Monday, 31 May 2010

Spicy Baked Eggs

One thing I usually make sure to do at the weekend is to take the time to have a nice proper breakfast or brunch. Weekday breakfasts consist of sad dusty bowls of miserable muesli at my desk, waiting for my email to load, or slices of slightly warm toast, bolted down while I run around the flat trying to find my keys. It makes the weekend a far more appreciated, leisurely affair.

Eggs feature heavily. They are comforting for healing the damages of Friday night beers, and they settle the stomach nicely. Recently I've taken to baking eggs in ramekins so that the whites are just set and the soft yolk oozes over the bread-dunking assault.

I went for a healthier version of the usual baked eggs with spinach, cream, butter and other niceties and made this smoky, chilli-packed version instead. A single dried chipotle chilli gave it plenty of kick with a background of smokiness that complemented the tomato well. If I wasn't still sick to death of them, this would go nicely with rice cooked with beans.

Spicy Baked Eggs

Serves 4

4 large eggs
1 tin of tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 onion
1 fat clove of garlic
1 courgette
1 tsp sugar
1 stick of celery
1 dried chipotle chilli
2 avocados
4 flour tortillas
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Dice the onion, celery and the garlic and sweat in a frying pan gently. Meanwhile, rehydrate the chipotle chilli in a little boiling water. Once the onions are golden, add the tinned tomato and the tomato puree. Chop up the chipotle chilli and cut the courgette into chunks. Add to the tomato mixture along with the tomato puree and sugar, give it all a big stir and leave to simmer for 15 - 20 minutes, until thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When ready, spoon the tomato mixture into 4 ramekins, reserving about 2 tbsp. Crack an egg into each ramekin, carefully spoon a little more mixture on top and season lightly. Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil over the eggs. Cover with foil and bake for 10 - 15 minutes, until the whites are set and the yolk is still runny.

To serve, halve the avocados, skin them and slice thinly. Season with salt and pepper, and serve on the side. Place the tortillas under the grill until they are browned and nicely puffed up.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Hainanese Chicken Rice

Hainanese chicken rice has long been a favourite of mine. I still remember the best I've had; at the Shangri-La in Singapore when I was about 9. It was the rice in particular, silky grains laced with fat, tasting intensely of chicken, I haven't had the same anywhere since. In fact, Hainanese chicken rice seems to be a rare dish to be found in London.

However, I heard that there was one place that was worth trying - Uncle Lim's Kitchen, in East Croydon of all places. Situated in a shopping centre, at first glace it looks like a place I'd never stop at. A glass counter with bubbling trays of sweet and sour chicken, if you look a bit closer you'll also see Malaysian beef curry, and a sign advertising Hainanese chicken rice served from Fridays to Mondays. I was here for one thing and one thing only.

Served cold and off the bone, the chicken was dressed in soy sauce and was tender and juicy. The skin was springy and globules of jelly clung to the meat. The rice was tinged with garlic and a chilli sauce spiked with pounded ginger added a welcome kick. I was a bit sad that this wasn't served with the usual bowl of broth to accompany it though. Priced at £5.80, it was a bargain.

So happily I have a fine rendition of the dish a mere 20 minutes from home. It wasn't as good as the best I've had, but it would take a lot to top that.

Uncle Lim's Kitchen

Upper North Arcade
Whitgift Centre
Croydon CRO 1UZ

Tel: 020 8688 8378

Uncle Lins Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, 28 May 2010

Stir-Fried Okra with Chinese Sausage

Okra is a bit of a funny beast. Often called 'ladies fingers', they are slightly furry and have gained an infamous reputation for the slime factor. Often used in dishes from the Deep South, they are a typical ingredient in gumbo; stewed in liquid for a while, they lend a gelatinous and thickening quality.

Though I rather like the slime, they don't have to be - cutting them on a dry surface with a dry knife (so not getting them in contact with water) and then dusting in flour and frying in hot fat means they crisp up.

I used okra in this dish with Chinese sausage; you can buy them in Chinese supermarkets vacuum packed. There are a few different variations and I usually buy the ones that don't have liver in them. Though fairly expensive at around £5 - £6 for 12, they last forever in the fridge since they are cured. Slightly sweet, chewy and porky, the sausages are laced with fat and go really well in one-pot rice dishes, congee and stir-fried dishes. Here, the soft yet crunchy okra was a great texture contrast to the sausage. The splashes of soy bring out the slight slime, all to be scooped up nicely with plain steamed rice.

Stir-Fried Okra with Chinese Sausage

Serves 2

200gr okra
2 Chinese sausages
2 cloves of garlic
1 red birds eye chilli
2" knob of ginger
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
Pinch of white pepper
Vegetable oil
1 spring onion
A small handful of coriander

Chop the sausages into bite-sized pieces. In a small pan, bring some water up to the boil and add the chunks to simmer gently for 5 minutes. Drain the sausages

Wash the okra and pat them dry. On a dry chopping board, slice the okra diagonally in 2" chunks. Mince the garlic and ginger, and chop the chilli. Slice the spring onion diagonally into ears and chop the coriander finely. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wok until smoking. Turn down to medium, toss the okra in the cornflour, and stir-fry for 2 - 3 minutes. Add the chilli, garlic, ginger and sausage chunks and continue frying for another two minutes. Sling in the soy sauce and the oyster sauce, toss to coat and take off the heat. Garnish with the spring onion, white pepper and coriander, and drizzle the sesame oil to serve.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Pigging Out At The Drapers Arms

I firmly believe that pork is the king of all meats. It was with much excitement that I groggily made my way to The Drapers Arms, a lovely gastropub in the backstreets of leafy Islington. I had just completed a gruelling 30 hour journey from Nicaragua and I was in desperate need of some replenishing food.

The menu boasted five courses of porky goodness. First out was the smoked ham hock and pig's head terrine with toast and picallili. A coarse, jellied terrine was stuffed with flecks of herb, meaty jelly and chunks of pork. I long ago knew that I wanted to marry whoever's genius hand was behind the pickle-making here, and the picallili, crunchy and tart, was a delight.

Next up, a dandelion, black pudding and shallot salad was topped off with soft boiled eggs. The black pudding here was the softest I've had and it luxuriated upon the leaves nicely. Why aren't dandelion leaves more widely available? Robust, intense and bitter, I first tried it pulled out of the ground at Riverford Organic Farm. I love bitter foods and the silky egg yolk tempered the greenery nicely.

A course of simply sliced gammon was slightly on the dry side, though enlivened with yet more wonderful pickles; gherkins, beetroot and turnip.

The next course was one of my favourites - salt pork belly stew with white beans and watercress. Comforting, moreish and homely, the studs of pork were tender and slightly fatty, coating the mouth nicely.

Roast loin of pork came out next, accompanied by this crunchy and vivid beetroot, celeriac and apple salad; just the right hint of sweetness and earthiness that married together with the pork nicely, without having to resort to the usual apple sauce.

Crispy crunchy crackling and juice slices of meat were simplicity itself, but it showed that you don't have to do much to a good piece of meat.

The advertised rhubarb sorbet was garnished with angry blood red oranges that tartened up the dessert and yet managed to stay creamy. After those courses of rich pig meat this was a welcome and palate cleansing end to the meal.

I waddled off home, pleased as punch to have been fed so well after having spent two weeks existing on rice and beans. This was a one-off event, (follow them on Twitter to hear about upcoming ones) but it showed off some obvious skill in the kitchen and I'd gladly eat there again.

The Drapers Arms

44 Barnsbury St
London N1 1ER

Tel: 0207 619 0348

Drapers Arms on Urbanspoon

I dined here as a guest of Nick's, one of the co-owners. As you've seen, I like to make bets. He lost, and I won a complimentary seat.

Friday, 21 May 2010

The Bet

This week, I managed to get myself into a situation that I now can't extract myself from. Through the medium of Twitter, I have entered into a steak eating competition at Hawksmoor.

How did this happen? @baconchop was inadvertently called a girl. He responded saying he's a man - after all, he eats big steaks. Of course, I said girls eat steak too. It snowballed from there, and now, on the 1st June, at Hawksmoor, we will be going head to head to see who can eat the most.

A battle of the sexes? Or a battle of who is most stubborn?

The rules:

1. Both contestants need to choose their meal

2. Both contestants have to have the same non-steak food and drink

3. Both contestants privately message @hawksmoorlondon their steak target (e.g. 800g bone-in rib). If they fail to eat it all they lose. If they both eat it all the person with the biggest target wins.

4. Hawksmoor will comp the winner’s steak.

5. If both contestants fail to eat their steaks Hawksmoor wins and you pay your whole bill. Hawksmoor laughs at you.

You can go and vote for who you think might win, here. If you're on Twitter, it's been hashtagged as #manvslegs. For now, wish me luck; I hope I don't puke*.

Will Beckett of Hawksmoor has pledged £1 per 100gr of steak consumed, with the total going to the winner's charity of choice, and we've had another Twitterer do the same. Feel free if you fancy it; my charity of choice is NSPCC.

For now, I am busy in training and contemplating what size to order. But for the record, I once ate so much pie I was sick in my sleep.

*Any mid-meal vomiting warrants an immediate disqualification.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Red Onion & Pomegranate Salad

This salad is absurdly simple, but very rewarding. Colourful with jewel-like pomegranate seeds, it is adapted from a Nigella recipe and makes an ideal accompaniment to curries. There's no danger of the dreaded onion breath as the lime juice strips away the harshness, leaving just sweet and sour. It works well stuffed into meat-filled pittas, scooped up with a dab of houmous on a flatbread or just roasted meats; I took it to a barbeque recently and it went down a storm.

Red Onion & Pomegranate Salad

Makes as pictured

2 red onions
2 limes
1 pomegranate
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
A handful of coriander
Salt & pepper

Halve the pomegranate and squeeze the juice into a bowl. Add the juice of the lime. Slice the red onions thinly in half crescents and add to the juice, leaving it for half an hour. Meanwhile, pic the seeds out of the pomegranate. Drain the onion, throw in the pomegranate seeds and the coriander, chopped up. In a non-stick pan, lightly toast the cumin seeds and bash about a bit in a mortar and pestle. Stir this through the onion, salt and pepper to taste and it's ready.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Florence - Herne Hill

As far as pubs go, it's not often I eat in them, with some exceptions. More often than not, pub menus are littered with Thai green curries sat alongside burgers, lasagne and that pub favourite - fish and chips served disappointingly with pea puree. The Florence, in Herne Hill dahn Saaf East is different though. I first visited when The Meatwagon was cooking up some burgers. A cultish following, much has been said and blogged about their burgers. A hole was cut into the garden fence, the van was parked up, the beer garden packed to the rafters and they sold out of everything by 8pm. For them to have arranged this I figured they must be pretty serious about the food, so a mere two days later, I was back.

At 3pm on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the beer garden was again, packed. Prams everywhere, children toddling around, I wondered why they weren't dumped in the soundproof crèche that had been built three months previously. I'm not a particularly child-friendly person when hungover and seeking recovery down the boozer. Mussels and chips (£8) were perfect; sweet, plump flesh were in a cider, cream and leek sauce. Chips were crispy and salty and the mayonnaise tasted home-made. Just as I was considering picking up the bowl to drink the sauce out of, spoons appeared - "you looked like you were at that crucial sauce slurping stage". Top marks for attentive service.

A few hours later when the kids were wheeled off to bed and the walk to the bar became a bit more wobbly, we had some buttermilk fried chicken served with a coleslaw dip. Juicy and delicious, we scorched our fingers trying to stuff them in our drunken faces. There was no hint of the usual dry or stringy chicken; apparently they use a Thomas Keller reciepe whereby the chicken is brined and then marinated in the buttermilk. It's a winning bar snack.

So, another good reason to live South East. I will be back imminently (and not just because I left my bank card there); great staff, a (slightly amorous) pub dog, and I saw a burgers go past that were double patties. Meaty goodness.

The Florence

131-133 Dulwich Road
SE24 0NG

Tel: 020 7326 4987

The Florence on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Burts Chip Factory

As part of our trip to Devon which encompassed Riverford Organic Farm and Barbers 1833 cheesemakers in Somerset, we visited Burts Chip Factory. Now, anyone who knows me also knows that I am a crisp fiend. I considered starting up Salty Snacks Anonymous for some therapy. I once went through a phase of eating a packet of ready salted Hula Hoops every day for three months. In an effort to save some cash I bought a multipack and it was a bad move; I ate 3 packets that day.

It was with some excitement that we entered the factory. Bedecked in full splendour of lab coats, shoe coverers and hairnets, we were shown enormous cartons of potatoes. Throughout the year, Burts use different varieties of potato depending on what's best for the season. I rather liked this idea; a spring-time packet is likely to be a little different to that of one bought in, say, the autumn.

A huge, intimidating vat of bubbling sunflower oil was being stirred carefully to help the crisps cook more evenly. Used oil doesn't just get chucked out - it goes to making dog food. The oil keeps their coats shiny. It's all about recycling here; potato slurry goes to local farmers to feed their cows, and any sub-standard crisps are fed to pigs. I would be a happy pig.

Plucking a hot, freshly fried crisp off the production line was a joy. I had to stop myself from greedily shovelling handfuls into my mouth. Unsalted at this stage, they were pure potato goodness.

The above nifty contraption sorts the crisps, when seasoned, into perfect bag amounts.

I was surprised by how much work goes into making a bag of crisps. The crucial stage is the frying and the oil has to be kept at a constant temperature for even cooking. Ultraviolet technology checks the crisps in case they get stuck together, resulting in a raw starchy middle, and my favourite part was a weight sensor that blew out a blast of air to reject any packets that were too heavy or too light. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least.

We ended the tour by going to the offices for a crisp tasting session. Soon to launch, Burts will be making a Thai sweet chilli flavour, and we were to try three different types, with the favourite flavour to go on the market. We thought long and hard, we munched many crisps and a favourite emerged, the spiciest of the lot.

My crisp addiciton has been reignited.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010


It was a holiday of calamities. Firstly Iceland's volcanic ash cloud meant I was stuck in London for 5 days, leaving my backpacking mates twiddling their thumbs, waiting for me. When I finally arrived, we made for Little Corn Island in the Caribbean, a three day journey by bus and boat - you can fly, but this option was far cheaper. Upon arrival to our little paradise island (below), I was bitten by a dog leaving me with a horridly deep leg wound, a trip to the hospital and instruction not to go in the sea for two whole days. I haven't foamed at the mouth yet so I assume I'm safe.

But anyway; what of the food? As you can see, most of my meals had one thing in common. Rice and beans. Gallo pinto. It will be a long time before I would like to eat that combination again.

Huevos Rancheros

Non-descript meat with the saltiest, rubberiest cheese you'll ever taste

Some sort of chicken stew

Thankfully there was some variation on Little Corn Island. Rondon, their local dish, was a coconut-based stew packed with fish, prawns, yucca, potato and carrots. We had to order it two hours in advance to give them time to prepare it. It was lovely; light but creamy and packed with flavour.

Squares of banana cake were sold by kids bearing big tupperware boxes. Squidgy and light, they were extremely moreish. One day, after a wander around the island, we bought a patty each from a man with another tupperware box. Still warm, they were light, crispy and filled with minced meat with a whack of spice and fruitiness that I knew could only come from scotch bonnets. We spent a good portion of the next day trying to find him again, but alas; it was a one-time opportunity.

After a few days sitting around in hammocks and getting pissed on rum we made the mission over to Ometepe, an island in the middle of the enormous Lake Nicaragua. Sleeping on dirty cardboard on an overnight freight boat with six smelly men wasn't the most comfortable way to travel, it was cheap and that was top priority.

The island is dominated by two volcanoes, Madeiras which is dormant, and Concepción (below).

We climbed that bastard. All 1619m of it. It took us 12 hours in total; it was the hardest thing I've done in a long time, and my legs still haven't recovered. It wasn't until the next evening we found out that our 'guide' was actually a drunk and a drug addict, and was arrested for taking us to the crater as it's too dangerous, given it's an active volcano and had erupted 2 weeks previously. Oops.

Other peoples' holiday photos are boring, but the Flickr set of The Death-Hike is HERE in case you're interested.