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Food Memories & a Recipe for Black Sticky Rice with Banana & Coconut Cream

Black Sticky Rice with Banana, Coconut & Flaxseed

Black Sticky Rice with Banana, Coconut & Flaxseed

My life is peppered with food memories, I suspect most of our lives are. From crisp potatoes, boiled, peeled and then deep fried before being eaten with a sprinkle of salt, that I used to love when I was a child.

Marietta biscuits with butter, two biscuits pressed together so that the butter would squirt out of the holes like hair. Homemade fudge, buttery rich. I always tried to make it but could never work it out (I didn’t know about thermometers then). Stewed rhubarb and stewed apples, big bowls full, supplied by fruit from the orchard nearby.

Everything good or significant that I have eaten, I can remember. For my confirmation lunch, I remember the vegetable soup, and my shock as I watched my grandfather add white pepper to it. My first slice of pizza in Rome when I was 19, with potatoes and taleggio, I remember how bright it was outside the big window as I sat down and ate it. I remember how delicious it was, every last bite. I remember my first proper ice cream, and my childhood ice cream treat sliced and served with wafers.

I gather these memories all the time. They are scattered all over the world now and I fantasise about jetting back to Beijing for peking duck and egg yolk dim sum, to Hong Kong for delicate, gorgeous xiao long bao, to Bangkok for crisp divine chicken wings and to Seville for some jamon iberico.

Lots are restaurant based and one recent one that resurfaced was a black rice breakfast dish from Nopi (Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurant). I craved it, and even more so as I worked on my Thai coconut sticky rice and mango dish. I couldn’t get it out of my head. So, off I went to Chinatown, and purchased a bag of black sticky rice for £2. I was set.

This is another terrific breakfast dish, like porridge but with more texture, reams of flavour, creamy and flaxseed provides a lovely texture contrast, as well as being absurdly good for you.

I can’t stop eating it. It felt only right to share.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Black Sticky Rice with Banana, Coconut &  Flaxseed
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Recipe: Thai Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango

Thai Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango

Thai Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango

This dessert was one of the best things that I ate in Thailand. Not the most complex by any means, or in any way challenging. For comfort, straight forward deliciousness and a dish that makes you feel brighter about life as you leave an empty plate behind, look no further.

I ate it many times in Thailand. I couldn’t resist it. However, I usually had to order it holding my nose with a lemon sucking face while trying not not barf, for it was almost always served from stalls that sold its vicious smelly neighbour durian.

DURIAN. Does anything smell more foul? Yes, rotten meat, cadavers and sewers but durian smells of all three. It is like a demon that has digested them and is burping it for your displeasure.

Walking down the streets of Bangkok admiring beautiful colours, delicious smelling street food, watching passing monks gilded in orange robes, I would suddenly feel squeamish and sure enough shortly after I would see a durian stand. Spiky green fruit, bloated and proud. If they were a cartoon character they would have an ill fitting suit with buttons popping from their shirts.

Now, I know you will say – BUT THE TASTE! And yes, I hear the taste is amazing, but I have a fierce sense of smell and even the mango sitting nearby has a lingering taste of durian. So I could not do it. Next time, I will force myself. With a clothes peg on my nose and a doggy bag.

I have gone off track. Back to sublime mango. Cheerful, bright and sweet. Coconut sticky rice is sold as a dessert in Thailand but for me, it makes a sublime breakfast. This really is best if you can soak the sticky rice overnight but don’t worry if not, it is still worth making it. Get a rich ripe mango dripping with syrupy sticky sweetness. Alphonso mangoes are in season, and are in the shops in Tooting now, that is what I am using.

Enjoy!

Note on the recipe: all ingredients are available in Thai shops, Chinatown in London (specifically New Loon Moon which also sells fresh young coconuts and every Thai ingredient I have ever needed for Thai cooking incl recent recipes). I also spied Thai sticky rice and palm sugar in my local Waitrose. It is best to make this when you are going to eat it as the rice is best just after it is cooked. It can soak up the coconut milk and get soggy over time too.

RECIPE: Thai Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango
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Rhubarb Cordial
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Recipe: Homemade Rhubarb Cordial

Homemade Rhubarb Cordial

Homemade Rhubarb Cordial

There is a lot to be said for the sunshine and a big bright sky. It brings cheer after a long harsh winter – and I know I haven’t experienced most of it – but London has become a dour place, and it seems as though as a city, it has been suffering from a severe Seasonal Affective Disorder.

So, what joy the sun brought with its big sky and warm sunshine. Everyone was cheerful and the parks were full. I was inspired to cook something bright and joyful. I wanted fruit and I wanted a refreshing non alcoholic drink. My mind turned to rhubarb cordial.

I love homemade cordials, I have one in my book and make many at home all the time. I finish them off with sparkling water and ice and sip as I work. After work, they sometimes end up in a cocktail.

The cordial I made is a fresh version to be consumed within the week. If you want to preserve it so that it lasts a few months, use citrate (also called citric acid) in place of the lemon (1 teaspoon for the recipe quantity below). Citrate is available in pharmacies generally although no longer in the UK, you can however order it online.

I used bright English rhubarb, not forced rhubarb but normal stuff. It was a lovely bright pink, if broader and tougher than its slender cousin. After a brief period of cooking, the cordial mixture is allowed to strain gently through a fine mesh sieve (or some muslin), releasing the bright pink cordial and leaving the darker fruit fibre behind. This incidentally, is great mixed in with yogurt for breakfast.

This recipe also works really well when you combine it with blood orange or rose extract when you are cooking the rhubarb. I make both, and adore them.

Enjoy! This is so easy and is really so delicious. The vibrant flavour and colour are something that you don’t get in the shop bought stuff, unless you are buying an artisanal one (which is also homemade, just not in your home :)

RECIPE: Rhubarb Cordial
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Waterford Festival of Food 2013: FergusStock with Fergus Henderson, a Banquet in Lismore Castle and a Week to Recover

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Fergus Henderson of St John & Paul Flynn of The Tannery – stars of Waterford Festival of Food

I never thought that I would be having a drink with Fergus Henderson in the pub where I used to try to under age drink when I was 16, but there you go. You never know what life will throw at you.

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With Sally McKenna of the Bridgestone Guides and Fergus Henderson of St John, photo courtesy of David Clynch Photography

Waterford Festival of Food has just whizzed by. One of the rare festivals that I never miss, it is always superb, combining the best of community activities, local producers and chefs with some of the best food talent around. Last year Angela Hartnett cooked at The Tannery, and this year, it was the turn of FergusStock with Fergus Henderson.

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FergusStock Menu at The Tannery

120 were in attendance and 120 were on the waiting list for a superb feast. We started with the now famous bone marrow with sourdough toast and parsley salad, followed by a terrific ox heart and beetroot salad, with the ox heart sliced thin and slightly crisped. It was so tender and full flavoured.

Whole roast brill was next, tender and buttery before the show stopper, a half pot roast pigs head (a marvellous selection of tastes and textures all shielded by the best crispy skin). St John’s famous rarebit was next (I love to pop into the bar for one with a glass of wine), finishing with a super rich chocolate ice cream that had so much chocolate in it, it didn’t dare to melt when left untouched while I digested the preceding courses.

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Bone Marrow with Parsley Salad, waiting for service at the pass

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Pot Roast Half Pigs Head

Not much could top this, but then the next day there was Lunch with the Chefs at Lismore Castle where some of Ireland’s best chefs told their stories in conversation with John McKenna & Catherine Cleary. The food was served by Eunice Power (who I cooked with at our pop up at the festival last year), and was a terrific display of local produce (quinoa excluded!) and great cooking. I grew up near that castle – well 20 miles away – and it was such a treat to eat in there.

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Chandelier and Stained Glass Window at the Banqueting Hall in Lismore Castle

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In Conversation with the Chefs at Lismore Castle

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Pea & Ham Soup

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Knockalara Cheese and Quinoa Salad (Knockalara is a terrific sheeps cheese from Waterford and is available at Neal’s Yard in London – try it)

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Beef main course

There was so much more on, local foraging walks, a seaweed seminar, an enormous farmers and producers market on the Sunday morning, food trails (I did a food trail on Friday night which descended speedily into a singing contest but was all good fun and the best insight into Irish culture for any tourist that wants to see the real Ireland).

The only downside is that it is too easy to get completely carried away as I always do, and by Monday I had had little sleep, too much wine, and lots of fun. I needed a few days to recover.

I am excited to see how they will build on it next year, and am very proud that this all happens on my home turf. One for your diaries: the Waterford Festival of Food.

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Great pork taco with quinoa, black bean, lime and corn salsa from BBQ Joes at the Market on Sunday

You can see more photos of the festival on the Official Photographers website: David Clynch Photography.

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Recipe: Prawn Tom Yum Kung (a vibrant and delicious Thai soup)

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Pichit and the Prawn Tom Yum Kung that he taught me to make

I have returned to London for a short stretch, and minutes off the plane it seems, I have contracted the brutal head and chest cold that has been taking London down. I was doing so well, I have not had one cold this winter.

For relief and to fight it, I need something simple, firey and potent to blast the germs out. I also need something cheerful and bright. My life is full of lemon, honey & gingers. I now also need to introduce Prawn Tom Yum Kung soup.

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Ingredients for Prawn Tom Yum Kung

This recipe is another from Thailand from my class at the cooking school at the Khlong Lat Mayom floating market. This is an authentic recipe and is full of flavour. I think it is also the perfect thing for a cold. There are two ways of making it, one is clear and one is milk with some more firey heat. In Thailand they use tinned milk which is quite sweet and lighter than coconut milk.

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Thai blue river prawns

I am going to work on a coconut milk version, and for now share the recipe for the clear soup, which is adapted from the recipe taught to me by Pichit (in the photographs). I had to change the recipe a little to adapt to the size of our prawns and the availability of ingredients, but the taste is very similar to what I had in Bangkok and still very good.

Note on the recipe: we used giant blue Thai river prawns. I would suggest the best raw prawns that you can find. Cooked prawns will just cook further in the broth and become leathery.

You might also like to check out my recipe for Thai Seafood Green Curry from the same class.

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A slightly blurry photo of the finished soup in Bangkok – it was insanely hot and steamy there and I was just about holding it together towards the end :)

Recipe: Prawn Tom Yum Kung Soup [Read more]

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Recipe: Siri’s Thai Seafood Green Curry Recipe Step by Step with Photos

Seafood Thai Green Curry ingredients

Seafood Thai Green Curry ingredients

Green curry is misunderstood in many places outside of Thailand. Often perceived as a mild curry that you would give most chilli phobics (certainly in the UK and Ireland), it is often bland and dull, full of green peppers and mushrooms and to my mind, unless you are somewhere very good, not very interesting.

In Thailand, green curry is hot. Very hot and aromatic. Packed with flavour (which is the signature for most Thai food in my experience), you can choose the heat level you want if you make it yourself, so when we made this at the cooking school at the Khlong Lat Mayom floating market, we went for a compromise medium heat which was just perfect and not medium for our palates at all. Hot, so fresh and really delicious.

Several things make this recipe flavourful: fresh homemade coconut milk and cream, fresh pounded curry paste (you must – so much better than shop bought), the wonderful herbs and aromatics, the fish pounded to a paste with fish sauce (which Thais use instead of salt on the table) and lots of chilli.

It won’t be possible to replicate this entirely outside of Thailand but I will suggest where you can make substitutions as you go. As long as you make the paste from scratch – this is key – you will have a great dish. Everything else is a bonus.

Enjoy – it is a fantastic curry. I have adapted this recipe, but it comes from Siri, so thank you, Siri!

Note: if I don’t suggest an alternative, the ingredient is relatively easy to source via Asian supermarkets – some are online too.

Recipe: Siri’s Thai Seafood Green Curry [Read more]

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Thailand: Farm to Fork (via a Cooking Class) on the Outskirts of Bangkok

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Chung, who met us at the farm to harvest our ingredients for our cooking class

On our first morning in Bangkok we hopped on a bus and drove to the outskirts of Bangkok. It didn’t take long, maybe 45 minutes, before we arrived at a farm that grows herbs, fruit and some vegetables. We were to collect some ingredients that we would be using in our Thai cooking class not long after.

Everything grew on extended narrow beds, lined with little irrigation canals. The heat was scorching. 40 degrees centigrade plus and as we all know, the melting temperature of an Irish person is 14 deg C. I persevered with my fan, driving some air towards my face and soaking up all of the smells, tastes and colours.

Watering the crops with a little boat

Watering the crops with a little boat

It is very hot and the crops are watered using a hose deployed from a little boat which was a joy to see. I grew up in a farming area in Ireland and watering the crops was not something our local farmers had to worry about, at any time of year.

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Harvesting lemongrass

We tried lots as we went, first some papaya, which was as fresh, rich and unctuous as you would expect. Then some lemongrass which grows in tufts, like spiked fragrant doll hair. The part we use is at the bottom, but the grass itself is beautifully aromatic too. Some okra was cut and I was offered some raw, I couldn’t believe how good it was. Also a green crumpled pod that is called pea here, but is unlike and pea I have ever known.

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Chung, he rarely stopped smiling

Banana trees

Banana trees

Once the herbs were gathered we hopped on a boat to head to the cooking school. The cooking school is open air with a thatched roof to protect from the intense sun, on the Khlong Lat Mayom floating market. To one side is the canal and the other a farm, it is a beautiful setting. The market itself is only open at weekends, but still boats chug along occasionally mostly selling food. The postman passed in his boat at one point.

Khlong Lat Mayom - a floating market at weekend and a cooking school, three times a month

Khlong Lat Mayom – a floating market at weekend and a cooking school, three times a month

The cooking school is divided into three cooking stations, and a different cook teaches one of three dishes. We started with a green seafood curry. Siri taught us, a cook for 30 years, this was his personal green curry recipe. In the UK people mistakenly think that green curry is mild but in Thailand it is served hot. We had medium heat, which for us is pretty firey and perfect for my palate.

Siri, who cooked green curry with us

Siri, who cooked green curry with us

Ingredients for green curry

Ingredients for green curry

Finishing the green curry with fresh coconut cream (which we made in the class)

Finishing the green curry with fresh coconut cream (which we made in the class)

Once the green curry was made we progressed to the next station to make Tom Yum with prawns, taught by Pichit, Siri’s grandson. We made two versions, I was keen to try the milky one with an extra chilli kick too. The results were great and the recipe very accessible.

Tom Yum

Tom Yum

The last recipe was Bua Loy, bean sized sticky rice flour dumplings in coconut cream with taro, sweetcorn and other bits and bobs. I had already tried these and loved them. Nee makes and sells these at the floating market at weekends.

Bua Loy, before cooking

Bua Loy, before cooking

All that was left to do was eat, the food we made was served with rice and some other dishes including a cripsy crab omelette, rice, and some beans and sugar snaps served with prawns with a mild kick.

Crab Omelette

Crab Omelette

Prawns with beans

Prawns with beans

When we were finished we hopped back on our boat and headed back in to central Bangkok, stopping off at the Artist’s House on the way. I loved this experience and will work on some of the recipes soon, making them a bit more accessible to those living in the UK.

A canal scene from the journey back to Bangkok

A canal scene from the journey back to Bangkok

Canal side house in Bangkok

Canal side house in Bangkok

If you want to do this, and I recommend you do, you will need a guide / translator as the class is in Thai. I highly recommend Ann, who guided us through it and who could organise a whole day for you, as she did for us.

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Thailand: Offering Food to the Monks in Amphawa & a Heavenly Street Food Breakfast

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At dawn, all over Thailand, the local buddhist monks travel from their temples to the markets and past shops and houses, where local people offer food / alms in exchange for blessings.

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Each monk carries a large silver lidded bowl, wrapped in orange and with a shoulder strap. When the bowl is full, they return to the temple, where the food is shared. Some monks have temple boys that travel behind them with yellow shoulder bags, so that they can carry more for them. Many of the monks are very elderly, and they can walk a considerable distance, depending on the location of the temple. The monks eat twice a day, strictly.

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I arose at 5am to offer food to local monks that might be passing my hotel. We had arranged that the hotel would provide us with some food packages containing items that might be useful (a temple I visited today had food packages that contained detergent and paracetamol). At home or at food stalls, the monks would get cooked food, ours contained several things including candles, noodles and pandan cake. I was warned not to give a full package to one monk as once his bowl is full, he must return to temple, and can’t come back again.

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I waited in the dark, for 15 minutes, no monk was spied. But then, in the distance, we saw the familiar orange robe and the gentle walk. The monks walk barefoot and with great grace. We offered him some of our food, it is important to be clear, and also not to touch the monk or his bowl. I had learned the Thai words, which I recommend you do too should you want to do it. He smiled, gave us a blessing, and then he was gone.

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It was quiet where we were so we followed, turning the corner and walking towards the floating market. Here there were many more monks, and we quickly offered all of our food, eventually buying more, freshly cooked light fried doughnuts and bananas primarily.

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As I wandered around soaking it all in, watching all of the monks walk solely and serenely down narrow streets and by the river, I spotted one coming down the river in a boat. I had been told that occasionally, when a temple is on a river, they will use a boat. It was magical, watching him row towards us, and stopping for alms as he did. We have him the last of our offering, again in exchange for a blessing, this time he gave us an amulet too. It was truly wonderful, I was struck by the generosity and kindness of this gentle tradition. It was so lovely to be part of it, if only briefly.

It was only 6am, and I wasn’t that hungry but the smells and sights of the street food had awakened a curiosity. I stopped at a stall and had a beautiful pumpkin congee with minced pork to start with (and it cost about 65p). I followed it with thoes delicious doughnuts and pandan custard (40p). It was already very hot, so I finished with an iced coffee, before progressing dreamily back to my hotel.

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What a special morning. When in Thailand, I highly recommend you participate. I plan to again, before I leave.

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A Postcard from the Floating Market at Amphawa, Thailand

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I am sitting on my balcony at very early o’clock in Amphawa, Thailand. Very sleepy and watching the sun rise over banana and coconut trees and the most beautiful tiny shipyard, where they are building four gorgeous houseboats. It is already very hot. Jet lag is deep in my bones, but I will ignore it. I am here for the Thailand Academy food trip where I am exploring in and around Bangkok for a few days with some other food writers & bloggers.

Last night, steeped in sleepiness, we went to the Floating Market. Amphawa is a small town about an hour from Bangkok and it is famous for this market. Boats and stalls line a narrow canal. The boats function as mini restuarants, issuing divine smells and displaying seafood of such bright colours. Cooked to order over coals, I wasn’t long waking up in the beautiful hustle and bustle. People are singing, everyone is eating. What surprises me most is that most of the visitors are from Thailand.

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Everyone is tucking in. So, I do too.

Now, I need your help, people. For 4 days I am with the academy but then I have no plans. What do you suggest I do? It is my first trip to Thailand and I am open to suggestion. Would love your suggestions in the comments. Thanks!

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