Sunday, 30 November 2008

There's No Place Like Home

These past two weeks have been pretty hectic. Christmas is coming up, the booze is flowing, and everyone seems to be in a partying kind of mood. I feel like I've been either drunk or hungover this past fortnight and December is going to be even more manic, what with work parties and a trip to Berlin approaching. So, this weekend I gladly took myself off to the country (well, Surrey) to see Mum and Pops.

I've never lived in their current abode save for a week last Christmas, but it still feels like home. One question asked frequently by my family cropped up again: "What shall we eat?" It didn't take long for me to request something fishy and nothing to do with pasta; as much as I love it, I seem to have existed on pasta for a week now.

This is my dad's recipe, but as I was lurking around the kitchen I managed to get a glimpse of what was going on.

Spanish Seafood Stew

For 4

4 fillets of white fish (we used tilapia)

A handful of raw tiger prawns, deveined

2 tubes of squid and tentacles, cleaned and sliced into large pieces

1 tail of monkfish, deboned and chopped into large pieces

8 scallops, roe attached

6 tomatoes, deskinned and chopped

1 large onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 head of fennel, chopped roughly

1 green chilli, sliced finely

1 Romano pepper, cut into large chunks

Pinch of saffron

1 tsp hot paprika

A glass of white wine

Large handful of curly parsley, chopped finely

In a large saucepan, fry the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and the green chilli and sweat gently. Then add the fennel and fry until it's softened, and then add the Romano pepper and the chopped tomatoes. Add the white wine, bring to the boil, and then turn it down to a simmer until all the tomatoes have broken down into a thick sauce. Add the saffron and the paprika. Add about 200mls of boiling water. Add the monkfish and keep on a low heat. Meanwhile, dredge the white fish fillets in a little seasoned flour and pan fry in some vegetable oil until cooked. Add to the serving bowls. Then fry the scallops on a high heat in a clean pan, ready to place on top of the stew. Turn the heat up on the stew and add the prawns, and then the squid. When the prawns have turned pink, take off the heat and add the parsley.

To serve, ladle the stew over the white fish fillets, and then add a couple of scallops per person on top. Serve with some fresh bread to mop up the juices.

It was a very decadent dish, what with the monkfish and scallops not being the cheapest of seafood. It was a great mixture of textures, from the slightly crunchy squid tentacles to the soft scallops. The saffron really brought out the flavour of the fish, the paprika gave it a spicy hit, and the parsley, always a great match with fish, freshened it nicely. It's surprisingly rich; we were stuffed afterwards, but not in a heavy, stodgy way. I'm wondering if I can move back home...

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Good Oil For Good Health

I was recently invited to a dinner party held by Glynis Murray and Henry Braham. They wanted to tell us about their product, Good Oil, that is made with hemp seeds. Intruiged, off I went to Westbourne Park. We were very well looked after indeed; they have an admirable story of years of struggle to get their product launched from using this sustainable and ethically sound crop. The dinner menu, cooked by their talented son Ben, was all made to showcase the oil.

When I think of hemp oil it brings to mind crusty old hippies, and visiting dodgy shops full of 'ornamental' bongs, the heady scent of incense, and horrible shoulder bags made of hemp. I cast this out of my mind when we tried the starter, a pea and pecorino crostini. You could really taste the oil in this, as it made it taste a lot more earthy and lent a nuttiness to it. Venison and cranberry casserole followed with a great mash potato, but for me the best way for using the oil was drizzling it over vanilla ice cream. Don't ask me how it worked, but it most certainly did.

So, armed with a bottle I decided to give it a go for myself. Special oils seem to work well on pasta dishes, as the pasta works well as a bland background for you to dress.

Good Oil Spaghetti & Rocket

For 1

100gr dried spaghetti or linguine

50gr cured pork product - chorizo, bacon or spicy salami works well

1 handful of washed rocket

1 clove of garlic

Squeeze of lemon juice

1 tbsp Good Oil


Cook the spaghetti until al dente. Meanwhile, in a dry, non stick frying pan, fry the pork on a low heat with the clove of garlic, cut in half. When the pork has released some fat (or has cooked, if it's bacon) remove the garlic and discard it. Once the spaghetti has cooked, add this to the frying pan along with the oil, rocket and lemon juice. Toss well, sling it on a plate, and top with plenty of Parmesan and lots of black pepper.

So perhaps cured pork products aren't particularly healthy, but Good Oil is. Not only does it contain half the saturated fat of olive oil, it also has a higher content of Omega 3, 6 and 9 than any other oils. Out with the old (olive oil) and in with the new.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Braised Pork Belly & Cucumber Salad

It snowed today, the first snow I've seen this winter. It was pretty horrible; grey, cold and it didn't settle. Happily enough, as it's proper rib-sticking stuff, I had some leftover braised pork belly to have, but as I've had a particularly unhealthy week I wanted something green to go with it.

I have made this Sichuan Cucumber Salad before, but once I'd peeled and chopped the cucumber up, I realised I was out of chilli bean sauce. I had a good ol' rummage around the fridge and instead came up with this recipe, which I think worked very well. It was spicy, sour and sweet at the same time.

Hot & Sour Cucumber Salad

Serves 3 as part of a main meal

1 cucumber, peeled, quartered lengthways and deseeded

1 handful of frozen peas

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced finely

2 tsp rice vinegar

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp Hoi Sin sauce

1/2 tsp yellow bean paste

1 tsp ground Sichuan pepper

In a wok, heat up a little vegetable oil and fry the garlic and the Sichuan pepper. Add the peas and fry on a low heat until the peas are defrosted. Take off the heat and leave to cool. Slice the cucumber into 1" pieces and salt in a sieve for 5 - 10 mins to remove the moisture. Rinse and pat dry. In a bowl, add the Hoi Sin sauce, sugar, yellow bean paste, vinegar, sesame oil and chilli. Add the pea mixture and the cucumber and toss well. Leave for a few minutes to let the flavours mingle.

Pork belly is one of my favourite cuts of meat. The fat in the meat is crucial in making it tender and tasty, although I try and keep consumption of it down as I'm not sure it's particularly good for you. Still; it's cheap and tasty, as long as it's treated properly. Long, slow cooking is the best way to keep it succulent and tender.

Chinese five spice is traditionally used when braising or roasting meat and not for quick cooking. It's a pungent combination of star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon (cassia), Sichuan pepper and fennel. Many brands add salt to this mixture and it's entirely unnecessary, so I always look out for that in the ingredient list. The five spice lends a great depth to the pork. For the health conscious, cook it the day before and refridgerate it before thickening it with the cornflour and you should be able to skim some fat off. I don't bother.

Chinese Braised Pork Belly

Serves 3

600gr pork belly slices, cut into chunks. I leave the skin on, as I like the texture

3 cloves of garlic, minced

2" ginger, chopped finely

3 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine

1 heaped tsp of Chinese 5 spice powder

2 tsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp of cornflour, mixed with 1 tbsp cold water

2 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal

Heat some oil in a wok, and brown the pork belly chunks thoroughly. Remove with a slotted spoon, and tip out the fat, reserving about 1 tbsp. Fry the ginger and garlic, then add the pork back in. Add the 5 spice, soy sauces and enough water to just cover the pork. Simmer gently with the lid on for about an hour, if not more, and thicken with the cornflour. Serve with rice, garnished with the spring onion.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Making Macarons

Last week, the kind people at Trusted Places invited myself and 13 others to a macaron making class at L'Atelier Des Chefs, a new cookery school on Wigmore Street.

Many people rave about macarons, especially those from Ladurée in Harrods but if I'm honest with you, I can't recall ever eating a macaron and being particularly bowled over. Then again, I've never been to Ladurée. However, I have heard that they are tricky to make and with this I went with some trepidation.

The guys at L'Atelier were lovely, and welcomed us warmly. When we entered the room, there were four different work stations, as we were making four different flavours: Foie gras and Porto, lime and ginger, salted caramel and raspberry and rose.

Myself and Josh chose the station for the lime and ginger (and then kicked ourselves for not choosing the foie gras one). We were shown each stage of making the macarons by the chef, Baldwin Stoel. He was a great teacher and very patient; although we did get told off for swearing like naughty school kids...!

There was a lot of ooh-ing and ah-ing over the various batters which were simply ground almonds, icing sugar, egg whites and food colouring. The green was very lurid indeed. Next, the batter was added into a piping bag and we were schooled on how to pipe circles. Then came the noisy part; you had to pick up the baking tray and drop them, to get any air bubbles out of the macarons. My ears were ringing a bit afterwards.

Off they went into the oven, and then we were instructed on how to make the various fillings, and finnally sandwiching them together.

Afterwards, we all sat down to have a taste of them. The foie gras ones were very rich indeed; they were sweet but also quite livery, and the flavour of the Porto coming through strongly. It was a bit mind boggling. I think we all agreed that the classic, salted caramel was the best flavour.

It was a really enjoyable afternoon. I learnt a lot about making macarons, and also new techniques, such as making piping the mixture. I haven't done much piping before, you see.

Here's a list of all the other attendees; not everyone has blogged it, but some have:

Niamh from eatlikeagirl and Trusted Places
Su-Lin from Tamarind and Thyme
Krista from londonelicious
Alice from An American in London
Helen from World Foodie Guide
Tom from The Food Flunky
Mark from Food By Mark
Jonathan from Around Britain With A Paunch
Abi from foodrambler
Alex from The Princess And The Recipe
Mia from Urban Foodie
Shuna from eggbeater
Josh from Cooking The Books
Heather, a Trusted Places reviewer

Tuesday, 18 November 2008


The past couple of weeks have been rather meaty. Only last week, I had a pre-gig dinner in Haché, recommended to me by fellow food bloggers and told that they do very good burgers indeed. They weren't wrong; I had a great medium rare burger topped with Stilton, possibly the best burger I've had so far.

Cut to less than a week later, and I'm told that Hawksmoor do the best steaks in London. If you'd told me a year ago that I would be meeting people from the internet for dinner, I'd have probably laughed at you. But it's not that weird really. Having joined Twitter, myself and a few other bloggers decided that a steak night must be arranged, mainly out of sympathy for someone having to endure a meal at a vegan restaurant that don't cook their food much. So myself, Chris, Helen and Charles (who works at Tipped) met on a rainy Monday night for a healthy dose of protein.

Upon arrival, the name of the restaurant is rather obscure. Luckily I printed out a map before I left, as I have absolutely no sense of direction and frequently get lost. The restaurant is quite simply decorated; a few circular tables, several square and a small bar lined at the back. I'm told the cocktails are great, but as it was a Monday night I resisted. They did serve a mean Punk IPA which I later discovered to be a very good accompaniment to the steak.

The menu is quite extensive. There were starters of ribs, smoked salmon and the like, but we were only there for one thing - the steak. I opted for the 400g rib eye, cooked to medium rare, with a side of triple cooked chips.

All the meat at Hawksmoor is supplied by The Ginger Pig, a rather well known and respected producer. Their beef is Longhorn cattle, raised in North Yorkshire, hung for at least 28 days and cooked simply on a charcoal grill.

Everyone elses steaks came out first, and they were huge. At around 3" thick, they were nicely charred on the outside, and by all accounts, perfectly cooked. When mine came out I was mildly disappointed as it was a mere inch thick but bigger in surface area. However, upon tasting it all disappointment was expelled. It had a great charcoal flavour, whilst still remaining perfectly medium rare, as requested. It was also generously seasonsed, something many restaurants inexplicably fail to do. Served alongside were Béarnaise and peppercorn sauces, my favourite being the peppercorn. Purists will say that steak doesn't need a sauce, but whatever; it was good. Pleasingly, mid-way through I encountered a gorgeous pocket of buttery flavoursome fat, my main reason for ordering the rib eye. The chips were crispy on the outside and fluffy within, and complemented well by a fresh ketchup.

When we got there we were only one of two tables, but when we left it was almost full which is impressive for a Monday night. It isn't cheap, but good meat rarely is. I'm not sure if I can order another steak (or indeed, cook one myself) again as I don't think it would live up to this one.

157 Commercial Street
E1 6BJ
Tel: 0207 247 7392

Hawksmoor on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Vietnamese Spicy Pork & Aubergine

Aubergines are my favourite vegetable, although Wikipedia tells me they're actually classed as a berry. I claimed I didn't like them when I was a child, as in Hong Kong (where I grew up) they were often called eggplants and I wasn't overly fond of eggs. It made sense to me at the time, but clearly I missed out and have been making up for it ever since.

Texturally they are really pleasing; I find twice cooking them is the best way to get them meltingly tender rather than spongy and squeaky. It's also unnecessary to salt them to get rid of their bitterness, as modern technology means it's been bred out of them. I have found that salting them means that they soak up less oil, if you're trying to be health conscious.

Pork and aubergine is a great combination. Already, Fish Fragrant Aubergines is one of my favourite dishes and so I'm always keen to try this combination with different flavourings. Originally this recipe instructed to prick the aubergine and roast it for 45 minutes until collapsed, then to peel it and scrape the flesh out to spread the mince over. Either way is as good, but this is a little quicker.

Vietnamese Spicy Pork & Aubergine

Serves 2

1 large aubergine, chopped into large chunks
250gr minced pork
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 red birds eye chillis, deseeded and chopped
2 stalks of spring onion, sliced finely
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 lime
Small bunch of coriander and mint, finely chopped.

In a non stick pan, fry the aubergine chunks in oil until it's browned on both sides. Remove and set to one side. Heat some oil up in a wok or a non-stick pan and fry the garlic and chilli until fragrant. Add the pork mince and fry until browned, then add the aubergine chunks back in. Stir fry on a high heat and add the spring onions. Add the fish sauce and the sugar. When the aubergines are completely cooked, take off the heat and add the herbs and the lime juice. Serve with rice.

This a great recipe; the fish sauce imparts a really great savoury depth to it, whilst the mint and the lime juice really makes it taste very fresh. The chilli isn't too overpowering; I often add more when just cooking for myself as I like it rather fiery.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Wasabi Salmon & Soba Noodle Salad

Wasabi is one of those things that hurts me to eat, but I still love it. Recently more and more pubs are offering up mugs of wasabi peas instead of pork scratchings, and I can't help but shovel handfuls of them, no matter how much they make my eyes well up when you get that inevitable 'wasabi head' like you do with mustard.

To go with the salmon marinated with wasabi, I thought a cold soba noodle salad would be refreshing and would temper the heat. Soba noodles have a great nuttiness to them, and although they're quite fine, they're still pleasantly chewy.

Wasabi Salmon & Soba Noodle Salad

Serves 2

2 salmon fillets
3 tsp of wasabi powder, made up with 1 tsp water
2 tsp light soy sauce
1" ginger, grated

Combine the soy sauce with the ginger and the wasabi, and spread over the salmon fillets. Leave to marinate for an hour.

For the noodle salad:

100gr soba noodles
1 carrot, grated
5 little gem lettuce leaves, washed and shredded
1 spring onion, sliced on the diagonal
1 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
2 tsp light soy sauce
A few drops of sesame oil
1/2 tsp mirin
1 tsp rice vinegar
Bonito flakes (optional)

Cook the soba noodles in boiling water for exactly 3 minutes. Refresh in iced water, and drain well. Toss the noodles in a large bowl with a few drops of vegetable oil, so that they don't stick together. Add the carrot, spring onion and lettuce and toss well. In a bowl, combine the soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar and sesame oil and add the toasted sesame seeds. Add to the noodles, toss well ensuring all the noodles are coated well.

Meanwhile, preheat the grill and grill the salmon for roughly 8 minutes, depending on how thick your fillet is. Serve, sprinkling some bonito flakes on top of the noodles, which adds a great umami depth to the salad.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Stuffed Cabbage

The humble cabbage isn't a very sexy vegetable. Thankfully I'm not of the age that I'd remember the waft of it it being boiled to death in school cafeterias, but even it's name isn't particularly alluring. However, it's one of my favourite vegetables; I also love kimchi, a spicy pickled cabbage of Korean origin.

Savoy cabbage seems to be the most versatile of the brassicas. It works well stir fried, creamed, in stews, in soups, and as I have just discovered, stuffed. In my aim to eat more vegetarian meals (I worry about my health...) I came across this recipe which I modified slightly.

It's very herb-heavy, perhaps to provide flavour that it lacks from meat. Dill isn't a herb I use a lot so I was keen to try it out. It results in a flavoursome filling, moistened nicely by the spicy tomato sauce and tempered by the soured cream.

Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

For two (the linked recipe claims it serves four, but this cannot be...)

8 Savoy cabbage leaves, blanched and refreshed with the hard stem cut out

For the filling:

200gr cooked rice
3 tbsp each of dill, parsley and mint
1 leek, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
75gr pine nuts, toasted

Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees. In a pan, heat up some oil and fry the leek, garlic and celery until softened. Add the rice and the herbs and season well. Take off the heat and fold in the pine nuts.

For the sauce:

1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
Pinch of sugar
1 tbsp tomato puree
Large pinch of chilli flakes

Meanwhile, sweat the onion and the garlic in a saucepan until very soft. Add the chilli flakes, sugar, tomato puree and the tinned tomatoes and simmer until thickened.

To assemble, add about 3 heaped tablespoons of the ixture above the point of where the stem has been cut off. Fold the two sides over and roll into a parcel. Sit snugly in a baking dish, and ladle the sauce over the cabbage. Bake for 20 - 25 mins, and serve with a pat of soured cream.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Comfort Food - Congee

After a couple of rather heavy weeks of binge eating and drinking, the time came for something mildly detoxifying and light on the palate. My grandmother used to make me congee whenever I was ill, and she always made it with the magic ingredient; dried scallops. My mother had a friend bring her some from Hong Kong, and when I was given some the first thing that sprung to my mind was congee.

Congee is like a rice porridge. It's very bland and has often been likened to wallpaper paste. You can really add any kind of toppings you like, as long as they're highly flavoured. Many people eat century eggs or salted duck eggs in congee. You can also have mixed meat congee; I have ghastly memories of eating congee with boiled pigs liver in it, which was similar in texture to licking velvet - very unpleasant.


Serves 2

1 mugful of white long grain rice (I use Thai)

6 mugfuls of water or stock

3 or 4 dried scallops (optional - they're very expensive)

Bring the water to the boil in a large saucepan and add the rice. Simmer for an hour or so, stirring occasionally until thick. You may need to add more stock / water if it begins to catch.

Good toppings to use are salted peanuts, rinsed fermented black beans, chilli sauce (I used Nam Prik Pao), spring onions, soy sauce, white pepper and ginger. Marinated meats and seafood also work well, as do eggs.

It's not an earth shattering recipe, but rather good comfort food.