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Eating London, baby!

Whenever I travel, I am on an eating mission! Sometimes I amaze myself with the ability to focus solely on the food I will be eating and forget anything else. Vorfreude definitely applies here. (Vorfreude = the joyful, intense anticipation that comes from imagining future pleasures) Excuse me if I sounded snobbish, totally accidental.

First stop: Maverick, near London Victoria station. It's a lovely little place, fuss-free atmosphere, intimate and friendly in a cool, minimalist way. Loved the music! The waitress was nice enough to show me what playlist they had on, because I got stuck on a song I loved but couldn't identify (Shazam failed me). The song, just in case you are consumed by curiosity, was Down in Mexico by The Coasters. Soul in my ears, pizza and wine in my mouth, friend I haven't seen in forever across the table. Life was sweet that day.

Now let's talk pizza. There were three of us so I got to taste more than one pizza. Yay! I'll start talking about the dough, because a pizza's magic starts with the dough. It was Italian honesty on a plate. Crusty, thin, not oily. A delight in its simplicity. I had the Genovese. Classic gal (pesto, cherry tomatoes, rocket) with the twist of smoked mozzarella. I've always loved smoked cheese, but rarely had it on pizza successfully because it tends to overpower all the other flavours. Here it added another layer for my taste buds to explore. Add this to the amazing pesto, that is surely made by the hands of a wonderful human being, and you are in a world of intense, soulful flavours. The cherry tomatoes complement this perfectly, they bring that freshness and sweetness we all crave in our pizzas - and in our personal lives. Rocket and Parmesan on top, and that's it. Beautiful.

Second pizza choice at the table was Capra. Goat cheese, red onion, pomegranate drizzle. A good combo, if you're looking for something less traditional. And again, these people know their cheese! Not too much, so it doesn't steal the show. Balance, my friend. The last I tried of the three was the “Bianca”. Marinated aubergine, smoked mozzarella, rocket, basil, Parmesan shavings. This one I found to be a bit dry for my taste, the aubergine needed more seasoning, and overall it felt like it lacked flavor. I like my pizza on the juicy side, so maybe that is just my opinion. Or maybe not. Keep you guessing.

There was this one place that slightly changed my life. We looked for it like one looks for Neverland, we waited for it as one awaits that letter from Hogwarts that's lost in the mail, and we walked like Frodo walked to throw that damn ring in Sauron's bitch ass face! We skipped lunch in order to get to that damn bridge, missed afternoon tea, clearly my judgement was clotted. Uh, I mean clouded, damn scone craving keeps following me around! By the time we were eager to sit down and have an amazing meal, we were long hungry and tired. Every place we liked was full, while every ugly-ass “ we have a buffalo head in the window”- place was of course empty. One moment I'm saying we have to keep looking, not settle, we waited so far, we have to find a good place with awesome food, otherwise all the sacrifice was for nothing! (Dramatic, I know. It's how I roll.) The next moment I'm willing to eat soup in a plastic cup in a sad looking place, that's gonna close in like 10 min. “Fuck it, I just want hot something in my mouth and a place TO SIIIIIT!” I miss seating! Remember seating?! And being warm?! I get awfully cranky and desperate when not fed. My friend, who knows me, knew I would soon regret giving up, so she pulled me out of it and we kept looking for that place, that magical damn place that would put delicious stuff in our mouths, dim lighting on our faces and good music in our freaking ears!

After realizing we're in the wrong part of London, we took a bus, we saw a place and immediately got off there. If you know what I mean. French, dim, jazz, baguette at the door, oh my! Purrfection! Je vous presente Cafe Rouge, mes amis! We had the Lobster bisque, the Plateau a partager ( board of charcuterie, olives, pâté, soft goats' cheese, rocket and a selection of bread with d'Isigny butter) and the holy trinity dessert. Washed down, of course, with wine. Because of all the reasons. The lobster bisque was so dreamy. Like Colin Firth in The Bridget Jones diaries. Sweet, steamy, intense, rich, creamy as fuck, respectful and loves you for who you really are! Also, the puddle of melted butter in the middle was “make you weak in the knees-decadent”. Wink wink, baby! I didn't think anything could top this, until I had a lusty love affair with the pate. I've never known pate like this, I was living in the dark 'till it came along and showed me what true pate tastes like. It had such complex, complete flavours, 5 dimensions all in one bite! His heart, core, grounded, meaty flavour, the base that then sustains the sweetness, and then the lightness, and then the perfume! Oh, the perfume! And the texture! It was like cutting into cheesecake, creamy, airy, layered! Imagine this: a slice of baguette- crusty outside, soft inside, cut in a big, inviting chunk, drizzle that with melted butter with garlic and herbs, then top with the pate. I got dizzy at one point. Orgasmic. I swear! I have dreams about that pate. Pate has become my life's new goal. Obsessive? You bet! That's what great food does.

That platter was amazing. The goat cheese was just as it should be, and the meat was chewy and salty and sweet! In perfect harmony with everything there!

For the dessert we had miniature tarte tatin, tarte au citron and fondant aux chocolats. Even though I wasn't blown away by this (not sure I even had the capacity at this point) it was all good. It was the perfect ending to a decadent meal. I don't have a picture for this one, because we rushed everything into our mouths. Like animals. Graceful, slightly boozed up animals. 

When I planned the whole London fast get away, the only thing I did was ask someone who is as passionate about good food as I am, where must I eat? One of the places on her list was The Breakfast Club. We were pretty far away from city center, so by the time we got there is was lunch, and it was full and we were far too hungry for a 30 min wait. We vowed to return the second day, and headed to 5 Guys Burgers and Fries to stuff our faces with something downright dirty. It did not disappoint. That was the dirtiest breakfast I've ever had. I mean if you're looking to eat good bad stuff, this is the place to go. It's greasy, it's saucy, the potatoes are real, "you bite the fry, the fry bites back!" and the burgers are made of fat dreams. Unfortunately for me, my stomach prefers the French decadence over the American splurge. By the end of that meal I just felt like I've been stuffed like a turkey and then punched in the stomach. Don't worry, an entire day of walking took care of that. 

As promised, the next day we went back to the Breakfast club. At around 3 a clock. No, we are not morning people. Their shit is clearly the good kind, because the place is packed! You either get there early enough to say "Top o' the mornin' to ya' laddies!" or late late lunch, when people with jobs and such are not having lunch. The place is like a beehive, buzzing with loud talk, fast food, good music, and generally a very hungry energy. The lucky thing was that we already had breakfast so we were not hungry, we went there to stuff our faces with pancakes. And everybody knows you don't need to be hungry to eat pancakes. When I saw their menu I suddenly got a Sophie's choice kinda feeling. I looked around and everybody had delicious looking stuff on their plate! Huevos rancheros, Pulled pork sandwich served with fries, Eggs Benedict, Eggs Florentine and oh Lord, The Pancakes! I mean The All American just brings one to tears: pancakes, eggs, sausage, homestyle fried potatoes, streaky bacon and maple syrup! Pancakes and fries on the same plate?! Clearly the work of the devil! Because we weren't hungry, we decided to meet in the middle. So we got the Eggs Benedict and The Pancakes & berries. My boyfriend had the coffee and I had The Slow Boy juice (Apple, Carrot, Orange, Ginger). And boy, was it slow! They kinda forgot about us for a while, it was clearly a mistake that doesn't happen very often and they handled it perfectly. They took responsibility for the mistake, apologized, served us promptly and said that the bill is on them, because we had to wait for so long. 10/10! I will probably repeat myself on this subject! A lot! The food was amazing! The eggs were just how The God of Eggs intended! Poached to perfection, placed on a toasted English muffin dressed in ham clothes, topped with creamy hollandaise sauce and sent off into the world! 

Perfect and untouched. Just like a freshly snowed road. And then, you gotta walk all over that! Poke it, and surely yellow goodness will overflow! 

And right when I'm about to say that there just is no better way to a breakfast-loving-heart, the pancakes and berries appear like a gift sent from heaven! 'Cause why else I am hearing angels sing?! Those pancakes are the thought that keeps me balanced in times of madness! There are animals being hunted by stupid assholes, people being murdered by insane assholes, injustice, poverty, fear and more assholerry! A cruel world. Yes, but also a world with amazing pancakes. That you share with friends. Or that you eat alone, to fill the friends-shaped-hole in your heart. With pancakes. All I'm saying is as long as there are pancakes like these, there is hope. As fluffy as a bear cub's bottom, as chewy as Chewbacca and as sweet as a squirrel in the snow (a bunny would have been too sweet, a squirrel is perfect), these pancakes are the past, the present and the future! And if that wasn't enough sitting on top of this glorious stack of happiness, is a luscious vanilla cream that sits there like lipstick on a pretty girl's lips. Effortlessly. Like it belongs. Like it's been there since the beginning of time. You think I'm done? I am not done. On and around this mountain of joy, topped with a fat cloud of fat, berries of all kinds are sprinkled around. Like precious beads of freshness that bring out the very best in you. All of this sitting in a puddle of maple syrup, also known as the Elixir of life and love and all that is good in the world. So next time, I'm in London, you know it's gonna be pancake time! Oh, Lordy, Lordy! It turns out I do wanna roam again!

 Also, I love Borough Market. I wanna live there. I'll be a market child, wild and free. 

 Ladies and gentlemen, this was FoodTalk. Come again.

S01E02 The one with the lasagna. Part 2.

Next day, rise and shine, hungry people! Hopefully eat lasagna tonight. Today we're walking on the creamy side of the street. That's right, the Bechamel sauce.

You will need a pot, a whisk, a wooden spoon and a lil' bit o' courage. No biggie. So put your bechamel face on and let's do this!

Yes, that is my game face of choice. Feel free to channel your own here.

1.Ingredients and quantities

  • 100 gr. of butter- any temperature will do (it's gonna melt anyway)
  • 100 gr. flour
  • 1 l milk-fresh and full fat
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of salt

The recipe apparently asks for - or suggests - 00 flour. I had the opposite, which is strong white flour. Still works fine. The difference is that the 00 flour is fine flour, not fine like a booty is fine, but more like refined and dusty, which makes it better for thickening sauces. My bechamel turned out all right without it, so don't worry.

2.The process

Please use the handy collage you see below, it's there to guide your steps into the mysterious world of bechamel. Melt butter in your pan (1). Low heat, my friends. When melted, add flour. Mix well. What results is called a roux, and yes, it's supposed to look like that (2). The key to this is cooking the flour, so don't rush to add your milk just because you fear it's gonna stick to the pan or something. It won't, that's why the butter is there. The easy thing to remember is that the butter quantity and the flour quantity is the same. This is for a medium thickness sauce. The amount of butter and flour are the ones controlling this. So, if you want a thicker sauce, increase the butter and flour amount, if you want a more liquid sauce, diminish the butter and flour content. Or, if you realize you want a more liquid sauce when you're almost done, add more milk and thoroughly incorporate it. I don't know if it' s recommended, but I found myself in that situation, and that's what I did, and it turned out fine. Can't stress enough how important it is to cook the flour at this point! (3) Otherwise your bechamel will have a pasty taste. Unpleasant.

Next step: take the pan of the heat. Add a third of the milk (4). Now, some recipes say the milk is supposed to be warm, others say that having the milk cold helps prevent the formation of lumps. I tried both versions. When the milk is warm, you have to move faster, because the process of cooking is faster. Having the milk cold slows things down a bit, you need to whisk just as thoroughly, though. The result were good with both methods. After incorporating the first part of the milk, it should look like this (4). Creamy and thick. Put it back on the heat. Whisk, whisk. Take it off, add the second part (5). Incorporate. Back on the stove. Whisk. Do the exact same with the last third of milk. At this point it should be liquid enough so that it doesn't hold onto the whisk, as you can see in the picture (6). Add salt and nutmeg. Put in back onto low heat, all the while whisking.This is consistency that my sauce had (8).

The thing I think I did (twice) was let it get a bit too thick, because as it cooled it got even thicker, so I added a bit of cold milk to it, whisked and it loosened right away. So, have that in mind, the fact that as it cools it thickens too. If you know you are not using it immediately, pour the sauce into container that doesn't hold onto the smell of other foods (like glass, ceramic) - you don't want your bechamel infused with the smell of old fried onions or whatever, cover it with cling film and let it cool gradually. Second component, done!

Last piece of the puzzle: the lasagna sheets.

I thought about making them from scratch, I really did, but them I remembered I'm not Superwoman. And I also remembered that I have an amazing little Italian restaurant around the corner, that also sells fresh pasta. Problem solved! I strongly recommend using fresh lasagna sheets as opposed to the dry ones. One day I will try to make my own and let you know how that went. Now that everything is ready, lets put this baby together. First layer is a thin bolognese one, this is to prevent the bottom of your lasagna sticking to your tray. Next, the lasagna sheets; have them overlapping a little bit so that they don't run away from each-other when you add the heavy load.

Then bechamel, then ragu, and last but not least, some grated Parmesan cheese. Repeat this process until you hit your final layer (I had 3 layers).

For the last bechamel and ragu layer, I mixed them together and added them as a unit, as a team, as one (read this in a dramatically and over the top fashion) then topped it with a bit of the tomato sauce I mentioned at one point (wish I had a bit more, preferably without the tomato chunks that I now cannot unsee). For the final step, grate glorious Parmesan over your much worked for lasagna.

Look at it and sigh a “Oh, my cheesy, overweight baby! You're finally here”. Don't judge, talk to me after you have gone through the same thing. We'll compare. Exchange notes, even. Now pop that in a pre-heated oven, at 150 degrees for approx. 50 min. Thank [insert preferred deity here] for my oven thermometer, cause otherwise I would be completely lost. My oven is weird, but more on that in a different post. The way I checked up on it was by inserting a trusty fork in there. She went in easily, no opposition, then came out, told me everything was fine and I believed her. Call me crazy, if you wish, but she was right.

Now, the pictures I took, are few and let's face it, not so good. My only excuse is that I had 4 man-sized hungry boys, surrounding me like vultures, so I did what I had to do. Lil' tip: don't rush into cutting your lasagna the minute you get it out of the oven (that's madness!) because it's gonna be very hot and it won't hold its form (not even if you beg) and it will look like a melted lasagna monster (which is not a thing, I just made it up).

Feedback: I had two Germans, a Romanian and a Polish guy at the table. The Germans were not very vocal, but they did ask for seconds, the Romanian attempted to ask for a third and the Pole offered me money in order to make this again. I thought I went a little overboard with the filling, because I was mostly terrified of ending up with a dry lasagna, but it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Not the prettiest dish I've made but definitely one of the tastiest.

This was my very first post. I had a number of difficulties and realizations while making this. First of all, will improve photography skills. Second,will remember to photograph ingredients and everything important. Third, will enjoy this process. Will take my time to prep, and play and experiment. If that means I will be eating frozen pizza, so that I am not hungry and in a rush when doing this, then be it. Cooking and cooking for blog are different. Must get out of the ''make it quick and delicious'' mindset and step into the slow, creative, attention-to-detail one. We'll see what comes out of it.

Until the next one, happy eating! ;)