Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Arepas Caffe, Friar Street, Reading

Authentic Venezuelan food, tucked away in Reading's town centre... 

We have a bus driver friend. And the other day he stopped me in the street. 'Have you seen the Venezuelan cafe in Reading? You've got to go, they have churros.' And if there's one way to get me to a restaurant, it's with the promise of churros.  

arepas caffe Reading

Arepas Caffe is at the end of Friar Street in Reading, round the corner from Primark and practically opposite Greyfriars church, across the traffic lights. They have a few tables and chairs - it's a small café - and the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. On the wall are kids' drawings (that mine had to add to of course) and signs like 'Mi Casa es Tu Casa' (my house is your house) hung up on the walls.

reina arepa

You can have a glance at the menu on the wall behind the counter, but it's easier just to ask what they have that day. We chose a couple of arepas (where the name of the café comes from) - and chose to have them fried and stuffed with our choice of fillings. Arepas are made from cornflour and are light and crisp - served hot and filled with chicken, cheese, avocado, mayonnaise and garlic sauce. It was our favourite. We also asked for one filled with meat, cheese, beans and slices of fried plantain. It was good too - but we're suckers for a garlicky treat and the 'Reina' arepa just took the prize. 

arepa with beans, cheese and meat with fried plantains Venezuelan food

We also ate an empanada - filled with meat and cheese. I ordered this mostly out of curiosity to see how they differed from the empanadas I'd eaten in Argentina. And they differed quite a lot. Argentine empanadas are crisp and flaky, and made from pastry - whereas the Venezuelan ones are light and crisp - fluffy, even - and made from a similar corn-based dough to the arepas. 

Venezuelan empanadas carne y queso

But we couldn't leave without eating churros. After all, that was what had lured us there in the beginning. They were light and long - not as dense as the churros we ate in Argentina - but crisp, hot and delicious. You can choose to have them dusted with cinnamon sugar or served with a pot of melted chocolate. We asked for both. Naturally.


Prices are reasonable too - at £5 for each arrepa - but we didn't need to eat dinner that night, we were still full. That's value for money in my book.

It's so good to have proper, authentic Latin food in Reading's town centre, especially when at first glance the town looks like it's chocka with chain restaurants. People say that to me quite a lot when I say I live in Reading, as if the only choice is between Miller and Carter or Krispy Kreme. But the independent guys are all there if you look hard enough for them. And I promise, it's well worth it. Go on in and say hola.

Have you eaten at Arepas? What did you think? 

Monday, 21 April 2014

Garlic and Parsley Oven Fries

Posh oven chips. They're baked in the oven, with a drizzle of olive oil (or whatever type of fat you like) and then sprinkled with garlic, parsley and sea salt straight out of the oven. Lush. 

garlic and parsley chips

I've tried quite a few different types of potato for this and found Maris Piper and red, Rooster potatoes to be the best. And although you can use olive oil if you like, I've found that beef dripping results in beautiful, crisp fries. Or you could use coconut oil, or vegetable oil. 

This recipe can be made vegetarian and vegan (just use olive/vegetable oil), and also paleo (use beef dripping, coconut oil or duck fat). 

Garlic and Parsley Oven Fries
Serves 4
2 large Maris Piper potatoes, scrubbed and washed well, with the skin left on
1-2 tsp oil or fat (I use either olive oil or beef dripping)
1-2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
a handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
sea salt

Heat the oven to gas mark 6/200ºC. Cut the potatoes into fries, leaving the skin on. Make sure they're all about the same width so they cook evenly. 

Slide a shallow baking or roasting tray in the oven to heat up, with 2 tsp of your chosen fat. Once warmed - a couple of minutes will do - throw in the fries in one even layer and sprinkle with a little salt, coating them in the oil. 

Cook in the oven for 25 minutes, or until crisp and sizzling. 

When ready, take them out and scatter the garlic and parsley over the fries, shaking the tray and allowing it to warm through in the residual heat. Sprinkle with a little more sea salt if needed and serve straight away. 

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Perfect Ploughman's Sandwich

The last time I ate a Ploughman's in a pub was after an energetic bike ride (mostly uphill) near The White Horse at Uffington, in Wiltshire. I was never so grateful to see a plate full of food (I don't do well on bikes). 

There was paté, lettuce, cheese and ham. And pickled onions, a tomato and some crusty bread to help it all along. And as I cast my mind back to that balmy May afternoon, I thought to myself: why not stuff it all into one sandwich? 

It would save on washing up. And it's easier to eat. And portable. A winner, surely. 

And so here it is. 

fully loaded ploughmans sandwich

There's paté and ham - the peppery, creamy paté contrasting with the Organic, thick-cut unsmoked ham. And then add your favourite Cheddar - I opted here for a rich, mature Davidstow Cheddar, hacked into crumbly slices. I've also used Apple, Roasted Garlic and Thyme jelly - to give a sweetness and replace the apple that's so often served alongside a good Ploughman's. 

The crusty bread roll is a must - somehow a soft, floury bun just wasn't chewy and sturdy enough. And you get a different, more intense and toasty flavour with a crusty roll, anyway. 

fully loaded ploughmans sandwich recipe

The pea shoots are there as a nod to our gorgeous British summers - and then of course there's a tomato slice for moisture and a sliced pickled onion. Because it just wouldn't be a Ploughman's without it. 

What do you think? Fancy one? 


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