Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Beer, Chocolate and a Whole Lot of Eating

Ahh, beer.

I went to Bruges last weekend. A lot of beer was consumed. Not as muh chocolate as I thought, but that's not to say there wasn't any to be had - it was abundant - I'm just not much of a sweet lover, thank god, or I'd be the size of a house.
Bruges is a lovely town. Only 3 hours by Eurostar from London, they call it the 'Venice of the North' apparently. We arrived early on Friday and was immediately struck by the prettiness of the cobbled streets. Horses pulled carriages full of tourists round the square, and we were blessed with great weather. So much so, we even got burnt on Saturday whilst having lunch outside.

The food was amazing. We tried all the specialities like eel in green sauce. It was quite an interesting dish, the eel was chopped up and cooked in the sauce which comprised mainly of herbs. You also got a dish to sling the eel bones in, so it was quite a fiddly process.

We tried to get as many speciality dishes in as possible. To be fair, we did well: Waffles, mussels and chips, and Carbonade Flamande (Flemish Beef Stew) were all consumed with relish. It was only the 'waterzooi', a fish or chicken stew made with cream, that we missed out on.

Knowing that Bruges is a touristy town, I did a fair bit of research. There's nothing worse than being really excited about a meal only to discover it's a complete tourist trap, so armed with some excellent advice I booked tables at Den Dyver and De Visscherie.

Den Dyver is advertised as being a beer specialist. Lonely Planet called them 'afficionados' and I have to say that I agree. We went for the 3 course menu with matching beers. After an aperitif of beer, we got an amuse (which unfortunately I didn't photograph - too hungry).

To start, I had calf sweetbread in an orange crisp with jerusalem mash and bitter chocolate sauce. This was the first time I've had sweetbreads and it was great. It was a pillowy texture inside, balanced well with the orange crumb.

Monkfish was my main, with a white asparagus terrine, pea puree and matchstick potatoes. The cheese course was definitely strange; it was served with a sweet, dense ginger bread with a mustard icing. It was a bit mind-boggling, but the flavours worked well. Each time we had a different beer to match the food. Mainly Trappist beers with an average of 9%, we were pretty squiffy by the end of it.

We were wondering how Saturday's meal was going to turn out, given that we were off to such a flying start. De Visscherie stepped up to the plate.

The menu we went for was the tasting menu, with special focus being asparagus. I've never had white asparagus before and I prefer it to green. Shame I've never seen it on sale. The service was faultless, the presentation was amazing and the food tasted just as good as it looks

I was well-fed; mussels, monkfish, sweetbreads, caviar and the rest of it.

Unsurprisingly, I returned to London broke, but 4lb heavier.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Won Tons

Won tons are another of my favourite dumplings. Eaten in soup, they're very flavoursome and yet light, but with the addition of noodles makes a great one-bowl lunch.

My mum taught me how to make these. When I was younger, myself, her, my sister and my grandmother would sit spooning the mixture into wrappers, wrapping them and generally getting very messy. I was never much good at folding the won tons (as you may be able to see!).

You'll need special won ton wrappers for this, which you can buy in Oriental supermarkets.

Won tons

To make about 25 dumplings

100gr minced pork

2 spring onions, finely chopped

3 - 4 rehydrated shiitake mushrooms, diced

1 inch ginger, finely chopped

1 1/2 tbsp oyster sauce

Large pinch of white pepper

Splash of soy sauce

1 tbsp cornflour

Mix the above ingredients thoroughly. Leave it to sit for about 15 minutes. Take a won ton wrapper in your hand, leaving the others well covered to prevent drying out. Place a teaspoon of the pork mix in the middle. Wet the edges and fold over into a rectangle. Squidge (yes, that's a techinical term) the mix so that there are no air bubbles. Turn the wrapper so that the mix is towards the top edge, then fold over again. Fold the sides round, wet and pinch to form a nurse's cap. This is a good picture guide. To cook, simmer in some water for 7 - 10 mins. Don't cook them in the soup stock as the flour dusting the wrappers will make it cloudy. Add to stock with or without noodles. These freeze very well, and can be cooked from frozen.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Thai Green Curry

When I first moved to England, one night my mum made a Thai Green Curry for dinner. She used Mae Ploy curry paste, which is sold in many Asian supermarkets. I sat down to the meal, a mere 12 years old, eagerly anticipating my dinner. From the very first bite, I knew I was doomed. Instantaneously my nose started running, my mouth burning, my cheeks flushed. It was fiery, fiery hot. So hot in fact, that I couldn't eat it. My mum looked at me strangely, my sister scoffed at me: "Come on, it's not that spicy!" I carried on, thinking maybe if I ate it quickly it wouldn't be too bad. No such luck; the heat was unbearable. I remember crying hot tears of frustration as I threw my strop, declaring it inedible. That's what happens when I don't get fed.

Nowadays, I'm a bit more accustomed to the heat of curries. I even tend to add chillis to many meals, even if they don't usually have it (chilli sauce with cheese on toast, anyone?)

I recently invested in a huge pestle and mortar, one of those massive granite things that weigh about a ton. I also got "The Food of Thailand - A Journey For Food Lovers" as a gift for my birthday so I thought perhaps a green curry would be the best recipe to while my Sunday afternoon away. So I started chopping. Oh, how I wished I had one of Delia's mini choppers, as I quickly tired of it.

Thai Green Curry Paste

To make 125 mls

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

10 green chillis, seeded

2 lemongrass stalks, white part only

5 lime leaves, torn and shredded

5 garlic cloves, minced

4 Asian shallots, diced

6 coriander roots (or a bunch of coriander stalks, as my coriander was rootless)

Handful of holy basil leaves

2 tsp shrimp paste

Finely chop all of the finely choppable ingredients above. Toast the ground cumin and coriander powders until fragrant. Bash it all up in a mortar and pestle (add the ingredients incrementally) until you get a paste. Apparently it'll keep in the fridge for at least two weeks. Alternatively, line an ice cube tray with cling film, add the paste and freeze.

To make the prawn curry, I simply fried 2 tbsp of the paste in oil, added the extremely untraditional broccoli and red pepper slices, and then added coconut milk. Simmer for 7 mins, then I added another 1 tbsp chopped galangal, 3 torn lime leaves, halved baby aubergines, green peppercorns and the prawns. Simmer for 2 mins, take off the heat, add a handful of coriander, 1 tbsp sugar (palm preferably), the juice of 1 lime and a good slug of fish sauce.

I know it's not particularly green, but it was the most fragrant green curry I've had outside of Thailand. It was spicy without being over-powering and the lime leaves really made a difference. It may have also been the taste of sweet satisfaction borne through hard work.

Saturday, 19 April 2008


Mmm, cake. Is there anyone that doesn't like cake? I'm not really a dessert person. I'd much rather have a starter than a dessert, and when I feel like a good ol' scoff I'd always reach for the Pringles rather than, say, Dairy Milk. So therefore my baking skills are elementary to say the least.

Out of all the cakes, lemon drizzle cake is my favourite. It's light, fluffy and the citrus twang of it is refreshing. As it's made with lemons, I convince myself it's good for me. Surely it contributes towards your five-a-day? Off I went to buy a 2lb loaf tin to make one of my own.

I looked at various recipes and went for a simple, no-nonsense one to start off with, here.

My first mistake was that I just ploughed on ahead and didn't read it in it's entirety. I added the 275gr caster sugar, and just before I put it in the oven, alas! I realised it was only supposed to have 175gr and that the remaining 100gr was for the lemon syrup to make up the drizzle.

See? I'm not good at baking. To compensate, I added the juice of half a lemon in the hope of balancing it out.
Here it is. I'm pretty proud of it actually; it looked ok and tasted great, despite it now being a lemon sponge rather than a drizzle cake. It's drizzle-less.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008


After a flurry of posting, it seems like I've neglected you, dear blog. This is not so! A lot of factors prevented me from posting, such as boring weekday meals, staying at the boyfriend's house and generally not having much time. But I am back.

I've noticed that most of the posts are mainly about Oriental food, which isn't so bad as much of what I eat is Oriental, but some variation is also nice.

I never thought making pizza dough would be so easy. I've always been a bit scared of dough - my main staples are rice and noodles, after all - but after reading a few recipes and seeing just how cheap it is to make your own pizza, I took the plunge. This recipe uses dried active yeast, the kind you get in foil sachets so coupled with the bread flour, this can just be knocked up from store cupboard ingredients.

The recipe I use is here.

Apparently weighing the water is more effective than measuring it by mls. It means my scales bowl gets washed of reisdual flour, so that's fine by me.

Often I'll come home from work and I don't particularly like to wait around for an hour or more for the dough to prove, so I've found that mixing all the dough up in the morning, covering with cling film and putting it in the fridge works fine for me.

It's pretty rough-and-ready, my pizza skills aren't greatly refined but it tasted great. Instead of simmering a tomato sauce for ages, I simply squished down some tinned plum tomatoes (without their juice), scattered with anchovies, yellow pepper, red onion, garlic and oregano, topped with mozzrella, and away we went. And I ate it all.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Escape To The Country

The first time I ever saw snow was when I was 12 or 13, so I still get stupidly excited whenever I see it. This weekend was spent with my parents down in Surrey. I hadn't seen them for a while, so it was great to see them but to also go to the country. The picture above is from their back door, and much different to what I see out of my window in South East London!

A weekend of Mum's cooking was in store. My mum was never the primary cook in our house, it was always my dad who did all the cooking. In fact, my mum was always the subject of jokes involving dinner cooking (shrieks, running for takeaway menus etc etc.) but clearly things have changed. The dinner we had was quite traditional, home-cooked Chinese food.

To start, we had pork and seaweed soup. Many Chinese households have a bowl of soup before dinner, usually a fish or meat broth with some vegetables. What you see next to this soup is a cold platter of shredded chicken, cucumber, jelly fish and steamed tofu. This was dressed with a sesame sauce (made just by mixing sesame paste and soy sauce) which I forgot to photograph.

Seaweed Soup & Chicken, Jellyfish and Cucumber Salad

These two dishes to start off with were a great mixture of textures. The jelly fish isn't at all fishy, but rather like eating rubber bands, while the tofu is very soft and jelly-like, and then the meatiness of the chicken and the crunch of the cucumber. Many flinch at the idea of eating jellyfish, but it is on many dim sum restaurant menus and is such a great texture. The soup was also flavoursome and light, perfect to start the meal with.

We had to have a breather before the mains, but also because they were dishes that really need to be cooked fresh. You can buy bags of deep-fried cubes of tofu, so you just need to cut them in half, hollow them out and stuff them with some fish paste, fry them, and then just add some garlic, chilli, coriander and a little slaked cornflour to make a gravy.

Fish-Stuffed Tofu, before cooking and after:

We had this with white rice, chilli and garlic fried prawns, and gai laan (Chinese broccoli).

Oh, I do get treated well.

Steam Boat

Steam boat or hot pot is one of my favourite ways to eat. You get a big pot of stock, sometimes divided into different sections to have different flavoured stocks, and it sits on either a gas fire or an electric hob to keep it bubbling. Raw meats, seafood and vegetables are then lowered into the stock with a small wire basket (like the one you can see on top of the veg) to cook at your leisure. It's a fun and sociable way to eat, and it allows you to cook the food just how you like it. At the end, you usually have noodles to throw in to eat with the well flavoured stock to eat as a noodle soup.

We had ours at this Vietnamese restaurant in the Wing Yip complex in Croydon. We chose seafood (£39.95 for four). It was delicious - it was all very fresh, although a bit cheeky of them to give us the 'crab'stick. We chose a tom yum stock, and this was obviously made fresh and not from a cube. It was both spicy and sour, like a good tom yum should.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Meat Balls

When I was living at with my parents (a mere 4 or so years ago), my 'speciality' was meat balls. I'm not sure if it's because mine were particularly good but perhaps rather that I could be bothered to stand there and roll them to feed 4 people.

Ever since I first made them, I've always tried to alter the recipe somehow to get the ultimate meat ball. Some say simple is best and prefer just salt and pepper, but I like some extra flavourings.

Here was tonight's effort:

Meatballs in a Spicy Tomato Sauce

For one hungry person

For the balls:

125gr minced beef

2 anchovies in oil, finely chopped

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Half a shallot, finely diced
1 tbsp capers, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste
I don't really think egg or breadcrumbs are necessary in meatballs. If you work the flavourings into the meat enough without working it too much into a paste, then it'll hold together fine. Fry the meat balls in a pan with some oil until browned on all sides.

Then add 1/2 diced small onion, 1 fat clove garlic, minced, 1/2 yellow pepper, diced and a large pinch of chilli flakes and fry until the onion is translucent. Add 1 tbsp tomato puree, 1/2 can chopped tomatoes and 1 tsp sugar. Simmer until thickened, serve with a pasta of your choice and a grating of Parmesan.

I had mine with tagliatelle. I had a bag of spinach in the fridge that was starting to look like it was going to get up and walk away, so I added a few washed handfuls to the pot of pasta after I'd turned off the heat, but before I'd drained it. I don't much like pasta to be drowning in sauce, more like a dressing, so add more tomato to taste if you like.

These were very good. The anchovy melts into the meat so it's not fishy, but provided a good savoury depth.

Nevertheless, the quest for the perfect meatball shall go on. What's your best meat ball?

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Rice Paper Rolls

Flush with success with being (just) dextrous enough to make the potsticker dumplings, I decided to try my hand at making rice paper rolls. I love spring rolls, but dislike deep-frying. My flat has possibly the most sensitive smoke alarm in all of the land; anything fried or grilled sets it off. In fact, sometimes even the oven sets it off it you open the door for more than a peek inside, so deep-frying is no friend of mine.

I had a quick google around for a general idea of how to make them and what kind of sauce to serve them with. Carrots, peppers, a behemoth bunch of coriander and spring onions dominated my otherwise bare vegetable drawer.

Rice Paper Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce

Makes 10 - 12 rolls

Packet of rice paper sheets (I got a Vietnamese brand from Chinatown)


1 carrot, cut into matchsticks

1/2 red and 1/2 yellow pepper, cut into matchsticks

2 spring onions, shredded

1/2 bunch rice vermicelli, soaked in boiling water and drained

Small handful of coriander, chopped finely

A few whole mint leaves

For the dipping sauce, mix together 3 tbsp hoi sin sauce, 1 tbsp peanut butter and a squeeze of lime juice. I used chunky peanut butter but I think either smooth or chunky would be fine.

Dip a dried rice paper sheet in a bowl of hot water. Leave for 30 secs, then remove and place on a clean tea towel and pat dry. Place the mint leaf in the upper part of the sheet, and some of the filling at the bottom half. Fold over the filling from the bottom, then fold the sides over, and then carry on rolling. Lay on a plate seam side down. The mint leaf should show through the rice paper quite clearly.

These were quite time consuming to make (so perhaps better for a weekend... or get a helper), and for some reason I steadily got worse at the rolling as time went on. I think I became impatient with hunger. The wait was worth it though; the rolls were crunchy, fresh, and reminiscent of summer. The singular mint leaf in each roll provided just the right amount of tingle without being overpowering.