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Vietnamese Summer Rolls Two Ways: Chilli Salmon & Samphire Rolls and Pork Belly & Crackling Rolls

I am summer roll crazy right now. When at home I have made them at least twice a week, and always with different fillings. Sometimes prawns, sometimes tofu, and yesterday, with chilli and lime salmon and samphire, and then the ultimate pork belly & crackling. Crunch, swoosh, zing. 

A summer roll is really just a beautifully packaged noodle salad. And  a very portable one. Hello, lunch? Rice noodles (vermicelli) and friends, all neatly packaged in a water softened rice paper wrap. They seem complicated but they are not all that difficult to roll, with practice. After 3 or 4, you will have the knack, and they will take over your summer. I keep the noodle content low, as I find they get a bit rubbery if there is too much. I like to keep them packed with colour and freshness, grated carrot, fresh coriander and mint, and the zing of a fresh fruity not-so-hot chilli. 

The wraps are fairly easy to source, I buy them in Chinatown usually but my local health food shop and supermarket stock them also. You can buy different sizes, I go for the bigger one, they are just easier. You can put whatever you want in your summer roll, I love these flavour combinations, and any leftover filling, should you have any, is perfectly good as a salad on its own.&nbsp

Recipe: Vietnamese Summer Rolls Two Ways; Chilli Salmon & Samphire Rolls and Pork Belly & Crackling Rolls

Makes 12 – 16 depending on how big you make them

Ingredients

Vietnamese rice paper wraps  – 12-16 to start but I suggest stacking up

50g vermicelli rice noodles, prepared according to packet instructions (mine needed to be soaked in boiling water for 12 minutes)

a handful of chopped fresh mint leaves
a handful of chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 mild fruity red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
1 carrot, grated
4 spring onions, finely chopped

Salmon filling

350g salmon
1 lime
good dried chilli
sea salt
fresh cracked black pepper
greaseproof paper

a handful of fresh samphire

Pork belly filling

750g pork belly with skin on (allowing some for the cook to nibble on while they work ;) )
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp black peppercorns

Method

Pork belly – score the top using a sharp knife (or stanley knife – really, that skin is tough!) cutting through the skin until before the flesh. Don’t cut through to the flesh as it will lose moisture while cooking which affects the crackling making it rubbery, and also makes the flesh dry. Put the pork on a wire tray (like a grill pan) skin side up and pour boiling water over it to puff the skin up. Drain and dry the skin with kitchen paper. Leave at room temperature for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 220 deg C. In a pestle and mortar / spice grinder combine 1 tsp sea salt / 1 tsp black peppercorns / 2 tsp final and grind until a rough powder. Dry the pork belly skin again, completely, if you own a hair dryer this works well (again, really), I use kitchen paper, and rub the fennel mixture all over the pork – skin and flesh. Place in the oven at 220 deg C for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 170 deg C and cook for a further 45 minutes. Check the skin, if not puffed up, blast at high heat for 5 minutes or place under the grill and keep a very close eye on it – it will burn quickly. Remove and leave to cool down a bit.

I cooked the salmon in the same oven for the last 20 minutes. Squeeze the lime over the salmon and top with a little sea salt, some chilli and pepper. Place on some greaseproof paper, enough to make a parcel (about 3 times the length and width) and fold the greaseproof paper tight on top to secure it. You can tie it with string but mine was fine like this. Cook for 20 minutes at 170 deg C. For the last two minutes add the samphire to the parcel, just to soften it. The samphire is also lovely raw so you can just put it in raw too). Remove from the oven and allow to cool down.

Combine the rest of the ingredients for the rolls – noodles, herbs et al.

Put about an inch of water in a bowl or deep plate large enough to fit the wraps (one at a time). Soak each one for 30 seconds or so, until just soft and pliable but not too soft (they will tear). You will get a feel for it.

Place a small amount of pork belly and crackling or salmon and samphire in the bottom centre third leaving an inch at the end (see photo). Place some of the noodle mixture on top. Fold each side over, then roll from the bottom (see photos).

Leave on a plate while you roll the others. Leave space between them or they will stick.

Eat immediately or store covered in cling film in the fridge.

Good, eh?!

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Walking Piedmont: Roddi to Grinzane Cavour & Dinner at Al Castello

Sunday morning was the day of my first Piedmont walk. And it was HOT. Italy is experiencing a heatwave right now. I gathered my bags and had my briefing with the Headwater team before they dropped me at my first stop.

A little about the Headwater setup first. As you will have read in my last post on Piedmont, my trip to Piedmont was part of the #30activedays blogger project with Headwater Holidays. 5 bloggers were involved in Italy, France & Austria, each doing an activity holiday. Not my usual travel style, although I am keen to be more active, I love slow travel and I love to walk. Headwater make it easy, the walks are already detailed in notes and maps which they send you before you go to Italy.

Every morning that you walk, the team move your bags to the next hotel, not just that, they have a wine delivery service and will pick up any wine that you buy too, delivering it to your final hotel for you to collect before you go home. Easy! Headwater also book your dinners (and they pride themselves on their local food and wine knowledge – the restaurants booked were testament to that). Lunch is your own affair with mention in the notes of local restaurants, trattorias and shops, picnic location suggestions and also advisory on where you can buy food en route. I stuck to the local restaurants, I love them and wanted to maximise my pasta scoffing opportunities while I was there.

My first walk started in Verduno, a sleepy place where all awake were at morning mass. The streets were deserted but I heard the familiar mass refrains and singing through a net curtained window. It was hot, very hot, so I hid every now and then in the shade an occasional wood might offer or in a hazelnut grove, arriving a couple of hours later at Roddi, my first stop, and where I had planned to lunch.

Roddi is a university town, not that you would know it to look at it. It is tiny, and there is hardly anyone about. But a university town it is and it is home to the Truffle Dog University, which was founded in 1880. Bright canines can be taught to sniff out one of the worlds finest delicacies here, Albas white truffles are some of the best. Have you ever tried one? They are incredible, so pungent and gorgeous with just an egg, perfect on a vacherin cheese. Truffles love fat, they are very indulgent, and quite pricey, but I do try to treat myself to one every year, just a small one for one dish. 

I had to eat. But it was Sunday and nowhere was open and I hadn’t planned anything. I started to worry, could my first lunch be foiled?! I spotted a restaurant down a side street. It didn’t look open, nothing did, but I was just the first customer. Around here people don’t lunch until 1pm and it was 12.30. La Crota was open and was serving home made pasta. Hello! I will have that, yes, please. 

I started with a typical dish, Tajarin with Ragu & Black Truffles. It is summer truffle season now and while summer truffles are just a hint of what is to come with white truffle season, when fresh as they are here, they are good. Tajarin is a thin cut egg pasta and the ragu here is served sparingly, as I have found often in Italy. Which on a hot day makes perfect sense. With some crisp white wine, a local Arneis, even more so. Then I packed my bag again and made my way. 

This was when it got challenging. It was hot. Really hot. So I continued to dip in and out of hazelnut groves having gentle rests and reading my book. Down a hill, and a gentle walk through some woods, a stretch on a quiet road, and then the ascent through a wooded park area to my next stop, Grinzane Cavour, home to a UNESCO heritage castle and the annual World Truffle Auction. I had a little lie down en route and luxuriated in the shade of a passing cloud. I ascended the final stretch, turned on to the street and, then – boom – loud speakers. I had landed there on the day of their annual fiesta, Fiesta della Madonna del Carmine.

Later that evening, all of the locals gathered in a marquee to eat a set menu cooked by some local volunteers. It was served by those in the area who had been born in 1997 (and they all had a t-shirt that said 97, too!). Next year it will be 1998 etc. It looked like fun but I was headed to Al Castello Ristorante.

Marc Lanteri is chef here, originally from Tende in the French Alps, Marc’s food reflects both cultures, but with a twist. Marc started cooking with Alain Ducasse at Louis XV in Monte Carlo, before working in Paris and then in Piedmont where he was worked primarily in michelin starred kitchens since. There is a terrific wine list too, which Marc’s wife Amy, front of house and a sommelier, looks after, matching being a keen skill, so do take advantage of that should you visit.

Hand chopped raw beef (or crudo, as it is called here), served with beautiful raw red prawns from San Remo and perfectly ripe buttery avocado started my meal. I ate lots of crudo in Piedmont, and this was one of my favourite executions.

Tajarin with piedmont hazelnuts and a wonderful rich ragù of pigeon and chanterelle mushroom followed.

Piedmontese beef is renowned, so I opted for it a second time in one meal, this time cooked as a steak served with potatoes and mushrooms with Barolo wine reduction. Served medium rare, the flavour of the meat was deep and the reduction rich but not overwhelming. I did also taste the duck, just a bit, and it was one of finest I had tasted in a while, I would order that on my return (which I hope to).

I couldn’t resist a cheeky dessert of spiced pineapple carpaccio with Piña Colada sorbet with a little rum on the side.

At which point something sounded like a canon, and I jumped out of my seat. I was in a castle after all. Seconds later I spied that it was the fireworks to finish the fiesta that evening, a lengthy spectacle, impressive for such a small town, which I watched through the castle window.

The party was still in full swing when I returned to Casa Pasevi, my hotel. A townhouse with a terrace perched over the hills and vineyards beyond, my room had a balcony overlooking it all. I had breakfast on the terrace before hitting my next Piedmont town, and my next walk. More on that soon! 

My Gastronomic Walking Tour of Barolo was sponsored as part of a #30activedays project, a partnership between Captivate Digital Media and Headwater Holidays to celebrate 30 years of  activity holidays by Headwater Holidays, including Gastronomic Walking and Cycling TripsI maintain full editorial control of the content published on this site, as always.

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A Postcard from Piedmont, Italy: Walking Hilltop Towns, Hazelnut Groves, Truffles, Wine & Pasta

I was in Italy this past week to walk it. Yes, I was walking in the country that is shaped like a boot. Specifically, Piedmont in the North, and its UNESCO protected vineyard terraces, castles and gorgeous hilltop towns and villages. 

This was quite the workout, ensuring that I earned every bite of pasta that I ate. And there was a lot to eat. And yeah, I did. Of course, I did! Italy is one of my favourite countries for food and I love the culinary education that I get with every visit. This wasn’t my first trip to Piedmont but I still discovered new pasta shapes and sauces, each enthusiastic forkful fired my brain and filled my head with ideas and plans for kitchen adventures. 

I love slow travel, I wish that I could do it more often. Walking, boats, trains, time by myself where I can tune out and just be. Time to get to know the place that I am visiting and soak it all in, at pace. Piedmont is perfect for this. Piedmont is rich, green and undulating, dotted with small towns and villages perched on hills. All surrounded by stunning UNESCO protected vineyard terraces which weave through woods, hazelnut groves and the occasional cheerful field of enthusiastic sunflowers. If feels like it has stopped in time.

My walking tour was self guided, I did it on my own, and it was a joy. Walks were planned in detail with comprehensive instructions and maps, but there was plenty of time for leisurely lunches and there was lots of time snatched to read in the shade of trees and hazelnut groves, especially in the hottest part of the day. I love solo travel and I have so enjoyed wandering the vineyard terraces and admiring the beautiful views with nothing but my head to contend with. Headspace! The joy of it. I recommend it. 

While ambling there are a few things to consider. I was on my own and occasionally saw a farmer or a cyclist, once a guy riding a horse through the vineyards, but very occasionally I was on a road. Few people remember that Italy is home to the worlds fastest moving panda, a Fiat Panda, and you must look out for them as they zip around the corners, but honestly I think I was only on a road for 5% of the time. To the point where after a day wandering vineyards, hazelnut groves and woods, I started to notice just how loud cars are. Really loud! 

Lots more to come on the gorgeous towns of Piedmont including Grinzane Cavour with its UNESCO protected castle which I visited on the day of its annual fiesta; sleepy gorgeous Castiglione Falletto perched on the top of my most challenging hill; Barolo, perhaps the most beautiful, with that wine, and my favourite walk of the week; Monforte d’Alba, the most characterful and lively;  and Benevello, where I started and finished my trip.

My Gastronomic Walking Tour of Barolo was sponsored as part of a #30activedays project, a partnership between Captivate Digital Media and Headwater Holidays to celebrate 30 years of  activity holidays by Headwater Holidays, including Gastronomic Walking and Cycling TripsI maintain full editorial control of the content published on this site, as always.

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Where to Eat, Drink & Stay in Menorca

I bumped into a friend on my flight back from Menorca recently. I was very tired and so I squinted, but no, sure enough it was Will. And he reminded me how much he loved Menorca, and how he had got married there. He visits all the time, and all I could think was, yes, of course you do. It is such a lovely place. Surprisingly so, and not because it isn’t lovely, it is, but because it feels so untainted by tourism. Aren’t all of the lovely places already very busy? Read More

Poached egg with chorizo, almonds, tomato & basil

Cook This: Chorizo, Tomato, Almonds, Basil & a Poached Egg

What? You never thought of having almonds with your eggs? Well think about this: how good would a fried almond slick with chorizo oil be dipped into a runny egg yolk? Yeah! Lets get cracking. This is so simple and you will have your breakfast of champions on your table within 10 minutes.

First, lets tackle what is likely at the forefront of your mind. THAT poached egg. Let me let you in on a secret, I poach eggs all the time and my first poached egg for this dish was a disaster. I created my whirlpool as I always do, I even added vinegar as I knew my egg was not as fresh as I would like. I would need a very fresh egg for a great poached egg but vinegar helps tighten a tired white and pull it all together. My poor egg couldn’t handle the whirlpool and the yolk bolted away, the white clinging on only just. The yolk poached perfectly and it is the best bit anyway, but you know, that was a disaster of a poached egg.

Do you feel discouraged? Don’t, 95% of the time these work out fine. My second one was from the same box and so I let the water relax and be still then cracked the egg into a small cup before gently easing it into the water. This one was perfect. And there we are. None of the fuss was warranted, all this egg needed was some water that was not quite boiling (and that is very important too – tiny imperceptible bubbles are what you want). You can fry your egg or even boil it if this is too much of a pulaver but I would walk across hot coals for a perfect poached egg on the mornings that I desire one.

This requires less of a recipe, it is more of a conversation. Fry a handful of chopped chorizo until it starts to release its oil, then add a couple of tablespoons of almonds for a couple of minutes, stirring as you go, coating them in the lovely chorizo oil. This whole time your egg should be cooking, whichever way you want. Add the tomatoes and cook briefly so that they stay firm. Finish with a little salt, to taste, and a flourish of basil. Egg on top.

Lovely, eh? Enjoy!

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Cook This: Chicken Rice Noodles with Peanuts, Chilli & Coriander

You know how it is. You have leftovers, and you need to use them. Or you are tired, and all you want to do is use the leftovers. Either way, this is leftover city and we have to use them up. Leftovers get a bad rep but they are the best thing in a kitchen. Flavours are usually at their best the next day, at the very least they can be livened up quickly and you can have a terrific meal in minutes. 

Take a chicken. Say, leftover roast chicken. So good on its own, wonderful with mayo and stuffing in a sandwich, but what about looking East and giving it a little heat, then pumping it awake with some aromatics, some nuts for texture (I am putting peanuts in everything at the moment) and you have a dish that will make you want to roast a chicken and not eat it, but save it for this. Of course you can just roast a chicken thigh for one person to order, which I also did today.

Plus, isn’t it hot? I want something refreshing, bright and quick. This takes 10 minutes to put together and I have eaten this three times since I came up with it last week. Rice noodles with shredded chicken, fried peanuts, spring onions, a little hot chilli, a pinch and punch of garlic and ginger, tickle of fresh coriander, lick of fish sauce and sprinkle of fresh lime. 

Sounds good, right? Here is how. 

Recipe: Chicken Rice Noodles with Peanuts, Chilli & Coriander

Serves 2 

Ingredients

100g thick rice noodles (thin will do fine too)
300g leftover chicken, shredded
1 chilli, as hot as you like, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 inch ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 tbsp peanuts (peeled or unpeeled are fine)
4 spring onions, chopped finely
a handful of fresh coriander leaves
juice of one lime and extra lime wedges to serve
2 tbsp good fish sauce
sea salt to taste
light oil for frying

1 tbsp fresh mint leaves (optional – they give another fresh layer)

Method

Cook the rice noodles according to packet instructions (mine needed to be soaked in boiling water for 12 minutes).

Sauté the chicken and peanuts in a little light oil for a few minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli and sauté for a further 2 minutes. Add the spring onions, stir through, then add the noodles. Mix until well combined. Add the lime and fish sauce and taste for seasoning. The fish sauce acts as a salt (it has a lot of salt in) so you may not need any. Adjust lime and fish sauce for your taste if required. Finish with the coriander and mint (if using), stirring through, and serve with an extra lime wedge on the side.

Enjoy! This eats really well hot or cold. Perfect lunch or picnic food too.

Caldereta de Langosta at Es Cranc in Menorca

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

On a quiet street in Fornells in Menorca is an unassuming restaurant, Es Cranc. Es Cranc has a large menu, but most come here for the Caldereta de Langosta, a popular lobster soup from Menorca made with the native blue spiny lobsters which Es Cranc is particularly well regarded for.

Caldereta gets its name from the pot that it is cooked in, a caldera. Traditionally this was a fishermans dish, cooked with the broken lobsters that they had caught. Now, it is a luxury and an indulgence, cooked at home for special occasions and at specialist restaurants like Es Cranc in Fornells.

Behind a side door next to Es Cranc is a path that meanders to a room of large water baths, and these are full of spiny lobster. Spinning and weaving, large and small, these lobsters are mostly destined for the caldereta, some will be served simply grilled on their own. This is where the fishermen deliver their catch, for Es Cranc that is 5 different day boats that go out up to 7 miles out to sea. . 

Es Cranc was full on the Sunday that I went for lunch. Jovial large tables with extended families, all there for the caldereta. The soup has a base of tomato, onions and green pepper, and is light and fruity, with lovely lobster cooked just so inside, still sweet and tender. It is served on top of thin sun dried slices of bread, like crackers. A bib is provided – and you need it. We had some lovely local white wine on the side.  

The langosta lobsters can only be fished between March and August, so pencil it in your diary for then. Alternatively, you can recreate it at home. One of my favourite food writers Claudia Roden has a lovely recipe for caldereta from her superb book The Food of Spain. She serves it with a picada of almonds, garlic and parsley. Here it is for your Sunday lunch pleasure. Lets let the sunshine in, even if it doesn’t want to be here!

Notes on the recipe: As above, this recipe is adapted from Claudia’s Caldereta de Langosta in The Food of Spain. Claudia includes monkfish and fennel which I have omitted (including extra lobster instead) so that it is closer to the one that I had. Buy your lobsters just before you need them and have your fishmonger kill and chop them for you into chunks just over an inch. The sun refuses to play frequently enough for us to sun dry the bread, and even though it is considered a cheat in Menorca to roast it, if they were here, they would have to too! :)

Recipe: Caldereta de Langosta

Serves 6

Ingredients 

For the caldereta

3 x 700g raw live lobsters (as your butcher to prepare them as per the notes above)
1 large onion, chopped
1 green or red bell pepper,cored, seeded, and chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
350g tomatoes (4 to 5),peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 litre fish stock
125ml brandy or cognac
salt and pepper

For the picada

12 blanched almonds
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tbsp olive oil
handful of flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
4 tbsp brandy or cognac

One good baguette, sliced into narrow slices and toasted or roasted in a medium hot oven until crisp

Method

Fry the onion and the pepper in the oil in a large pot (I used my shallow casserole which was the closest I had to a caldera) over a low heat until very soft. Add the tomatoes and sugar and cook until the sauce is reduced and jammy. Blend until well combined (in the pan with a hand blender or a food processor – whatever you have, you can mash coarsely if you have neither).

Meanwhile, for the picada: Fry the almonds and garlic in the oil in a small skillet over low heat for moments only, turning them once, until they are golden. Pound them to a paste with the parsley in a mortar, or blend them to a paste, and add the brandy.

Add the fish stock and brandy to the tomato mixture and season with salt and pepper. Add the lobster, and bring to the boil. Boil for five minutes and stir the picada into the lobster soup. When the lobster shells are bright red and the meat is firm the soup is done, this will take only a few more minutes at most. Take care not to overcook it, lobster is best when tender.

Serve immediately in bowls with the bread and savour your work. A crisp white wine or rosé perfect this. Aim for a Menorcan or Spanish one :)

Easyjet have just launched direct flights from London Southend to Mahon.

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. :)

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Hot and Sour Chicken (In Partnership with Brita)

This is a carefully selected sponsored post, and is the fifth of five in a sponsored series that I am working on with BRITA as part of their Better with BRITA campaign. In this post, I share my hot and sour chicken recipe. For more information on sponsored content on Eat Like a Girl, please have a look here

I call this hot and sour chicken, not because it is following a hot and sour recipe from a particular place, but because I am using hot and sour flavours, and some of my favourites too. It is my hot and sour chicken, from my kitchen.

Chilli, garlic, tamarind, some savoury light fish sauce and lime make this chicken sing. A sprinkle of coriander lifts it right up before you serve it. Some fried or roasted peanuts for the texture, because you can, and because they are awesome. A little shredded spring onion (or scallions as I once knew them) freshen everything again. That says summer to me. The flavours sprinkle and mingle and dance as you eat them.

Use good chicken, as good as you can. A whole chicken, jointed yourself, or have your butcher do this for you. Or you can use a selection of legs and thighs as I have done. Marinade for an hour or two, no more, acidic marinades can toughen the meat over more time (and most marinades are acidic in part), plus they can make the surface of the meat mushy (by denaturing the proteins, but lets not worry about the detail). I use gorgeous fresh tamarind in the marinade, and BRITA filtered water to soften it and ease it out (reasons to use BRITA filtered water when cooking are in a previous post). If you can’t source fresh tamarind, tamarind extract will do just fine. 

That is all the prep done. Now we can relax. Then before cooking, we add a little cornflour to dry it out, and help the skin crisp a little better. Then roast, grill or chuck it on the BBQ. I roasted mine before freshening it with coriander, spring onion, peanuts and zingy but not so hot fruity chillies as I served it. 

Pretty straight forward, isn’t it? Gorgeous with a crisp wine (gewurztraminer, riesling, maybe even a crisp Provence rosé), a beer, or some lovely flavoured waters. Just make sure you have lots of it.

Enjoy!

Hot and Sour Chicken

Serves 4 or 2 hungry people (you know how this goes!)

Ingredients

1kg jointed chicken or chicken legs and thighs, skin on
3 tbsp cornflour
a handful of fresh coriander leaves
3 tbsp peanuts – fried in their skins, or roasted but not heavily seasoned
4 spring onions, finely chopped
1 mild red chilli, finely sliced

Marinade:
5 pieces of fresh tamarind or 1 tbsp tamarind extract + 100ml BRITA filtered water, recently boiled
1 fresh lime, zest and juice
chilli, as hot as you can handle (I used 1 fruity mild one and one hot finger chilli)
1 tbsp fish sauce

sea salt
light oil for the roasting tray

Method

Peel the fresh tamarind and soak the flesh in the boiling water (100ml is a rough approximation, you basically want to just cover it), for 20 minutes. Push the flesh through a sieve.

Add the lime juice, zest, chilli and fish sauce and mix. Taste and adjust accordingly for your taste.

Add the chicken and coat thoroughly in the marinade. Leave covered in the fridge for an hour. Then let it sit at room temperature for 15 – 20 minutes (so that it cooks evenly). Salt lightly (the fish sauce is salty already).

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C.

Add the cornflour and toss through (this will help the skin crisp a little).

Arrange on a lightly oiled roasting tray, skin side up and roast for 35 – 45 minutes until crisp and cooked through.

Serve with the chilli, coriander, spring onions and peanuts sprinkled on top.

Enjoy!

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A Postcard from Myanmar (aka Burma)

I am deep in jet lag and ache in most places, but my spirits are light after 9 days on the road. I went back to Asia just 10 days after I returned from Borneo (I know, I would have stayed in between but I just didn’t have the time). It was a short intense trip as I zipped around Myanmar (aka Burma) via Singapore, to experience the food culture there.

Myanmar, Burma? Well why the two names anyway, right? Which is correct? There are two theories for the Burma name, one that the British couldn’t pronounce Myanmar when they arrived in 1824 and so renamed it to Burma, the second that Burma relates closely to the name of the predominant Bamar tribe. There are 135 ethnic groups in Burma, Bamar form 68% followed by Shan at 9% so they are significant to the culture at large. Myanmar was the original name and it is the official name now so I will stick with that. Read More

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A Dal to Stay at Home For (with Curry Leaves, Mustard, Chilli & Tomato)

I adore a spiced breakfast. I indulged as much as I could in Malaysia recently, from curries to laksa to curry mee to nasi lemak to roti canai with dal. When I am in Asia, breakfast is my favourite meal. It has so much flavour, so much variety and is always an adventure.

I love a good dal, an Indian spiced lentil soup, cooked until tender but still with texture, just so. Mostly lentils, sometimes beans, my favourite is made with the small moong dal. A bowl of sunshine, dal is bright and cheerful with turmeric, a culinary equivalent of the best duvet on a cold night. On top, spice dancing on tip toes, some herbs, whatever I have got. This is called the tarka (or tadka), the spice mixture that gives dal character and zing. And in my experience, while it is great to be authentic, variety is very interesting here, the dal can take any flavour.

I sometimes add ginger and garlic to my spices for an extra flavour punch, I sometimes add an egg for more body and sustenance (usually boiled until soft, halved and served on top). Today I kept it very simple, some nice dried chillies with just enough heat and rehydrated a touch, some brown mustard seeds, some small tomatoes, fried quickly, just enough to absorb the spice flavour and soften a bit and curry leaves, cooked until just starting to crisp and so fragrant.

There is lots of mixed advice as to when you salt a dal and as to whether you should soak it first. Soaking isn’t essential but it does save on cooking time and results in a speedy soft dal. I salt a little at the start, and add turmeric then too, but I season to taste properly at the end. Some say that salt can toughen the pulses, but this hasn’t been my experience, and I like the dal to take up a little seasoning as it cooks.

Notes on the recipe: Moong dal is widely available in supermarkets, Indian food shops and online too. Curry leaves are widely available in London, I can get them in my local supermarket. If you can’t get them, you could try dried online, which still have great flavour. Or substitute and entirely different but suitable flavour, fresh coriander. This is incredibly good value and a great comfort eat. Enjoy!

Recipe: Dal with Curry Leaves, Mustard, Chilli & Tomato

Serves 2 generous portions or 1 person on repeat for a day (yup – that was me!)

Ingredients

Dal

200g moong dal (small yellow lentils, larger chana dal will work fine too)
1 heaped tsp turmeric powder
sea salt to taste

Tarka

2 tbsp brown mustard seeds
12 good small tomatoes halved or quartered depending on how small they are
a handful of curry leaves, removed from the stem
chilli of your choice, finely chopped (seeds in or our, up to you, depending on how hot you like it)
ghee or butter or coconut oil (coconut oil is a great substitute for lactose intolerants and vegans, I quite like the flavour)

Method

If you have time, soak the moong dal with the turmeric and a little salt in about twice their volume of water. If you don’t, don’t worry, it will just take a little longer to cook.

Bring the dal to a boil over a medium heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook until tender and soft. Season to taste.

Melt your fat of choice for the tarka and add the mustard seeds, chilli and curry leaves and cook over a medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes for a final couple of minutes and serve on top of the dal, which should still be nice and hot.

Enjoy!

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Cooking with the Grandmothers of Abruzzo [Video]

I spend a wonderful 4 days in Abruzzo earlier this year cooking and eating with the Grandmothers of Abruzzo. I was working on a recipe based project with the tourist board, and we put together a video of my trip there. Enjoy! 

See my previous Abruzzo post: Dispatches from Abruzzo, Italy: Cooking with the Grandmothers of Abruzzo and Where to Eat

I visited Abruzzo with Visit Abruzzo to explore the region and shoot a video with them, which I will share shortly. Londoners can fly to Pescara in Abruzzo from London Stansted, or you can drive (or get a bus) from Rome.

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Speedy Summer Supper of Rice Noodles with Chilli Pork & Peanuts

Jet lag hit hard and so did a salmonella relapse, something that I didn’t even know could happen. Roll on Sunday morning where I finally felt nearly human, and decided to embrace the world by heading to gorgeous Columbia Road Flower Market in East London with a friend.

If you have not been, Columbia Road Flower Market is a joyful place and a London landmark in the East End. It is a small street, lined now with cafés and restaurants, and packed with flower sellers known for their enthusiasm and high spirits as they attempt to engage the heaving mass of passers by. It gets very busy. Thronged. Read More

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Dispatches from Kuching and Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo

So where were we? Oh yes, the blog turned 8, I got salmonella poisoning (separate incident!) which unfortunately is still lurking, and then I had a birthday too. A significant birthday, no guessing, lets just say it warranted a very big celebration and a long one. What better than to skip off to Borneo and spend my last day of the year before the significant one (a-hem) with orangutans, then spend my birthday itself eating laksa and satay and all sorts of other wonderful Malaysian things.

Sarawak is the other Malaysian province of Borneo. You will remember that I have already been to Sabah, and I loved it. I liked Brunei a lot too. I especially fell head over heels for long haired ginger men of the forests (gasp! no, that means orangutans whose name literally translates as that). I was so lucky this time, I saw so many, which is very unusual. This is because it isn’t fruit season so they tend to come to the feeding platforms to eat.

Read More

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Recipe: Passatelli in Brodo (AKA Parmesan Noodles in Wonderful Chicken Broth)

My first taste of this dish in Emilia Romagna awoke a hunger in me that I didn’t know I had. A new desire was immediately satisfied. Spoonfuls of broth, some gorgeous textured parmesan noodles, and repeat. Until the bowl is empty and the world feels sad. But, then you have more, and the cycle starts again. Passatelli in brodo is rich and light, sustaining and so satisfying.

I adore chicken soup but this is so much more. This is chicken broth with noodles made from parmesan, nutmeg and breadcrumbs coasting inside. Why aren’t we all obsessed with this? Why isn’t it one of those dishes that every one talks about? Deeply flavoured and rich in umami, passatelli bring this chicken soup to life and soothe unlike any other.

I first learned to make this in a hands on pasta class at La Piazzetta del Gusto in Nonantola, a gorgeous local restaurant in a pretty small town near Modena. The town square is full of elderly men chatting and passing the time jovially. Just beyond it is La Piazzetta del Gusto, a restaurant and a pasta shop. All the pasta is rolled by hand every day, and the restaurant itself specialises in passatelli.

Passatelli? I was intrigued. We started with hand rolled tortelloni, then out came the breadcrumbs, parmesan, flour, eggs and nutmeg, which we kneaded lightly to makes passatelli dough. These are so easy. Once the dough is made, you push it through a passatelli press, old style or more commonly now a potato press with large holes, also used for passatelli, and snip the noodles over and into the water. So good.

There are many ways that you can serve them, my favourite is with a classic chicken broth. A winter dish in Emilia Romagna, primarily, I think it suits our 4 seasons in a day summer quite well too.

Passatelli recipe adapted from La Piazzetta del Gusto in Nonantola, Emilia Romagna

Recipe: Passatelli in Brodo (AKA Parmesan Noodles in Wonderful Chicken Broth)

Ingredients

Passatelli (enough for two generous portions)

75g breadcrumbs
85g parmesan
2 eggs
25g pasta flour
sea salt
fresh grated nutmeg
a passatelli press / potato press (I bought this passatelli press on Amazon)

Chicken broth (more than you need – you can freeze leftovers!)

a large pot – I have a home stock pot which I use lots and recommending investing in
Raw chicken – approx 1.5kg carcasses, whole chicken (save the meat for another use if using this) or chicken wings (perfect as have lots of skin and fat so superb flavour)
6 carrots, coarsely chopped
4 sticks celery, coarsely chopped
3 onions, peeled & coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
a teaspoon of peppercorns (I used white as that is what I had, black are good too)

Method

Make your chicken broth by putting all ingredients into a pot that will fit them, and topping up with water until everything is just covered. Cover with a lit and boil for at least 2 hours, the longer the better. Strain when done and season to taste with sea salt.
Leave to the side. (If using a whole chicken, remove the meat from the carcass and save for another use).

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Make your passatelli by combining everything in a bowl and bringing together to a soft pliable dough.

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Heat enough stock for more than two bowls of soup and press the passatelli into it, cutting with a knife when a few inches long. The passatelli will rise to the top, and will be ready to eat a couple of minutes later. If you are making just for one, only press enough into the soup for you, and then press them onto a board, lightly flour, and store on a single layer to use within 3 days. The passatelli become flabby when left in the broth, so best to do it this way.

Now eat. How good is that?!

I visited Emilia Romagna as part of Blogville, sponsored by the Emilia Romagna Tourist Board in partnership with  iambassador.  I maintain full editorial control of the content published, as always. I wouldn’t waste your time, or my own! 

The morning view over  the Maiella from Agriturismo Caniloro in Abruzzo

Dispatches from Abruzzo, Italy: Cooking with the Grandmothers of Abruzzo and Where to Eat

Have you been to Abruzzo in Italy? Do you know of Abruzzo? It is surprising that given the vibrance of the region, particularly in terms of food, and that it is only a 2 hour drive from Rome, that only a few are blazing the tourist trail from outside Italy, when you compare it to other regions.

Abruzzo is where Italians go on holiday and it is a gem. I visited on a whistle stop tour to shoot some video with Visit Abruzzo in the early Spring. All I could think on my return was, I wish that I had brought a bigger suitcase to bring stuff home (Abruzzo has wonderful wine, pasta, truffles and saffron, just to start), and it must not be long until I return again.

Abruzzo has seaside villages, snow capped mountain top towns (with only half an hour between them), and small towns threaded by winding country roads in between. There are cities too, but they won’t overwhelm you. Pescara, where I flew into, is small, buzzing and friendly. I arrived in the evening and had my first meal at Locanda Manthonè, a highly regarded local restaurant serving produce from the region. Sagne e fagioli was a perfect pasta dish with locally farmed beans and a hint of chilli (which features in the cuisine here like much of Southern Italy). Gallo all cafona (cockerel cooked contadini style) followed. A perfect start and wonderful introduction to the food of Abruzzo.

Locanda Manthonè, Corso Gabriele Manthone, 58, 65127 Pescara PE, Italy

The next morning we headed to Mosciano Sant’Angelo in Teramo to cook and have lunch at Borgo Spoltino. The restaurant, surrounded by fields and olive trees and with a view of Gran Sasso, has a beautiful kitchen garden where we began our day gathering ingredients for lunch. The chef and his mother cooked lunch with us, there is nothing quite like learning from an Italian Nonna, especially when it comes to pasta. We made a hand rolled and cut local pasta, the sagne from the night before, served this time with locally grown lentils. The chef demonstrated every dish, which we then ate in the dining room. So charming, and all served with lovely local wines also.

Borgo Spoltino, Strada Provinciale 15, Provincia di Teramo, Italy

We hit the road again, and headed for Civitella del Tronto, a village in the mountains, and home to a large ancient fortress which was literally in the clouds on my visit. It snowed that night, and we woke to a silent dreamy landscape where bright reaching rays of sun tried to wake up the land. I cooked with another local chef at Zunica 1880 where we made a saffron carbonara (saffron grows abundantly in Abruzzo. An interesting twist on a local favourite (there is some dispute between Lazio and Abruzzo about the origins of this dish).

Zunica 1880, Piazza Filippi Pepe, 14, 64010 Civitella del Tronto TE, Italy

A slow careful drive through the snow the next morning while I admired and soaked up the gorgeous views, brought us to the seaside. The weather was unusual and the normally calm sea was wild, which I quite liked, it reminded me of my own Atlantic. I cooked brodetto alla vastese with Maria, near their trabocchi, a fishing structure that dips nets into the sea, unique to Abruzzo. Farmers, who were afraid of the water, developed this technique to harvest fish from the sea. Brodetto alla vastese is a lovely tomato based fish soup made with a selection of fish sourced locally.

Cooking class organised by Italia Sweet Italia, and highly recommended.

My next cooking session was at the wonderful Agriturismo Caniloro, an agriturismo that makes most of their own produce, even their flour which they mill themselves. I had a couple of cooking sessions there with two fantastic nonnas. We made pizza scima (translated as stupid pizza) which instead of water, is made with wine, and cooked in a wood fire covered with a solid metal lid which is covered with fire also. You can image the gorgeous smoked flavour. Dinner that evening was a beautiful rabbit and potato stew with their rosé wine, all by a roaring fire. The next morning I made pasta with tiny Nonna Antoinietta (bear in mind that I am only 5′ 4″ / 1.6m tall!), a treat, and an inspiration.

Agriturismo Caniloro, Contrada S. Onofrio 134, 66034 Lanciano CH, Italy

It was time to explore some traditional pastries, and so we headed back to the mountains to Guardiagrele to sample Sise delle Moniche pastries. Wonderfully fluffy and indulgent, don’t you love that the shop has a brush to wipe the sugar from your clothes after?

Then for lunch down the road to sample my first arrosticini, irresistible grilled mutton skewers (and that is one portion!) at Cantina del Tripio, followed by some handmade pasta. All in a local Abruzzo lunch!

What a wonderful experience. I found the people of Abruzzo to be gentle and friendly, it was a real pleasure to travel around the region and cook with them. I only saw a small slice of it too.

I visited Abruzzo with Visit Abruzzo to explore the region and shoot a video with them, which I will share shortly. Londoners can fly to Pescara in Abruzzo from London Stansted, or you can drive (or get a bus) from Rome.

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Recipe: Coconut & Chocolate Curried Chicken

I have an unusual and very tasty recipe for you today, ripe from the shores of Grenada. Grenada is known for high quality cocoa and spice, and they meet here in this lively Coconut & Chocolate Chicken Curry.

Do you consider chocolate a sweet or savoury ingredient? For me dark chocolate is intensely savoury, and a brilliant secret addition to many dishes, enhancing with a deep low rumble. It is perfect with chilli and spices, which of course Mexicans have known for a long time. Mole, a savoury Mexican dish rich with chocolate, is a superb example of this. 

Recently in Grenada, I had the pleasure of doing a cooking session with Esther and Omega at True Blue Bay. I cooked with them last time too. They are fun, and know exactly what to do with the vibrant ingredients available in Grenada. So many spices, and the chocolate which Grenada is rich with. 

This time we made a Coconut & Chocolate Curried Chicken. A small amount of chocolate enriches the spicy sauce, with the creamy coconut lightening it. It is surprising, and it is something that all chocaholics and savoury food fans will enjoy. I have adapted Esther & Omega’s recipe for you to make at home. It is a fun one and will for sure intrigue anyone that you make it for! Ask them to guess what the secret ingredient is.

Recipe: Coconut & Chocolate Curried Chicken

Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients

1.5kg chicken thigh meat, skin removed and chopped to approximately 2 inch segments
Chicken marinade: 2 spring onions, 2 tbsp chopped fresh chives, 2 tbsp fresh coriander, 4 cloves peeled garlic, one inch of peeled fresh ginger, 1 tbsp light oil like groundnut or sunflower)
250g ripe tomatoes or the equivalent in good tinned or passata
200ml coconut milk
1 large green pepper, core and seeds removed and diced into 1cm dice
2 tbsp curry powder
1 heaped tsp ground cumin
4 cardamom pods, coarsely crushed
2 chipotle chilles in adobo (or dried chipotle chilles, or a chilli of your choice if you can’t source either), chopped fine
juice of 1 lemon
2 bay leaves
50g good dark chocolate
1 nice apple, cored and diced (fine to leave the skin on)
light oil for frying, like groundnut or sunflower
sea salt & fresh cracked black pepper

Method

Blend all marinade ingredients and add to the chicken. Marinade in the fridge for as long as you can, at least a half hour, up to 4 hours.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil over a medium-high heat until sealed all over.
Add all of the dry ingredients, lemon juice and the green pepper and cook for a few minutes.
Add the coconut milk, chilli and tomatoes and cook for 30 minutes.
Add the chocolate and allow to melt through. Leave for a few minutes over a low heat.
Check for seasoning and adjust with sea salt and black pepper.
Ready to eat! Superb with rice, and take care not to eat the cardamom pods and the bay leaves, they are just for flavour.