A rare find: Central Park Warsaw

I shouldn’t really be sharing this, in fear of having too many people crashing ‘my’ restaurant. But then, life is about sharing, so here it is, enjoy! Central Park Warsaw is a little gem neatly tucked in between a few other inconspicuous places. You won’t stumble across it. You have to know where it is. We read about it somewhere and instantly decided to check it out. It just seemed like our kind of place. It is. It’s small, cosy, friendly, has a short menu, nice decor and … is round the corner from where we live. There is no box it doesn’t tick. Simples.

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The food (daily updates on facebook) is invented by the lovely owner Anna – it is fresh, simple, healthy, no fuss. The prices won’t break the bank. The service is very helpful, chatty but does not cross the line. If you happen to be served by Ola, she’ll make your day. The only complaint you might sometimes have is about the heat coming from the tiny kitchen. Unfortunately this has something to do with the admin of the building. Maybe the owners will be able to fix it over time. I take it as part of the package but if you are a fussy person with a tendency to complain, you might want to steer clear of this, otherwise wonderful, place. May I just say, you won’t be missed;)

Address: Belwederska 13, Warsaw. Mokotów. Opposite a park. Naturally.

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When in London, come to Thai Cottage

Thai Cottage is a family-run institution, serving authentic Thai food right in the heart of London Soho. Unlike many places in the area, this restaurant won’t break your bank, with lunch deals priced at just 5.50 pounds. Being a seafood lover, I always go for prawn dishes. Stir fry prawn with baby corn and spring onion in oyster sauce (£8.75) or prawn in green/red curry paste with coconut milk, aubergine, bamboo shoots & sweet basil (£8.95) are every time safe bets. Thai Cottage curries are smooth, silky and simply melt in your mouth. Stir fries offer just the right texture of prawns and vegetables. If you prefer meat options – try chicken in red curry paste with coconut milk, aubergine, bamboo shoots & sweet basil (£6.95). When it comes to starters, I recommend deep fried fish cakes (£5.50) with home-made chilli sauce or chicken satays (£4.95).

By the way, do not get discouraged by the somewhat vintagey decor – this place is as authentic as it can get and the food will make up for the (possibly) lacking modern design. After all, you are after a good meal at a good price and, trust me, you will not be disappointed.
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Address: Thai Cottage, 34 D’Arbley Street, Soho/London W1F.
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The risotto queen

I am a self-proclaimed risotto queen. I love risotto. It is one of my signature dishes. I love the taste of it and I love cooking it. It is like a yoga session. Well, almost. But there is something repeatedly calming and rewarding about it. You can’t rush it and you have to have the right ingredients. The substitutes won’t help. There is only one way to cook risotto – claims every risotto fan and I bet there are as many ways in Italy, as there are cooks.

So here it is, by popular demand and tonight’s Frank’s urgent call, my recipe for a perfect risotto. You’ve got to remember one thing – I have been cooking this dish for more than 10 years. It takes time to master it to perfection. But I can promise you that once you get a grasp of it, you will fall in love with risotto and forever wonder – how could I have lived without it?
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Risotto con asparagi, cooked earlier this summer #yummy #IamTheQueenOfRisotto
For two servings of the classic risotto you will need:
2/3 glass (drinking glass) of arborio rice (I find Italian riso Gallo the best and most widely available one)
2 glasses of vegetable stock (cook it from scratch using root vegetables, discard veggies after cooking and strain the stock through the strainer or, if you are in a rush, use a veggie stock cube, one will do for that amount of water)
Butter (few spoons)
Olive oil (few splashes)
2-3 shallots or 1 small onion, chopped (I prefer using red onions, for both color and texture)
1/4 glass of white wine
Parmesan cheese, finely grated (few spoons) – Parmigiano Reggiano is of course the best option but is not always available, so any good quality Italian grated cheese will do. Do not try to replace it with any hard yellow cheeses, or you will end up with a rice and cheese mash…
To make risotto more exciting, you can cook it with:
Vegetables – such as zucchini (my all-time favorite), fennel, broad beans, asparagus, or pumpkin (wonderfull for the approaching chilly fall days)
Mushroom – wild mushroom are the best (funghi porcini)
Seafood – such as prawns or scallops
Fish – white fish is the best (I grill it separately and serve it on top of the risotto)
The making of risotto:
In one pot heat up the stock and keep it hot (turn down the hear but don’t turn it off entirely). In another pot (a large saucepan is the best) melt a generous spoon of butter with a splash of olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook until tender but do not allow it to turn brown (it should last no longer than a couple of minutes). Add the rice and stir it for a while, so that it becomes glassy and coated in the buttery mixture. After a while, add the wine. You will hear a hissing sound when the wine hits the hot pot – that’s a good sound! Stir again, until the wine is absorbed by the rice.
Now the real risotto game begins. Add a ladle full of stock and stir. Keep stirring and when the rice absorbs the stock, add another portion if it. Keep adding the stock, one ladle at a time, until finished and fully absorbed. The mistake some people often make is pouring all liquid over the rice in one go and then stirring. This is not theway to do it, you must be patient and stick to the ‘one at a time’ rule. By doing so, you show respect to this dish. Risotto is not about a quick game. From the first to the last portion of stock it should take approximately 20 minutes. Half way through, stir in the ingredients such as vegetables or mushroom (best to have them pre-cooked first in a separate pan). If you’re adding seafood or fish, cook them first separately and add to risotto very last minute, as not to disintegrate them too much in the process.
Make sure the rice is not too dry and not too soupy. Creamy is what you are looking for. You want to arrive at the right consistency – the golden rule of risotto says that the rice should be al dente – each grain should be tender, yet distinctly firm to the bite. The center of each grain is supposed to be neither hard nor soft. It takes a few takes at arriving at the desired risotto shape and form. Take the pot off the heat, stir in the rest of the butter, parmesan cheese and set it aside for a couple of minutes, under cover. Some recipes say to serve it immediately but I find the risotto becomes slightly more moerish when allowed to rest for just a little while longer…. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper just before serving.
Risotto is about three things really: the right ingredients, the right proportions and the constant stirring. You have to put patience and respect into this dish. And love. You’ve got to show it your love. In return, you will get a mouth-watering delicacy… Buon appetito!
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