ducklegs
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Recipe: Rich Roast Duck Legs (Chinese Style)

Roast Duck Legs

It is duck weather, so we might as well just get on with it.

Not weather for ducks, where it is so wet, ducks will love it. But weather for eating ducks, when the richness of the flesh and creamy duck fat is so appropriate, I can’t quite think of eating anything else.

Today at least. I may change my mind tomorrow.

I love roasting duck legs, I’ve blogged about them before and they’ve featured in my book Comfort & Spice too. They are cheap, full of flavour, and perfect for cooking for large numbers. On this occasion I cooked just for myself, and marinaded them in a wet marinade, sacrificing perfectly crisp skin (although still getting some crispness) but being rewarded with intense umami flavour on the already beautifully rich duck.

Before Xmas, I was sent a wonderful Chinese hamper from See Woo to try, and while moving flat I smashed the bottle of oyster sauce. I panicked, ran to the kitchen with this broken bottle looking more weapon than culinary source of joy, and decanted to an old coffee jar. Watching carefully as I poured, I spied no shards of glass in there. Phew, I could use it.

Marinading Duck Legs

This recipe requires some marinade time, as much as you have really. I marinaded for 4 hours, overnight would be best but if you just have a couple of hours, that is ok too.

I served them with potatoes. I am Irish and a giant cliché in my unending love for spuds and their glorious comfort. They also soak up the rendered duck fat beautifully and crisp while they cook. I also braised some gem lettuce to serve with it, something like pak choi would work beautifully too.

Recipe: Rich Roast Duck Legs (Chinese Style)

Serves 2

Marinade time: overnight if possible, at least 2 hours
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

2 duck legs

Marinade:

4 tbsp oyster sauce
4 tbsp rice wine
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
6 tbsp soy sauce
2 red chillies, chopped

+ 1 tbsp honey for sauce

Serve with:

2 large potatoes, diced
2 baby gem lettuce
fresh coriander leaves

Method:

Combine the ingredients for the marinade and rub into the duck legs, massaging the duck leg as you do. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours –> overnight, depending on how much time you have.

Preheat your oven to 200 deg C.

Remove the legs from the marinade, wiping off excess. Save the remaining marinade for the sauce.

Place the duck legs skin side down in a frying pan and cook over a low heat, slowly rendering out the fat and slightly crisping the skin. Turn over and cook the flesh side for a further couple of minutes.

Remove the duck legs from the pan and add the potatoes to the pan. Toss in the rendered duck fat (which will have some marinade in) and place in an oven proof dish that will accommodate the duck legs and potatoes in a single layer.

Roast for 45 minutes, skin side up, moving the potatoes around about half way through so that they crisp all over.

When the duck is almost done, add the honey to the leftover marinade and bring to the boil. Taste and add more honey if appropriate.

Gently braise the gem lettuce in some light oil for a couple of minutes until wilted.

Serve the duck legs on a bed of potatoes and gem lettuce with a sprinkling of coriander leaves and a drizzle of sauce.

Ready to eat! Enjoy.

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Where to Eat in Paris: Brasserie Balzar

Brasserie Balzar, Paris

Food is changing everywhere all the time. That’s life, and that’s a good thing, in the main. You’re as likely to find Scandinavian inspired haute cuisine in Paris now as a soufflé, so it takes a little research to find somewhere that does the old school classics and does them well.

Brasserie Balzar, Paris

When in Paris, and especially when in Paris in January. I want French Onion Soup. I need French Onion Soup. I need it’s comforting rich beefy stock and sweet sleepy slippery onions beneath their heavy cheese blanket. I need to pierce that cheese and bread with my spoon and drag some soup out, savouring every gentle spoonful before diving back in.

Brasserie Balzar, Paris

It helps if I can then follow this with a fresh rich steak tartare, sharp with mustard and capers, and creamy with egg. Spreading it on toast, all the while not really wanting to talk but to watch everything going on. Watching the waiters, the other tables, sipping some wine, soaking it all in. Enjoying Paris, enjoying the characters, the families eating Sunday lunch, the solo diners, not many tourists but a few, although I expect they are academics from the Sorbonne next door. I continue, eating more tartare, sipping more wine, and loving Paris and my little January escape.

Brasserie Balzar, Paris

Brasserie Balzar, next to the Sorbonne, is a Paris institution since 1898. Previously home to Sartre & Camus and their argumentative lunches, it is now more likely to house lunchers from the Sorbonne, and in season tourists, but don’t let this put you off, it is well worth a visit.

I need to get back there soon.

Brassierie Balzar

www.brasseriebalzar.com
49 Rue des Ecoles
75005 Paris, France
01 43 54 13 67 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            01 43 54 13 67      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Nearest metro: Cluny – La Sorbonne

(Ps – apologies re slightly blurry photos, I was more focussed on my food than my camera, which is how it should be :)

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Evening Standard Recipe Column: Beetroot Latkes

Photography by Georgia Glynn Smith

I love latkes! What’s not to love? Grated potato shaped into a cake and fried before being served with apple sauce and sour cream. LOVE.

I do a twist on them occasionally. Favourite Irish combination of parsnip and carrot is a favourite as is my recipe in today’s Evening Standard for beetroot latkes. A perfect recipe for January that is indulgent but also quite healthy. Those beetroot will help your liver detox.

Recipe on the Evening Standard: Beetroot Latkes

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A Belated Kung Hei Fat Choi (Have a Happy & Prosperous Chinese New Year!)

Chinatown in London, on Chinese New Year 2012

I love Chinese New Year in London. I love popping to Chinatown and having lunch and spotting the red envelopes being handed out. I love all of the celebration around it and the food.

Xiao Long Bao (or Siu Long Bao) at Leongs Legend - Chinatown in London, on Chinese New Year 2012

Yesterday, I popped down to Chinatown to soak it all up and to have some of my favourite dumplings. Not traditional Chinese New Year food but comfort food of the highest order, (pork) Xiao Long Bao, gorgeous steamed dumplings with pork and soup inside. I like to have them at Taiwanese restaurant Leong’s Legend, they’re the best I have found.

Xiao Long Bao (or Siu Long Bao) at Leongs Legend - Chinatown in London, on Chinese New Year 2012

They’re tricky to eat as the soup is molten when the dumplings are steaming. Remove them gently from the steamer by their tip using your chopsticks, plonk them (gently!) on the soup spoon before dipping them in the delicious black vinegar and ginger. Then bite the top off, suck the soup out (trying not to burn yourself) and eat the dumpling. And do it 7 more times before leaving happy. Love it.

Some more on my trip to China & Hong Kong in December and also Chinese food this week.

Awesome hat - Chinatown in London, on Chinese New Year 2012

Just missed the dragon! Chinatown in London, on Chinese New Year 2012

Chinatown in London, on Chinese New Year 2012

Chinatown in London, on Chinese New Year 2012

Chinatown in London, on Chinese New Year 2012

Chinatown in London, on Chinese New Year 2012

Taking a break - Chinatown in London, on Chinese New Year 2012

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Where to Eat in Paris: Les Papilles

Les Papilles, Paris

When I travel, one of my first pit stops is twitter, where I ask the hivemind for recommendations. Results are mainly successful, sometimes bizarre, but always a brilliant starting point when travelling and wanting to eat well. Particularly when you want to eat as locals do and off the tourist track.

When I recently asked for recommendations for Paris, two people I really rate resounded “You have to go to Les Papilles”, so I took that as an order and I did.

Les Papilles is part epicerie, part wine shop, mainly restaurant. It is wooden and warm with a big round table in a bay window / alcove at the back and all other tables seemingly proceeding towards it, lining a long counter and shelves of wine with occasional food bits lining the walls.  There is also a downstairs area with a huge table, and lots more wine.

The menu is fixed, you have it or you don’t, although a vegetarian friend in Paris has told me that they can prepare a vegetarian menu if informed in advance.

I love the confidence of a fixed menu. There is little worse than a menu that reads like a bible, and a haphazard one. I like that I can walk in and say, I will have what you’re serving, and can I have this wine please? Especially when choosing the wine involves cruising the wine shelves and plonking it on your table for the waiter to open. Speaking of which, prepare yourself for the occasional visit to your table if you are sitting next to the wine.

We went for lunch – we were too late to get a dinner reservation – and were presented with a blackboard with the menu written on. The food was hearty, precise, full of flavour and very French. The soup and main course were served family style to share at €33 per person. The portions were very generous and the food beautifully executed. I would hop on the eurostar solely to go back.

Les Papilles, Paris

Les Papilles, Paris

Set Lunch Menu at Les Papilles

terrific leek & potato soup

Large tureen of soup served to share

Large copper pot of overnight cooked ox cheek stew to share - delicious

Tender, hearty & delicious beef cheeks in red wine with carrots, potatoes & thyme

Forme d'Aubert with date in a red wine reduction - divine

Terrible photo of a delicious dessert - apples, panacotta and caramel foam (which has made me rethink my moratorium on foams!)

Les Papilles,
30 Rue Gay-Lussac  75005 Paris, France
01 43 25 20 79

http://www.lespapillesparis.fr/EN_index.html

Nearest metro: Luxembourg

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Evening Standard Column: Beijing Dumplings (Jiaozi)

Beijing Dumplings - Photo from Comfort & Spice (Georgia Glynn Smith)

When I wrote my book, I hadn’t been to Beijing, but was obsessed with Beijing dumplings. Now I have been to Beijing and am even more obsessed, and not just with the dumplings but with Peking Duck, Noodles with Pork & Black Beans and lots more lovely things which I am adding to my repertoire. More on those soon….

For this weeks column on Beijing dumplings, and the recipe, head over to the Evening Standard.

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Paris Break: Living it Up at Hotel La Tremoille

Paris, January 2011

Paris Part 2! Last weekend I journeyed a speedy 2 hours on the eurostar early Friday morning and found myself in Paris for a bistro lunch, caviar & champagne late afternoon snack and a brasserie dinner. We had a sneaky indulgent champagne breakfast on the eurostar too – we couldn’t resist. I love it and that was just Friday too.

Paris, January 2011

We stayed at Hotel La Tremoille in the 8th, an old school hotel with some modern twists. It was perfectly central allowing us leisurely strolls along the Seine. There was even a local caviar shop and truffle shop and restaurant. Tres luxurious.

Caviar & Champagne at Hotel La Tremoille

Our room at La Tremoille

Part of our package was a Baguette to Bistro walk led by Meg of Context Travel and Paris by Mouth, a fun, informative and really delicious morning tour of St Germaine taking in a lovely boulangerie, cheese shop and chocolate shop.

Cheese Tasting at Androuet, St Germain, Paris

Lovely cheesemonger at Androuet

The highlight for me was the cheese tasting. We visited one of the oldest cheese shops in Paris, Androuet (now also in London). Proud and rich in history there were stories of cheesemongers having to pray in monasteries in Provence for a week before getting access to the monks prized and delicious cheese. They stock only raw cheese too, bar one pasteurised one for pregnant ladies. Meg chose some cheeses and we had a little tasting outside before moving on to a fantastic chocolate shop. We stopped by this amazing Parisian institution on the way – Deyrolle – where we spied this amazing taxidermied dinner party.

Taxidermied dinner partay

Part 3 & 4 to come: living like a local in Paris, and where to eat and visit.

We stayed at Hotel La Tremoille as guests. They are offering a Flavours of Paris break including caviar and champagne and a Baguette to Bistro walk, for January & February only – to book visit www.hotel-tremoille.com. We travelled with Eurostar. Eurostar Plus Gourmet currently offers travellers up to 50% discounts at many top restaurants in Paris, Brussels and Lille. See site for details.

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A Postcard from Paris

Essential tourist shot of Paris

Paris, so lovely, and even lovelier with the crisp, blue skies and sleepy breezes. We went last weekend and blissfully had no rain, and lovely wintry weather. Wrapped up warm, I do love the winter. Just not the rain, unless I am inside and listening to it.

Lots to share but first some photos, and for me a little reminiscing. Back soon with details on where we ate and slept, and what we did there.

Bowlers at Tuilieres, Paris

Watching the world go by

Paris

Caviar and Champagne at Hotel La Tremoille

Baguette to Bistro Walk with Meg of Context Travel - Cheese Tasting at Androuet

Gorgeous lunch at Les Papilles

Perfect French Onion Soup at Brasserie Balzar

... followed by a delicious steak tartare

A bottle of wine for the road home from Le Verre Volé

 

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iVillage Recipe: Hearty & Wholesome Lentil, Bacon & Spinach Soup

Lentil and Bacon Soup

Originally published on iVillage

Another soup this week, but it is soup weather, and I suspect that you are craving soups as much as I am. This is a really simple and very hearty staple in my kitchen. Red lentil and bacon being the base, and I occasionally add other stuff to it, on this occasion, some spinach.

Lentils are very cheap, and really delicious. They get a bad rep. Some people ate too many while students (they are cheap!) but if you look to the cooking of France you see lentils everywhere. All types of lentils: puy, black, orange and yellow just some. For this soup I have used red lentils, as I love that they become mushy, and they also cook quickly so they make for a relatively quick and delicious soup. They are also available everywhere, some of the others can be more difficult to source.

I say bacon here, but I actually use guanciale, an Italian bacon of sorts made from the cured jowl of the pig. You can substitute pancetta, streaky bacon or any bacon you fancy. You just want that rich savoury flavour with the earthy lentils.

If you want to make a vegetarian version, simply exclude the bacon and add a couple of peeled, deseeded and diced tomatoes with the onion at the start.

Full recipe on iVillage: Hearty and Wholesome Lentil, Bacon & Spinach Soup

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Evening Standard Column: Smoky Lamb & Aubergine Rolls


This is another favourite recipe of mine and another one from ye olde market stall of yore. I love using leftover lamb shoulder in this – it’s just so moist and packed full of flavour – but you can substitute minced raw lamb shoulder here too. The king of all vegetables, the aubergine, really shines here with its lusty smokiness. I love it, and I do wish I had one to eat right now! 

Full Recipe on the Evening Standard

 

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iVillage Recipe: Golden Flapjacks to Ease January Blues

Flapjacks!

It is January now, and the tradition is for everyone to feel a little guilty about their over consumption, and also feeling like they need a diet or detox. Personally, I don’t believe that January is the month for this, as it is one of the hardest months of all. But I will concede that I need to have better breakfasts, and snacks to get me through the mid afternoon.

Flapjacks are the perfect thing, especially when they are homemade, even more delicious and usually better for you (unless you are buying proper homemade ones elsewhere).

This is a very simple recipe and it takes minutes to prepare. Basically one part brown sugar, butter and golden syrup or honey to two parts oats. You can add dried fruit or similar at this point too.

I often make chocolate flapjacks. But it’s January so I will behave and keep them plain – they’re still delicious anyway. If you do use any fruit it’s better to use dried as fresh fruit has more water and may mix your mixture too moist, so that it doesn’t hold together. Use 50g for this volume of flapjacks.

Recipe on iVillage: Golden flapjacks to brighten up a grey January

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Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Xmas): In Pictures

So, Nollaig na mBan! How was it? Fun! I made the classic error of starting on a glass of wine when my guests arrived which actually is not the cleverest thing to do when co-ordinating about 5 tasks in the kitchen at once and nowhere near complete. But hey, it’s important to let your hair down on Nollaig na mBan.

Quails eggs with paprika salt to start

Quails eggs with paprika salt to start

Simple and delicious quail eggs, perfectly cooked so that the yolk is completely soft and the white set. A little fiddly sure, but they always go down a treat and once you have done a few, peeling the eggs becomes a lot easier.

Jack McCarthy Guinness & Cider Spiced Beef (before cooking)

Jack McCarthy Guinness & Cider Spiced Beef (before cooking)

A grand Cork tradition, spiced beef. I got this one delivered from Jack McCarthy for Christmas in Ireland, but we decided to have a rib of beef for main course so it would have been overkill. I make my own normally but had no time (the recipe is in Comfort & Spice and has been made by North South Food here). Unsurprisling Jack’s spiced beef seriously impressed, as do his terrific black puddings (and one white) – I don’t understand why he is not stocked in London yet. The quality of his produce is exceptional.

Finished delicious spiced beef, served warm

Copas traditional turkey

Copas traditional turkey

Forgive me, but I was in a flurry when this was finished cooking and I never did get a proper photo when this was a perfect glistening shade of St Tropez bronze. It had gone in a little late as it was still defrosting from frozen in the afternoon and finally went in at 5.30pm. Lesson learned – plan better!

This plump 5kg feller is the first turkey that I have had in years (my mother won’t have one for Christmas) and my American guests were thrilled with it. From Copas, a family farm, hand finished and traditionally reared, this was full of flavour and I am still eating the leftovers (which included a lovely turkey soup with dumplings today). I wanted to brine it first but ordered it too late. Definitely next time.

Golden brown - the little plastic thing comes with the turkey and pops out when cooked

Pear Barley with Pomegranate, Red Onion and Mint

We had lots more but I was enjoying myself too much and abandoned my camera. There was lots of homemade gravy made from giblet stock that I made in my crockpot, baked sweet potatoes, delicious salami, black pudding pecan pie… and lots more.

I may have over-catered but there is nothing worse than having too little, and who doesn’t love leftovers? Some recipes for you on that front soon.

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Nollaig na mBan faoi mhaise dhaoibh! (Happy Women’s Christmas)

So you thought that was Christmas? You took your decorations down? Oh, dear friends, Christmas isn’t over yet! It’s Women’s Christmas today, or Nollaig na mBan (in the Irish language).

Christmas doesn’t finish until midnight tonight, and the tradition in Ireland is that today is a day for women to indulge and celebrate, and even for some, to be waited on for their men. Traditionally it was because women were working like crazy over Christmas and were allowed a day off, now it is more of an excuse for women to get together. It is said that women in rural Ireland used to rear turkeys to raise money for Christmas, and would spend any leftovers on today’s celebration.

We’re not the only ones with a celebration today. It is Epiphany, the day when the wise men arrive at the manger (according to Christian tradition). We would have ours – literally – making their way across the window sill over Christmas to arrive at the crib today. We took it very seriously and raised eyes when we saw wise men in the crib on Christmas Day elsewhere.

In France to celebrate Epiphany they eat Galette des Rois (translates as King Cake), made of puff pastry and frangipane. The tradition of King Cake extends through many countries including Spain (who have Roscón de Reyes) & Greece (Vasilopita), they even had a similar twelfth night tradition involving a cake or pie in England. In French and English custom a bean and a pea was included, the receivers of which became king or queen for the evening. In Italy, on the eve of epiphany gifts are delivered to children by Befana, with wine and morsels of food left out for her the night before. Not unlike our Santa Claus, really!

So, what have I planned? I have decided to hold a Women’s Christmas in proper Christmas fashion. We’re having turkey –  I haven’t had turkey in years as none of my family enjoy it. This one is from Copas and comes highly recommended by my friend Ailbhe so I am hugely looking forward to it.

I’ve also got a very important part of my feast, and that is the traditional spiced beef from Cork. I make my own often (recipe is in Comfort & Spice and North South Food cooked it for their Christmas dinner. This one I brought back from home, and it is from award winning butcher & black pudding king Jack McCarthy in Kanturk in North Cork. His is a spiced beef with cider and guinness, so that should be fabulous.

There will also be a festive chocolate dessert of chocolate mousse with chestnuts, I just love a good chocolate mousse and can’t resist the festive twist.

Other than that it will just be a nice relaxed evening waving in the New Year and taking advantage of any reason to have a little knees up. Austerity can wait for another few days.

Nollaig na mBan faoi mhaise dhaoibh!

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Evening Standard Column: Rhubarb and Blood Orange Meringue Pie

Rhubarb & Blood Orange Meringue Pie

From the Evening Standard, January 5th 2012

I love meringue pie, it’s utterly comforting, nostalgic and just beautiful to eat. It’s especially nice in January, after an endless parade of green and brown food, when gorgeous Yorkshire forced rhubarb and bright bloody oranges arrive. If you can’t get blood oranges, feel free to substitute normal ones.

Many meringue pie recipes call for cornflour to thicken the curd but I prefer not to use it here. Some time in the fridge will allow it all to set. The results are a little sloppier than the traditional version perhaps, but the flavour is terrific.

Rhubarb and blood orange curd

Makes 2 small jars

*200g rhubarb, trimmed and chopped
*50g unsalted butter, plus a few knobs
*50g caster sugar finely grated zest of 1 blood orange and juice of 2
*2 whole eggs, plus 2 egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2. Roast the rhubarb for 15 minutes until tender. Drain in a sieve. Meanwhile, melt the butter and sugar in a double boiler. Add the zest, juice, eggs and yolks and cook gently while stirring. When the mixture coats the back of a spoon, take it from the heat. Stir through the rhubarb. Store in a covered bowl or jars.

Rhubarb and blood orange meringue pie

Makes a 25cm tart

For the sweet shortcrust pastry:
*75g unsalted butter, diced
*150g plain flour, sifted, plus more to dust
*25g icing sugar, sifted
*1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with the same amount of water

For the filling:
*1 x quantity rhubarb and blood orange curd (see above)

For the meringue:
*3 egg whites
*50g icing sugar, sifted
*25g cornflour

To make the pastry, add the butter to the flour and icing sugar and rub it in with your fingertips until it looks like crumbs. Add the egg to bring together, mould into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and chill for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Roll the pastry out and line a 25cm pie dish. Line with baking parchment, fill with baking beans, and blind bake for 20-25 minutes. Increase the temperature to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Pour the curd into the shell.

Whisk the egg whites until they start to form stiff peaks, add half the sugar, whisk again, then sift in the cornflour and gently fold in the remaining sugar.

Spoon the meringue on top of the curd, trying to create lots of little peaks that will brown and ensuring it touches the pastry edge.

Bake for five minutes or so, until the meringue starts to brown. Allow the tart to cool and the curd to set for a couple of hours in the fridge. Serve cold. Try not to eat it all in one sitting, as I have done!

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Recipe: Warm Winter Salad of Sprout Tops, Pancetta, Chestnuts & Quail Eggs in a Mustard / Maple Dressing

I don’t do January detoxes. They’ve been rubbished recently anyway, but that aside, isn’t it the worst month to deprive yourself? The weather is awful, and everyone is borderline depressed. This is the best month to be nice to yourself, and I intend to be.

I find I don’t do crazy excess over Xmas anyway. Back home in Ireland I don’t have any access to all my kitchen stuff or ingredients so I find that I am not that inspired to cook. I think I quite enjoy taking a little break from it. I only ate out one night – at my favourite restaurant at home, The Tannery – so I feel like I have actually behaved quite well overall, certainly compared to my normal standards.

I came back to London and hit the veg shop, I wanted sprout tops. I hadn’t had any yet and was feeling the deprivation. Sprout tops are the leaves at the top of a brussels sprout stalk. A giant brussel sprout at the top with a loose arrangement of leaves, if you will. The leaves are less bitter and really flavourful, and have a really nice bite to them.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of firm cos lettuce and thought that it might be nice to do a warm winter twist on a caesar salad. Of course it was nothing like it, but that was my starting point. I had excellent pancetta in the fridge which I was keen to indulge in, good bread for croutons, lovely little quail eggs begging to be boiled just so, and I fancied making a sweet/sour/hot maple and mustard dressing to go with it all.

A perfect January dish if I may be so bold. Enjoy it.

Notes on the recipe: If you can’t get sprout tops substitute cavolo nero or savoy cabbage. Use good pancetta from a deli if possible, it makes an enormous difference. And of course best bread for the croutons.

Recipe: Warm Winter Salad of Sprout Tops, Pancetta, Chestnuts & Quail Eggs in a Mustard / Maple Dressing

Ingredients:

Per person

Salad:

100g sprout top leaves, washed
50g pancetta, diced small
as much bread as you fancy for croutons, cubed into 1 cm dice roughly
3 quail eggs
25g chestnuts – I used the precooked vacuum pack ones as this is what I had, chopped to the same size as the pancetta

Dressing:

1 tsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
25ml cider vinegar
pinch of sea salt

Method:

Boil the quail eggs for exactly 2 and a half minutes and cool in iced water or a large volume of cold water instantly to keep them perfectly cooked. When cool peel (carefully) and cut in half.

Blanch the sprout top leaves in the same boiling water for 1 minute until starting to soften. Cool in the same water.

Sauté the pancetta over a medium heat until starting to crisp with the chestnuts. Leave to the side.

Fry the croutons over a medium heat in the pancetta fat – trust me, it’s delicious – until crisp and starting to brown. Leave to the side.

Make the dressing by combining all dressing ingredients thoroughly. Heat the sprout tops, pancetta and chestnuts until warm, and serve with the quail eggs and croutons. Dress and eat immediately.

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2012: To Review or Not to Review, that is the Question

And so on with 2012. Ta-da (that’s a little tap dance). I am ready. I have 5 to-do lists – things to cook | places to go in London/UK | places to go in Ireland | places to travel to | projects. I can’t wait to get stuck in.

Doing the round up and the to-do lists was very interesting. Stand out was how few London restaurant reviews I did last year. I ate out a lot but I think things were so busy that I didn’t want to feel like I was working when I was out, analysing every meal. I also didn’t want to carry my bulky camera everywhere, especially given it was stolen in September and was very expensive to replace.

Unless it was an exceptional or very interesting meal or somewhere where I love to spend my time, I wasn’t inspired to spend so much time editing photos, uploading them, and then going through each dish blow by blow. Even Duck Soup, where I have become a regular, took 5 visits before I managed to review it.

I guess, really it is that I am almost 5 years at this blogging lark now, and I needed a break from the reviewing unless it was somewhere that I really wanted to write about.

I was asked recently why I never criticised places as other bloggers do. It’s clear in my about page that I choose to write recommendations, really only 25% of where I eat out gets reviewed here. A lot of readers are new here though – from buying the book or similar – and they may not realise that. Personally, I prefer to receive recommendations from sources I trust, and I aim to do the same here except give them.

Which leaves me here wondering, do I want to do it? I definitely will continue to make recommendations of places that I think are worth a visit.

What do you think? Is that something you come here for? Or do you come here for the recipes and travel?

One thing is for sure, I am first and foremost a cook that loves to travel, and that will continue to be the main focus of what I do here.

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2011 – the final instalment

So, where was I? 2011. So, Comfort & Spice had just been published, which was a heart stoppingly nervous time. I won the OFM Best Food Blogger Award (my heart still jumps when I type that!) and I started my Evening Standard column.

I was also doing a little travelling, well a lot of travelling. Which makes me so happy, as cooking, writing and travelling are the three things that I love to do, and this is what I have been working towards for almost 5 years. Taking the jump was scary but I am glad I did it. It has been hard at times, and very hard work, but worth it.

Roman Ampitheatre in Pula, Istria

My next trip was to Istria. It had been planned for months with my friend Denise who writes The Wine Sleuth. She has some friends who import wine from Croatia – PC Wines – and they said if we wanted to come over, they had an apartment we could stay in and that – obviously – they knew lots of winemakers, but also some food producers. It seemed a perfect trip. I had been to Dalmatia some years earlier (pre blog life) and island hopped there. I had had a thwarted attempt to fly to Istria too, we were turned away because Ryanair were being evil about a slightly ruffled passport, and wouldn’t let us fly. I burst into tears, I had been looking forward to it so much.

Anyway! So we went to Istria. It was so lovely, so different to Dalmatia (which is lovely in its own way but it is like a different country). People are very passionate and dedicated to whatever they turn their hand to, and are very much wedded to their land. In the case of wine expressing their terroir, and for food too many to mention but lots of great wild food, brilliant olive oil and truffles. Lots of truffles.

At a mushroom festival in Istria

I went for a week, but could easily have stayed longer. It was a very interesting trip with lots of things to tell, which I will soon. I plan to go back soon too.

Visiting Piquentum winery in Istria, Croatia

Istrian truffles (at a truffle festival)

I went to Duck Soup 5 times, and eventually wrote about it. I love it there.

Duck Soup - I think one of my favourite openings of 2011

Then I went to Seville…

Lovely Sevilla

And ate lots of lovely tapas

And ate lots of lovely tapas

And I visited an Iberico de Bellota pig farm, and a jamon factory - BIG highlight

I was nominated for a Red Hot Women Award. Which was pretty amazing. I didn’t win but being nominated is pretty ace.

I went to Hong Kong & Beijing. That was incredible and I have yet to write about it, but as you can see I was very busy!

Beijing Snowman

Peking Ducks

Dumplings in Hong Kong

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At the Great Wall of China

I went back to market for a couple of weeks which was great, but hard work, and financially very challenging when using the best ingredients. So I have retired now. Maybe another market, another time.

I went back to market for a couple of weeks and sold my blaa pork rolls, amongst other things

I cooked a big Comfort & Spice Xmas lunch at Blacks for lots of people. Great fun and I loved being in a proper kitchen cooking for so many people.

Spiced cider and bacon jam on toast served before lunch

Overnight Roast Pork Shoulder for main course

I made Whiskey Bacon Jam for market, and published the recipe. It has proved popular over Xmas!

I made Whiskey Bacon Jam for market, and published the recipe

The year finished on an exhausted high, with Comfort & Spice being listed in The Irish Times Best Foodie Books of 2011 and in The Telegraph’s Christmas Books: Cookery Special list.

And that was 2011 folks. Brilliant but very hard work, and I am tired now. I am really geared up for 2012 but will start gently, based mainly in London. I hope to kick start my next book very soon, and I have even more travel plans than last year.

Sometimes it is challenging trying to do everything, and often I wonder if anyone is reading, even though I can see that you are in the stats (lots of you!). Comments are very welcome I promise. When no one responds, I wonder why I bother. It seemed everyone would comment like crazy with a give away – literally in their hundreds. That may seem whiney, and it is, but it is the truth so there you go. A little comment every now and then would be really lovely – thank you! I know people comment on twitter, and I do appreciate that, but it is not the same thing.

So the next post will be after a full nights sleep, the first in a while. I should be bouncing to the kitchen and then to my laptop. And I will probably regret the last paragraph. Hey ho!

And so on with 2012. This promises to be an exciting year too with my book being published in the US in April – I think I might need to make a trip there and bake folks some blaas! Well, why not, eh?

Happy New Year all and the very best for 2012. Back very soon with lots more food antics.

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Then 2011 Ramped Up a Gear…

**HAPPY NEW YEAR! May your 2012 be bigger, better and brighter than any year before it**

Following on from my previous post, I came back from Argentina to pick up the first printed copy of Comfort & Spice. Such an exciting moment but it was a Monday and I had no one to share it with as everyone was at work. Happily I bumped into a friend in Gelupo and we celebrated over an ice cream.

The pace definitely changed then, it was only 2 months before my book would come out, and people started to show an interest in covering it, starting with a shoot for Sainsbury’s magazine, which was all hugely exciting and very busy. In the background lots of other stuff was happening and I had to shelve any serious travel for a while. I did do some great small trips though starting with a wonderful week long trip to Toronto and Niagara which was fantastic and definitely a highlight of 2011.

A trip to Toronto

Niagara Falls from a helicopter

... with lots of wonderful food. This is 21 day home cured lardo with bread dumplings from Buca

... beautiful suckling pig tacos at Nota Bene

Gnocchi Poutine with Oxtail Ragu at Mildred's Temple Kitchen, Toronto

A quick trip to Dubai to the Palm Atlantis, and a wonderful meal at Nobu. This is collar of tuna, which really reminded me of a lighter shoulder of lamb

A quick trip to Dubai to the Palm Atlantis, and a wonderful meal at Nobu. This is collar of tuna, which really reminded me of a lighter shoulder of lamb

I have yet to write about Dubai, I can’t locate the photographs and am worried they might have been stolen with my camera. I was on a very short press trip with 3 other bloggers and we had a superb meal at Nobu, also a less impressive although pleasant meal at Locatelli. The tuna collar above was a revelation. I arrived home very tired after a long flight to discover that London had erupted into riots, very near my flat.

A recipe for N'duja Devilled Eggs - a new favourite

Then I pimped my piri piri recipe with n'duja: Pimp My Piri Piri Poussin

I got the first copies of my book, and had a preview for readers with four Comfort & Spice Brunch Clubs. Everyone that came brought a copy home and had plenty of food for brunch. Lots of fun. Sadly, I don’t really have any photos of it as but my camera was stolen shortly after.

Further on, on the Comfort & Spice Express, I found myself at Electric Picnic in Ireland. One of my favourite music festivals, I had agreed to run a pop up Comfort & Spice Brunch Café there. It was *hard* work. Really hard work. Time was tight so I had to get the first flight out, collect ingredients I had ordered, get to the festival 1 hour outside Dublin, set up and start working. I didn’t stop working – virtually – for 3 days. It went down well though, so was worth it. The Ticket from The Irish Times proclaimed us the best brunch at the festival on their front page and I was awarded a much coveted Bridgestone Award for my efforts.

Winning a Bridgestone Award at Electric Picnic, 2011

Featured in The Independent

I gave a Masterclass on making blaas and homemade butter at Abergavenny Food Festival with James Ramsden (who presented two of his recipes)

Featured in The Examiner in Ireland as part of a feature about food bloggers

Interviewing Ferran Adria at Google HQ in London (video on the post)

I went to Gothenburg...

... and had wonderful food

Interviewed in Agenda Magazine in The Sunday Business Post

Winning Best Food Blogger at the Observer Food Monthly Awards

I went to Georgia...

... met some lovely people

... and drank some fantastic wines (this one a natural wine from a monastery)

My column in the Evening Standard started

Recipe for Pumpkin Soup with Lemongrass, Chilli and Ginger

... and a recipe for Stuffed Munchkins

Back tomorrow with the last few months! :)