Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Chicken and Chicken

We had our first dinner party in the new flat: roasted chicken and potatoes with probably the final tomato salad of the year (woe and twain!). It was a necessarily small affair with one guest, our friend John, a medievalist, accomplished home cook and loyal Canadian ex-pat (below, see picture of said young candlelit intellectual). Our London entertaining will be curtailed by a severely limited number of chairs, unless we meet some eccentric Brits for whom food has no savor unless it is consumed at ground level. (If you're out there, give us a call! We'll have a feast for you!)

Somehow, this particular chicken seemed to have a faint gamey scent. We couldn't decide if this peculiarity was due to the halal butchering methods or if perhaps it had been raised on scraps from a table somewhere down the block. Possibly both; we're pretty sure the meats at our neighborhood butcher shops have a very local provenance, and not in the way that food writers enthusiastic about organic local farms use the phrase.

On the other hand, we bought nuts and Arab pastries from a tiny shop across the street. The sweets were completely soaked in honey, and the filling included crushed pistachios and coconut as well as walnuts, a truly decadent baklava that is sure to cause trouble in this Shepherd's Bush household. Already, there have been debates over who really deserves the leftover piece on the counter.

In addition to the satisfaction of bringing a beautiful looking bird to the table, roasting a whole chicken has the added benefit of leftovers. Our favorite recipe for today's poultry tomorrow follows; fortunately the strong spices will mask any olfactory flaws in your neighborhood fowl.

Cinnamon Chicken

This is a leftovers recipe, so it is by nature imprecise; consequently we will adopt the narrative mode of cooking instruction more common in nineteenth-century texts than in later, more scientific approaches to the art of cuisine. Chop a small onion and saute it in some olive oil until tender. Add two cloves chopped garlic and some crushed red pepper, to taste, and stir briefly. Then add a little wine (either white or red works) and about a cup of chopped tomatoes (this is optional if you prefer a more chicken-based dish) and season with cumin, coriander, salt, pepper and a bit of cinnamon. Stir in your chopped leftover chicken and let simmer for five or ten minutes. When the flavors have blended, add some lemon zest and lemon juice and a bit more olive oil, preferably the strong fruity kind. Sprinkle with freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley and serve over rice or couscous. You can add a little cinnamon to the rice when fluffing it, for extra flavor.
Serves 2, approximately!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tyrants of the Lambs

To begin, there is a learning curve to cooking in a foreign kitchen. First, the hot and cold on the tap are reversed, so there have been some tragic scalding accidents in the initial (that is to say, dishwashing) stages of setting up the kitchen. We are not proud. When we cut ourselves with our new chef's knife, we do bleed.

But the real challenge to the young couple with six higher education degrees between the two of them...

Yes, the stove is in Celsius.

Still, the halal lamb chops look extremely promising and we got a splendid omelette pan today which, with enough careful coaxing, should double nicely as a lamb-chop-sauteing pan. Traveling cooks can't be too fussy about these things, however shocked Escoffier might be.


Yes, halal. Presumably excepting the Scottish butcher a block or so west of here, our local butchers keep it real.

There are a number of different interpretations regarding what makes meat halal, which means, literally, “permitted”. The most rigorous requirements are for what is called dhabiha halal, under which the meat must not be or include any substances forbidden by the Quran (most notably pork, blood and alcohol, but also including animals found dead, frogs and “fanged beasts of prey”) and must have been slaughtered by a mentally sound adult Muslim. This person is required to check the animal for health and wellbeing, give it a last drink of water before slaughter, and then align it so that it is facing Mecca. He then kills it by slicing its neck arteries, esophagus and trachea with a non-serrated knife while reciting an invocation, usually the famous phrase bismillah al rahman al rahim, “in the name of God the Beneficent, the Merciful,” to demonstrate that the animal is submitting to its place in God’s design.

Other, more lenient, interpretations suggest that as long as the meat does not include the forbidden substances, reciting the “bismillah” invocation before consumption is sufficient to qualify it as halal. A still looser interpretation holds that any food, whether forbidden or not, is halal after this recitation. We are as yet unsure about which definition of halal is the one to which the butchers on the Uxbridge Road adhere.

It should be noted that the Quran explicitly states that the rules of halal may be ignored in situations where hunger threatens the believer. Another point of interest is that the rules governing kosher meat, while not identical to those of halal, are similar enough that some Islamic leaders have suggested that kosher meat is an adequate substitute for halal meat.

Incidentally, the chops got pan seared and served with oven roasted potatoes and a garlicky tomato salad.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Flat

Our one bedroom flat in Shepherd's Bush:

We've got a separate bed, but it's too small to show up on film. Laura likes to think of it as a canopy bed with walls and a ceiling instead of fabric.

Our first dinner at home was a Mediterranean affair with bread, wine, cheese, olive oil and dolmades from the markets on our street - turns out you need a lighter for the stove. Onward!

Views from our flat are of the Queen Adelaide pub (below) and this peculiar structure, as yet unidentified

While the pub across the street is convenient, it looks like our local will be the Defector's Weld, commonly held to be the coolest on the Shepherd's Bush green...

...what more could you ask for?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Did we mention we were upgraded?

It turns out that business class offers a selection of edible airline food chosen from a menu with paired wines. Who knew?
Pass the port, Sir George.

Laura takes care of business.

Hitting the Bricks

Now in London, we've found a flat and begun settling in. At the Bangla Town International Curry Festival on Brick Lane, we grazed on samosas and onion bhajees, and sipped milk from green jelly nuts. Yummy treats abound.

And they're off

Upon arriving in Chicago from Traverse City, it became clear that we were on the short list to get bumped from our overbooked flight to London. As savvy travelers with no very pressing agenda, we jumped at the offer to stay overnight in the Windy City and fly business class the next day.
Armed with the deep knowledge of the city one can glean only from the lyrics of a Wilco song, we set out in search of a deep dish pizza with tomato sauce atop the cheese. What a great opportunity to compare the famous Chicago-style pizza with the thin crust coal oven pizza we’d enjoyed in New Haven for the past few years! Nearly halfway to the loop, we noticed the hipsters on our car departing at the Damen stop. Naturally, we leapt up to follow and found ourselves in the land of Urban Outfitters, horn-rimmed glasses and very cool eateries. Our keen instincts drew us toward Piece, a pizzeria and brewery. Once seated, we learned that Piece was inspired by Bar, a New Haven favorite. As soon as we opened the all-too familiar menu to discover a mixed green salad with bleu cheese, apples and candied pecans and noticed mashed potatoes among the choices of pizza toppings, the similarities in décor leapt out as well. We shared the salad and a red pie with mozzarella cheese, Italian sausage and sautéed mushrooms, both were tasty and comfortingly familiar. The home brews at Piece outshine those at Bar. We enjoyed two seasonal beers – the medium bodied Worryin’ Ale and the Fornicator, which was sweet and hoppy and went well with the pizza. All in all, a fine way to bid farewell to the States with a final taste of New Haven in Chicago.

On the go in Chi-town

The coldest winter we ever spent was a summer night in Chicago.

We see us looking back at ourselves - a sculpture in Millenium Park.