Poco

Poco

Brunch is becoming quite a thing in Bristol. So it’s only proper to get on board. There are many things about going out for brunch that appeal. There’s no bleary-eyed drudgery of attempting to make it out for breakfast, especially as I find it nigh on impossible to leave the house without some sort of sustenance. It has the sort of relaxed casualness that you always wish could happen at an evening meal out, but never quite does. There is also a jubilant sense of infinite possibility: brunch could be followed by coffee, cake, or, lets face it, wine.

Montage 1

When I first moved to Bristol, I was obsessed with trying every restaurant, bar and café that was even casually mentioned, by anyone, as worth a visit. I had a (very) long list of places, which was constantly being updated. Now I have rationalised this somewhat, and have narrowed it down a shorter (but only slightly) list of my favourite places. Poco is near the top. It’s in Stokes Croft, the area of Bristol famous for that kerfuffle with Tesco, and all the Banksys. Occupying a pretty nondescript corner, with a few rickety tables clinging to the pavement outside, a first time visitor might wonder what all the fuss is about. But step inside, and you’ll soon see.

Montage 2

The atmosphere is that of a casual Spanish tapas bar, with a tiny open kitchen surrounded by clusters of bar stools. Poco was founded by chef Tom Hunt, who champions ethical, local produce, and lets these ingredients shine through with simple, sympathetic cooking. This view is demonstrated in his cookbook, The Natural Cook, one of my current favourites. Going inside Poco is like stepping into the cookbook, complete with the same blue-rimmed enamel hipster plates – which, upon noticing, I had to suppress a squeak of excitement. I visited Poco to conduct some very loosely termed ‘networking’ (any excuse for brunch) with the lovely Rin, a writer and fellow Instagram obsessed foodie. We opted for the famous Poco brunch dish, consisting of exotically spiced sausages, fluffy scrambled eggs, sourdough toast and fiery Moroccan harissa. This dish definitely deserves the cult status that it has achieved, and exemplifies the simple approach to quality ingredients for which Poco is famous.

Poco 2

Read some of Rin’s writing here.

http://eatpoco.com

Green Bean Salad with Tumeric-Roasted Walnuts and Ginger

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This is an embarrassingly unoriginal Ottolenghi knock off. I even shamelessly copied the style of the photographs. The recipe is an amalgamation of two different offerings from Yotam’s latest cookbook, ‘Plenty More’. Apart from the dressing, which we cobbled together from random ingredients lurking at the back of the kitchen cupboard, it’s pretty much a dead copy. Which is unusual, as I don’t find myself following recipes much these days. I get too frustrated with following exact measurements and prescriptive methods, and end up disregarding both and producing something that bares little resemblance to the intended dish. One of the hazards of being a food blogger, I guess.

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Ottolenghi provides an unstoppable font of inspiration for me. He combines ingredients in ways that I had never even considered (leeks, goats cheese and sultanas, for example) opening up a whole range of new tastes. Also, the methods and techniques of cooking he uses are so varied and interesting that they have me running straight into the kitchen to start experimenting. There’s usually one element of each of his recipes that elevates them to another level – such the addition of a particular spice, usually an unpronounceable Middle Eastern variety that can only be ordered online. I have invested in several Ottolenghi ‘essentials’, such as pomegranate molasses, sumac and za’tar, but don’t ask me what any of them actually are. All I know is that they often provide an elusive final taste to make Middle Eastern specialities taste much more authentic.

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The tumeric roasted walnuts in this recipe are an example of the above – a simple ingredient transformed by the addition of a few spices and a different way of cooking. I’ve always considered turmeric a bit of a non-spice, its chief use being the vibrant yellow colour that it imparts. However, roasting walnuts in the spice brings out their sweetness, adding a remarkable depth of flavour. I have since learnt that turmeric is commonly used in sweet dishes, and some folk swear by drinking turmeric tea first thing in the morning. This somewhat fusion recipe combines these walnuts with fresh green veg, sesame seeds and a punchy, vinegary dressing. Hopefully Yotam would approve.

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Read Paris’ equally gushing Ottolenghi-related post here.  Continue reading

Beetroot and Cannellini Bean Dip

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I attempted Veganuary this year. I lasted three days. But the reason for my downfall was not the aching lack of bacon or creamy yoghurt, but milk. And, more specifically, milk in tea. Say what you will, almond milk just doesn’t taste the same. As I drink on average about five cups of tea a day, this was a bit of a problem. I have been trying to consume less dairy, so have almond milk on cereal, but I realised pretty quickly that completely cutting out dairy was going to be a challenge that I didn’t particularly want to deal with. Especially alongside dry January, which is going much better (apart from an ill-considered encounter with a boozy tiramisu, which I’m not sure counts).

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However, I am trying to eat more vegetables, and less meat. This seems to be more problematic for people to grasp than just saying you’re a vegetarian. I do eat meat, I’m just deliberately trying to eat less. I have recently found myself inadvertently cooking vegetarian and vegan food, as I’m focusing on vegetables as the centerpiece of the dish, rather than meat. This beetroot dip is laughably easy, and a great way to shoehorn lots of raw veg into an easily digestible form. It can be eaten as it is, with toasted pittas to scoop it up with, or as part of a salad with some grilled halloumi, maybe. The nigella seeds (not marketed by Ms. Lawson, they’re also known as ‘black onion seeds’) are optional, as they can be hard to get your hands on. We found some and thought they’d act as a brilliant colour contrast to the vibrant purple of the beetroot.

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Click here for Paris’ take on the subject.

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Roasted Parsnip and Smoked Garlic Soup

Soup

I’ve recently returned to Bristol after a restorative and relaxing break visiting my parents in the countryside of Devon and Cornwall. The silence and peace that being a good twenty minutes from the nearest major road affords was much needed. It was lovely to spend time with family, and in my mind, there is too much talk of Christmas being about stuff, rather than people. That being said, carefully chosen presents are always appreciated. My stocking seemed to mostly contain food and food related items, including, of all things, smoked garlic. It was heavily wrapped in newspaper, so as to stop the pungent aroma permeating everything around it. I’m sure this is the modern, Ottolenghi version of a satsuma.

Garlic

Another memorable part of my Chirstmas was visiting my uncle and his family on Boxing Day. We turned up at 5pm, at which point there had been a good three hours of alcohol consumption already. My Mum and I proceeded to neck back the Prosecco at quite a rate, in a feeble (and futile) effort to catch up. When the general level of inebriation reached its peak, there was a particularly hilarious incident that stemmed from the suggestion of karaoke. It was then decided that we didn’t have a microphone, and so must find the requisite stand-in. This led to my uncle foraging through the salad drawer of the fridge to find suitable phallic-shaped vegetables to use as microphones. This included a parsnip, a carrot, a courgette, and, in a moment of desperation, a Romaine lettuce leaf. These were laid out on a tray for the unwitting karaoke performers to make their selection from. There was “Rocking around the Christmas tree” sung into a parsnip, and my personal favourite, ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” with the help of a long red pepper.

Roasting

Lots of food writers talk about how food can evoke memories. Diana Henry, for example, enthuses about how gooey cow’s milk cheeses take her back to snowy seasons in the Swiss Alps, scraping the cheese off slates with spoons whilst sitting by a roaring fire. The connection between the vegetable karaoke and this soup is slightly more tenuous, but I still had to suppress a chuckle as I was peeling the parsnips. The creaminess of the parsnips works well with the pungent hit of smoked garlic. If you can’t get smoked garlic (find your nearest fancy deli and it should have it), just use regular garlic. I think this recipe sums up my Christmas break rather well: wonderfully foodie stocking presents and parsnip microphones.

Soup 2

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