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Salsify & Roast Garlic Soup

Salsify & Roast Garlic Soup

Salsify is a most underrated vegetable. It’s ugly, and it’s awkward. It’s like a stroppy teenager that refuses to wash. It’s not much fun to prep and goes off colour really easily. Dark brown and holding onto every bit of dirt, I had some ground into my palms which took so much scrubbing, I  think I’ve lost some layers of skin. It requires a lot of TLC. Putting it mildly. 

So, why bother?

Once  you crack it and this shy vegetable shows you it’s smile, you can’t help but fall in love with it. Tender and delicate, it’s often referred to as the oyster of the vegetable kingdom as it’s reported to have a similar flavour. I find it a little nutty, and so I like to pair it with roast garlic, which I think compliments it well. Once you take the beast that is garlic with some firm roasting, so that it relaxes and releases a sweetness, it holds hands with the salsify in this soup, and they become the best of friends. They don’t overpower each other, it’s a very delicate soup.

This aside, I wanted this to be a robust little soup, thick with lots of flavour, and I really wanted it to be healthy too. So, I added lentils and a carrot and a potato, along with the base shallots. I used a light chicken stock but you could substitute vegetable if you would like a vegetarian soup. 

This would serve 4 very healthy portions. Nice with good crusty bread.

Ingredients:

700g salsify, unpeeled
1 bulb garlic
2 large shallots or 4 small, finely chopped
2l light chicken stock
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
100g red lentils
2 bay leaves
a few sprigs of thyme
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive Oil for frying
S&P

Method:

Scrub, scrub, scrub that salsify. Peel, taking care not to strip too much of the skin. Chop into one inch sections and leave in acidulated water (water with a squeeze of lemon), so that it doesn’t discolour.

Roast the garlic. I like to roast at 180 degrees, it takes about 20 minutes. Slice the top off a bulb of garlic, exposing the top of each clove and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Roast and allow to cool, then squeeze each clove out of it’s papery jacket. I adore roast garlic. It should really have a post all of it’s own.

Saute the shallots in the olive oil until translucent. Add the carrots and potato for a couple of minutes. After, add the stock, bay leaves, thyme, garlic cloves, lentils and salsify.

Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the salsify is tender. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves and blitz in a blender. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

Serve with some thyme leaves as a garnish. I added a swirl of olive oil but cream would work really well too.

Enjoy!

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Baozi Inn, Chinatown, London

Baozi Inn

Baozi Inn

I’ve developed a slight obssession with Sichuan province in China: it’s culture, and especially it’s food. My research, in print and online, has shown it to be full of colour and flavour. I’ve met people from there and Westerners that have lived there, one claims that she has never been anywhere where people smile so much. Isn’t that a lovely recommendation? I had hoped to go there on holiday last year, particularly to Chengdu, but I couldn’t squeeze it in, so, that trip is on hold for the moment, but hopefully not for too long.

Baozi Inn

Baozi Inn

Until I get there, I’ve been keeping busy reading and trying the offerings from Fuschia Dunlop, the famed English chef who studied Sichuanese cookery at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu, China. She has many lovely books, one worth trying is Sichuan Cookery. I’ve also been indulging in the recent sudden crop of authentic Sichuan restaurants which have set up in London, most to my shame, I have yet to blog. Angeles in Kilburn and the Sichuan in Acton, have been around for years, but are now accompanied by Red & Hot, Bar Shu, Snazz Sichuan and Chilli Cool, wonderful additions. Chilli Cool and Snazz Sichuan are my personal favourites and are the ones that I recommend when asked. Bar Shu is the most high end of all of them, located off Shaftesbury Ave with the most expensive menu and the most formal service. It’s very good but I prefer something a little more low key and I’ve found that the others offer food of an equivalent standard in a more intimate, less formal setting, Chilli Cool in particular, I salute you.

Bar Shu have clearly recognised the oppurtunities at the lower end of the market, some Sichuan favourites are street food after all (Dan Dan Noodles is one), and so they opened Baozi Inn in Chinatown in 2008. Baozi Inn has had some good reviews and came recommended to me by fellow blogger, Lizzie of Hollow Legs. There’s frequently a wait, and I have little patience, so after a few aborted attempts, I finally ate there last week with some visiting friends and a fellow Londoner who used to live in Chengdu.

Green Beans at Baozi Inn

Green Beans at Baozi Inn

It’s a warm and intimate place, very cosy at this time of year. All wood and the occasional lantern, bare minimalism offering broad wooden stools and tables, it’s not about comfort here, but speed and efficiency. I was pleasantly surprised by the menu. The style is similar to Bar Shu and pictorial, but don’t hold that against them! It features traditional street dishes from Beijing and Chengdu like dan dan noodles, fragrant and hot pork noodles, peace and happiness noodles and Chengdu crescent dumplings with chilli oil or in savoury broth.

Cucumber salad & baoza

Service was brusque and friendly, and after a 10 minute wait we had a table. Surprisingly, there’s no wine on the menu, just beer. We chose some noodle dishes, some crescent dumplings in broth and with oil , some baozi and a couple of sides of cucumber and green beans.

Sichuanese Spicy Beef Noodles

Sichuanese Spicy Beef Noodles

The food arrived promptly, with the sides of cucumber and green bean dressed salads. These were fantastic, lightly and spicily dressed, we didn’t have enough. Shortly after the mains arrived: Sichuanese fragrant-and-hot pork noodles, Sichuanese spicy beef noodles, Chengdu dan dan noodles, Chengdu crescent dumplings in chilli oil, Chengdue crescent dumplings in savoury broth and some baozi. Large portions, we struggled to consume all, as in our hunger, we had ordered more than one each. Overall the food felt light, spicy and fragrant, fresh and very healthy, we were very happy with our choices. The baozi were light and fresh and the dumplings robust and wholesome in a delicious spicy chicken broth. Should I get a cold anytime soon, I know where I am going for my chicken soup!

Baoza

Baoza

I loved it. It’s a quick, cheap eat and great value for money, and all agreed, including my friend that had lived in Chengdu. She thought that it was very authentic and some of the best Chinese food that she’s had in London since she lived in Chengdu (she hasn’t been to alot of the other Sichuan restaurants in London, but I plan to take her). Rushed out as we were in, we weren’t offended, that’s what it’s about after all. I’ll be going back to try their baozi with millet porridge for lunch.

Chengdu crescent dumplings in a savoury broth

Chengdu crescent dumplings in a savoury broth

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Roast Yorkshire Pork

Roast Yorkshire Pork
I do love the swine. I love it any/which way it comes. Bacon, pork belly, chorizo, black pudding, loin, pork chops, ribs, sausages. Tender and crispy, moist and wonderful, oozing fat and dripping with flavour.

Ah, the swine.

Sourcing it well is most important. Every piece of meat we eat is the product of a number of factors: husbandry, the abbatoir and the butchery; each stage is equally important. The meat available to us in most shops and supermarkets is compromised on at least one of these fronts, in the name of price and value, speeding up the process to rush it to our shelves, or using intensive farming methods, common in pigs as chickens and equally cruel, but less well publicised.

Now, I don’t want to demonise the commercial pig farmer, but in our world, there’s a tendency to put profit over welfare, of the pig and the end consumer. I know it’s a very difficult time to be a farmer, they in the main are trying to compete and provide what the supermarket demands. I grew up surrounded by farms, and I know how difficult the life can be and how much they care about what they do. I really want to support them and not pointlessly criticise. It’s time for the supermarkets to hold their hands up and make some changes, and bring the product back to what it was before we had any of these issues. It’s better for the pig, better for the farmer, and better for the consumer.

Added to these concerns, rare breeds are dying out in favour of the easily bred commercial pig and the efforts of smaller farmers and farmer’s markets in preserving these and their uniquely flavoured meats is to be applauded and supported.

So, how do we tackle this now? Personally, I prefer to eat meat less often, and when I do, eat a better product. I go to a local reliable butcher, or the farmer’s market. At the very least, when buying in the supermarket, I buy the best I can. Recently, I discovered an online farmer’s market, Paganum, based in North Yorkshire and thought I’d give them a go. It sounded worth trying, their ethic matches mine, and it’s super convenient to boot.  So, I ordered some pork and it was couriered to me the next day. I got bacon, a roasting joint, and (it goes without saying) some pork belly.

The bacon was back bacon and was cut quite thick, as is the Yorkshire way. I like my bacon crispy and I wondered how this would work with a thicker cut. I fried some with some eggs for brunch to see. It was absolutely delicious and the fat was melt in the mouth. I absolutely overate as a result. No surprise there!

Next up was the roasting joint. I cut it into sections as I wanted to freeze some for next weekend. It cut so easily, the meat was incredibly delicate. I seasoned it first with sea salt all over, especially on the skin and roasted it with some garlic, apples, onions, bay leaves, black peppercorns and sauvignon blanc. Roasting on a low heat to begin with and basting occasionally to keep it moist, using the accepted wisdom of cooking slowly at 190 degrees until the meat is cooked (roughly 25 minutes for every pound or so), then transferring the meat to a new tray and cranking up the heat to 230 degrees to crisp the crackling.

It took about two and a half hours in total for the amount that I was roasting. I have had my fill of heavy roast dinners after Christmas, so I wanted to eat it simply. I added some washed and chopped kale to the juices and accountrements in the original baking tray, covered it with aluminium foil and steamed it for about 5 minutes in the oven, until the kale was a vibrant bright green, still crispy and flavoured with the wine and juices from the meat. It was delicious! The meat itself was so moist and tender, and the crackling so crisp. There’s never enough crackling for me, which is probably just as well, I should leave some room in my arteries for some blood to get through occasionally.

It was lovely but not perfect, the recipe that is. While the wine was lovely, I might add some water or a light stock with the wine next time 50/50, as the flavour could dominate. I might add some carrots too, I think the sweetness would be a lovely addition to the juices.

It was the lunch that kept on giving. I had it for dinner on garlic ciabbata toasts, that I roasted in 5 minutes and with some more kale. I’ve got some more left, another meals worth and have saved the apples, onions and juices. I plan to experiment with an apple, sauvignon blanc and thyme sauce. I’ll let you know if it’s a success!

What about the pork belly? I haven’t decided what to do with that yet. I am tempted to raid my Fuschia Dunlop cookbook and do something Sichuanese with it. Or maybe have it cold in a salad a la Simon Hopkinson. I’ll decide soon, and come back and tell you about it here.

Tomorrow, I am quite excited to be going back to St John, they’ve just been awarded a well deserved first Michelin star, so I should have something to say about that soon too.

Hope you’re having a lovely January!

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My favourites and your favourites of 2008

Israeli Cous Cous

Your No. 6!

One thing I have learned in my time as a food blogger, is that you and I don’t always agree. As hard as I try, things I love don’t impress you, and things that I think are meh, you sometimes think are great.

I don’t intentionally publish meh posts, but I do fall out of love with some of them. I look with a critics eye, and think, that photo? What was I thinking?! I could have done this better if… yadda yadda.

Now, what is that about? Why do you love them so? I love salmon fish cakes, but, top post for 2008? Really?!

Anyway, I forgive you. We don’t always see eye to eye, and in the interest of each of us getting a say, I am going to share my favourites and yours. Let’s start with yours, as you vastly outnumber me, and I don’t want a fight. There’s power in numbers.

  1. Salmon Fish Cakes – I love salmon fish cakes, and clearly you do too. It’s your number 1 recipe for 2008! I can’t help but wish I had better photographs for this post though. I must make these again, and blog again.
  2. Spiced Chickpeas with Spinach – I do like this recipe. It’s spicy and warming, and lovely in this weather, all tucked up in a pita with some yogurt.
  3. Prawn Curry (again) – This is one of my favourite recipes on the blog. Up until the start of 2008, I almost made this weekly. It turns out that you can have too much of a good thing!
  4. Pea & Ham Soup – Not my recipe, but Heston’s, I spotted this on the Times Online. Full of flavour and colour, it was a pleasure to eat.
  5. Roast butternut squash, coconut & chilli soup – You loved this last year, and you still love it this year. I am very happy that you do, as it was one of the early recipes that I blogged nervously.
  6. Israeli Couscous with onion squash, haricot beans & pumpkin seeds – A nice salad for a cold day, spiced and smokey wth paprika.
  7. Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry – This, I love. I made it on a whim one evening, in a friends house. We had a lovely evening, and for that reason, it warms my heart to think of it.
  8. Chicken of the Woods Fritters with Wild Garlic & Walnut Mayo – An experiment, playing with the wild, without getting any scratches. This was very tasty indeed, and I look forward to playing with more wild treasures, that I will hopefully forage for myself this year.
  9. The taste of summer – Israeli cous cous – Israeli cous cous sure is popular! This is a fresh summer twist on the autumnal one above.
  10. Some amateur cheesemaking – homemade paneer – If you can’t bring the horse to water… or whatever the phrase is, an experimentation with goat’s milk, resulting in a lovely fresh paneer. This year, I am planning homemade ricotta.

Well, that’s actually quite a good list, although, I wouldn’t have Salmon Fish Cakes at number one. But, where’s the pork belly? The chorizo? There’s a few in your list that make mine, so I’ll not duplicate. Here are some additions that would make my Top Ten.

  1. Slow Roast Pork Belly with Cider & Lentils – Oh, pork belly. It had to be my favourite thing this year. In sandwiches for lunch, at Le Cafe Anglais, or my version, slowly roasting for four hours in my kitchen. If you want me to do anything, bribe me with pork belly.
  2. Rhubarb Fool – I loved this. Fresh with memories of childhood, sweet and bright pink and luxurious with cream. I am looking forward to when the forced rhubarb will be available, so that I can make this again.
  3. Homemade Pizza – I love homemade pizza, it’s such fun to make. Your flat will be like a sauna, and everyone will be full, but you’ll have a great evening, and you’ll have nicer pizzas than most places on the high street.
  4. Braised Sausages with Potatoes & Puy Lentils – One word. Comfort. Perfect for winter, wrap yourself up warm, make yourself cosy, and tuck into braised sausages with potatoes and puy lentils, washed down with a robust glass of red.
  5. Braised sausages with lentils

  6. Chorizo & Kale Carbonara – Earthy, colourful, and full of flavour, this will ease your January blues.

So, that’s it! And now for 2009. I’ll do my best to make this blog worth reading. Thanks so much for taking the time to visit. I am always delighted when I hear that you’ve tried something and enjoyed it. Keep the commments coming, I love your feedback.

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And that was 2008! What for 2009? Part 2

Yesterday, I blogged the fist part of my annual sum up, And that was 2008! What for 2009? , with the promise of returning with the second part. I know you’re all just dying to read it, so here it is.

Last year was a sociable one for food bloggers, putting it mildly, we had many meetups and events. It was a busy few months prior to Christmas, so much so that I didn’t blog half of what I did, and wondered at times if I should have a second blog, as it seemed that recipe posts were being dwarfed by everything else, if only because I had no time to cook. I will change that this year. I love to cook, and I need to. I love playing and creating, tasting and eating, photographing and styling, but there was just no time.

Ah, blog guilt.

After our first bloggers meetup, we had many more, my personal highlight was the macaron classes at L’atelier des Chefs with 18 other food bloggers. I’ve always wanted to make these scary little things, but never had, and was very excited at the prospect of being taught by a chef. More than this, it was such a fun day, I laughed so much, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I want to run my own little class at home for friends now, a kind of macaron party, but my kitchen right now, is too small for that!

At the start of November, I went to Barcelona for the weekend and paid a trip to the food mecca that is La Boqueria, Barcelona’s enormous food market. I met fellow blogger Aidan Brooks while there, and had a lovely afternoon, soaking in all of the colours, smells, flavours, and that lovely November sunshine.

Another highlight involved L’atelier des Chefs. They invited me to be a judge for their annual cooking compeition, the Cusine Cup, with fellow judges Pascal Aussignac, chef at Club Gascon & Will Torrent, an up and coming confectioner and pastry chef. It was an inspiring day and a very worthwhile experience. I am looking forward to seeing how our winner, Luke, fares in final in Paris this year and I wish him the very best.

Ferran Adria paid a trip to London as part of his international book tour, how could I miss that? It was a really interesting evening where Ferran led us through the magic that he creates in his kitchen. It was fantastic. I just hope that some day I get to eat there!

We’re coming to the end now, if you’re still reading, I am flattered, as I am rambling! The year ended on a high, when Eat Like a Girl was included in The Times Online Top 10 Food Blogs in the World. I was very honoured and flattered to be included. It still brings a very big smile to my face when I think of it.

Another big feature for 2008, was twitter. I’ve had many moments laughing and sharing ideas with fellow food bloggers, friends, and peers from all over the world on there. We started lunchtweets! It’s enormous fun and a huge distraction when you allow it to be, but it’s worthwhile. Follow me on twitter if you are on there.

Any regrets? I try not to have any as a rule, as I find them negative and destructive if you dwell on them, but you can learn from them too. It’s best to live in the moment and enjoy what you can, do all you can well and be proud of what you achieve. But, what I will change, is that I will blog more. There were times last year where I was blogging terribly infrequently, but I don’t want to blog for the sake of it, and only when I have done something worth sharing and have the time to do it justice. So, I’ll create more of those food moments this year make sure that I have the time to write about them.

This year, I will make sure that posts don’t linger in drafts, as so many did last year, I am looking at you: Chicken Noodle Soup; Chicken, Chorizo & Kale Stew; Black Bean Chilli; Linguine with Courgette, Tomato & Basil, Sherry & Food Matchingw ith Heston Blumenthal; Whitley Neill Gin Tasting and Gallery Chocolate Tasting. Perhaps I should finish them and publish them throughout this month anyway! What do you think?

So, having reviewed this, and pieced it all together, I’ve just had to exhale. 2008 was a charmer! It took me by surprise and brought me to great places. I met some great people and fellow food bloggers, and I look forward to meeting them some more. I wait with anticipation for the joys that I hope 2009 will bring.

Next post: 2008 food highlights. Mine & your top posts.

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And that was 2008! What for 2009? Part 1

So, that was 2008! Hard to believe that it was only this time last year that I was typing away about 2007, full of anticipation, wondering what 2008 would bring. What a year it was! Alot happened, so much so, that when I started this post I realised I should publish it in two parts, as it was turning into something of an essay. And, we don’t want one of those!

2007 had presented some personal challenges and large changes, and I was determined that 2008 would be the year that I started focusing my energies and really pushing myself, more than I had done before. I really wanted to push myself creatively, try new things, improve my photography and generally to explore. I was going to do things I hadn’t done before, learn new things, take risks, and jump right in.

Easy to say, but did I do it? That’s for you to judge. I thought 2008 was a great year. Lots happened, and like any year, it had it’s ups and downs. But, the ups, well, they were great. Rather than bore you with the minutiae, I’ll detail my highlights.

The Guardian got in touch and asked if I’d mind being interviewed, as a blogger, for a piece they were doing on Graduates. I thought, why not! I answered their questions and met their photographer on a cold spring morning in King’s Cross, and lo and behold, a few days later, there was my mug in print! I was very tired that morning, it had been a busy few weeks, I wished I had had my beauty sleep and erased those dark circles from under my eyes, but hey-ho! It was wrapping fish and chips within a few hours anyway.

At Easter, I entered the lastminute.com London Restaurant Week food photography competition. My photo of Rhubarb Fool was selected in the final ten and was invited to the launch party. Exciting! Drinking (lots of) pink champagne and eating (lots of) food, watching Paul Young and various Big Brother and Hollyoaks folks pose for the camera. I was very entertained! I was very surprised and happy to win, so surprised, in fact, that I almost heard Jean Christophe Novelli announce it from the loo. But, that’s another story! I received a lovely prize of a Michelin starred dinner for two, which we ate at Keralan restaurant Quilon. I decided not to blog it and just to enjoy it, as a product of this venture. I’ll go again and blog it then.

Next up, was a video interview with TrustedPlaces, community reviewing site, and one I would get to know quite well, when I started working with them later in the year. I was nervous at the prospect of a video interview as I had ever done one before, but it was fine, and I featured in many more TrustedPlaces videos before the end of the year.

This lil blog turned one last year! It feels to me that have been inhabiting this space alot longer, but history tells otherwise!

A year would not be complete without some food festivals and markets, two of which I attended were Taste of London and Taste of Cork. Taste of London provided many opportunities to taste the best of the London restaurant scene, and (reasonably) within budget. It was a monumentally sunny day for London and lots of fun. Aidan Byrne at The Dorchester and Le Cafe Anglais were the food highlights for me. Sadly, I never did get to eat at The Dorchester before he left.

Shortly after, I was in Cork for their equivalent, Taste of Cork. I was particularly impressed by this. Cork is a much smaller place, with a tiny population by comparison. Yet, the quality of food on offer, matched that offered by the best in London. Food highlights were the venison chimichanga with chili and chocolate sauce from The Ivory Tower and the roast fillet of pork with black pudding, potatoes, caramelised compote of apple and plums and marjoram juice from Orchid’s at Hayfield Manor. Another great day was had, although, not surprisingly, it wasn’t particularly sunny. Nor did I expect it to be! Cork has many other charms that compensate.

Next, was another food photography competition. Two of my photos were shortlisted for the Konstam UK Food Photography Award. The Award was announced at an exhibition of the photos at Calumet on Drummond St. It was a lovely evening with great Konstam canapes and lots of Chapeldown sparkling wine. I didn’t win, but was delighted to be shortlisted.

Life was so busy at that time, it never made the blog, as was also the case for the fantastic evening soon after at Food & Sherry Matching with Heston Blumenthal at Shoreditch House, organised by the Sherry Institute of Spain. A lovely evening, and an education. Sherry is something I must explore further this year and if I made it to The Fat Duck, I’d be very happy indeed.

Some travelling was next, a trip to Riva for a friends wedding and lots of eating! The food was very different to my expectations, being very Germanic, with lots of schnitzel and frankfurters and lots of potatoes! We did find two wonderful local restaurants serving delights like tagliatelle al tartufo and seafood lasagne.

I suspect I’ve lost most people by now, as this is turning into quite a ramble, however, I’ll persevere! Next was the Food & Wine Blogger’s Meetup at Cantaloupe which I organised as part of my new role at TrustedPlaces. It was so great to finally meet the people behind the blogs, and it’s kick started a series of meetups and friendships. It’s always fun to have people to share your obssession with!

This time last year, I was very much blogging in isolation, save the interactions that I’d had with other bloggers via a browser. This year afforded me many opportunities to meet them, put faces to the names, find new names and new faces, and discover many great new people, that have become regular features in my life. That was something I never expected. When I started this venture, I expected it to become anonymous and to stay that way, how quickly things change. And for the better!

So, that was Part 1. Think you can handle Part 2? I’ll publish it over the next few days if you want to put yourself throught it!