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Dim Sum in Hong Kong: Luk Yu Tea House

Luk Yu Tea House, Hong Kong

December trip to Hong Kong, Day 2. Lunch is at the Luk Yu Tea House. Not Michelin starred like some of the other places I visited but it is in the Michelin guide.

Rumoured to be a favourite of local celebrities – I wouldn’t know one if they slapped me in the face, although this probably applies in the UK too – the Luk Yu Tea House offers an all round solid standard of dim sum in a very traditional setting. Very enjoyable and well worth a trip. Just try not to stand in the kettle plugged in on the floor by the stairs. You have been warned.

Dim Sum at Luk Yu Tea House, Hong Kong

Dim Sum at Luk Yu Tea House, Hong Kong

Dim Sum at Luk Yu Tea House, Hong Kong

Dim Sum at Luk Yu Tea House, Hong Kong

Dim Sum at Luk Yu Tea House, Hong Kong

Dim Sum at Luk Yu Tea House, Hong Kong

Dim Sum at Luk Yu Tea House, Hong Kong

Dim Sum at Luk Yu Tea House, Hong Kong

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Hong Kong: Staying at The Upper House and that Breakfast

Hong Kong

How could people not love Hong Kong? I just don’t understand it. Some people think it is too smoggy (it can be), too humid (it definitely is) or too busy (depends on your viewpoint, but I live in London so I can cope very well). It is all cramped and busy but this is one of the best things about it. The buzz, the infectious positivity, the passion and determination that seems to drive the very core of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong

I love it, I really do. So much so that when I was coming back from New Zealand recently, I stopped off for a few days for a last minute little fix. More on that later. I should first write about my previous trip to Hong Kong last December.

Upper House hotel room

December was a terrific time to visit. It can be quite grim in our part of the world then, so a hop to the other side of the world for some sunshine and fantastic dim sum can be very appealing. I stayed at The Upper House (who had arranged my visit), a beautiful hotel on Hong Kong island, right in the middle of the action. In fact, shoppers, it is right next to a huge mall if that is the focus of your visit. Hong Kong folks love to shop.

Café Gray Deluxe

The devil is in the detail here, it is very well laid out. Large spacious rooms (an unusual feature in Hong Kong), tv in the bathroom mirror so that you can watch it in the bath (while you look out over the Hong Kong skyline too), a toilet bag full of Ren products and the mini bar where all non alcoholic drinks are free. Dangerously the snacks are too. Café Gray Deluxe, the restaurant on the top floor, looks out over a shiny chirpy Hong Kong.

Breakfast dim sum

Breakfast congee

The biggest highlight of the stay, room aside, was the dim sum breakfast which is utterly addictive. I had it every single day. Pork bun, dim sum and congee with abalone and toppings. Served with a fresh juice and a cup of tea. I had to have a coffee too, to feed my addiction. It was an early morning love affair that I look forward to renewing. Next time, I will order it to my room using the iPod in every room with the room service application. Such geekery, perfect in Hong Kong, and I loved it.

The Upper House, Hong Kong

http://www.upperhouse.com/
http://www.cafegrayhk.com/

I stayed and dined as a guest of The Upper House

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Final Evening Standard Column: Spice Crusted Lamb Loin with Sweet Potato, Feta & Chilli Mash

Spice Crusted Lamb Loin with Sweet Potato, Feta and Chilli Mash

So that’s that! My twelve week Evening Standard column – which actually ran for 21 – is finished. I loved it and have had great feedback from you too.

My last column was a brand new recipe inspired by my recent travels to New Zealand and a lunch with lovely Annabel Langbein. A lovely loin of lamb which I spice crusted and then served with a simple but lively sweet potato, feta and chilli mash. With lots of pea shoots to freshen it up a bit.

Back to reality now but I will miss that little column. It was fun to see it in the paper every week and to hear from readers too. So, if anyone reading this has some column inches that need a food writer, I would love to hear from you.

For now, here is that recipe. Enjoy!

RECIPE: Spice Crusted Lamb Loin with Sweet Potato, Feta & Chilli Mash

Ingredients (for one)

1 lamb loin, approx 200g
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
pinch of sea salt
1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
75g feta, crumbled
half a mild red chilli, chopped and fried in a little oil until soft
pea shoots to garnish
1 tbsp light oil for frying

Method

Roast the spices in a dry frying pan over a high heat for a minute or so until they start to pop or brown. You will smell them when they are ready. Take care not to burn them.

Grind them in a pestle and mortar or coffee grinder until fine, then combine with the salt and roll the lamb loin in them. Leave at room temperature for half an hour.

Meanwhile, parboil the sweet potatoes until soft — 5-8 minutes. Drain. Combine roughly with the feta and chilli — don’t mash completely.

Fry the lamb over a high heat for three minutes on either side until it is perfectly pink.

Allow to rest for five minutes, slice and serve on top of the mash with pea shoots surrounding.

Recipe Column: Spice Crusted Lamb Loin with Sweet Potato, Feta & Chilli Mash

Evening Standard Columns – read them here

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Ode to the Humble Spud & a Recipe for Kale & Potato Cakes

The Humble Spud

I love the spud. I love it, I love it, love it, love it! How I love the Irish spud especially.

Now, when I say this, people look perplexed. A potato is a potato, right? Not so my friends. I miss the fluffy Irish potato, boiled until just at the point of bursting its jacket or roasted until fluffy inside in a bold crisp crusted suit. A friend used to call them laughing potatoes, as they looked like they were laughing their heads off. I remember a large metal tray covered in jostling laughing potatoes at the centre of my grandmother’s table. A little butter – maybe a lot – placed on top and left to ooze, and that was all I wanted to eat. Literally, I refused to eat anything else for a time in my childhood.

I especially miss the potatoes that grew in the field in front of my house, and the new season potatoes that would proudly be displayed outside shops when the season started. Before seasonality was a trend, when it was just the way things were. Ballinacourty new potatoes were something to be proud of. The humble spud has terroir too and Irish ones – especially my local Ballinacourty ones – are just so much better.

So much so that I do mad things, like pay €20 to check a bag in on a flight home. The bag has nothing in there save 10kg of potatoes. 10kg potatoes and weeks of joyous dinners. Weeks of fun as my bag of spuds slowly depletes.

Taking my obsession thus far, it will come as no surprise that I had some Irish potatoes sent over last week for Paddy’s Day. From Keogh’s Farm precisely. They asked which ones I wanted. All food knowledge escaped my head immediately to be replaced by enthusiasm and joy and I burst out – your fluffiest ones please! And so I got them.

Big, bolshy, pink Golden Wonders. Thick dusty pink jackets, creamy fluffy flesh. I have been busy cooking with them since. Today, I share with you my potato and kale cake recipe: enjoy it.

One thing I will suggest to you, if you haven’t one already, is to invest in a potato ricer. With one of these you will get the best mash, will be able to make gorgeous light mash, gnocchi and anything else that requires light fluffy potato. They are cheap so no excuses, haven’t you ordered one yet?

Potato & Kale Cakes

Potato & Kale Cakes

Ingredients

500g potato (I used fluffy golden wonders, maris pipers would be good too)
100g plain flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
handful of kale: blanched in hot water for 2 minutes, squeezed to get rid of excess water, and chopped
tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of light oil

Method

Boil the potatoes until just tender. You should be able to stick a knife through them.

Drain and mash until fluffy or pass through a potato ricer. Spread out flat in a large dish or tray, sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and sift the flour over it. Add the two lightly beaten eggs and kale and bring together with a fork gently, until you get a dough. This is much easier to achieve with a ricer.

Shape into cakes – approximately 4 – but this will depend on how big you want them.

Fry over a medium heat in the butter and oil for abot 3/4 minutes on each side until cooked through and crisp outside.

Serve hot with whatever you fancy, I had mine with bacon and eggs.

Enjoy!

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Living Like a Local in Paris

Paris Food Market

Travelling is wonderful. You may have cottoned on to the fact that I enjoy a little of it every now and then. A lot of it more precisely. People ask why, they wonder how I can do it all. They also wonder why I do it all.

Why do I do it? I love getting an insight into another culture. I love getting under the skin of how people eat, how they shop for food, what they shop for and how they cook it at home. I love gathering recipes and bringing them home.

I love being inspired by how other people operate, being immersed in a whole different thing for a little while gives you great perspective on your own existence.

Hotels are great, I love them and the luxury they provide. But after a few days I get antsy. I miss my kitchen and I miss being able to cook.  My kitchen keeps me calm, and cooking keeps me sane. When I am stressed or sad my first instinct is to cook.

Paris Food Market

So, when I haven’t cooked for some time I get doleful when I see piles of glistening vegetables in markets, wheels of cheese in cheesemongers and absolutely anything else that I could be cooking or eating at home. I can of course take stuff home but I still miss the process of cooking, of being regularly able to do it.

I was watching the lovely Rachel Khoo’s cookery show, The Little Paris Kitchen, on BBC2 this week and it brought me right back to my Paris trip in December. Where I stayed in a proper house owned by locals (while they were away) and had a kitchen. For a time my life in Paris felt very real. I tweeted lots of pictures and other detail and promised to tell you all about it too. A little belated I have nabbed some time to do it.

Our Montparnasse home

It was a fabulous house, 4 bedrooms and sleeping 7 at a very reasonable £494 per night, much cheaper than a hotel but with lots of luxurious touches and a gorgeous kitchen to cook in. Aspirational for a Londoner with a tiny flat like me.

It was spacious and bright with a large open kitchen and living area and a fantastically stocked kitchen (kitchenaid, good knives, pots, pans etc.). I spent the weekend shopping in markets and local food shops and cooking joyfully when I got home.

Fishmongers at a Paris Food Market

I visited 3 markets that weekend, all nearby, and all food (of course!). The third one was particularly special as we visited on an organised tour with our guide, food writer and chef Camille Labro. Camille was bouyant with knowledge and enthusiasm and brought us through every stall describing everything.

Camille, cooking up a storm

We chose food that caught our eye and then returned home where we cooked up a wonderful feast. Scallops, artichokes and cheese (not together!) were a trinity of culinary highlights that I can still taste when I think of them. There was lots more too.

Cheeseboard

As I sat and ate it all, supping some wine, I wondered why I had never lived in Paris. I still don’t know, but I feel I might have done for just a few days now.

I travelled to Paris with Housetrip, who rent over 2,400 properties in Paris and 86,440 in other cities all over the world (with an impressive 1,000 being added every week). The properties are owned by locals and rented out when they are away. Our food tour with Camille Labro was organised by Context Travel

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CANCELLED: Cooking at St Patrick’s Day Hootenanny at the Roundhouse

I am very sad to announce that at the very last minute, I will no longer be able to cook at the Roundhouse tomorrow.

It is out of my control and I do apologise. I have just been informed by the Roundhouse that the stall will no longer be going ahead.

I will sign off before I say something that I regret. Understandably this is hugely frustrating, but until I speak to someone in authority there, I don’t really know what is happening or what they plan to do about this.

If anyone from the Roundhouse is reading this, I would really appreciate if you could call me.

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St Patrick’s Day: I am Cooking at the Roundhouse Hootenanny, COME!

St Patrick's Day Hootenanny at the Roundhouse - I am cooking, do come!

Ok! I am getting my crocs out and will to be cooking up a storm once again this weekend.

This time I will be proudly waving the Irish flag and serving my lovely Irish stew (lamb of course!) with Irish spuds that I am getting from Keogh’s Farm in Ireland (we really have the best potatoes), stout braised beef ribs, black pudding croquettes (using Jack McCarthy’s superb black pudding), colcannon and more. I am thinking we might do some toasties too as the TOASTED SPECIAL is Ireland’s unofficial national dish.

Not only will there be all of this lovely food, there will also be terrific live music, Irish short films, bodhrán workshops and lots more. It costs only £2 to come in and join us all in the fun.

If you don’t already know the Roundhouse it is the most terrific venue. You must come and help me celebrate my national day.

I may need some helpers too if anyone is keen? Email me or message me via the contact page.

Now, would you like me to serve toasties? I may even do my black pudding and chipotle ketchup one. Answers in the comments please!

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Turning Point: Food Blogging is Bad for your Figure

Inside cover of Comfort & Spice - WAKE UP CALL - when I realised just how much all this food blogging had destroyed my figure

(er – I blame tiredness and jet lag for this post! I have been up since 2.30 am rattling around you see. Not a topic I usually discuss, but it seemed fitting)

I never had a problem with my weight. As a child, if anything I was too thin, and this was a theme that carried into my mid twenties. I was always active, running around, walking everywhere, going out a lot dancing. I could eat whatever I liked, and lots of it. I never could understand why people worried about what they ate.

As I gathered photos for the inside cover of my book last year, I noticed the dramatic shift in body shape from when I started blogging. I started at a relatively slender 10 – 12, to now, where I gaze at my gorgeous vintage dresses knowing that I can’t fit into any of them. My wardrobe became a temporary fix filled with emergency dresses, a sea of blandness which I now find depressing.

I became a greedy little food obsessive. It is time to make a change.

I love what I eat and I love what I do, so how do I manage that? Jet lag is a frequent visitor too, and I know that doesn’t help. At its core, it is not just about how I look, or not being able to wear my lovely clothes. I feel unfit. I also feel more tired than I should.

The answer is simple really, I have to make time for exercise. If I eat intensively through recipe testing, reviewing and travel, I must exercise intensively too. I have said it in the (recent) past and failed, so I am making it public here. Care to join me in my quest? I can’t be alone in my mission.

It is time to get a personal trainer.

(I am slightly scared about it!)

I will update you here as I go. Enough! It is time to fix it. I have two favourite red vintage dresses that I aim to fit into. And when I do, I will know I have reached it.

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A Postcard from New Zealand – Part 2

Greetings patient readers! Thanks for your lovely comments on my last couple of postcard posts – much appreciated, as always.

It has been an intense few weeks packed with wonderful food experiences, and not much time to write about them. I am back in London now though, for a bit anyway, so will start catching up. And I mean it this time!

To begin with, another postcard from my recent trip to New Zealand for y’all. Lots more detail and recipes soon from many recent trips that haven’t made it to this little stage yet.

(apologies for the paragraphs dripping with jet lag and tiredness, there’s just no ooomph in me today!)

With Annabel Langbein in her garden, collecting produce for lunch

Bounty for the kitchen

The brown trout that we caught and smoked on the beach over manuka chips – delicious!

Bacon and Eggs at Meredith’s in Auckland – seriously good cooking

Wagyu cows at a Firstlight farm in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

Snail farmer and snail farm in Hawke’s Bay – mighty delicious they were too

Beautiful Hawke’s Bay

Aerial view – of Wanaka area

I travelled to New Zealand as a guest of the New Zealand Tourist Board

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A Postcard from New Zealand – Part 1

The gorgeous shores of Lake Wanaka, on the South Island, New Zealand

Well that frenetic writing didn’t materialise, did it? Mainly because everything else was so busy, and with jet lag I was no longer able to push myself to work late as I am used to. I also wanted to make the most of my short time in New Zealand and soak up as much as possible. I am now in Hong Kong and moving at a slower pace so should be more present on here this week.

It was my first trip to New Zealand, although I felt quite prepared as I have friends from there and lots of people I know had visited. The stunning landscape and vibrant food still caught my attention in a way that I hadn’t expected. Everything was big and lovely, rich green hills and light blue skies with little popping fluffy clouds and others choosing to streak across the sky.

In food and drink what really came across was the integrity of produce and passion for producing really good things with it. Great chefs have established a wonderful New Zealand cuisine in a way not too dissimilar to what has been happening in the UK and Ireland. Loads on that soon. And the wine, oh the wine was delicious.

Thanks to Air New Zealand for sponsoring the flights for the trip. I can’t imagine any trip starting better than with a business class flight with the whole of Nurse Jackie season 3 to watch, Peter Gordon’s food to eat, and a terrific New Zealand wine list to accompany it. All while I lie in bed. I am now spoiled for economy but I better get used to it.

As always, a little highlight in photographs first.

Nurse Jackie with the dessert course of a lovely 3 course meal, with matched wines, and in a bed all while flying to Auckland - DREAMY!

Cycling tour of Art Deco city Napier, North Island

The view from Temata Peak, which we visited to soak up the view and have a glass of local sparkling wine with Gourmet Odyssey

Clams at Ponsonby Road Bistro, Auckland

Flank steak taco at Depot, Auckland, New Zealand

Wonderful desserts incl superb tapioca and coconut dessert at Peter Gordon's Dine

Wonderful tour at Waimarama in Hawke's Bay including their Food of the Chiefs

Wonderful tour at Waimarama in Hawke's Bay including their Food of the Chiefs - these are NZ's famous and delicious whitebait fritters

Cream of Paua (Abalone) soup at The Foodstore, Auckland

The view from my room at River Run Lodge, Wanaka

A visit to and tasting at Rippon Biodynamic Vineyard on Lake Wanaka

I travelled to New Zealand as a guest of the New Zealand Tourist Board