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Artery Hardening Travel

Eiffel Tower at night

I have just come back from a fantastic week in Paris. I started with a music festival with some friends – the wonderfully titled Rock en Seine. As it’s a french festival, it was a food and wine as well as music experience. Food stalls served moules frite, andouillete, crepes, cous cous, paella and much more. French wine and tartiflette blended well with the chimes of Arcade Fire, the Shins, CSS Jarvis & Bjork. We followed this with three days idle wandering, popping in and out of patisseries, fromageries, boulangeries, whatever took our fancy. Occasional cultural interludes included the Picasso museum where I had a delicious raspberry and white chocolate tart (this is a food blog after all!).

Tartiflette

So, clearly, a weeks over indulgence and artery hardening will not fit in this little blog post. So, what were the highlights?

Having followed Fanny at Foodbeams adventures I had to pay a visit to Pierre Hermé. Wow, it was breathtaking, such beautiful desserts. I didn’t know where to start and wandered around for a bit then decided that I would come back as it was too early for cake at 11am. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and never made it! I was disgusted at my disorganistation and it’s top of the list for my next trip.

Next on the list were two tea shops recommended in an Insiders Guide to Paris – Ladurée and Angelinas. Ladurée is a very decadent place, I found three on my travels and the one we went to was near Pierre Hermé on Rue Bonaparte. I indulgent in a selecton of mini macarons – rose, violet, orange blossom to name but a few of the selection. We wandered off to the nearby Luxembourg Gardens to eat them and they did not disappoint. Beautiful, bright, crispy macarons with a luscious scented cream filling. Again, Ladurée was a feast for the eyes and I am determined to eat there next time. It’s like being transported to the early 20th century for tea and cake and feels very indulgent. Angelina’s is another French tea shop and is listed as the one that the tourists go to. They apparantly do the best hot chocolate in Paris, so off we went down to Rue de Rivoli, which should you try to find number 226 and start at 1 as we did, is a very long street! Again, an impressive selection awaited us but I was very disappointed, it reeked of faded glamour, the wallpaper was peeling in the bathroom, the service was brisk and unfriendly and the hot chocolate was good but not as good as an amazing Bolivian dark chocolate and lotus flower one that I had in Sydney last year. And at 7 euro a pop they ain’t cheap!

Macarons at Ladurée
Cakes at Ladurée

What of savoury food? Where to start?! We stayed in Montparnasse, which, it transpires is something of a Little Brittany. The trains to Brittany lave from Montparnasse station so it makes sense. So, we started our time there with some Breton cider and crepes at Tí Jos. They were delicious, particularly my dessert of chestnut paste/jam with creme fraiche. The cider went down quite well too :) They basement of the creperie is a Breton Pub and I am told that they have a traditional Breton music session every Monday. It’s a lovely place, very friendly people in elegant surroundings and budget prices too, for Paris anyway. Along with this we spent alot of time in random brasseries scattered throughout Paris eating enormous french salads, entrecote frites and other Parisian normalities. With one occasion an exception, the food was always very good. A local advised us to follow our nose and it was solid advice. If it smells good, it generally is good. One of the beauties of outdoor eating is you can see other punters plates before making your decision.



Gallette

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Brindisa & euskal txerria ham

On a recent chorizo expedition I ventured to Brindisa in Exmouth Market, home of the finest cooking chorizo in the land in my limited, eating-meat-for-less-than-one-year experience. I love it, the texture is soft, moist and spongy and the flavour rich. I eat far too much of it, in salads, with eggs for brunches, in pastas, on it’s own, wherever really! They sell mini chorizo and larger ones. I usually go for the mini chorizo, they’re less intimidating and if I got one of the big packets I would just have to eat the lot. Not a good idea!

So, off I went to Brindisa. I really like Exmouth Market. It’s got that village-y feel that places like Marylebone and Primrose Hill have. Lots of gorgeous places to eat like Moro and the Ambassador (I have yet to try but I have heard such good things from reliable sources) and the food market is on at the weekends. I wandered in to Brindisa and had a look around. My eye was taken by the ham. Four legs of ham in the window ready to be sliced. I was feeling carnivorous. I asked for some information on the hams, what pigs were they from, where were they from, annoying questions that were patiently answered. Two grabbed my attention – the one that moro use and the euskal txerria ham. I decided on the euskal txerria one. The euskal txerria pig is a rare breed recently saved from extinction in the Basque region in 1997 when only a few sows were left. It seems a mad concept, save a breed from extinction to kill and eat it. I had never heard of it before so asked that they write it down on the packet so that I could do my research after. [Read more]

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Courgette Carbonara

I have been living in London for some time now – 6 years – and have noticed that my hiberno-english lilt has absorbed some new words and phrases, I recently caught myself saying mate and as though to make room I am losing the frequency of some old regulars e.g. I am saying grand alot less. It’s all part of adapting, people still don’t understand what I am saying at times, although that may have alot to do with my rush to say everything especially when I am enthusiastic about the topic. What I never expected was that someday, out of the blue, I would call a courgette a zucchini. Where did that come from? I live in England, I am from Ireland, it’s a courgette in both places! I blame cookbooks and American televison shows, it’s as though, through some process of verbal osmosis, the external zucchini influences overpowered the courgette ones and forced itself out one evening unexpectedly. I am now making a very conscious effort to say courgette, which may sound very silly, I suppose it is, but I feel mixed up enough as it is so I am sticking with it!

So, recently, following the purchase of some very pretty yellow baby courgettes and some courgette flowers I decided that I would make a zucchini courgette carbonara and stuff the flowers with goats cheese and courgette and deep fry them. it took me ages to find courgette flowers, the farmers markets don’t appear to be selling them attached to the courgettes anymore which is an awful shame and when I did find them they cost £1 for 3 flowers on their own. That seems a bit steep! A couple of days after this purchase as I was preparing to cook them, Jamie Oliver did something very similar on his new show, Jamie at Home. I was really annoyed as I thought, damn, everyone is going to think I am copying him. So as a preface, I’ll explain how I first came across the carbonara recipe, it’s a nice trip down memory lane for me anyway. I’ll blog the courgette flower recipe another time.

My first encounter with homemade courgette carbonara was in Naples many years ago at a friends then boyfriends-ex-girlfriends house (you following?!). I was an impressionable 21/22 then and was really excited at seeing how easily and brilliantly it came together. It was a great night, we were drinking wine from their Tuscan vineyard with this delicious pasta and to top it off (I think) we were driven home in Isabella’s blue Fiat 500. It’s at times like this that I wish I had kept a diary. It’s all quite vague! That may have alot to do with the Tuscan wine.

The pasta that night was different to the one I am blogging here as it also had cherry tomatoes in. This may have been in place of the usual pancetta as two of us were vegetarian, this works really well if you want to try it sometime. This time I only used courgettes and pancetta as the courgettes were so flavoursome I wanted the dish to be all about them.

This is very quick, the carbonara takes only as long as the pasta takes to cook.

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Halloumi & Pomegranate Salad

I have been cooking so much recently but I really haven’t had time to blog. It’s a good complaint really as I am living it up a little, well certainly in the culinary sense, I am being very indulgent. Hopefully, I’ll get around to posting them some time in the near future. For now I am going to blog a really tasty salad that we had over the weekend using that most favoured of cheeses, halloumi. This one had sheeps milk only but was disappointing as it melted really poorly. Like halloumi with cows milk in, it started to lose milk as it melted, this shouldn’t happen and doesn’t happen with halloumi made with goats’s and sheep’s milk. After a mild panic I instigated a rescue operation, pulling the cheese from the pan in a hurry, burning myself in the process and letting it cool before dusting it in seasoned plain flour before frying again. This did the trick.

So, I’ve already ranted about halloumi in a previous post, now it’s the turn of the pomegranate. It’s got so much going for it. Intriguing looking, full of pretty little jewel-like seeds and packed with antioxidants & vitamins. It has been hailed as a superfood and no health food shop would be without a pricey bottle of pomegranate juice. The seeds themselves have a sweet and sour like quality, they are very tangy and are beautiful sprinled on salads, especially those with feta or halloumi. The uses are endless – I have had it in a curry, drinks, with muesli… wherever you care to put it within reason.

So, this salad was one of those what’s in the fridge salad. Unfortunately, I thought that there was watercress in there, if there is it’s fantastic at hiding and I had to make do with humble rocket. It worked really well as would any leaf really. This was so simple, play with it, add what you like, and see what you get. Enjoy!

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Weekend Barbecue

For a food blogger I talk alot about the weather, I know. I can’t help it, I am Irish and it’s a national occupation. Be happy that I am not talking about the state of the roads! The weather determines so much of what I cook so it’s an important reference. Really! Right now I’m switched to Winter mode again as the weather took a turn for the worse again on Monday. On Tuesday night I was looking out of our window and watching the tall poplars swaying over and back, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was November! And it’s raining today. Prior to all this misery, however, we had a lovely weekend and made the most of the near-summery weather with a barbecue at a friends house. They have a beautiful big garden at the edge of North London with a gazebo and pond, it’s as far removed from my Kilburn 1-bed flat as I could get!

These gatherings involve large volumes of food as a number of us are enthusiastic cooks and this time we ended up with several types of sausage, lamb, a savoury tart that I had brought from Popina in the farmers market, 3 salads, halloumi, potatoes & savoury rice. It was all so delicious. We had tomato, mint & parmesan; watercress, pear and chevre and beetroot, chevre, thyme and toasted sunflower seeds and finished it all with a lovely homemade apple & rhubarb tart. I made the beetroot, chevre, thyme and toasted sunflower seed salad so can donate that recipe along with the halloumi.

Halloumi! One of my favourite cheeses. It hails from Cyprus and is usually a combination of goat’s and sheep’s milk or sometimes either. Often with more industrialised cheeses cow’s milk is added to reduce costs. I avoid this one for a number of reasons, the main ones being that it affects the grilling properties and the taste and I shouldn’t really be eating cow’s milk cheese anyway as it makes me ill. Even if you can have cow’s milk I would encourage you to get one without cow’s milk as it really does taste better and they don’t hold their shape as well on the BBQ for a start! Often the cow’s milk one is saltier too, although halloumi is quite a salty cheese anyway. I think of it as comparing Danish feta with Greek feta, there’s a big difference in taste and texture and you see the same with halloumi. It’s great served with lime, mint and watermelon. I believe it’s quite traditional to have it with watermelon in Cyprus. I love to have it with a lentil salad, it’s a very wholesome flavourful dish. This time we kept it really simple, cut it into 1-inch thick slices and grilled it on both sides on the barbecue and squeezed lime juice over when it’s nice and charred.[Read more]

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Salmon Fish Cakes

I was at a BBQ at a friends house at the weekend and came home with lots of leftovers. These leftovers included a side of uncooked salmon and leftover boiled potatoes. I also raided their herb garden and came home with a bouquet of herbs including chives, mint, basil, thyme and rosemary. What to make? Could be fish pie but it’s not Winter (although it feels like it again today) and I wanted something light with some salad on the side. Quick and easy was also important. I had one of those days yesterday and wanted to sit down with a glass of wine, pronto. So, fish cakes it was. Perfect, ready in half an hour and before I knew it I was plonked in front of the tv browsing a stash of cookbooks while watching some food shows, Sanjeev Baskars India, and, dare I say it, Big Brother. Don’t judge me. I was weak. It wasn’t me, yer honour! ;)

Food like this makes me think back to Home Economics class when I was 13 and the first time I made potato cakes. I was amazed that you could make something so nice with leftovers and so quickly. Some mashed potato, flour, butter, egg & seasoning, cooked like a pancake and served in slices. YUM! Home Economics wasn’t always such a success, mind. I was very giddy and one day tipped a whole bag of salt into my homemade vegetable soup by accident. I am feeling very nostalgic for those days and have been trying to source the Home Economics book we had – All about home economics: A complete course in Intermediate Certificate and Day Vocational Certificate home economics byt Deirdre Madden, but to no avail. If anyone knows where I can get a copy I’d be thrilled!

Anyway, back to the fish cakes. They’re so easy. Really. I like my fish cakes to have more salmon than potato but that’s down to your individual preference. Play around with quantities until you get the consistency you want. I used chives but you could use flat leaf parsley or a selection of herbs. The quantities below will serve four. I chose to make 4 big cakes but 8 small ones is good too. I served one each with a side salad of rocket, quartered cherry tomatoes & finely sliced red onion in a balsamic and olive oil dressing – (one third vinegar to oil plus seasoning).[Read more]

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Covent Garden Night Market

According to their website, Covent Garden Night Market is going back to its roots as:

“the original “larder of London” with the first ever night market in the capital, bringing together the best of London’s food markets. Traders from Borough to Broadway, Exmouth to Islington will set their stalls out alongside premium food producers never before seen in London. This is the ultimate foodie experience!”

How could I refuse! With 35 traders promised it sounded very exciting. The traders appear to be regulars at other London markets or established producers, old favourites for me included Gujarati Rasoi, Neal’s Yard, the Ginger Pig, Spore Boys & Brindisa with lots more to try. Yum!

I got to the market at 7pm. It started at 5pm and was at this point thronged. Uncomfortably so, but I am a regular at Borough Market and can survive these things. If with side effects of being trodden on and cranky at the end! The promise of good food is a great motivator. I was focused on a Gujarati curry followed by a cupcake from Violet, however, I was investigating other options and adding them to my notebook for my next visit.

One of the first stalls to catch my eye was Duchy Oysters from the Duchy Estates of Cornwall, these looked great and judging by the queue and reactions to the oysters are one to try.

Next up was the Ginger Pig where I was greeted by mounds of meat, sausage rolls, pigs in blankets and luscious pies! I like the Ginger Pig alot. It’s on my Sunday beat and I frequently go there after the farmers market in Marylebone. The Ginger Pig rear their own animals in Yorkshire and source poultry from farms that they know and trust. They make pork pies using an Elizabeth David Recipe. In a city where service can often be abrupt and rude, the staff are extremely friendly and helpful, both in the shop and at the stall in Covent Garden Market. Add to this the quality and reliability of their product and you’re on to a winner.[Read more]

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Carrot, Coriander & Lemon Soup

Summer is here! At long last! Sun, sandals, walks along the South Bank, maybe even some picnics. And last night a bright summery soup. This soup is so bright and cheerful, a twist on my usual carrot & orange inspired by an indian dal. I toyed with the idea of adding a tarka (spices tempered in oil added to a dal before serving) but decided the simpler and lighter the better. Lemon and coriander work so well together, as do carrots & coriander so I thought this should work, and it did. I like lemon, but I don’t like it to overpower so I added just a couple of tablespoons, you may want to add more or less – I suggest you do to taste.

Ingredients:

300g carrots, peeled & sliced
100g split red lentils
1 leek, halved and sliced
1l vegetable stock
a handful of coriander
juice of half a lemon

Method:

Sauté the leeks for a good ten minutes or so over a low heat.
Add the carrots, I like to sauté these for as long as possible to intensify the flavour, 10 minutes would do but I left them there for 30, sweating away with an occasional stir.
Add your stock and lentils, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the coriander and púree. Season to taste with S&P and add the lemon juice to taste.

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Okonomiyaki, Abeno & Abeno Too

Monjayaki

It has been a bit quiet on the blog front, apologies, I’ve had a busy couple of weeks. I’ve eaten out a couple of times so there’s loads to write about but there’s just never enough time! How London is that? I’ve been cooking too, so will blog about those bits and pieces over the next short while.

To start, I’d like to chatter a bit about eating Monjayaki in Tokyo and Okonmiyaki in London. The food in Tokyo is wonderful and varied, I loved it from a culinary (and many other) perspective(s) and can’t wait to go back, I hope within the year for a holiday. I had a list of things to try, I think I’ve mentioned it here before! One of the things on that list was monjayaki, a tokyo version of okonomiyaki which I’ve never been able to try in London. Okonomiyaki is frequently described as a japanese pancake or pizza and is made from eggs, flour, water and cabbage with anything else thrown in. The literal translation according to Wikipedia is: Okonomi means “what you like” or “what you want”, and yaki means “grilled” or “cooked”. Monjayaki is a more specific specialty of the Kantō region, and is made with more liquid than okonomiyaki – quite alot of very flavoursome dashi is used. The cabbage is finely sliced and mixed with the eggs, dashi and flour. To this is added pretty much anything you want, we had one made with cod roe and it was absolutely divine.

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