Archive | July, 2012

Warm blue cheese, chorizo and cucumber salad

10 Jul

Ah, Saturday lunches….

An opportunity to experiment. Or to just slap a pizza into the oven.

At the moment I’m on a carb-free couple of weeks while I try to recover from the waistline exploding effects of two weeks in the USA (see my foodie exploits in New Orleans and New York to understand why adding just shy of a stone was almost inevitable). This makes eating pizza, or pasta, or bread for that matter, a complete no no.

I’d made a Greek salad the week previously and my inclination was to repeat this, but there was a glut of ageing vegetables in the fridge which were screaming out to be gently fried and added to the obligatory cucumber, and a slab of blue cheese that was about to see better days.

This became warm blue cheese, chorizo and cucumber salad. It was unconventional, but simple to prepare and worked well. Who needs carbohydrate when there’s something like this on offer instead?

Ingredients for two

Half a cucumber
7 or 8 mushrooms
Half an onion (red or white)
1 yellow pepper
Handful of cherry tomatoes
2 inches of chorizo (roughly chopped)
150g blue cheese


Gently fry the onion, chorizo, mushrooms and peppers in a little olive oil, until lightly browned.

Meanwhile chop the cucumber into small chunks, mix with the tomatoes and crumble in the blue cheese. Set aside and wait for the frying to be done.

Once cooked, mix all the ingredients together and marvel at how colourful it all is!



Adventures at The Spotted Pig

3 Jul

Spotted Pig burgerIt’s the darling of the New York gastropub scene (if indeed the Big Apple has enough to call it a scene) and it had the distinction of being the one and only New York restaurant I had ever heard of.

This makes it more than a coincidence that when looking for a dinner venue in a recent stopover near Manhattan that a colleague suggested we give The Spotted Pig a try.

Having only read about this place a few weeks previously after idly following a foodie tweet I was aware of a few key facts.

1) This was a genuine pub, in the heart of Greenwich Village.

2) It had a Michelin star.

3) You either loved it or hated it.

4) Chef April Bloomfield is British and a River Cafe peer of Jamie Oliver. He described her as ‘cooking like a ninja’.

The facade of the Spotted Pig was so anonymous that half our party walked straight past it without noticing. Inside it was small, cramped and kookie. It reminded me of a favourite pub of mine in Bristol (from the early 90’s), the Victoria, with nooks and crannies, small tables and not an inch of visible wall space that wasn’t covered by a picture.

A Girl and Her PigPride of place above the bar was April Bloomfield’s recently published cookbook – A Girl and Her Pig.

Excitement built. When we realised we could just forget the table waiting list and order at the bar it reached fever pitch.

If you are sitting at the bar you need to start with bar snacks.

We ordered a selection of starters to share – deviled eggs, devils on horseback (there’s a lot of devil in NYC) and chicken liver toast.

The bar staff were knowledgable, friendly and…Scottish. This was the most laid back Michelin star I’d ever encountered. Compared to JSW, my local Michelin starred venue in Petersfield, Hampshire, this felt like popping round to a friend’s for a mid-week dinner. I’m not knocking JSW and its contrived formality, but the Spotted Pig was so laid back that I felt like could sink into the bar stool and stay there all night.

Back to those snacks. The verdict was that they were pretty good. I wouldn’t have classed them as fine dining – that’s not Bloomfield’s style anyway – but her famous ‘anal rustic’ techniques shone through. It was detailed informality.

She has a signature dish and I was determined to try it. The Chargrilled Burger with Roquefort & Shoestrings (fries that is) was famous for its simplicity and the fact that Bloomfield refuses anyone the right to customise the dish. No salad, no ketchup, no mayo (unless you are Bob Dylan who by all accounts got given some by a starstruck waiter one night in error). This was a burger that was confident enough to say ‘I am brilliant, take me or leave me’.

I took it and  I took it medium rare. Some colleagues were more adventurous and went for pork belly or octopus. Not for me such extravagance. I wanted that burger. I wanted it even more when I saw one go past the bar on its way to a lucky diner.

The Spotted Pig burger is a triumph. It is served on a brioche bun with a perfectly crafted criss cross of griddle marks. It is accompanied by a mountain of shoestring fries which are perfectly seasoned, with salt and a significant portion of fried rosemary. I looked and it and thought that I would not be finishing it. A few mouthfuls in and I knew I had to. Initial impressions were that the fries were like posh chipsticks, but that wasn’t fair. These were not fries in any traditional sense and once I got my preconceptions about chips out of my head I realised that the Spotted Pig was doing something pretty special.

I’m usually a fast eater. I wasn’t aware that I was taking my time with this simple, but enormous, burger, but 30 minutes in I realised that everyone else had finished. I still had a fair few shoestrings to get down me. Part of this was because the fries were hard to eat. Most of it was because it was worth savouring.

We wandered off into the New York evening for a less salubrious few hours in a variety of bars, but the Spotted Pig was a fantastic start to the evening.

I can understand the critiscism that it doesn’t deserve a star, but as a gastropub, and a not particularly expensive one at that, it stands out head and shoulders over anything I’ve ever tried before.