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48 Hours in Yangon, Myanmar [In Photos]

Yangon. Golden temples, busy streets and a giant reclining buddha (the Chauk Htat Gyi Buddha which is 66 metres long). The capital of Myanmar rushes and bustles like most others, but it has a laid back charm.

When I visited last year it felt like a trip back in time even though it has already changed very much compared to 10 years ago. The first KFC opened just after I left but there is no real imprint of the west otherwise, which is so very rare. So much is done by hand, from making gold leaf to coat the buddha by hammer and with sheer strength and endurance, to silversmithing ornate detailed bowls.

The clack of the weavers loom is a familiar sound through open windows as they weave the longyi and htamein, traditional Burmese clothing, essentially skirts formed when a woven sheet approximately two metres long is wrapped around the lower body, the first for men and the second for women. Both are still commonly worn all across Myanmar. It is also common to make the cotton from the cotton balls which they grow themselves and then spin using spinning wheels.

The food of Myanmar is unique and very interesting. Influenced by the countries around it, chiefly China, Thailand and India, Myanmar absolutely has a flavour of its own, and lots of variations between regional cooking. Myanmar is very large and has a very long coastline but also a large interior. Parts are incredibly hot (hello Bagan with your beautiful but burning hot temples). The food adapts accordingly. There are lots of noodles, many mild curries, and rice features heavily, as rice, flour and noodles, in savoury food and desserts. The most favoured is the Shan cuisine (from Shan state). Shan noodles are a gorgeous rice noodle dish with chicken and peanuts, but Mohinga, a rice noodle and fish soup claims the title of national dish.

As with much of Asia, don’t neglect the food on the streets. Grab a small plastic stool at a tea stall and have a cup of Myanmar tea and lahpet thoke, a gorgeous pickled tea leaf salad with garlic, chilli, nuts and other bits like fried dried broad beans. It is sensational and so revivingly fresh in the muggy heat. There are many other salads which you should try including the vibrant gin thoke, a bright fresh salad of young shaved ginger. Tamarind leaf was in season when I visited, and the salad made with it was one of my favourite things to eat. Tiny winding tendrils, cheerful, fresh, bright and plentiful, wrapping themselves around the other ingredients greedily. There is also kaffir lime, tomato, noodle and potato salads. Try them all and report back to me, please!

The recent changes in leadership and government will see Myanmar open further and at speed, I am sure. This is a good thing. The people of Myanmar have little and work incredibly hard just to make ends meet. I hope it becomes easier for them. Myanmar has many resources which up until now, haven’t filtered down to the people. Education is limited and quality of life for many is poor. They deserve a lot better. So do tip generously, every little bit can do a lot. My visit to Myanmar really showed me how lucky we are, we have so much, and we have a responsibility to contribute as much as we can when we visit. It also showed me that we have become lost in our materialistic way of life, they have little but what they have they give back and they look after one another so very well.

I can’t wait to return, I hope that it can be soon. More posts to come on Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake. You can also look back at the Postcard from Myanmar that I published just after I visited. There is more info and lots more photos in there.

Shwedagon Pagoda and the Chauk Htat Gyi Buddha

The people in Myanmar were wonderful. So friendly and helpful. Very laid back.

The food, with the wonderful pickled tea leaf salad, lahpet thoke, in the bottom left corner

Bogyoke Aung San Market, with lots of laquerware (I couldn’t resist the tiffins), puppets, fabric, dressmakers, jewellery and food. It is a little touristy but it is still worth a visit.

Breakfast at the Sedona Hotel, a 5 star hotel in central Yangon where I stayed for the 2 nights of my visit. The breakfast buffet is large and varied, offering some local dishes with other pan Asian items (e.g. Sri Lankan beef curry, roti, miso soup, dim sum). There are western items too but I love an Asian breakfast, and so that is what I chose each time.

I stayed at the Sedona Hotel in Yangon as a guest and flew with Singapore Airlines, who fly to Yangon from London via Singapore with prices starting from £2199.

Beef & Ginger Dumplings

Beef and Ginger Jiaozi (Dumplings)

When I got back from my last long trip, all I wanted was to pop into London and have something to eat. Straight from the airport. No bookings often means a queue, and too long a queue sometimes (a 2 hour wait at Hoppers, I love you guys, but no!). We trotted north of Soho to Charlotte St, and to Roka, a restaurant that I love and don’t visit often enough. It is popular and busy, but there is always room at the bar, and the bar has a decent if short menu too.

I cannot resist the lure of a good dumpling, so I always order some. Plump, proud and encased in a tender proper skin, the dumplings on offer were beef and ginger. They haunted my next morning, memories of the flavour and the texture. I went to the butcher and procured some good minced beef which I brought home to experiment with.

I went through a few versions before settling on these. I wanted a proper ginger punch, a surprise HELLO, well it is nice to see you but I really wasn’t expecting to see you here! If you have time and the inclination I do recommend that you make the dumpling wrappers. They are so easy to manipulate, less likely to tear and have a much better texture. You can freeze and extra you might have also.

These are perfect for Chinese New Year too, which it is – Ta-Da! – Kung Hei Fat Choi!

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Notes on the recipe: if you can get dumpling flour use that, or mix all purpose (plain flour) with cornflour to replicate the texture. Pasta flour works a treat too, I actually used that here. Whatever you can get! These are usually pleated, and I usually do, but this time I just pressed them, and you know, this may not be completely authentic, but they still taste just as good!

Recipe: Beef and Ginger Jiaozi (Dumplings)

makes a lot of dumplings! About 36, depending on the size

Ingredients

Filling

450g minced beef
50g ginger, peeled weight, roughly chopped
4 spring onions, roughly chopped
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
salt & pepper to taste

some oil like groundnut for frying

Wrapper

a pack of shop bought dumpling or gyoza wrappers

OR

250g flour (dumpling flour, all purpose 225g + 25g cornflour or pasta flour – see note above for detail)
75ml warm but not hot water
a pinch of salt

serve with: black vinegar with finely sliced ginger, or soy sauce with finely sliced ginger. A little chilli oil is lovely if you are a chilli head.

Method

Make your dumpling wrappers first, if making them. Add salt to the water and stir until dissolved. Then add the water slowly to the flour, mixing with your hand as you do. You want the dough to form a ball, but not to be sticky. Add more water a little at a time if you need to. (The flour you use may need more, or less). Knead for 10 minutes by hand or 5 minutes in a mixer with a dough hook. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest for half an hour.

Combine all of the ingredients for the dumplings except the salt and pepper. You won’t need much salt as the soy sauce has lots of salt in it. Season then fry a small ball of it to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Prepare the wrappers by rolling the dough until quite thin. You can do this by hand by either rolling the whole thing at once, although it is easier to roll an inch wide cylinder and roll a pinched off bit at a time. Sometimes I roll it with my pasta machine (to thickness 5) and then cut circles using a wine glass.

Put a teaspoon of filling in the centre of a wrapper. Brush the edges with water using a pastry brush or just your finger. The biggest mistake people make is to overfill the wrapper and then they burst or tear as you fold them. Press the edges together between your fingers, making sure they are completely sealed. Repeat until you have no wrappers and mix. (You can freeze excess well. Freeze the dough whole, or freeze dumplings in one layer, you can freeze the wrappers between sheets of greaseproof paper).

You can steam these or you can fry them. This time I fried them. Boil the kettle then put a couple of tablespoons of oil in a heavy frying pan (skillet) that you have a well fitting lid for. Heat over a medium high heat, and put as many dumplings as you can comfortably fit without them touching in the pan. Fry until brown and crisp underneath, then add about a centimetre of water from the kettle. Cover with the lid and steam for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and let the remaining water boil off.

Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Kimchi Pork Sesame Meatballs

Kimchi Pork Sesame Meatballs

Kimchi pork sesame meatballs, aka your path to your dream brunch. And lots of other things.

More Korean flavours, I can’t get enough. Here I introduce kimchi, which is Korean chilli pickled cabbage (trust me, you need to try it if you haven’t already) to minced pork, and tweak it with spring onion and sweet hot gojucharu (gorgeous Korean red pepper flakes, which of course it knows intimately already), and ease it all with a crisp sesame seed coating. Before I fry it all and use it as the ultimate egg soldier by dipping it in a glorious perfectly fried gooey egg.

I have been playing around with meatballs and dumplings and homemade sausages and all sorts of things requiring a little minced meat, a lot of imagination and not too much time. It always amazes me how much you can make, and how frugal cooking with minced meats can be, even when using the best quality.

Kimchi Pork Sesame Meatballs

Kimchi Pork Sesame Meatballs

I want more colour and texture with these meatballs, and a little more nutrition too, I also want to use up the leftover sesame seeds from the bowl where I rolled the meatballs. So I fry broccoli and carrot lightly with them, and serve these on the side. So far, this is my favourite brunch of 2016 and given how much I devote myself to the topic, and how dedicated I am to its daily exploration, this says a lot.

These are simple, speedy and pack a flavour punch. The sesame seeds give a lovely texture and flavour, as well as being a coating that people who can’t have gluten and dairy can enjoy. I have had these for lunch with eggs, in meatball sandwiches, with rice noodles with some shredded veg for accompaniment. I even had small ones rolled tight and cosied up to a perfect egg in a coconut egg cocotte. That worked so well, and I will share that soon too.

Coconut & Kimchi Pork Meatball Egg en Cocotte

Coconut & Kimchi Pork Meatball Egg en Cocotte

The beauty of these is not just the flavour and the deep satisfaction that you will get when you eat them. One batch goes very far, you can prepare it and leave it in your fridge, you can freeze what you don’t use and use it within the month. Or you can play as I did, and if you do, please come and share your ideas, as I too want to try!

Kimchi Pork Sesame Meatballs

Preperation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Serves: about 36 meatballs, depending on how large you make them

Kimchi Pork Sesame Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 500g minced pork
  • 200g mat (chopped) kimchi
  • 1 tbsp gochujaru (Korean red pepper flakes – substitute mild sweet chilli if you can’t get it)
  • 4 spring onions, sliced finely
  • 200g sesame seeds
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • some light oil for frying, I like groundnut (heats high, doesn’t affect flavour)

Method

You can use your hands for this, but I prefer to use a food processor. If using your hands, finely slice the kimchi with a knife. Combine the pork, kimchi, gochujaru, the spring onions and some salt and pepper. Mix well with your hands or pulse lightly in a food processor (you don’t want t paste but I find it does bring things together very well). Fry a small amount and check for seasoning until you are happy with it.

Place the sesame seeds in a bowl. Roll ping pong ball size amounts of the pork and kimchi mixture in the palm of your hand and roll in the sesame seeds until fully covered. You should get about 36 balls but it depends on the size of them.

Heat some oil in a frying pan / skillet and fry the balls gently turning a few times until cooked through. This should take no longer than 10 minutes.

To serve as I did: sauté some broccoli and grated carrot lightly so that they remain crisp and add some sesame seeds. Serve with the meatballs and a fried egg.

Enjoy!

http://eatlikeagirl.com/kimchi-pork-sesame-meatballs-recipe/

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The Bloodshot Supper Club at The Dairy, London

London food is on fire. We have great markets, lots of street food, some of the worlds best fine dining, terrific mid range restaurants, ace cheap eats and superb international food, especially Asian. So many restaurants are opening, on a scale that compares with New York in recent years.

I travel a lot, and I love it, but I always love to come home. Travel makes it better, and makes me appreciate London even more. I spoke about London recently with Rick Bayless on The Feed Podcast, and was delighted to share my views on what makes the London food scene so brilliant at the moment, with reference to our vibrant markets (the episode of The Feed podcast that I spoke on is here).

The Dairy

A very good example of the new energy in London is Robin and Sarah Gill. The effect that they have had on the London food scene in less than 3 years is remarkable. Last year, two of their restaurants were in the Good Food Guide Top 50, and Robin was named chef of the year.

There is their first restaurant, The Dairy, where they do a relaxed version of fine dining, and very well priced too. They opened The Dairy quietly in 2013 after a 4 year stint at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. They opened under their own steam, unusually for London with no PR, no design agency putting the room and brand together, just their own energy and ideas (and lots of it).

There is a kitchen garden on the roof which supplies much of their produce, and they have their own bees there for honey too. I have eaten there several times, and always enjoy it. There are hints of our mutual Irish origins, but The Dairy is a contemporary space making the best of their kitchen garden and seasonal ingredients in a deceptively laid back way.

The Manor & Paradise Garage

The Manor followed, a different style, but also striking in its own way. It seemed that the Gills could not put a foot wrong. Head chef Dean Parker is doing interesting things with fermentation here. This extends to the drinks list too, I loved the kombucha sour.

Following that, Robin and Sarah turned their attentions east, and opened Paradise Garage, one of the most exciting openings of 2015 (read my review of Paradise Garage from last year). I had a gorgeous solo lunch there on a day when I had fully earned it. I need to return with a posse so that we can order the highly regarded whole rabbit for the table.

My lunch at Paradise Garage

The Delicatessen

So, three restaurants and also The Delicatessen, next door to The Dairy, where I go regularly for their terrific spongy boules of sourdough bread with a thin but perfect crust, house made pickles, house cured trout, the best of what is in season, and great sandwiches (salt beef or ham for me), which I eat with a coffee on the sunny patio outside. There are cakes too, and the whipped bone marrow butter is worth the trip alone. Plus the potato bread, whatever you do, don’t leave without some of that. It is divine.

One of my many hauls from The Delicatessen last year, plated out in my friends garden for lunch. Joy!

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Bloodshot Supper Club

That seems a lot but not enough, as last year Robin turned his attentions to the monthly Bloodshot Supper Club. Running on the last Saturday of every month, The Dairy team and a guest chef serve a multi course menu, starting after midnight so that restaurant staff can go when their shift ends. Food and drinks comes to £70 all in, per person.

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On Saturday, Chris Trundle (Senior Sous chef at The Manor) took charge of the stove and served a stellar menu, the highlights of which were Duck Hearts, Dates & Dukkah; Polenta, Hokkaido Pumpkin and Mandarin; a stellar Pork with Minestra Nera and and Anchovyand a smart cheese course of stichleton (the original recipe stilton, still unpasteurised) in between sliced pear and topped with truffle.

Chris Trundle’s food at Bloodshot Supper Club

Bloodshot Supper Club served up one of the most fun nights that I have had in a restaurant, the perfect evening for people who love good food, and a lot of fun. A one off meal cooked by someone already known to be good, given a chance to stretch their wings.

Here is to London, and The Dairy, and their wonderful Bloodshot Supper Club. Don’t miss it. I brought a visiting friend from NYC as I thought it was the most perfect London experience that she could have at the moment. And I was right.

What you need to know

We paid £70 a head. There are only 45 places and it always books out so get in early. More info here: http://the-dairy.co.uk/events

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Kimchi Jjigae (Korean Kimchi, Pork & Tofu Stew)

St Giles High St in London, just below Centre Point by Tottenham Court Road, was central London’s answer to Koreatown for years. There was a strip of small Mom & Pop style restaurants, a Korean bakery and across the road, a terrific small Korean food store selling all sorts of wonderful things. I used to go there all the time. Progress dictates that that strip is required by crossrail now, and sadly, they are all gone (although I believe that some have relocated).

On many a cold day, I decamped to St Giles High St for a soothing bowl of Kimchi Jjigae. A firey yet gentle concoction of pork, kimchi and tofu, I was mesmerised by the hot pots stewing around me on my first exposures to Korean food. I fell in love with it, and have since discovered the joy of New Malden (go to Jin Go Jae) and the simplicity and pleasure of cooking great Korean food at home. You will have already seen the Pork Belly Bulgogi, which I posted recently.

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Kimchi Jjigae is a perfect winter or in between day dish. On one of those days where you just need something. A day like this. It is pretty straight forward, there is no frying or anything required, everything is just cooked together in one pot.

Do you have any favourite Korean restaurants or recipes? Or have you been to Korea? I haven’t yet! I would love to go.

Recipe: Kimchi Jjigae (Korean Kimchi, Pork & Tofu Stew)

Serves 2, generously

Ingredients

350g thinly sliced skinless pork belly (freeze it for an hour to make this easier, if you have time)
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
250g mat kimchi (chopped kimchi)
2 spring onions, sliced finely
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
200g tofu, sliced (firm or silken, whatever your preference)

Soup base:

500ml water or dashi or chicken broth or pork broth or similar (I use water all the time but if I have a stock, I will use that)
50ml gojuchang (a lovely Korean pepper paste, worth having in your larder)
2 tbsp gochujaru (hot Korean red pepper)
50ml soy sauce
1 tsp honey

Garnish: 2 spring onions, finely sliced or some fresh coriander

Method

Marinade the pork in the rice wine vinegar for half an hour (or for as long as you have). This will break it down and make it nice and tender.

Add the kimchi, onion, spring onion and pork belly to a pot. Add the soup base ingredients, stir through, and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid, reduce the heat and allow to cook gently for 15 minutes. Stir through. Check for seasoning, it may not need much as the kimchi is in brine.

Add the sliced tofu on top, put the lid back on, and cook for another 5 minutes.

Serve immediately in bowls with sliced spring onion or coriander on top. (I had run out of spring onion!).

Enjoy!

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Where to Eat in Madrid: Roast Suckling Pig at Botín

We all avoid tourist spots when we travel, mainly because they are mostly dreadful. But some cities are serious about food, and even their tourist places can be excellent. Like Madrid.

It is unfair to label Botín a tourist spot though. True, it is mainly tourists that eat there now. Lots of writers have feasted on suckling pig over the years here too, including Graham Greene & Hemingway. Goya was a waiter there. Hemingway is quoted as saying “We lunched upstairs at Botin’s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta.”

I always liked Hemingway.

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Botín has been open since 1725, and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest restaurant in the world. Suckling pig is roasted here in the wood fired oven (which dates from 1725 also) in the Castillian way.

The restaurant is quaint and gorgeous, all dark wood and bright tiles. The counter as you enter is low, with scarlet red drawers. You can eat in the cellar (I did), on the ground floor or on the bright first floor. As you walk in, you are invited to look at the oven, and the shelves of small suckling pigs alongside. It is a remarkable sight, and is the perfect amuse for your dinner.

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I had heard much of the garlic and egg soup, and on the menu it is capitalised. So, yes, I ordered that. A terracotta bowl of bread and bacon soup spiked with garlic was presented to me, with a perfect fried egg on top, complete with runny yolk. A meal in itself, but I was hungry. I had a glass of house wine, just one, which was alright, but I would suggest you get a bottle of something better if not dining alone. Or rock like Hemingway and have three bottles of rioja alta. Next time, I will try.

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After the soup, I saw a platter of suckling pig whisked to a table at the front of the restaurant, where my waiter plated it with small perfect roast potatoes on the side, all carefully drizzled with roasting juices. I had a leg, split down the centre, revealing gorgeous tender flesh inside. A sheet of crisp light crackling lay on top, and it was all so gorgeous, porky, rich and moist. I ate it all, and I ate it swiftly. Joy with every bite.

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I skipped dessert, and so my bill came to €38 or so, but there is a deal to have the soup, pig, ice cream, half a bottle of house wine and half a bottle of water for €45. I loved it and would highly recommend a visit. Embrace your inner tourist and treat yourself to some gorgeous suckling pig in the oldest restaurant in the world when you next visit Madrid.

Botín, Calle Cuchilleros, 17, 28005 Madrid, Spain
+34 913 66 42 17
http://www.botin.es/?q=en

Related Madrid posts on Eat Like a Girl:

Where to Eat Tapas in Madrid on a Sunday for Lunch
What to Eat in Madrid & Where to Eat It

Korean Pork Belly Bulgogi

Korean Pork Belly Bulgogi

Baby, it is cold outside. (Sings along). But don’t worry, I have the solution.

My solution is tender and bright and soothing and a little bit hot, but not face melting. This pork belly bulgogi is punchy and gorgeous, and it is easy, once you get your mitts on the ingredients. And with this here internet, and the big broad world we all live in, that is not difficult at all. 

Korean BBQ is a big thing. Korean restaurants often have a hole in the table with wood burning below, so that you can BBQ your own food as you eat. Bulgogi (which translates as fire meat) is a style of marinaded meat, that is then cooked over the BBQ. At home, you can cook it in the oven or on a pan too. It is most commonly marinaded beef,  but I find it works terrifically with pork belly too. Cut thinly, and instead of over the BBQ, I roast it slowly until it is meltingly tender. 

Korean Pork Belly Pork - Marinading

Korean Pork Belly Pork – Marinading

This takes little work. If you have a food processor or good blender the marinade takes minutes, and all you have to do with the pork is slice it. After that it is just time, time to marinade the meat, and time to roast it (just an hour). You can eat it as you like, I love it on top of a rice bowl with sesame seeds, spring onions and some greens like kale. Bulgogi is fabulous in a taco with a simple slaw, you can treat it like a Korean kebab and have it rolled in a flatbread or some pita bread. You can eat it very simple wrapped in some lettuce leaves with some herbs and spring onions. This is a perfect dish to make large amounts of for friends, served from a big serving platter in the centre of the table.

Korean Bulgogi Pork Belly Rice Bowl

Korean Bulgogi Pork Belly Rice Bowl

Note: you can buy ingredients in most Asian supermarkets and online on sites like Sous Chef (a site that I have used as a customer many times, and they ship all over Europe). I make a large-ish batch of this even when I just make it myself. It will keep for a few days in the fridge and is a brilliant sandwich stuffer, for brunch with eggs etc.

Brunch with leftover bulgogi pork belly, tomatoes, onion and a glorious egg

Brunch with leftover bulgogi pork belly, tomatoes, onion and a glorious egg

Recipe: Korean Pork Belly Bulgogi
Serves 4 

Ingredients

1kg skinless & boneless pork belly, and cut into thin slices (this can be easier if you freeze it for an hour to firm it)

Marinade

4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 inch ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 spring onions, ends removed and green and white parts coarsely chopped
75g gojuchang (Korean red pepper paste – gorgeous & something you should have in your cupboard)
3 tbsp gochugaru red pepper flakes
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

To finish

4 spring onions, thinly sliced
3 tbsp sesame seeds

some light oil for frying like groundnut, rapeseed or sunflower

Method

Put all of the ingredients for the marinade in your blender or food processor and process until smooth.

Add to the pork and mix with your hands, ensuring it is well combined. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for at least half an hour, preferably overnight.

About an hour and a quarter before you want to eat, remove the pork from the oven, and preheat the oven to 150 deg C. Boil the kettle.

You will probably need two trays for the pork. Oil them and lay the pork slices in one layer. Put the boiling water in an oven proof bowl or pot and put it at the bottom of the oven. This will ensure that there is steam, and will prevent the pork from drying out.

Put the pork in the oven and allow it to roast gently. There should be plenty of water, but if for some reason you run out (say if your bowl is small), top it up if you need to.

After an hour it will be tender and ready to eat. You can push it further if you like, leaving it in longer to make a Korean pulled pork. Just a half an hour extra should do it. (I did this one time, and it is terrific too, if you like pulled pork!).

Serve with sesame seeds and shredded spring onion on top and eat hot, as you like it (rice bowl, taco, sandwich, in lettuce leaves with herbs).

Date & Maple Syrup Butter

Date & Maple Syrup Butter

I had a crisis this morning. Just a small one, but a crisis nonetheless. I could not find my peanut butter.

I just bought it the other day, where could it be hiding? While that tells you a lot about the state of my cupboards (which I hastily emptied the other day during a clear out, and the bulk of it is still residing in big plastic buckets), I solved it pretty quickly, which tells you more about how quick I am to adapt when I am hungry.

Very, very quick. Feed me now, I am hungry! And I needed something to smother my sourdough toast.

Late last year I visited a new London based Turkish restaurant, Oklava. I had a very pleasant lunch there, and the first bite stood out. It was a small dish containing one thing. Date butter. The creation of the patron chef, Selin Kiazim, this date butter was rich and more-ish. I immediately thought that I would love to create something similar at home.

Date & Maple Syrup Butter

Date & Maple Syrup Butter

This morning, in the absence of peanut butter and the overwhelming desire for something very-good-to-eat on my toast, I remembered the date butter. I had dates. Huzzah! And butter. And lots of maple syrup from Canada. The deal was done. Rich sweet dates, gorgeous creamy butter and that savoury-sweet maple.

Delicious! I will play with it further. For now, this is a little slice of morning perfection. Thank you, Selina, for the inspiration!

Date & Maple Syrup Butter

Makes enough for 4-6 generous slices
will keep well covered in the fridge for as long as the butter is good (check the BBD)

Ingredients

75g dates, stones removed
50g butter
2 tbsp maple syrup

optional: hazelnuts, to top with (or nuts of your choice)

Method

Put it all in your food processor or blender and WHIZZ! Scrape down the sides and whizz again. Until lovely.

Enjoy!

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Healthy Cocoa, Hazelnut and Date Truffle Bites

 (aka a Nutella Flavoured Energy Powerhouse)

I will not be doing a dry January this year (I never do), nor will I be doing Veganuary. Extremes in the harshest month of the year make no sense to me. I don’t think they do for anyone. Normality, and a little more self control are what I am aiming for. More exercise. Real food, lots of cooking. A little less meat, more fish, a lot more veg, and a lot of joy in the kitchen.

One issue I face is dealing with the snack attack. Yeah, you know what I mean. About 3pm, or whenever your digestive hormonal dip comes, you want something sweet, right? Something to lift you out of the deep? Now, I have the thing for that. It tastes fantastic, takes minutes. and stores really well. So, you can bring them to work in a little lunchbox, or keep them at home for when you need a little something-something.

This style of recipe is not new on this here internet, but maybe it might be new to you as it was to me. You know when you get an idea, and you play with it, and you think, I AM ON TO SOMETHING HERE. And then you google it and see a tonne of people doing similar already? That. Somethings are just in the ether. Anyway, ignore all that and just believe me when I tell you that you need to make this. They will satisfy every craving for something you probably shouldn’t eat (like Haribo), and you will feel great after. 

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Using dates as the sweet base for these truffles, I grind roast hazelnuts first, until relatively small, then I add cocoa (YES: Nutella flavour klaxon!). They need some fat to lubricate and soften (and yes folks, fat is no longer on the naughty step, nor is cholesterol, I do despair a little at all the conflicting constantly changing nutritional advice), coconut oil is a good choice and what I use as I like the flavour and the texture. It means the recipe is dairy free too. If butter is your preferred, it works well, but you will need to keep your truffles refrigerated. I also add some chia seeds.

Chia seeds are an ancient Aztec food, as valuable as maize, for energy and nutritional content. They are still part of the food culture in much of Latin America. There is lots of protein in chia seed, although there are some questions as to how available that is to digestion. What is good about them is that they are full of Omega-3 fatty acids and minerals, and a little goes a long way. They are an energy powerhouse too, so I put a little in my smoothie in the morning and I put a little in these truffles too. They add a nice bite. Flaxseed would work, if you can’t get your paws on chia seeds. Or just a little extra hazelnut. 

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Dates are a super food (and that term is so over used, isn’t all food super, when it comes down to it?), being gorgeous, rich and completely natural. I first started experimenting with them when I had a little too much time in the Dubai duty free (4 hours between flights en route home from Australia many moons ago). I spent my leftover foreign currency on dates, and lots of them, plain and stuffed with nuts. That was when I discovered the joy of a simple marriage of a date and an almond or a hazelnut. Then I put blue cheese in too and wrapped them with a bacon cummerbund before roasting for a perfect bite with friends. Dates can be naughty, and they can be nice, that depends on how you want to play with them.

I am pretty hooked on these. I know you will love them. 

Are you on Snapchat? I am! Once I discovered it was a terrific and easy resource for sharing recipe videos and travel snippets and anything, really, I was hooked! It took me a while to figure out just how easy it was. The videos are only live for 24 hours and then disappear, so come on over ASAP if you want to see what I have been up to. My every day cooking that rarely makes the blog is all on there too. I am eatlikeagirl on there (as well as on twitter, facebook and instagram). Here is a snippet from today, and making these truffles. Spoiler: they worked out gorgeously in the end.

Note: these are not pro videos, obviously, but a series of videos taken throughout the day, a max of 10 seconds each. Photos too. Great fun! They also look much better on the phone than in this youtube upload, but I just wanted to give you a taste.

Any other recipe / culinary travel snappers out there? Please let me know!

Healthy Cocoa, Hazelnut and Date Truffle Bites 

makes approx 12

Ingredients

  • 100g blanched roasted hazelnuts (roast them for 10 minutes at 180 deg C or until golden)
  • 50g coconut oil
  • 50g cocoa for the truffles, and 50g for rolling in
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds (or ground flaxseed)
  • 160g dates approx, weight with stones removed
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup (or honey if you can't get maple syrup)

Method

These are so easy. You need a food processor or good blender. Pulse the hazelnuts until small, then add the cocoa (hello Nutella flavours!), chia and dates. When a fine paste has been formed, add the coconut oil and maple syrup (the maple syrup may seem excessive given the sweetness of the dates but they do add a layer of flavour). Put in a bowl and cover with cling film before refrigerating. Don't be alarmed if there is a layer of liquid, this is just the coconut fat. 

After half an hour, stir the mixture through so that everything is well combined. Shape the mixture into small balls and dust in gorgeous cocoa. Eat at your leisure and enjoy! I would store covered in the fridge until you want them, just for consistency, but they are ok on the counter too. 

Enjoy!

http://eatlikeagirl.com/healthy-cocoa-hazelnut-and-date-truffle-bites/

 

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Christmas in Nova Scotia, A Quick Stop in Montreal & Hello 2016!

Good morning, everyone! And Happy New Year. I hope you had a very good break, if you managed to take one. 

I am so excited about 2016. I will finally publish my next tome, Project Bacon. It has been a forever friend and sometimes frenemy. As you know, I made the decision to self publish it and kickstart it. I don’t regret that, but life intervened and there have been several (at times, crushing) delays. But now, after an intense end to 2015, I feel I am almost at the top of the hill. And I can’t wait for you to see it.

Project Bacon Recipe Photo Previews :) 

My Kickstarter backers have had lots of recipe previews, and design and photography previews too. I will share some here with you soon, and there will be a limited amount available to buy when they go to press. So, keep an eye out for those. Now that the book is almost done, I will have lots more time here, and lots more freedom for other projects. What would you like to see? I have lots of ideas. But, I would love your feedback too. 

Nova Scotia over Christmas

I spent Christmas in Nova Scotia in Canada, and swung by Montreal on the way back. I booked too late to fly direct from Halifax to London home, but I was so happy to have an excuse to get off the plane in Montreal. I love it there, and had never been in Winter.  It was my first Christmas not spent in Ireland, and I brought a mild Irish Christmas with me, to my disappointment. But, we did get snow. 

Nova Scotian Christmas Dinner (I cooked) – locals often just have lobster, but we had turkey too.

Nova Scotia was gorgeous as always. We had a mild Christmas Day, a beautiful bright blue crisp boxing day, and lots of snow after that. We had lots of lobster too. It is plentiful there and the season is well regulated all over Atlantic Canada. You get chowder and lobster rolls in every roadstop diner. Lobster poutine too. I had plenty, and I did lots of cooking too.

Digby oysters with bacon jam (a riff on one of my Project Bacon recipes!)

Digby oysters with bacon jam (a riff on one of my Project Bacon recipes!)

I returned to my favourite wine bar, Obladee, and had wonderful fish cakes with celeriac chips and ham & cheese (juniper smoked ham, apple dijon, pickled cabbage, white cheddar, baked open faced on baguette). The chocolate goat’s milk fudge is very special, and should not be missed. Rich and tart and lovely. The wine list is always very interesting here, international with the best of Canadian, with lots by the glass and also wine flights. We had a gorgeous Meyer Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir. There was great live music the night we visited too. Obladee is owned by a friend of mine, but I am not alone in thinking it one of the best bars in Halifax. I only wish she could open one here. 

Obladee – photos from my September 2015 trip, I treated myself to a night without my camera over Christmas!

We brought the snow with us to Montreal, and we went with no plans. My favourite restaurants there (Joe Beef & Au Pied de Cochon) were closed for Christmas, but I returned to that shrine to Montreal smoked meat, Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen, which is always so good. The secret to Schwartz’s is to go off peak or just before or after meal times. It is always busy and there is often a queue. I had the smoked meat sandwich on rye, this time with a frankfurter and a slaw on the side. Interestingly they do poutine now too, although I had no room for it. For drinking, I have been told that it has to be a cherry cola, and that is what I have. With that much snow outside, you need to fortify yourself, right?

Smoked meat at Schwartz’s

I am a coffee fanatic, I travel with coffee beans, a hand grinder and an aeropress. For coffee, I visited the lovely Café Myriade in Montreal, mid snowstorm, and had a latté but also a soothing hot lemon, honey and ginger. They use 49th Parallel Coffee from Vancouver (I visited there a couple of years ago). 

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Café Myriade in Montreal

I queued for brunch in the snow, again. I know, I know. But I wanted to return to Olive et Gourmando, a gorgeous café in St Paul. Everything is made from scratch and with care and the room is lovely. As I was waiting, I noticed how many people were paying for Cuban sandwiches, so I had one. Excellent, crispy bread, lovely filling, sharp and sweet with a pleasingly stringy melted cheese. I had soup on the side, which was warming. And I watched the snow fall outside with glee.

I had dinner at Maison Publique, a Montreal take on a British gastropub by Derek Dammann. Dammann was previously chef de cuisine at Fifteen in London (Jamie Oliver invested in the restaurant), it reminded me of those great original gastropubs like The Eagle in its heyday. (I say heyday, as it has been too long since I last visited. I must return, I loved their Bife Ana (Portuguese steak sandwich)).

The room has a long counter, with the bright open kitchen being the first thing you see when you enter. The lighting is low, and the menu is on a board to one side of the dining room. The wine list is all Canadian, which is super, especially as a visitor looking to explore. We ordered, amused by the small digger ripping up the street outside as it shovelled the snow into piles. It was clear that the driver loved his job, albeit on the border of dangerously. Vroom vroom!

The signature baked oyster was gorgeous, the oyster was chopped and mixed with mushrooms then cooked lightly under a fluffy crisp layer of mayo tinged with marmite, their take on the wonderful Japanese oyster motoyaki. I wanted to order it again once I was finished.  The maiale tonnato (porchetta served with tuna mayonnaise, and a local cheddar) was a nice fresh take on vitello tonnato (which I had a lot of in Piedmont last year). 

Winter vegetables with bagna cauda were fresh and bright, calamari in squid ink with garlic toasts was perfect foil for the cold winter outside. We had some pumpkin ravioli, which were lovely, but a little on the sweet side for my palate. The desserts were wonderful, a rich velevety dark chocolate tart with mascarpone and orange, and a perfect pot au creme with shortbread.

IMAX cinema was born in Montreal (via the Expo of 1967), and there are three IMAX cinemas there now. It is much cheaper than here (the favourable currency exchange helped a little), and we saw Star Wars in 3D at the IMAX for $14 each! (£7). Could this get better? YES. You can get poutine to bring in to the screen with you. That wonderful marriage of (good) chips, squeaky cheese curds and gravy. And it is not bad either (how could I not indulge in that?).

On the last day we walked around snowy Montreal, I adore winter (although I am not sure I could manage a long very cold one, I like to pop in and out). I stomped in the snow, admired the street art, and returned to Marché Jean-Talon to stock up on gorgeous tins of maple syrup, Montreal bagels, maple butter and a little ice cider (I already had a bottle of ice wine from Nova Scotia). The apples are frozen on the tree, or more often now in wooden boxes in the orchard, in the depth of winter the snow in the orchards can be waist high. As with ice wine, with the water in the fruit being frozen, the juice that is extracted is a pure sweet nectar, and makes a beautiful dessert drink. 

The spice shop at Marché Jean-Talon, Épices de Cru, deserves a mention. You know I love spices, my first cookbook is called Comfort & Spice, and I had plans to sell it with spices, spice mixes and pestle and mortars. This didn’t happen then, I was soon to discover that promoting a book while doing everything else is enough work without adding an extra layer (although I would if I were to do it again). Épices de Cru is like a spice library with wonderfully sourced spices, sold in airtight tins so that they have bright flavours. I normally don’t buy spice blends, preferring to make my own, but I did buy their book which came with some, and they were fantastic, so I bought some to cook with when I got home (I roasted a chicken covered with their lovely Montreal spice blend just last night). Épices de Cru sell spices online if you want to try some, I would highly recommend it.  

Farewell for now Canada, I will see you soon, and sooner than that I hope! Welcome in 2016, I hope you are feeling as optimistic as I am. I was so tired at the end of 2015, and wondered how I could face it, but a week off leaves me feeling renewed and full of vigour. Shall we get started?

Want to see more regular updates? I am on snapchat where I post everything I cook as I cook it (like a visual recipe with photos and short videos) as well as travel and London snippets. I also post on instagram, facebook and twitter. On all of these places, you can find me by searching eatlikeagirl. See you there! Say hi if you follow! :)

Chocolate and Cardamom Buns

Chocolate and Cardamom Sticky Buns with Chocolate Ganache Topping

More chocolate and more spices. I just can’t get enough. And another post so quickly after the last one, but I really wanted you to have this for Christmas. 

Before we begin, cast aside any ideas about a traditional cinnamon roll recipe that you might have. Their dough is firm and easily manipulated, and yes, they are a joy. But these are different. These are based loosely on the idea of a Swedish kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon roll) but the dough is very loose and very sticky, so that the buns will be gorgeously soft.

I have been playing around with cinnamon rolls for some time now, and I wondered what a chocolate one might be like. I pushed the dough until it was as loose and as sticky as it could be to yield a soft bun when cooked. It also makes them so easy to put together. I chose cardamom over cinnamon, because I love the chocolate and cardamom combination, and felt cinnamon did not need to be involved.

These are simple, and not too sweet. They are very messy too, but this is a little liberating. When the dough is ready, you just slap it out, and squish it, spread the butter, gently roll and slice. They are wonderful fresh out of the oven, but like all pastries of this type, they fade and toughen up fast. The best thing to do is eat the ones you want on the day, and once cool immediately freeze all of the others, bringing them back to life in a medium oven when you want one. They won’t be quite the same as fresh, but they will be better than most from the shop.

I topped these with a very simple runny ganache which works very well, especially when the buns are hot. I had planned to make a cream cheese icing to go on top, with maple and rum and candied clementines. Lets save that for next time, it is too good not to appear here. For now, we will stick with chocolate, which is perfect in its own way.

Enjoy and have a wonderful Christmas! 

Recipe: Chocolate and Cardamom Sticky Buns

Ingredients

Buns 

450g plain flour
50g good cocoa
1 tsp dried yeast
75g brown sugar
50g butter
300ml full fat milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 egg

light oil 

spiced butter filling: 16 cardamom pods, 100g butter, 75g light brown sugar, 50g dark chocolate (in chips or grated)

glaze: 75ml single cream, 50g dark chocolate (chopped small)

1 beaten egg, to glaze

2 x 10 inch circular cake tins, greased with butter or lined with baking parchment 

Method 

Heat the milk and butter in the same pan until it is just comfortable to put your finger in it, neither hot nor cold, body temperature. Any hotter and the milk will kill the yeast.

Combine the flour, dried yeast and cocoa. Create a well in the centre and add the milk and butter mixture, and the egg, mixing with the flour as you do. Mix well in the bowl (you can do all of this in a mixer too). 

Leave the dough to rise in a warm part of your kitchen or your home. While the dough is rising, prepare the spiced butter filling. Lightly bash the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar, remove the seeds and discard the pods, then grind the seeds as fine as you can. Add the sugar to this, and grind gently. Empty the spiced sugar into a bowl and mix well with the butter so that it is soft and pliable. 

When the dough has doubled in size (this should take no longer than an hour), knock the dough back, knocking any air out. Lightly oil the surface that you plan to shape the rolls on and turn the tough on to it. Flatten the dough out until it is about 45 cm long and 3o cm deep. 

Spread the spiced butter evenly over the dough and sprinkle the chocolate over it. Gently roll the chocolate dough, as you would for a swiss roll. Don’t worry if it is very squishy. Cut into 14 equal pieces, gently pulling them apart to expose the layers, as you lay them flat. Arrange the buns with 7 in each tin, 6 in a circle and one in the middle. 

Preheat your oven to 200 deg C. Allow the buns to rest and rise for half an hour, then bake for 15 minutes. They will be done when the top is crisp. Some of the spiced sugar and chocolate will have settled and caramelised at the bottom, making them gorgeously sticky. 

When the buns are done, prepare the ganache. Heat the cream in a pan until it is hot but not boiling. Take off the heat and add the chocolate, stirring through until melted. Drizzle over the buns, and pull apart to eat.

Enjoy!  

 

Gin, Lime & Cranberry Gravlax

Gin, Lime & Cranberry Gravlax (aka Gravadlax aka Scandi Cured Salmon)

Well, I always was a little bit last minute for Christmas. The whole thing just gathers and pushes back on me like a violent huffing concertina. Every year it seems like I might be on top of it, but like everything else, I don’t know when to stop. I add more, I flitter along after ideas too long, and in the end, that might mean that the night before I fly to Canada, I am sitting surrounded by chaos with laundry drying on the radiators, more laundry spinning in the machine (mirroring the spinning of my head), looking at a pile of work to do and wondering how I will get through it.

It is ok, I will get through it, I always do. This is how I roll. When you love what you do, you sometimes get carried away. That is ok, isn’t it?  

That is how I found myself trotting off to the fishmongers at the weekend. Into my head had popped a combination that might have been a cocktail, instead I thought about how wonderful it would be with fish. Specifically, with salmon in gravlax (aka gravadlax), that gorgeous Scandinavian cured fish dish. If you have never had any, you could say it is a sibling of smoked salmon, but instead of the aroma of smoke, you have the flavours that you cured it in, very gently, within. The salmon texture (assuming you use good salmon) is wonderful and light, it isn’t oily at all.

Gravlax at its base is fish cured with sugar, salt and usually dill. But, you know what, I can’t bear dill. There was a time when I loved it but then it started to overwhelm and now it is everywhere and I am not happy about that. So, when given a choice, I will throw it out and put in something else in its place.

Lots of gravlax recipes use alcohol too. I have made many with spirits like vodka and sake, and a few with gin. Gin is a perfect ingredient here as it is subtly aromatic and so you can play around with other flavours depending on the profile of the gin that you use. I wanted to use something very direct, and so I chose Chase single botanical gin, which just has juniper (all gins do), and makes for a great G&T but I thought would be perfect with fish (also venison).

Lime, because gin and salmon both love it and I wanted a sharp acidity in the cure. The cranberries are subtle as I use them raw, and they are very astringent, but lightly crushed before adding them, they add a lovely layer to the dish.

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I cured this over 48 hours, but if you don’t have that much time this close to Christmas, you can try a lighter 24 hour cure. I served it with tarragon, which I had in the fridge, and was very pleasantly surprised by what the gentle anise flavour added to it.

Serve on crackers with halved soft boiled quail eggs and some herbs like tarragon, chervil or flat leaf parsley (quail eggs: boil for exactly 2.5 minutes, then refresh in cold water and peel). Or piled on a plate with homemade mayo, avocado and other bites.

RECIPE: Gin, Lime & Cranberry Gravlax (aka Gravadlax aka Gorgeous Scandinavian Cured Salmon)

Ingredients

500g raw salmon, I leave the skin on until it is cured, but skin off is fine and better for shorter times
50g brown sugar
25g sea salt
75g fresh cranberries, bashed about a bit in a bag with a rolling pin, or similar
1 lime, cut into narrow slices
60ml gin
a dish that the salmon will sit comfortably in, or storage container

Method

Put all of the ingredients for the gravlax, except the salmon, into the container that you are using. Mush everything around a bit.
Add the salmon and rub everything in gently. Cover and put in the fridge.
The next day, take the salmon out and turn it around, rub everything in gently again and leave until 48 hours in total is up.
Remove from the fridge and rinse the salmon. Remove the skin if still on, and serve in slices.
It is good, isn’t it?

Merry Christmas!

Dublin!

Dublin Revisited: Where to Eat Now and for New Year

Dublin is on form. There is an energy and excitement on the street and in restaurants, and a palpable renewed optimism and confidence after a tough few years of hard recession. As Dublin gears up for its New Year Festival, a 3 day event from the 30th December to the 1st January rich with music, stories, a procession of light and light projections and fun, it is only fair that you have a fresh list for eating to refer to. Have a great time!

EATING

The Greenhouse

I had one of my favourite lunches this year at The Greenhouse. I returned for the tasting menu and found it sublime. There were many highlights including a suckling pigs head croqeutte (made from 3 week old Spanish pigs) served with a Korean pepper emulsion, divine jamon with a decadent dusting of truffle, an excellent sika deer tartare with a covering of beetroot, douglas fir roasted monkfish and that famous dessert of theirs, the passion fruit soufflé with white chocolate sauce. The 5 course tasting menu is €90 and there are matched flights of wine available, this time I opted for a couple of wines by the glass from an excellent selection. The set lunch is a terrific bargain too and you can read about in my last report from Dublin. 

http://www.thegreenhouserestaurant.ie/home.php

Forest Avenue

Forest Avenue is a little out of town but it is an essential visit when in Dublin, based on my recent terrific lunch. We had the set menu (which was an incredible bargain at €22 for 2 courses or €27 for 3). Pressed duck leg with salad of quince and celeriac, hazelnut and grated foie gras was divine, the richness of the duck offset beautifully by the bright decadent salad. I had the fish for mains, the hake with salsify, mussels, braised leek and cauliflower, which was as perfect a seafood platter as I could hope to get. Dessert was a date pudding with brown sugar custard and vanilla ice cream.  

My friend, (who had the salad of muscat pumpkin, clementine, burrata, beetroot and tardiva, followed by the lamb with gratin of swede, carrots, brussel sprout and pangratatto) declared it the best meal that he had ever had in Ireland. I thought it excellent and a fine example of the new Irish contemporary cooking that is bubbling in Dublin and throughout the country, influenced by time abroad and our own wonderful produce and heritage. The wine choices were lovely, we had a bright Albarino. 

http://forestavenuerestaurant.ie/

Delahunt

It feels like Delahunt was previously a bar. I took a seat at the counter and had a wonderful supper of confident Irish cooking. Sika deer reared its head once more, and once again in a lovely tartare. I couldn’t resist it. Potato dumpling with caramelised mushroom broth, kale salsa verde and crispy egg yolk was joyful and rich, I loved every bite. I ordered from a €50 set menu, but I had no room for dessert as this was coming to the end of my trip, but I will return, and I will visit the new bar which they have just opened above, and which will have a snack menu. (They took the price of the dessert off the bill, which was very kind of them).

http://delahunt.ie/

Klaw

I went to Klaw twice and would have gone again if I could have managed it. Serving predominantly Irish seafood, occasionally the lobsters come from North America if Irish lobsters are in short supply, and the salmon is smoked in Scotland, but when I visited the lobster were from Dun Laoighaire and the oysters were all from Ireland, including my home town. They do a terrific flaming of the oysters too, I had a brilliant one topped with bacon and worcester sauce flamed until cooked. An idea I will be trying at home. I loved the lobster roll (from memory, €12), and there is a good craft drinks list and some nice wine choices. 

http://klaw.ie/

SLEEPING

I stayed at two new hotels this time around, and would heartily recommend both. 

The Dean Hotel

The Dean is the new funky sibling of the The Clarence Hotel in Temple Bar. On Harcourt St, not far from Stephen’s Green and near many places where you will want to eat and drink. The Dean is a sharp dresser. The mini bar is housed in a bright mini Smeg fridge, there is a record player and Marshall speaker in the room, and the room is contemporary and comfortable.

Breakfast is served in Sophie’s which is on the top floor, looking out over the roof tops of Dublin. There is an external terrace too. There is a downside, being very centrally located, it is near a nightclub which can be loud, however they supply terrific ear plugs for that and I wouldn’t let that stop me staying there agin. 

I stayed in a SupeRoom, there are smaller and larger available, and prices are excellent, starting at €117 for a smaller ModPod and €137 for the SupeRoom that I stayed in (checking for tonight on their website). Do book in advance, there was a waiting list for some of the nights on my stay. 

http://deandublin.ie/

The Merrion Hotel

The Merrion is one of of the Leading Hotels of the World and one of the finest in Dublin. Contained in four Georgian houses from the 1760’s, it is centrally, located a short walk from Baggot St and Stephen’s Green. The Merrion is comfortable and very friendly, with doormen who greet and help on arrival, and very helpful staff within.

The hotel is decorated with Irish fabrics and antiques and there are elegant fire lit drawing rooms and a bar, which has a nice list of wines by the glass. With a wonderful and extensive art collection, the Merrion also offers an Art Afternoon Tea based around this, which was unfortunately fully booked on my visit.

I stayed in a very spacious and bright deluxe king room in the Georgian Main House. A luxury, and highly recommended for a uniquely Dublin experience. 

http://www.merrionhotel.com/

With thanks to Tourism Ireland, who supported my trip.

Chocolate and Hazelnut Cakes with Chocolate Butter and Caramelised Cocoa Nibs

Chocolate and Hazelnut Cakes with Chocolate Butter and Caramelised Cocoa Nibs

This year has definitely heralded the arrival of a sweeter tooth than what I have had before. I was never that bothered. I enjoyed the occasional cake, and complete surrender to some rhubarb and custard haribo, but if I was ever craving anything, it was usually composed of salt and probably fat.

I have always liked chocolate though. Chocolate is savoury first and foremost, with a layer of sweet on top. It is the gateway sweet for any savoury person. I was in Grenada earlier this year and I checked in an extra suitcase, mainly for chocolate, cocoa nibs, pure cocoa, cocoa butter and nutmeg. I keep it in an airtight box which I visit every now and then when I have a craving that needs to be satisfied or an idea that needs to be executed. Chocolate is so satisfying that I am happy after I have had my fill.

All week long I have been thinking of combining some of my Grenada cocoa and cocoa nibs with some lovely hazelnuts that I brought back from Piedmont, and that I need to use. Chocolate and hazelnut are a familiar and excellent combination. You know nutella of course, that deeply addictive chocolate spread based on gianduja from Northern Italy, a combination of hazelnut paste and chocolate. Nutella was originally called Pasta Gianduja. I make my own chocolate peanut butter at home, and my own riff on nutella too. Most recently, I made these gorgeous little cakes based on the same flavour profile.

If you love nutella, you won’t be able to get enough of these.

For intolerances or allergies – you can comfortably substitute coconut oil for butter here, for gluten free you can substitute rice flour or a gluten free flour of your choice, as the gluten isn’t key here.

Recipe: Chocolate and Hazelnut Cakes with Chocolate Butter and Caramelised Cocoa Nibs

Makes 6 small cakes
takes 45 minutes

Ingredients

Chocolate and Hazelnut Cakes

3 large egg whites
25g plain flour
75g icing / confectioners sugar
75g ground hazelnuts (use blanched hazelnuts)
25g cocoa
100g butter

Chocolate butter

100g chocolate
100g butter

Caramelised cocoa nibs

3 tbsp coarsely chopped cocoa nibs (or hazelnuts if you can’t source them)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp brown sugar

butter or light oil greasing the tin
bun tin or similar (I used a silicon canelé mould as I love the shape)

Method

Preheat your oven to 200 deg C.

Prepare your tin by greasing with butter or oil.

Sieve the flour & icing sugar into a mixing bowl. Add the ground hazelnuts and stir through.

Whip the egg whites until fluffy but not stiff.

Melt the butter (or coconut oil) and add to the dry ingredients. Add the egg whites and stir through.

Fill tin until just below the top. There is no raising agent in this recipe but they will rise a bit.

Bake for 12 – 15 minutes until a skewer comes out dry when you test it.

Allow to cool before removing very carefully.

Melt the butter and the sugar and leave over a medium heat for a few minutes taking care not to burn it. Add the cocoa nibs or hazelnuts and stir until full coated. In a separate pan over a low heat melt the butter for the chocolate butter, then add the chocolate and remove from the heat. Stir until it has melted in.

Serve the cakes warm with some chocolate butter spooned on top and some cocoa nibs.

Enjoy!

Cork! English Market, Farmgate Café and Ballymaloe Gardens

Where to Eat, Drink and Stay in Cork City (Boy!)

When you are not from where you live, people often ask how often you get home. Perhaps they are making conversation (likely) or maybe they are checking the calibre of my moral compass. Regardless, I tell them that I try to get home often, I aim for four times a year but I would like to go more.

I didn’t grow up in Cork, I grew up in Waterford next door, but it is where my mother is from, where I went to university, and where I lived for 7 years on and off. I know it very well and I have a huge affection for this bright patch of Ireland, that feeling of home and of belonging are keen here.

Many people I meet who have been to Ireland have only been to Dublin. This makes sense. It is the capital, and it is the biggest city. But Cork is so different and has its own charm, it also demands a visit. 

Photos taken near Cork City in Ballymaloe, the Farmgate Café in Midleton, Kinsale and the Jameson Distillery in Midleton. 

Cork is quirky for a small city, it has a big heart. By non-Irish standards it qualifies more as a large town than a city, but in Ireland, it is the second largest. The main street winds through, the river follows suit and splits in two surrounding the main island of Cork (for Cork is made of islands).  

For many, the centre of the city is the English Market, a wonderful old covered food market, and despite the name, an Irish one. The name English Market links back to times when the landed gentry used to shop there. Now we all do.

Winding out from the English Market, and Cork likes to wind, are small narrow streets with pubs and shops. There are wonderful restaurants, great bars, traditional Irish music sessions and a vibrant contemporary music and arts scene.

The Real Capital

The people of Cork regard Cork as the REAL capital. They also regard it as The Rebel County. There is a website devoted to the Peoples Republic of Cork. The people of Cork LOVE Cork and they don’t even know why you would visit Dublin before you visit them. 

The vernacular! We were all furious when Keith Floyd had to be subtitled when he visited Cork, but now that I live abroad and know that even my mild flat Waterford accent needs to be slowed down and drawn out before most can understand me, I get it. And so you need a little warning about that. Cork has many accents, all intense, Corkonians seems to sing as they speak. Many sentences are finished with BOY or GIRL (with a high inflection, depending of course on your gender). Howsitgoing, BOY? Alright there, GIRL? Whatisthestory, GIRL Etc. Everything in Cork is CRUUUUSHALL (crucial), even when not really so. If you have a hangover you might be sick as a small hospital. If you annoy someone they might threaten to crucify you, but they won’t, they just like having the intention. Corkonians love drama, and I love them for that. 

There are few chains in Cork, or in Ireland generally, and this is one of the best things about visiting. We do have elements of the British high street now, with Boots etc and Wetherspoon’s have started to open, however, in Ireland, the pubs are not brewery run but independent, and are often named for the people that own them. The exception to this in Cork is a group of pubs owned by Benny McCabe, but they are all unique and have their own flavour.

Forewarned is forearmed. Take a pew, and let me guide you through the city. 

Stay

The River Lee – on the river, as the name suggests, and it is right next to University College Cork and a 5 minute walk from downtown Cork. The hotel is contemporary and bright, the rooms are spacious and the beds are large and very comfortable. The bar and restaurant are both on the river and the bar, particularly, has a terrace that is very cosy. Even if you are not staying you should pop into the Weir Rooms for a drink on the river. 

Food is locally sourced and well executed. Try the Toomsbridge Irish burrata, mozzarella filled with fresh cream and tied like a purse ready for you to devour it. The charcuterie (sourced from Gubbeen) is excellent too. Breakfast is a buffet with many options from fresh pastries to lots of fruit and yogurt, local salmon and cheeses and the traditional Irish fry up too. You are probably familiar with black pudding but be sure to try some white pudding too (a pepper sausage made with pork shoulder, fat and oatmeal). I love that they have poached eggs on the buffet too, and they were all cooked quite soft on my visit.

https://www.doylecollection.com/hotels/the-river-lee-hotel

Eating

We have to start at The English Market, a covered food market which has been trading since 1788. Formerly dominated by butchers, in recent years artisanal traders have joined, and the best of Irish produce can be found here. Wonderful cheeses (all that rain and great pasture yields terrific milk and cheeses), meats, seafood, patisserie, veg, wine and chocolate can all be found here, most of it local.

In terms of meats, Cork’s famous tripe and drisheen is on offer here, both in the market for sale and for eating in The Farmgate Café. Drisheen is a spongy lambs blood sausage, and it is definitely a very specific strong flavour. It is served with boiled tripe, a cow has 4 stomachs and accordingly there are 4 types of tripe: blanket, honeycomb, leaf, and reed, with honeycomb and leaf favoured (and leaf is hard to find).

Cured pork products are a cork thing too, or corned, so you can find corned crubeens (cru is the Irish word for foot, crubeen being little foot) and ribs etc. A must  is Cork’s spiced beef, a spiced corned beef that is a local delicacy for Christmas, and harks back to the time when Cork was the leading butter trading centre in the world (really!) and people would trade spices for butter. There is a large seafood section with anything you might want including local oysters which you can eat upstairs in the Farmgate Café later on.  Frank Hederman smokes wonderful organic Irish salmon, haddock, mackerel, tomatoes, butter, garlic and all of this, plus their lovely homemade fish cakes are for sale here. 

http://www.englishmarket.ie/

The Farmgate Café in the English Market but it is a destination in its own right. Serving the best of Irish food and produce (most of which is sourced from the market), reserve a table on the restaurant side or freestyle it in the café, the same food is available on each side. Fresh oysters are a great start, I love the Irish stew and toasted sandwiches, however, you literally can’t go wrong here. And there is the aforementioned tripe and drisheen, please let me know if you do that, please!

http://www.farmgate.ie/corkhome.htm

Café Paradiso is a destination in itself for vegetarians, but it is a restaurant that everyone enjoys, even the most hardened carnivores. Chef-patron Denis Cotter does wonderful things here, you may know him from one of his 4 cookbooks, he is an excellent food writer too. Prices are on the high end, but so is the food. Be sure to book if you want to eat here. I have been eating here for years, and it was where I would celebrate occasions when I lived in Cork.

http://www.cafeparadiso.ie/

Greene’s – Bryan McCarthy is cooking some of the most exciting food in Cork, and yes, using the best of local produce. Off MacCurtain St and with its very own natural waterfall outside, there is a terrific value early bird menu for just under €30 and there is a la carte too. I insist that you have the local rare breed pork belly & black budding dumplings with apple, cider, crackling popcorn and celeriac slaw if it is on the menu. Bryan uses terrific black pudding from McCarthy’s in Kanturk, which just happens to be my favourite. Yes, there are a lot of M(a)cCarthy’s in Cork!

http://greenesrestaurant.com/

Fenn’s Quay – I have fond memories of Fenn’s Quay from my time living in Cork. Tucked on the ground floor of an old tenement building in Cork, Fenn’s Quay is a local Irish bistro (at least that is what I would call it anyway). Kate Lawlor, head chef, has put together a lovely contemporary Irish menu. Space is limited, so again, best to book.

http://fennsquay.net/

Idaho Café – Richard & Mairéad met while they were both working at Ballymaloe House in East Cork (about a half hour drive from Cork city), eventually leaving to set up the charming Idaho Café in the city. This gorgeous small space is always buzzing, but you won’t have to wait long for a seat. The service is lovely here. When I would go on my own, they would always make sure I had magazines from their stockpile to keep me busy while I supped my coffee.  Go for breakfast and have the house waffles with bacon or the sausage sandwich (all hail the sausage sandwich!). Or go any time of day, go for lunch (try the fish pie), just go.

http://idahocafe.ie/

Miyazaki – A new arrival on the Cork scene, Miyazaki is a small Japanese restaurant and takeaway owned and run by Takashi Miyazaki from Fukouka. Takashi told me that like Cork, Fukuoka residents consider their city the best in Japan. Serving terrific authentic food, Miyazaki serves gorgeous creative sushi, donburi (rice bowls), noodle dishes (including ramen) and daily specials from a tight wide ranging menu. The day I visited there was a miso butter tonkotsu ramen on the specials board. I had a wonderful donburi and age dashi tofu. I loved it so much I bought sushi to take away.

https://www.facebook.com/miyazakicork/

The Rocket Man – Just outside the English Market, the Rocket Man serves excellent salads, fresh pressed juices and wholefoods. They serve good coffee too, and offer a selection of non-dairy milks (oat and almond when I visited).

http://www.therocketman.ie/

Iago’s – a food shop, not a café, but it is gorgeous, and if you are staying in Cork self catering you need to shop here. Italian and Irish produce, cheese, fresh pasta, pizza dough, fresh chorizo and anything else you might require for a great dinner.

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https://www.facebook.com/Iago-116253695123175/

Nash 19 – café and art gallery, Nash 19 veers more to being a restaurant. Excellent Irish food is served in lovely surroundings, the back of the restaurant is an art gallery. It is packed with locals, and is just down the road from the English Market.

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http://www.nash19.com/

Filter – a little out of the way on the banks of one branch of the river, Filter serves the best coffee in Cork. A variety of beans are available, some locally roasted (by Badger & Dodo). Espresso based coffees are available as well as filter coffees from the coffee bar, hence the name. There is café type food here but I only ever go for the coffee (if you try it, let me know).

https://www.facebook.com/F-I-L-T-E-R-537055749645261/

The Triskel – part café, part pub, cinema & gallery, the Triskel is a gorgeous spot. Tucked down a side street off the Grand Parade and near Washington St, be sure to pop in and enjoy. They have a lovely terrace in the summer.

http://triskelartscentre.ie/

Drinking

The Hi-B – tucked away on the first floor on Oliver Plunkett St, the Hi-B is like a lively sitting room more than a bar. Always busy, the Hi-B is a Cork icon that tourists are starting to discover but the locals have long known (for over 100 years now). The owner was notoriously cantankerous in my day, he once threw me out for having the same coat as his barmaid, and he didn’t want to upset her. Also, scribbled on the mirror behind the bar was the message “the Guinness man doesn’t call, nor is he invited”. Guinness is a Dublin stout you see, in Cork there is Murphy’s and Beamish, both made locally. I love popping in here for  a hot port by the fire. A hot port is a must in the Irish winter – port with brown sugar, hot water and lemon or orange studded with cloves. Like a gentle toddy. 

https://www.facebook.com/HiBCork/

The Long Valley – another Cork standard, I love the Long Valley for a cosy chat during the day, or for a sandwich, probably a toastie, and maybe some soup. We are obsessed with toasted sandwiches and soup in Ireland, and I challenge you to walk into any eating establishment on my fair isle and fine someone who isn’t cradling a bowl of soup. There is always at least one. The sandwiches here are old school made with thick sliced bread, home cooked ham, spiced or corned beef, chicken and proper cheese. The toasted special is the thing in any Irish bar, a perfect blend of ham, cheese, onion and tomato. 

http://www.thelongvalleybar.com/

Sin É – I mention Sin É as it has a wonderful traditional Irish music session on Friday, Sunday and Tuesday (other nights too on occasion). It is also a great little pub with lots of local craft beer options as well as the standards.

http://www.corkheritagepubs.com/pubs/sin-e/

The Mutton Lane Inn – the same owner as Sin É and a similar vibe, this pub just outside the English Market in a small alley is one of my favourites. Cosy & fun. There are wonderful murals outside by local artist, Anthony Ruby.

http://www.corkheritagepubs.com/pubs/the-mutton-lane/

Arthur Mayne’s – again, from the same owner, Benny McCabe, this pub isset in an old pharmacy, still retaining a lot of the contents. Arthur Mayne’s is a lovely pub that also does decent food. There are many wines by the glass served from enomatics for the wine fans too. Arthur Mayne’s backs on to Crane Lane, a late night pub and music venue. There are often great gigs here and it is a fun place to end up at the end of the night too.

http://www.corkheritagepubs.com/pubs/arthur-maynes/

Tom Barry’s – just up the road from Miyazaki is a lovely local Cork pub with a large beer garden. The last time I was there they were making pizzas in a wood fired oven (I had already eaten so didn’t try them). It is a gorgeous spot for an evening drink. 

https://www.facebook.com/Tom-Barrys-114581158593906/timeline

Meade’s Wine Bar – so cosy, so lovely, Mead’s is like being in someones lovely living room, and they sell wine. Very centrally located on Oliver Plunkett St. It opens from 5pm.

http://www.meades126.com/

Microbreweries

The Franciscan Well Brewery & Brewpub – the first in Cork and very well established, you can find the Franciscan Well beers all over Cork, but it is worth heading across the river to visit their lovely pub and trying them there. 

http://www.franciscanwellbrewery.com/

The Rising Sons Brewery – Cork’s newest microbrewery is based in a large bar in the Coal Quay in Cork. Owned by Benny McCabe, mentioned above, so you can get all of these beers in his other bars. 

http://www.risingsonsbrewery.com/

Also on Ireland from Eat Like a Girl:

Dispatches from the West Waterford Festival of Food, Ireland

Dispatches from the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Lit Fest, Ireland

MacGrath’s Butchers in Lismore & Some Thoughts on Butchery

A Weekend in Dublin at The Westbury Hotel

An Afternoon at Ballymaloe, Cork

With thanks to The River Lee who hosted my recent stay.  Fab Food Trails do a terrific food tour in Cork encompassing the English Market and surrounds and I highly recommend it. All editorial is my own, and this piece is based on a lifetime of visits. 

Photograph: Pål Hansen for the OFM

How To Start a Food Blog

It has been a while since I penned advice for aspiring food bloggers (5 years!) and it is woefully out of date. I have been writing this blog for almost 9 years now, and I speak at Professional Blogging Masterclasses at the Guardian (I am preparing for my fifth session in January), and I have previously organised and taught a full weekend course on food blogging there too. It is time to update my thoughts on here. 

With 2016 starting to wave in the near distance, it is a good time to refresh the information here, in time for all of you looking to start soon, or for those of you who are new and are looking for guidance. 

First things, first. There are two important things for successful blogs: great content & visibility (aka knowing how to make it visible)

Just start

Blogging has been around for a while now and there are many of us. It is a very competitive field, however, it is not unusual for a new blogger with their own style and great content to shoot out from the masses and be noticed. But no one will notice while the blog is just an idea in your head, right? It took me almost 3 years to start, I provided so many barriers to it (name / design / anything), I really wanted to do it but I was lacking in confidence. After a year (in 2005) I started on flickr posting food photos etc., and this, in turn, led to the blog in 2007. When I did start it was on an impulse, in the end. A burst fired by frustration and desire. I haven’t looked back since. 

Write the blog you want to read

Simple and effective. 

Don’t copy

Be original. Why would anyone read your blog if it is a copy of something that exists already?  Your blog should be as unique as you are, embrace it. 

Cite Your Sources

If using another blogger or writers recipe, or if inspired by it, link to them. Don’t claim another persons work as your own (that goes without saying, but you know, I have seen it happen). If using a recipe from a book, drop the author or publisher a line (you will be promoting their work, so they will generally be happy with it).

A blogger is more than a writer

Writing is very important, you also need to learn to ruthlessly self edit. You need to spend time on photography (or for some, illustration), you need to understand how your website works, how best to host it and how to enhance it. You need to embrace social media. 

What is your niche?

This can change over the first while as you discover how you like to do things, but your name should describe it, if possible, and it should be catchy. A catchy name will get you far (once you have the content to match it). Make sure the name is available as a URL and as a handle across all social media channels. If it is being used already, it doesn’t matter how much you love it, move on. Own your name on all spaces. 

Name it and Host it

It is ok to start on wordpress.com but always with your own URL which you can pay to stick on there. Blog.wordpress.com, blog.blogspot.com etc are how most start but then when they want to change it, which inevitably they do, there is a lot of work to do. It just looks better too.  Invest as much as you can in hosting, especially as your audience grows. Google cares a lot about site speed and has built this into their algorithm. 

Look good, feel good

Given the option of two free magazines at the tube, or similar, you won’t pick up the one that looks thrown together and unprofessional, unless you already know you love the content. The same goes for blogging. Invest time in making it look better, or commission someone who can. 

Be an authority on your topic

You need to be an authority for readers to trust you. That authority might be that you are learning to cook, or that you are already a great cook. It might be that you know restaurants very well (and tell people why) and that is why they should trust you are a good critic. If you are not an authority, why would anyone want to read you? 

For cookery bloggers, thoroughly test your recipes

And also make sure the steps are clear. Imagine a poor reader spending money on ingredients and not getting a good result? I have been that reader. It is very frustrating. 

Start small but continually grow and improve

Use the best camera you can afford, teach yourself about photography, composition and how to use your camera. Learn about light and how to style food, knowing that you will improve as you go (so don’t expect miracles at first). Learn to edit your photographs. Simple things like adjusting the light and a sensitive crop will make an OK photo great. Invest in the tools to do this (I have a monthly subscription to Photoshop and Lightroom). Your style will develop visually as it will for your writing. Give this time, but give it your all as you go.  I am still learning.

Blog as frequently as you have great content

Fill the internet with gorgeousness and joy, moments of inspiration that will draw readers old and new back to your blog as often as you can. Try and make it once a week, at least. Moments of inspiration? I know, it sounds trite, but think about the sites you love and why. They make you want to cook, to travel, to go to the cinema, to go to a restaurant, whatever it is, they inspire you to do something. There are times where you will flag, blogging can be tiring and inspiring. If you have nothing to say on a particular day, don’t force it.  

Learn about google & SEO (a bit)

I say a bit as this has always been my weakest thing, but I know how important it is and that my failure to attend to it has held me back at times. You need to know the very basics and everything new as it comes out. You need to know what nofollow and dofollow links are, you need to know what a responsive mobile website is and you need to have one, and you need a Google Webmaster Tools account hooked up to your site to keep an eye on things. You need to start keeping up to date with google algorithm changes. I know, you want to blog because you love to cook and write but you do need to know the geeky stuff too.  

Delegate your weaknesses where you can

Again, a weakness for me, and the irony, but I recognise now that I need to start hiring people to do the stuff that needs to be done that I don’t have the time to do or the skills for. So, I need to hire a designer to fix up the site for a start, as I have been piecing it together for way too long. This will be liberating. 

Embrace the social media platforms that suit you and your content

It is social media, so be social, simple!  

Great photography? Focus on instagram. Prefer the words and a bit of banter? Twitter is for you. Are you an information hound and love sharing links with a penchant for an inspirational quote? Head over to facebook. Have you a great eye and are great at organising things? Pinterest is for you. Like to chat and do interesting things? Download periscope. I am currently enjoying snapchat for little recipe snippets and randomness. 

The main point is, don’t try and be the square peg squeezing into the round hole. If it is a good fit, exploit it, find your community on there, be social but not pushy. Enjoy it! Share the love. Generosity with others content will carry you a long way too.

Monetisation

People monetise their blogs in many ways, but I would encourage you to establish your blog properly before considering it. Once established, look to your strengths and build a monetisation strategy around that. Partnership content is something I do, I also speak frequently at the Guardian and at conferences, I am working on a book which is currently a large cost but once it goes on sale, it will be a source of income, and while not directly related to the blog, all of the things I do are linked and support one another. I have taught cooking classes which I have organised myself and for brands also. 

Ethics

Be transparent, declare if meals were compensated, if items were gifted, if trips were sponsored. Respect your readers and they will respect you too. Keep abreast of ASA rules (ASA = Advertising Standards Authority). If people who want to work with you don’t want things declared (and this happens), insist that they have to be, or decline to work with them. 

Don’t sell links

It is a bad idea, and Google will also penalise you for it. 

Talk to people

It feels like no one really comments in the UK on blogs much anymore (and that is sad – I miss it!). When people do comment, talk to them. Enjoy the chatter. I think it is the ultimate compliment when people like your work and people want to talk to you about it. Of course sometimes it is for a clarification, and that is fine too. Talk to me, folks! :) 

Learn from your mistakes

I have made a few. We all do. Lessons learned can be powerful and difficult. But, they will help you improve your blog as you go.  

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7 Gorgeous Christmas Markets in North West Germany

If you love Christmas, you will love the German Christmas Markets. Joyful and embracing of all things festive, German Christmas markets are also historic, starting in the late middle ages with the first recorded at Munich in 1310. We always try to recreate them here, but they are never as good in my experience. You need kitsch, and you need no barriers. You have to throw yourself in. 

The Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmarkts) start with advent all over Germany, most quite traditional and some niche (some focussed on crafts, some are medieval with no electricity). Some cities have more than one, Cologne has 7, one of which is a gay and lesbian Christmas market. They are a perfect spot for Christmas shopping or just throwing yourself into Christmas with abandon and a glass of glühwein.

Most markets have gorgeous wood fired bread ovens, terrific German sausages, spätzle (a Bavarian homemade noodle made fresh and served many ways, my favourite is with speck and cheese), lots of pork (I saw a few roasting hogs), and wild meats like goose and deer.  There are lots of sweets like handmade marzipan potatoes and lebkuchen or printen (German gingerbread). To keep warm and festive there is glühwein (German mulled wine, both white and red), eierpunsch (a warm egg punch, think egg nog), boozy hot chocolate and of course and lots of lovely German beer. Make room in your suitcase for some souvenir mugs which you can buy there. 

Hattingen 

Hattingen is a lovely historic town with a compact and charming Christmas market. Worth visiting anyway to wander the gorgeous narrow streets with leaning old buildings and to see the Bügeleisenhaus, a half wooden house built in 1611 and precariously slicing two streets, now a local museum. The Altes Rathaus is transformed into a giant living advent calendar, and Frau Holle, a character from a Grimm fairy tale, opens a window every day to the delight of the local children. Glühwein is served from cheerful colourful boots and one of the food stalls cooks local game. I had a lovely wilder bratwurst (70% wild deer), reibekuchen (potato fritters) and apfelmousse (apple sauce).

Essen

Essen used to be one of Germany’s most important coal mining centres, there are still many busy coal chimneys piping smoke enthusiastically on the horizon. One of the coal mines, the Kokerei Zollverein, has been transformed into a UNESCO world heritage site with a fantastic museum (I knew nothing about coal mining prior to this) and a large ice skating rink in the winter. The Essen market is quite large with lots on offer, including some lovely smoked eel.

Siegburg

Siegburg has a medieval Christmas market focussed on traditional craftsmanship and foods. There is no electricity or artificial light, there are only candles, and a wonderful atmosphere. Brace yourself and prepare for the merry-go-round with stuffed animals (spot that boar!). Don’t miss the spätzle, made fresh and medieval style in an enormous wooden press or the hog roast, which has a cured pig cooked over fire, very hammy and gorgeous. The glühwein  is served in beautiful handmade pottery mugs. 

Cologne

Cologne is dominated by its large gothic cathedral, beneath which is one of Cologne’s 7 Christmas markets arranged around an enormous Christmas tree. We visited 3, two downtown, and one a little further out, the Weihnachtsmarkt Stadtgarten Köln, a craft focussed market which is perfect for present buying (I left with lots of handmade marzipan potatoes and some gorgeous star shaped lampshades). Be warned if you plan to drive there, Cologne is an old Roman city and is famous for its roads, drivers are called artists there as it can be a skill to navigate them. Dinner at Peter’s Brauhaus is a must, I had wild boar, lots of kölsch (a clear warm fermented Cologne beer) and schnapps.

Aachen

Gingerbread fans should all beat a path to Aachen which is famous for its Aachener printen, a form of gingerbread. It is everywhere, in every shape and the market itself is dominated by a giant inflatable gingerbread man. There was particularly good German sausage here too and lots of wonderful Christmas decorations. There is lots of printen on the market but do allow time to explore the printen shops too.

St Wendel

St Wendel Christmas market has over 120 wooden huts, and the three wise men and their camels pass through every afternoon accompanied by musicians and fire eaters. It is a medieval market also, so there are lots of craft stalls. There is a lovely Christmas pyramid too. 

Düppenweiler

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Düppenweiler is a little out of the way but I was utterly charmed by the locals commitment and passion for their small market next to the old copper mine which is also operated as a tourist attraction by volunteers. A procession called mettenschicht (the name for the last shift before Christmas which traditionally ended early with a celebration) sees the town locals march from a large spinning structure through the market finishing with a speech from a local dignitary and a feast at the old church. This fabulous gentleman was selling his own home cured meats (which he does for a hobby and sells to support the market) and a brilliant homemade chicken soup for €1 for a massive cup. I posted a picture on social media and a follower cheered, I know him, that is Eddi and he is one of my customers! What a small world we live in now.

What German Christmas Markets do you love? Are there some I shouldn’t miss elsewhere? And are there good Christmas Markets in the UK and Ireland that you would recommend?

With thanks to the German National Tourist Board, who sponsored my trip. 

The satay trolley on Malaysia Airlines

A Surprise Birthday Party at 30,000 Feet and a Satay Trolley (Travelling Business Class with Malaysia Airlines)

One of my laments this year was that I never celebrated my birthday. It was a big one and I had planned to. I was excited to! I delayed it because of work, and then again, and then again. It never happened and now it is gone. But! I did have a surprise birthday party at 30,000 feet and it was a gorgeous one.

I flew to Borneo earlier this year with Malaysia Airlines to explore. The trip itself was a joy, lovely people, fabulous food, and lots of laksa. I got to visit Sarawak and Kuala Lumpur for the first time.

I cooked local food, I visited local food markets, I brought home lots of pepper (Sarawak pepper is said to be one of the best), bright green pepper candy (which I am yet to try!) and some laksa paste so that I could enjoy laksa at home, and work out a recipe. I saw more wonderful orangutans, many of them. I flew to Kuala Lumpur from London business class, a treat in itself.

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Turning left when you board a plane is a luxury. More room (just one neighbour on one side), a fully reclining bed which is also a massage chair, a blanket and pillow, a lovely wine list (including champagne!) and a fine dining menu. The TV screens are bigger and the headphones are very comfortable. This was also my first trip on an A380 superjumbo, an enormous plane with two floors, the top of which is business class. Even the toilets are bigger.

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Lets get to the food. On Malaysia Airlines the eggs are cooked fresh to order and as you like for breakfast, scrambled, poached, fried. In business class 6 cuisines are available if ordered 24 hours in advance, including Japanese, Malay and Western. I stuck to Malay, it seemed a missed opportunity otherwise. It was, as you would expect, very good.

The satay trolley is the thing. 20,000 sticks are served a day on Malaysia Airlines flights. Made with fresh shallots, turmeric, garlic, galangal and lemongrass, the satay sticks are chargrilled by hand over mangrove wood charcoal. It is served on board with with a traditional crushed peanut sauce, nasi himpit, cucumber and onion. It is as good as I have had anywhere, and the staff take great pride in it, which they should.

On the way back, my travelling companions were being a bit sketchy. They wanted me out of the way so that they could arrange the cakes. Of course, I didn’t know, nor did I realise, so when they craftily suggested a trip to see First Class (and well – HELLO), I hopped along. I was surprised with two celebration cakes and champagne on my return to celebrate my big birthday. Anyone can order a celebration cake in advance (in any class) and it is such a joy. The lady behind me also had a birthday that day and so we shared it all.

I would always turn left if I could. It is a world away from normality, which is a lovely luxury every once in a while.

My trip to Sarawak was sponsored by Malaysia Airlines, who are the only carrier to offer a twice daily non-stop A380 full service link between the UK and Malaysia. UK passengers can also take advantage of frequent onward connections to destinations across Malaysia, Asia and Australasia. Economy class return flights from London Heathrow to Kuching via Kuala Lumpur International Airport start from £817. Business Class from £3167 (prices including taxes and charges). To book visit www.malaysiaairlines.com or call +44 (0) 871 4239 090.

Chicken Broth Congee

Chicken Broth Congee with Soy Cured Egg Yolk,

Congee is one of the best expressions of enthusiasm food can muster. A pot of rice dancing and bubbling and then bursting with joy. A hug in a bowl, when we eat it, the calm and the joy infuses us. Sweet comfort, congee layered with anything you want, salty soy, hot bright ginger, peanuts, spring onions, whatever you want.

Overcook is a word that is tainted with failure and distress. But sometimes overcooking is a joyful thing with wonderful results. Congee is a shining example. Congee is simply rice that is cooked to the point of bursting, like a star, like a galaxy of them in your pot. I have been on a bit of a congee rush for the last few weeks. It is one of my favourite breakfasts when I am in Asia, and it is so simple, and so frugal, it just requires a little rice, salt and a lot of water, and time. You can flourish it as much as you want after that.

I usually top my congee with ginger, peanuts, coriander and soy. Sometimes with chicken. When in Asia, I often order pork and century egg congee. Although I struggle wiyth the translucent wobbly grey whites presented, but I suffer them for the yolks. For years I never made my own, I thought that it must be complex, otherwise it would be everywhere, right? If congee weren’t complex, why aren’t we all eating it, all the time? I guess, we never grew rice here, and so it isn’t in our culture.

soy cured egg yolks

soy cured egg yolks

For this one, I made a rich congee with chicken brother, but you can make it with just water too and a little salt and it will still be great. I eat a lot of chicken broth, especially in the winter. It is everything I want and easy to make. I use either raw carcasses or chicken wings. I will use leftover carcasses too if I have those lying around. If using chicken wings you can take the meat off and save it for a later use or add it to your congee. I have tried many different types of rice, from short grain brown rice to long grain white. I didn’t have a favourite in the end, they all have their own charm and I would encourage you to play around. One thing I did learn is that congee likes to form a feisty crust, and so I added a tablespoon of rice to it before boiling to prevent this. (Do you like the crust? I found it made the congee a little more high maintenance too).

This will make enough congee for 4 people and it will keep in the fridge for 3 days. Enjoy! I would love to know how you adapt yours! Do let me know.

Recipe: Chicken Broth Congee with Soy Cured Egg Yolk

Ingredients

1 litre chicken broth (fresh is best – you can buy it or make it 1kg chicken wings or 2 carcasses, 6 carrots, 6 sticks celery, 4 onions, 1 tsp pepper corns, 4 cloves garlic and 2 bay leaves covered with water in a large pot and brought to the boil, scum removed if any, and boiled for a couple of hours)
100g long grain white rice
a kettle of boiled water, just in case!

4 egg yolks
200ml soy sauce

2 spring onions, finely sliced
2 tbsp peanuts (as you like them, I like them skinless and roasted)
a mild chilli, shredded or chilli oil
1 inch ginger, cut into fine julienne (small matchsticks)
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves
4 tsp soy sauce

Method

The night before or at least 2 hours before, put the egg yolks (gently!) in a small bowl or lunchbox and cover them with the soy sauce. 8 hours is optimal but 2 hours will do. This firms up the egg yolk nicely, but keeps it runny, and cures it a bit.

The rice grows exponentially, so in a decent sized pan, put the rice and one tablespoon of oil in pan and stir it through ensuring all the rice is coated. Add the stock and bring it to the boil. Reduce to a simmer. Stir the rice occasionally and if you feel it needs more liquid (it should be soupy but not runny) top it up with water from the kettle. It will take approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes (maybe less maybe more). Check for salt (it should be fine if your stock was seasoned) and season if necessary.

When the congee is ready, pour into 4 bowls (or 1 or 2 or 3 saving the leftovers in the fridge) and gently place te cured egg yolk in the centre, sprinkling spring onion, chilli, coriander, ginger and nuts and 1 tsp soy sauce on top.

Eat immediately and enjoy!

menorca-featured

A Menorcan Food & Wine Producers Trail (Wine, Gin, Sobrasada & Mahón Cheese)

Head to Menorca and fill your boots with cheese, wine, sobrasada & GIN! A gorgeous, chilled out and very under rated island, Menorca was one of my favourite places to visit this year. Here is your guide for the best of the artisan products. There are also links here to my Menorca Eating & Drinking Guide and the best Sunday lunch on the island (lobster soup, as you are asking!).

Menorcans claim mayonnaise. The French don’t agree, but Menorcans say that mayonnaise originated in Mahón and was taken to France where it was popularised after the French victory over the British in Menorca in 1756. The sauce was salsa mayonesa in Spanish, later becoming mayonnaise when the French embraced it.  Who could blame each side for declaring they are responsible for the origin? I adore the gorgeous emulsion of egg yolk and oil. A bold claim from a small island like Menorca and an insight to their proud culinary heritage.

Menorca is still steeped in salsa mayonesa, which they make fresh and serve with many dishes. There is also Mahón cheese (a cows milk cheese which has a PDO, which means the origin and method of production are protected), Menorcan sobrasada (wonderful spreadable gently spiced pork sausage), Menorcan gin and a growing wine industry. Menorca is small enough to whizz around and experience all of it in a couple of days.

Binifadet Winery

From November to March it is possible to do a tour of Binifadet with a wine tasting, and a tasting of their other products including jams and goats cheese marinaded in red wine. 9 wines are made here, I recommend the sparkling white which is 100% chardonnay and the white merluzo (a white wine made from merlot). The setting is beautiful and there is a restaurant there too, although I haven’t had time to eat there yet, I would try and fit in a meal on the terrace.

http://binifadet.com/en/

S’Arangí

Raw cows milk is used to make the Mahón cheese at S’Arangí, each cheese is rubbed in olive oil and paprika, which gives it its distinct rust rind. Goats cheese is made here too, and terrific sobrasada. All of which are available to buy to take home. They can vac pack it for you too. A must.

http://www.quesomahonmenorca.com/es/empresas/60-sarangi

Hort de Sant Patrici

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Cheese and wine are on offer at this family run  and it is possible to do a tour and tasting. Mahón cheese is made in the traditional manner (from cows milk), and three wines also (a rosé made from Syrah and 2 reds). There is a lovely family run hotel on site too (Ca Na Xini), in a blissful rural location.

http://santpatrici.com/en/

Ca’s Sucrer

A bakery that sells all of the Menorcan traditional delicacies, swing by here to try as much as possible, and don’t the ensaimada, particularly the sobrasada one. Take one home too, beautifully gift packaged.

http://www.cassucrer.es/

Gin Xoriguer

Made from wine spirit, juniper and selected aromatics, gin was initially made in Menorca to satisfy the appetites of British soldiers and sailors stationed in Menorca in the 18th century. Gin has since become part of the cultural fabric of Menorca. Xoriguer is a family owned gin producer that distils gin in copper stills on the coast in Mahón. Traitionally, Menorcan men would start the day with a thimbleful of gin, called a ginlet. For aperitif it is popular to have a pomada, a drink made with local Xoriguer gin and cloudy lemonade. You can get this gin everywhere there, but a trip to the distillery and a tour is well worth it.

http://www.xoriguer.es/Default.aspx?lan=en

Related Menorca posts from Eat Like a Girl

Where to Eat, Drink & Stay in Menorca

A Perfect Sunday Lunch: Caldereta de Langosta in Menorca at Es Cranc (Traditional Lobster Soup + a Recipe)

Related Menorca posts from the web:

Exploring a Spanish Fish Market in Menorca – Bright Bazaar

Gin, Sin and the History of Gin in Menorca – Inside the Travel Lab

The Streets of Ciutadella – Time Travel Turtle
My Menorca Adventure – Travmonkey

The Joy of Spring in Menorca – Live Share Travel

I travelled to Menorca as part of a project between iAmbassador and Visit Menorca, who sponsored this project.  As always, I’m free to write what I like and I do! Life is short etc. :)