Category Archives: Lunch

Chicory, Blue Cheese and Caramelised Onion Tart

Chicory

Because I have pretensions towards being middle class, I get a vegetable box from Abel & Cole delivered each fortnight. And, because I am horrendously forgetful – particularly when it comes to vegetable deliveries – I often neglect to take a look at their website to see what’s going to be in it each week. While this often leads to me opening my box to find delicious surprises inside, it also means that I’m frequently presented with vegetables which I have no idea what to do with (Kohlrabi, anyone?) This is how I found myself frantically googling ‘chicory recipes’ recently. I had a vague memory of eating it in a (frankly disgusting) gratin once –  the sprinkling of anemic looking breadcrumbs doing nothing to disguise its hideous slimy bitterness – so I wasn’t feeling too confident. And I certainly didn’t want to find myself spending an hour of my life slaving over a hot stove only to make something which looked vile, smelt like a foot and ended up being swiftly dispatched to the bin.

Then inspiration kindly decided to roll out of my kitchen cupboards in the form of my tart tin. I’m very fond of baking up leftover vegetables into various creations, and I’m even fonder of finding an excuse to wrap them up in pastry. I had a vague inkling that chicory and blue cheese went well together, one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was eating gigantic slabs of this Chicory, Blue Cheese and Caramelised Onion Tart for my lunch.

Chicory Blue Cheese and Caramelised Onion Tart

Comprising of caramelised onions and chicory, and a larger-than-really-needed handful of blue cheese,  this is quite a robust little number. It’s helped in no small part by the delicious olive oil tart crust I used as a base. Taken from the delightful French food blog Chocolate & Zucchini, it’s a doddle to make, comes together in minutes and rolls out like a dream (although it can be a bit springy when chilled.)  I found this crust to be perfect for this recipe, although I’m sure that no one will complain if you use ready made shortcrust instead (and if they do, I suggest you throw them some serious side-eye.) This makes a fine lunch, a divine dinner and a seriously superb snack.  It goes very well with a crisp green salad and an even crisper glass of white wine. Alternatively, it also works well being eaten in the light of your fridge while listening to the World at One.

A slice of chicory tart

CHICORY, BLUE CHEESE AND CARAMELISED ONION TART

You will need:

  • One tart crust (either make your own, or use your preferred brand of shortcrust pastry)
  • 2 bulbs of chicory
  • 1 large red onion
  • 30g butter
  • 1tbsp light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 50ml creme fraiche
  • 100g blue cheese (I used Cashel Blue), crumbled into lumps
  • Salt & Pepper

Make It!

  1. First, prepare your tart crust. Roll the pastry out to 3mm thickness, and gently lay it over a tart tin. Blind bake it for 15-20  minutes at 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Remove from the oven and leave to cool while you’re preparing the filling.
  2. Slice the onion and the chicory into rounds (making sure to discard the hard core of the chicory.) Heat the sugar and butter together until they are browned and bubbling slightly. Fry the onion and chicory for roughly 5 – 7 minutes until they are soft and golden. Remove from the pan, and set to one side.
  3. Beat the eggs and creme fraiche together, add the lumps of blue cheese and season well with salt and pepper. Layer the chicory and onions inside your baked tart case, and pour the wet mixture over the top, ensuring that the blue cheese crumbs are spread evenly.
  4. Bake at 200°C/Gas Mark 6 for 30 – 35 minutes until set. Leave to cool for fifteen minutes before serving.  This should be good for around a week, meaning it’s great if you want to cook it the day before taking it to a picnic or brunch. 

 

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Skint Lunch Club: 81 Renshaw Street

Soup and a Sandwich

Streaky Bacon, Cream Cheese & Spring Onion sandwich and a large bowl of Sweet Potato and Chickpea soup.

Hands up who’s skint. Well, that makes two of us. I looked at my bank account last week and let out a wail that could probably be heard across Merseyside. To add insult to injury, January looks to be the month where everything I own suddenly decides to break or run out. Eyeliner, jeans, PC hard drives, you name it. It’s like one long Monday where your bank manager has you on speed dial and you can’t afford to drown your sorrows in overpriced cocktails.

However, like the brave little soldier I am, I refuse to allow my straightened circumstances to stop me indulging in the odd lunch out every now and then. Thankfully, I’m lucky enough to work in an area of Liverpool where I’m spoilt for inexpensive lunch options, one of these being the recently opened 81 Renshaw Street.

81 Renshaw Street is an ‘arts cafe’, which opened with relatively little fanfare a few months ago. It’s the kind of unassuming little place you could easily walk past if you didn’t already know it was there. Like so many recent Liverpool openings, it’s decorated in ‘shabby chic’ (Christ I hate that term), so there are lots of old cabinets full of vintage crockery, rickety-looking tables, large squishy sofas and a gas fire that I’m sure my Nana June owned back in 1989. Where in other places this kind of ‘I’ve just accidentally wandered into a jumble sale’ style looks contrived, here it works – although this may just be because you can tell it’s there with no sense of irony whatsoever.

I had the soup and a sandwich, which consisted of a Streaky Bacon, Cream Cheese & Spring Onion sandwich and a large bowl of Sweet Potato and Chickpea soup. The sandwich itself was fairly utilitarian – two slices of crunchy streaky bacon and a large smear of spring-onion-studded cream cheese on a crunchy ciabatta roll – yet salty, creamy, crunchy and delicious. Plus, it wasn’t filled with any of the limp lettuce and watery tomato slices that can so easily ruin a perfectly good sarnie.

The real star of the show, though, was the Sweet Potato & Chickpea Soup. It’s always good when you see a simple dish done right, and this was as warm and welcoming as a bear hug. Hearty, slightly sweet and heady with toasty cumin, here was a soup that actually tasted of something, a delightful change from the bland fibrous mulch I’ve often had served up to me in other places. As a testament to how good it was, I overheard a woman at one of the other tables asking her waitress for the recipe, which she duly scribbled down. You don’t get that at Subway.

Flourless Clementine Cake

Flourless Clementine Cake

But woman cannot live on soup alone, so I decided to buy a slice of Flourless Clementine Cake for the road. Packed full of almonds and sour-sweet clementine peel, this was a squidgy slice of tasty complexity, and a cake that I will definitely be attempting to recreate in my kitchen sometime in the next few weeks. While I was there, I also had a sample of their Banana Bread in my mouth and didn’t instantly spit it out and cross myself. As regular readers will know, I deem bananas to be the devil’s own fruit, so the fact I managed to eat something containing them without wanting to wash my mouth out immediately with antiseptic is definite progress.

With its ramshackle charm, minimal web presence and really good homemade food, there’s a refreshing lack of pretence to 81 Renshaw Street. While its food is never going to win any awards for originality, it will win plaudits for being simple, tasty and full of heart. Plus, you can eat like a queen and get change from a tenner. And, in these times of economic hardship, you can’t really say fairer than that.

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Shakshuka

Some people have normal phobias, like spiders and the dark. Me? I have them of that pre-grated cheese which comes in giant plastic sacks and blood pressure monitors. The blood pressure monitor one meant that I had to spend my Wednesday strapped up to an automatic blood pressure doohickey which took a reading every fifteen minutes. Ever been stood next to someone in the supermarket when your arm suddenly decides to expand & vibrate? I DON’T RECOMMEND IT.

There’s not a lot you can do when you’re spending your day dressed in wires. Even cleaning the cooker becomes fraught with danger, as one especially hard scrub when you’re scouring your hobs could lead to your reading going off the scale. And if that wasn’t enough, it also had the indecency to go off when I was on the toilet. By lunchtime, I was feeling decidedly pissed off. There was only one thing for it. It was time for Shakshuka.

Shakshuka may sound like the name of a burly Israeli superhero, but in reality it’s an absolutely delicious dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. It’s incredibly easy to make, uses ingredients which you’ll usually find festering away at the back of your fridge and (best of all) it’s ridiculously healthy. It’s the perfect comfort food to tackle those January blues, and makes an amazing lunch.  Due to my insatiable greed for all things egg-and-cheese based, I ate an entire pan of this stuff. However, if you’re more inclined to share your lunch (and believe in portion control), this will easily feed two.

OK, so there are better ways to spend a day off work than strapped up to a blood pressure monitor. But after a huge plate of this, and an America’s Next Top Model marathon on Living, it was just about bearable. Well, until it went off again when I was trying to put my coat on…

SHAKSHUKA (Feeds one greedy person, or two people with normal appetites)

Recipe adapted (very slightly) from Smitten Kitchen 

You will need:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 green chilli, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed then sliced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp  paprika (I used smoked paprika to give it a bit more oomph)
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 50g feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and Pepper to season
  • Warm pita breads, for serving

Make It!

  1. Cook the chilli and the diced onion, stirring occasionally, until the mixture turns soft and golden brown. Add garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft.
  2. Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan along with 60ml water.  Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Crack eggs over sauce so that eggs are evenly distributed across sauce’s surface. Cover the pan and cook for around 5 minutes until the yolks are just set. Baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk. Sprinkle shakshuka with feta and parsley and serve with pitas, for dipping.
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Miss Cay eats London: Breakfast at Dishoom, Lunch at Scoop, Dinner at Byron

It’s been five years since I moved away from London, and there’s a lot of things I miss about the place. I miss my friends, and seeing my reflection illuminated in the coloured lights of the Wellcome Institute. I miss the smell of tube stations – that strange combination of dirt and history. But most of all, I miss the food. London is home to some of the best restaurants in the UK and – like it or not – arguably the most vibrant and involved food culture. Living in Liverpool, and reading numerous blogs posts about the most exciting recent openings, always makes me feel as though I’m pressing my nose against the glass of what’s out there. It also makes me determined to eat at as many amazing restaurants as possible whenever I pay the capital a visit.

I’m lucky enough to visit London regularly (at the moment, it’s around once a month) which provides me with ample opportunity to tick a few of the must-eat-at restaurants off my list. And this visit was no exception. I spent yesterday running around the city with my American cousin in tow, eating some seriously good food and remembering just how much I hate the tourist areas of London, and the huge swathes of humanity who somehow feel that it is their god given right to cluster outside the entrances of tube stations.

We started our eating adventures at Dishoom, a Bombay style café situated in Covent Garden. I’d heard amazing things about their Bacon Naan rolls, and I’m pleased to report that they didn’t disappoint. Deliciously plump rashers of bacon had been grilled to perfection, crispy and thick with smoky fat. The naans were warm, soft and delicious – more chappati like in texture than the pillowy specimens I’m used to getting from my local takeaway (although this is no bad thing). However, the highlight was undeniably the homemade chilli jam which came on the side. This sweet zingy condiment turned a good breakfast into a sensational one, and I found myself picking pieces of out of my naan just so I could dip them into this amazing condiment.

Honourable mention should also go to the cups of chai we ordered to wash our breakfast down. Spiced with cinnamon, cardamom and cloves, it provided the warm kick we needed to face walking around an unseasonably wet London.

It’s Dishoom’s first birthday at the moment, and they’re giving away lots of free food and booze providing you whisper some magic words to their lovely waitresses (these can be found on their Facebook page). A swift singsong of HAPPY FIRST BIRTHDAY! led to us getting a free breakfast which, in case you were wondering, is always a sure fire way to win my heart.

After walking around the seventh circle of Hell which is Topshop on Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon (NEVER AGAIN), I decided that gelato was required.  Thankfully, we weren’t that far away from Soho, so it was time to make a swift stop at Scoop. 

I was introduced to Scoop by my friend Jess last September and now no trip to London is complete without me indulging in tub of this heavenly stuff. Walking into Scoop, I felt like a kid in a candy shop. The counter displays rows upon rows of brightly coloured frozen delights, all whipped up and looking like the world’s tastiest rainbow. If you’d like to try before you buy, the friendly lady behind the counter will be more than happy to hand you a small taste of each different flavour, so you can get a taste before you dive into the main event.

We decided to go for two scoops each – both of us got the Dark Chocolate Sorbet (Cioccolato Fondente) and my cousin opted for the Torroncino whilst I got a scoop of the raspberry sorbet. The Cioccolate Fondente was outstanding – black as night,  fruity and rich with 70% cocoa, it managed to be so much more than just a simple concoction of chocolate and frozen water. I adored my raspberry sorbet, sharp, tart with just the right amount of sweetness, it was just the thing to cut through the richness of the chocolate.

At £3.50 for three scoops, this is one of the cheapest means conceivable of getting your rocks off. Don’t be put off by the calorie charts behind the counter either. Indeed, just forget about the diet altogether, and dive into a pot of fats and sugars which is so good, the UN should hand it out to warring nations to promote world peace.

The last food stop of the day saw us schlepping down Charing Cross Road to enjoy a burger at Byron.  By this point of the day we were both exhausted. We were cold, tired, incredibly wet and fed up of various tourists poking us in our delicate places with their umbrellas. We required booze and a Cheeseburger the size of our own heads. Each. When I saw the Byron sign emerging out of the rain like a beacon, I knew that this was the place for us.

I’ve heard numerous things about Byron – most of them good – and have wanting to try out the burgers offered by this burgeoning chain for a while. I was also intrigued to see whether they could replace the Meatwagon’s infamous Dead Hippy in my affections.

Whilst my Byron Burger was excellent, it still pales into insignificance compared to the mighty Dead Hippy. Saying that though, I liked the bun which was hefty enough to stand up to the weight of the burger and toppings, and didn’t fall apart after a few bites.  I was also pleased to see that it was cooked to a perfect medium rare, with a nice crust on the meat although I’d have preferred it if some juices had oozed out when I bit into it (but hey, perhaps that’s the American in me talking). The cheese and bacon were both delicious, although a dab more of the signature Byron dressing wouldn’t have gone amiss either.

The side of courgette fries were superb  – thin strips of courgette coated in a tempura batter. Each strip was brilliantly crisp and worryingly moreish. I demolished a bowl of these, vowing whilst I was eating them that I would attempt to recreate them in my own kitchen. My American cousin was also thrilled to see that they served A&W Root Beer (the only real root beer in our opinion) and, that for an extra 50p, you could get it as a float. Our bill came to £30 altogether and whilst it may have been more expensive than a train station Burger King, it was a hell of a lot more satisfying.

We wobbled back to Euston satiated, happy, and probably a stone heavier. Once again, London didn’t disappoint on the food front. I’m looking forward to my next trip where I intend to tackle the infamous Hawksmoor. Waistline, I apologise in advance.

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Blackburne House Café: Is this the best soup in Liverpool?

As a rule, I dislike soup which I haven’t made myself. You may think that this sounds like a ridiculously arsey statement, but it’s rare I find a café, restaurant or lunch emporium which manages to get such a simple dish right. Most of the soups I’ve eaten recently have tasted of overcooked vegetable mulch and old string. Hell, even the ones I’ve made myself have lacked that certain something (that something mainly being a) seasoning and b) the ability to not smell like I’ve been stewing knicker elastic for an hour and a half).

However, yesterday, I managed to stumble upon possibly the best soup purveyor on Hope Street (if not the whole of Liverpool City Centre), the Blackburne House Café.

Blackburne House is a pretty ace place. Not only is it home to the Liverpool branch of the W.I. (who, may I say, aren’t your average W.I. and seem like a rather cool bunch of ladies), but it’s also a place which supports women’s enterprise, health and wellbeing. They provide massages, well being sessions, education and help for freelancers, or women starting out in business. Despite working on Hope Street for (almost) eighteen months now, and walking past it practically every day,  I’ve never really visited its rather unassuming little café, preferring the (ever so slightly overpriced) delights of the deli situated in The Quarter.

However, on Monday, I was craving something warm and comforting, and – seeing as the last time I bought soup from The Quarter I ended up spending far too much money on something which was, frankly, disgusting – I decided to pay Blackburne House a visit and see what they had on offer. And blimey, I’m glad I did.

There’s no fussy flavours here, no flavours of the East or strange grains chucked in for a bit of exotic flare. Instead, this is simple, uncomplicated fare which puts me in mind of the kind of thing your Nan would make for you when you’re feeling under the weather.  Homemade, well seasoned and absolutely delicious, truly these are the king of soups. Which would go some way to explaining why I’ve gone there for my lunch three days in a row, and demolished a bowl in under five minutes whenever I’ve been there.

Special mention should also go to the bread  it’s served up with.  Soft, fresh, doughy and delicious, it’s just the thing for mopping up all of that excess. Not that you’ll have much if you’re anything like me. And, best of all, you can get this and a Diet Coke and still have a change from a fiver. Bargaintastic!

Does Blackburne House Café serve the best soup in Liverpool? Well, at the moment, I’m reserving judgement until I actually manage to eat a bowl of soup in every restaurant situated within the Merseyside area. But it definitely serves up the best soup on Hope Street. And when I’m cold, hungry and grumpy, that’s enough for me.

Blackburne House Café

Blackburne Place (just off Hope Street)

Liverpool

L8 7PE

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