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A Postcard from South Africa

It has been a crazy two weeks, hence the silence here. From Amsterdam to Den Haag and back to London. Then to Capetown in South Africa. Now I am in LA waiting to board the remaining leg of my flight to New Zealand where I will spend a week exploring food and drink there. So, watch this space!

Lots to catch up on so I will be writing at a frenetic pace this week. For now, I will leave you with some highlights from my South Africa trip.

On top of Table Mountain

Eating fresh fruit in the orchards

Chef Reuben from Reubens

Cape Dutch Architecture

Picking plums

Nelson Mandela statue outside the last prison he was held in

Margot Janse at Le Quartier Francais

Boerwors on the Braai

Joseph, a wonderful farmer with an inspiring story - more on that soon

corkese
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Recipe: Spaghetti Corkese (Spaghetti with Black Pudding & Tomato Sauce)

Spaghetti Corkese!

Spaghetti Cork-ese! Say it aloud in a terrible Italian accent. It sounds good, doesn’t it?

All jokes aside, a few years ago I was in my kitchen looking at a stash of black pudding that I had brought back from Ireland and thinking about how well the deep earthy flavour of the black pudding goes with fresh zingy tomatoes and I thought – OOOOOF – ding ding ding – that would be an ace pasta sauce.

Italians avert your eyes but everyone else keep reading, for this is delicious.

So, it is simple and takes less time than a proper bolognese, but you are rewarded with a rich depth of flavour that takes hours ordinarily. The richness of the black pudding adds instant ooomph, the chilli a little zing, and when you roast the sauce as I do here, it crumbles and each little chunk bathes in a tiny bath of tomato with a piquant tiny vinegar hit with a little sugar to tone it down a bit. When they caress the spaghetti it is a dreamy match.

Black pudding is something some people are afraid of. I was raised on it and love it, it is only blood folks, nothing to worry about. Full of iron and embracing of nose to tail eating, which is not only delicious but is a responsible way of eating.

Black pudding varies from country to country, I use the Irish one here. Two grace my kitchen counter. Rich deep artisanal black pudding from McCarthy’s of Kanturk when I can get my mucky paws on it. My local butcher and Budgen’s sell the lovely Clonakility Black Pudding which I used here. Made with beef blood instead of pigs blood it is also something that folks averse to pig for reasons of religion can eat. I, personally, do like a bit of pig.

So, here it is. Try it, even if you are afraid of it. I promise you will enjoy.

TIP: Leftover sauce makes a terrific toastie and is brilliant with eggs for breakfast.

Spaghetti Corkese

Recipe: Spaghetti Corkese

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4 generously

Ingredients

280g Irish Black Pudding
2 x 400g tins good tomatoes
2 banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 mild red chilli, de seeded finely chopped
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
sea salt
handful of chopped flat leaf parsley
1 x 500g box best spaghetti – I highly recommend Pastificio dei Campi

Method

Preheat your oven to 180 deg C.
Start your sauce by sautéeing the shallot in a little light oil over a medium heat until transulcent but not brown, about five minutes.
Add the black pudding and sauté for a further couple of minutes.
Add the chilli and garlic for a minute or so, before adding the tomatoes sugar and vinegar.
Transfer to a roasting dish and roast for 45 minutes.
In the last ten minutes or so cook your spaghetti according to packet instructions, and to al dente.
Remove the sauce from the oven, season, and add the pasta to your sauce and mix thoroughly.
Sprinkle the parsley on top and serve immediately.
Enjoy!

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Happy Valentine’s Day! It’s OK, Really. (And a Recipe for Heart Shaped Pancakes)

Heart Shaped Pancakes for Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day prompts a myriad of extreme reactions. Unhappy singletons proclaim abandonment by the rest of the world and some of those entangled demand to be showered with attention and proposals.

Heart Shaped Pancakes for Valentine's Day

But what of all us normal people? So many of us silently looking on. Life is short I say, and only as sweet as you make it, so as a single gal (and happy to be so) I made my Valentine’s Day a little special by wheeling out my ever so gorgeous heart shaped pancake pan.

Light, fluffy, a little sweet and a little tart, what more could complete your Valentine’s? A glass of wine, yes. Perfect.

Happy Valentine’s!

Recipe and more over on iVillage.

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A Postcard from a Snowy Crisp Amsterdam and Den Haag

Skating on Amsterdam Canals

I made it to Holland. There was a 4 am start and a trudge through the snow. I sleepily dragged my polka dotted suitcase behind worried it would be a waste of time and energy, but when we got to St Pancras we were delighted to see that the snow hadn’t affected the Eurostar. A 4 hour train journey with a stop in Brussels in the middle, and we were in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam

Eurostar are running a campaign at the end of this month to advertise their route to Amsterdam, and asked me if I would like to participate by going and photographing 5 things for them to use in their campaign on the London Underground. 5 things of my choice, of course. I used to live in Amsterdam and I love it here, so I jumped at the excuse to come back. I adore train travel too.

Amsterdam

I was delighted to see the canals frozen with locals ice skating on them, this happens rarely and I had never seen it. Lots of pop up gluhwein and erwtensoep (also called snert and translated as Dutch pea soup) stands had popped up and there was a feeling of joy and excitement in the air.

Amsterdam

Eating snert on a frozen lake in Den Haag! :)

After my one night in Amsterdam, I made my way to Den Haag to catch up with old friends. We spent yesterday morning walking on the frozen canals while ice skaters whooshed by, finishing on a local frozen lake where I indulged in some erwtensoep and gluhwein. I was extremely well wrapped up and the thick pea soup with sausage went down a treat. So much so that we made some more when we came home. I will make it again when I get back to London, and will share the recipe with you soon.

Den Haag

Right now, I need to pack, and hit the road back. Have a lovely Monday :)

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Valrhona Chocolate Masterclass & Recipe for Chocolate & Sea Salted Caramel Tart

Heels to cooking class - a little silly!

There is lots of heavy snow outside my window again. One trip cancelled in a week is annoying, but a second would be horrendous. I am off to Amsterdam in the morning – I hope – please pray readers that London transport will be a little less wimpy.

Valrhona chocolate and honey marshmallows

As I look out the window I am thinking wistfully back to chocolate marshmallows, sea salted caramel and chocolate tarts, early grey chocolate truffles, perfect hot chocolate and a mouse shaped Easter egg crafted from iconic Valrhona chocolate. I still have some chocolate leftover from a recent Valrhona masterclass, and I must rush to my room and make something with it. It will help to defeat this bitter weather.

Making earl grey chocolate truffles

Valrhona have started running their covetted cooking classes in London, and I was one of the privileged few allowed to attend a preview. Valrhona is highly respected in the world of chocolate and graces the menus of the finest restaurants. Their courses for chefs have been running for years in France, and they have recently developed a one day course for consumers. This is the one I attended recently in London.

Valrhona chef taking us through the recipes

The course was led by Andrew Gravett of Valrhona and ran for a full day. We started at 10am and were introduced to the different types of Valrhona chocolate before moving to a very welcome perfect Valrhona hot chocolate.

Valrhona chocolate & sea salted caramel tarts

Andrew had a wealth of information and tips to share. We learned lots, had lots of fun, and at the end of it left with a copy of the book, and the chocolate treats that we had made plus some chocolate to work with at home.

My weird little creation! With a bow and a moustache

The class costs £230, and includes a welcome breakfast, lunch and tea as well as a goodie bag of all of your treats and the wonderful Valrhona cookbook with DVD with instructions on techniques and recipes – Cooking with Chocolate. The  next class is in March and is already fully booked but it will be running again on Thursday 14th June. Full details are on the Cookery School website.

I will leave you with the recipe for the sensational Valrhona Chocolate & Salt Caramel Tarts.

SWEET PASTRY

180 g butter
3 g salt
135 g icing sugar
45 g ground almonds
75 g eggs
90 g t’45 flour
265 g t’45 flour

Mix the cold soft butter, salt, icing sugar, almonds, eggs and the 90g of flour. Do not beat the mix.
When the dough is smooth add very quickly the 265g of flour, refrigerate for a few hours before rolling.
Mould the tarts and leave again to rest 30mins in the fridge.
Cook at 150/160C until the pastry is golden.

SALT CARAMEL LAYER

60 g 40% milk chocolate
100 g whipping cream
70 g caster sugar
30 g butter
2 g maldon salt

Part melt the chocolate.
Warm the cream and cover.
Place 1/3 of the sugar in a heavy based pan and slowly melt until it forms a light caramel, add the next 1/3 and do the same. Finally add the remaining sugar and cook all to a light caramel.
Slowly add the butter and the cream so as not to form a block of hard caramel and boil.
Pour the liquid onto the chocolate and emulsify.
Smooth with the hand blender and pour a thin layer into the tart cases.
Leave to set.

CHOCOLATE GANACHE

350 g Guanaja 70%
250 g whipping cream
15 g honey
50 g butter

Part melt the chocolate.
Boil the cream and honey and pour slowly onto the chocolate, emulsify and smooth.
Add the butter and blend.
Pour into the pastry cases and leave to set.

I attended the class as a guest. Many thanks to MsMarmiteLover for the photographs – I took mine on my phone, which was subsequently stolen :(

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Proper BBQ Now in London Town: Pitt Cue Co

Proper BBQ is something that London has thought it has, but really hasn’t, for some time. We used to have proper BBQ once.  Bubba’s Arkansas BBQ Pit in old Spittalfields was a proper down and dirty BBQ which resided in the corner until 2007, next to The Spitz. This was pre-sanitisation of Spittalifields, before they removed Bubba’s and the lovely pub and music venue next door.

Then arrives Tom, a young ambitious chap with a huge affection for BBQ and the passion to start his own food truck. Based on his experiences travelling through the US looking for the best BBQ, and recipes and ideas he has gathered, the truck was a huge success. The day I visited I had sausage with kimchee and a pickle back (more on that later). They were so popular that day, and every other day, that everything else had sold out before I arrived. I intended to go back but failed, but was advised not to worry, that they would be back soon and in a permanent location. Yeehaw!

St Louis Ribs

Pitt Cue Co has since arrived in Soho, just a few weeks ago. Petit and busy, the food served here is proper BBQ and I think my friend will be very pleased. Some bits are quite cheffy like smooth Robuchon-esque mash but with burnt ends from the BBQ on top (really delicious), and the brisket is served super tender in polished nuggets gleaming with sauce.

Deep fried pickled shiitakes

BBQ fiends, don’t be put off by the cheffy touches though, this is proper BBQ. The ribs are the thing here, big hunks of St Louis pork ribs (my favourite) and beef ribs both served with a side of your choice and bread, and all for under £10. The smoked chicken wings are divine, I ordered a second portion the first time I went, and they were the first thing I ordered when I went back. There are specials too.

Another must, although I fear they are being over-hyped, are the deep fried pickled shiitakes. Frickles, as they are often known in the US, or deep fried pickles, are so delicious, the vinegary pickle somehow fights the intensity of the deep fryer resulting in light bright deep fried pickles that are great with the rich meat. Jars of house pickles are very good too.

Desserts are fun and very good. Sticky toffee pudding with bourbon salted caramel may spark a fight with a friend should you try to share it. Pickle backs are essential: a shot of smooth bourbon followed by gentle soothing brine. These are hugely popular in the US, especially with the student population as the brine makes sure you stay hydrated as you top yourself up all night with bourbon.

Sticky toffee pudding with bourbon salted caramel

Cocktails are very reasonable, I loved the whisky, New York and cider sours (I like a sour, I do), all£6 each, which for London is a bit of a steal.

So that’s that. You want to go, don’t you? I bet you do. The only trouble is everyone else does too. My suggestion if you don’t want to queue too long is get there early and in small numbers or pop over for a take away pulled pork bun at lunchtime or in the afternoon.

Pitt Cue Co, 1 Newburgh St Soho, no reservations (and just 30 seats)

http://pittcue.co.uk/

(On my second trip I ate with Dan of Essex Eating who has written about it also on his blog)

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Recipe: Spiced Rich Goulash with Csipetke Dumplings

Hungarian Goulash

On Saturday evening I should have been in Milan, planning exploits related to the large Italian food fair, Identita Golose. Instead, I found myself trapped in London, delayed by an unreliable train. I missed my flight by a minute, and British Airways said that they could put me on the next flight for £269 (!). As it turned out, snow had started to fall, so there wasn’t much chance of me getting there anyway.

That’s life. I found myself instead of being in Milan, eating a chicken milanese in the airport, where I waited for hours to see if I could go. I returned home a little dejected and thought, well I can try tomorrow and if that fails, I will make the best of my time and cook something delicious. Which I did when I inevitably resigned myself to staying at home.

Making my way home through a very snowy London

There was snow everywhere by the time I got home that night. Lots of impromptu snowball fights by drunk folks on their way home from the pub, and lopsided snowmen birthed to the world by more tipsy people. The snowballs whooshing over my head made me nervous, I was just about balanced on my slippy boots as I dragged my polka dot suitcase home through the snow.

Snowy London

The next day I was prepared however, and donned my bright yellow wellies to make the trip to the butcher. I was going to make goulash. I have 3 different Hungarian paprikas in my cupboard that I bought when I was in Croatia, they are right next door and eat a lot of goulash there too.

I kept my recipe simple, staying very close to a traditional Hungarian recipe, and gave it a long time on the hob until it was tender and rich. I strayed by adding wine, as I felt the stew need more richness and body to match the snowy day outside. The csipetke – homemade noodle/dumplings cooked in the goulash – were so comforting and delicious, you have to make these too.

Notes on the recipe: This takes a long time, so I would heartily recommend you make double, the leftovers will taste even better the next day. I push mine for three hours, lots of other recipes say two, but I don’t think the beef is tender enough after two. It is essential that you get both good paprika and good beef. I used chuck steak but shin of beef would be great here too. For the paprika, Londoners can head north to Haringey where there is Hungarian paprika a plenty (I used to live there – try the Hungarian shop Paprika) but I am sure places like The Spice Shop will supply too. Non-Londoners, there is the world of Hungarian paprika online :)

Recipe: Spiced Rich Goulash with Csipetke Dumplings

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 3 hours
Serves: 2 (but feel free to double)

Ingredients:

Goulash

500g chuck steak, diced
50g plain flour, seasoned lightly
3 tbsp good Hungarian paprika
1 red onion, cut in half and finely sliced
2 fat cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
175ml full bodied red wine
400ml water
2 bay leaves
a couple of sprigs of thyme
some oil/butter/lard to fry – I used Iberico lard which I happened to have in the cupboard

Csipetke

100g flour
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp water
pinch of sea salt

Method:

Add the seasoned flour to the beef and make sure each piece is covered. Dust off the excess and fry the beef in two batches until browned on all sides, making sure that there is plenty of space for each piece, otherwise you will stew it and it will get soggy. Remove from the pan and leave to the side.

Gently sauté the onions over a low – medium heat for about 15 minutes until soft but not brown. Add the garlic for a further minute.

Add the beef and red wine and turn up the heat. Reduce the red wine by about half before adding the water, paprika, thyme and bay leaves. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook gently over a low heat for 2 hours.

In the last hour of the beef cooking (above) prepare the csipetke by first sifting the flour, add the salt and the beaten egg and combine. Add as much water as is needed to hold it together without getting too wet (2 tbsp was right for me). Knead for about 10 minutes until soft and pliable – it is easier and quicker to do this in a mixer with a dough hook if you have one. Cover with cling film and leave to sit at room temperature for half an hour.

After the half hour remove the lid from the beef and check the water levels, it should be quite soupy. If the cooking liquid is thick and there isn’t much of it, add more. It should be fine as you have kept a lid on it. Taste and check the paprika levels, now is to the time to add more if it is not strong enough for your taste.

Add the carrots and cook for half an hour before adding the potatoes and the csipetke. To make the csipetke, all you do is pinch of pieces of the dough and add to the soup, where they will cook in the broth for 15 minutes or so. The potatoes should take approximately the same amount of time. Taste to check, when they are light and no longer doughy they are done.

Season to taste and serve hot in bowls (without the bay leaves and the thyme) with a punchy red wine along side it.