pale, light and wonderfully fresh country wine that is reminiscent of French cider on the mid-palate and the finish

A pale, light and wonderfully fresh country wine that is reminiscent of French cider on the mid-palate and the finish

Last night, Mrs. LF cooked up a simple little storm. 4 roasted quails with garlic and a slightly lemony glaze to them. The quail were from Waitrose and were £4.50 a pair – they certainly were good.

The birds were accompanied by ‘proper’ french beans, which had been smuggled from Mrs. LF’s cousin’s farm, where her mother grows a variety of fruits and veg. They also keep chickens, and our lovely little cousin also managed to stash away a freshly slaughtered chicken in her bag on the Eurostar to bring to us too – we have frozen it and are saving it for when some friends come around next week. In any case, they were excellent, cooked with a bit of garlic, and for some reason only took 5 minutes to cook vs. the normal 15 minutes with the organic store-bought green beans we normally have. Go figure.

We were very excited to try our bottle of Monty’s Dry French White wine from the recently released 2008 vintage. And this anticipation wasn’t misplaced. Quite pale in color, it was a true country wine: strong, one-dimensional, lots of fruit, lots of acidity. Mrs. LF pointed out that it smelled of apples and then we all realized that its aftertaste reminded us a lot of French cider. The wine was an excellent partner for the quail – simple food, good table wine – and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Next, we need to try one of our 2 bottles of Monty’s Red from 2008, for which I am now holding out even more hope. And I think I may head down to Roberson Wine to see if I can get another bottle or two fo the white, if they have any that is.  It seems to have already disappeared from Adnams’ website, where I ordered it from in the first place…

The Priviledge of a Home Cooked Iranian Feast!

So here’s the deal. About 10 years ago, while I was still living the US and was on a trip to London, I had an amazing meal at the home of my good friends’ parents. My two friends (who are brothers) are Iranian, and their mother has such a good hand in the kitchen that 10 years later I was still salivating over distant memories of my first and only meal at her home.

Iranian food, when cooked properly at home by a skilled cook, has to be one of the best cuisines in the world. Unfortunately, I have found that, at least in London, it is nearly impossible to find any Iranian restaurant food that is remotely satisfying compared to ‘the real deal’. Restaurants are supposed to serve better kebabs than you can make at home (and from what I understand the kebabs at restaurants inside Iran are truly out of this world), but it is very rare that I have come across one which I have enjoyed unconditionally in a London-based establishment. In fact, the home-cooked kebabs I have had at friends’ houses are usually far better than the ones I have had in restaurants here.

Oh yes, sorry, back to the story…

Anyway, about a month ago I began pestering my friends to have their mom ‘invite’ me and some other friends over for a follow-up meal. Now I know this is pretty rude, but what else can you do when you need your fix? Eventually, a date and time manifested and everything was in order.  And last Sunday was the magic day.

The meal lived up to all expectations, and some of the food exceeded them. There were about 12 of us all together, and we had an amazing, relaxed meal. I have posted some photos of the food below to let you have a little peak.

An overview of the processions!

An overview of the processions!

After sitting in the, erm, sitting room and chilling out over some drinks, it was time for the main event. Of course, I should mention that even when you sit around in an Iranian household, you will be surrounded by food – in this case, various assortments of nuts, sweets, fruits, tea, beer, wine, etc. – and they will softly implore you to have as much as you can stomach. Perfect just before a big meal :).

So, what was on offer? Well, there were two types rice:

Polo – traditional white Iranian-style basmati rice

Traditional white Iranian style basmati rice, with saffron infused throughout, and usually eaten with butter and a little sumac

Traditional white Iranian style basmati rice, with saffron infused throughout, and usually eaten with butter and a little sumac

Havij Polo – carrot rice (one of my favorites!)

Iranian carrot rice - to die for!

Iranian carrot rice - to die for!

To accompany the rice (or, rather, the other way around?) was:

Ghormeh Sabzi– a traditional green Iranian stew (often called the ‘national dish’ of Iran), another favorite of mine.  Some of the main ingredients are parsley, leek and fenugreek (which make it a dark green color), and it usually includes red kidney beans, onions, chives, dried limes (which are key) and lamb or veal. The dried limes, which are left in the stew, give it a very sour kick, and it has a deep flavor of green herbs. The texture of the beans and the softness of the stewed meat make this one of the world’s truly unique and delicious dishes, though it is an acquired taste for some. The one we had on Sunday was one of the best I’ve ever tasted.  Faultless and perfectly balanced. This goes with the plain rice, which is the perfect complement. And for those of you who have not had rice made Iranian style, it is by far the best and tastiest method I have come across for cooking basmati rice. Of course, it is probably the most fattening, too, but who’s counting?

One of the most unique and delicious dishes in the world - an acquired taste for some, though

One of the most unique and delicious dishes in the world - an acquired taste for some, though

Gheymeh Bademjan – another amazing dish, though not one I’ve had very often.  It’s key components are aubergine/egg plant and yellow split peas. The rich brown sauce is composed of various other ingredients, some of which include onion, garlic and tomatoes. This was a rich dish, with the eggplants being slow-cooked to perfection with no bitterness, and the split pea stew completely delectable. You eat this with the plain rice, fyi, and with some plain sour yogurt if you want.

A rich mix of aubergine, yellow split peas and a whole lot of other good stuff!

A rich mix of aubergine, yellow split peas and a whole lot of other good stuff!

‘Chicken Dish’ – pathetic description, I know, but this is apparently the best translation from Farsi (?!) according to my friends. Anyway, you eat this with the carrot rice (and yogurt if you want), and this was the best combination of food I’ve had for some time. It is sweet as it is cooked with carrots and cinnamon, very delicate and so tasty that you cannot stop eating it. The chicken must have been marinated forever as the flavor was present in every bite (not just on the outside), and was cooked perfectly too – it just fell off the bone while retaining a soft but firm enough texture.

Traditional Iranian chicken dish usually eaten with carrot rice - an amazing combination

Traditional Iranian chicken dish usually eaten with carrot rice - an amazing combination

The above was also served with a simple salad of greens, mint and radishes, and then afterwards a slightly more complicated salad was served (which is very Iranian, and French come to think of it – but then again, the word for ‘thanks’ in both Farsi and French is merci…so there is definitely some commonality / stealing going on between these two nations 🙂 ).

Cleansing the palate...

Cleansing the palate...

The photos simply do not do this meal justice, but at least you can get an idea of our wonderful Sunday evening.

The evening was capped off by retiring to the sitting room again and sinking into some huge Iranian chairs which their family had brought over from Iran when they first moved over here. This furniture was probably more suited to the larger house they had in their home country as it looks slightly like it is on steroids even in a rather large detached London home – but whatever the case, the chairs were very comfortable to pass out in!

And, of course, some more cakes and sweets were had with tea (Gaz,in particular, which is the Esfahanian version of nougat) as conversation rambled on through the night.

A perfect Sunday evening, all in all.

ADDENDUM – in all the excitement of writing about this meal, I forgot to mention one of the best parts – the ‘taa-dig’!  Taa-dig is the hard, crispy bits that are at the bottom of the saucepan in Iranian rice dishes and, if done well, they are very naughty and damn tasty.  On this occasion, my friend came out of his mom’s kitchen with a small plate of the taa-dig from the carrot rice in one had, and a mouthful of it in the other, as he knew it would be a hot commodity that the vultures would devour instantaneously upon it touching the table.  It was made of thin sliced bread, and was a mouthful of crisp, bready, buttery deliciousness – I managed to score a substantial portion, which others tried to steal from me throughout the course of the meal.  The normal polo had a potato taa-dig, which was also great too, but not as popular or as tasty as the bread-based one.  Sorry, no picture of these…