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The BCKT (Bacon, Crispy Kale & Tomato Sandwich)

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I have been in Toronto for almost a week and I have learned a few things. Happily this trip coincided with fiddlehead season, again, so that was a treat. And I now see that everyone in Toronto is even more obsessed with kale than they were before. Green kale, purple kale, cavolo nero, baby kale for salads and kale juices (offensive, sorry, I tried and it was like drinking bile. Might work with some apple?). There are kale cookbooks, the Indian restaurant I am sitting at right now in Toronto airport has a kale salad but with an Indian twist. It is endless, and that is good, infernal stomach rotting juice aside, for kale, generally, is a very good thing. Especially when crispy.

(Mmmmm, crispy!* Now there is a word that polarises as much as kale. But I like crispy, even if incorrect and so I shall keep using it).

So, you all know I love bacon. I mean who doesn’t, at least who doesn’t that doesn’t have religious objections to it? I have never heard of anyone trying bacon and declaring it a terrible thing. When you hear stories about bacon, it is almost always that people ate it when they shouldn’t, just because they could no longer resist. And how could they? So, when concocting recipes for my recent sandwich feature, I thought a BLT will have to be in there, but what if it was with a twist, that made it even better? And so the BCKT was born. That being the Bacon, Crispy Kale & Tomato Sandwich. OH YES.

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A Postcard from Brunei – Starting in Bandar Seri Begawan (Traditional Foods, Night Market, Monkeys, the Water Village and a Croc!)

Greetings from a very sleepy corner of the universe. I thought that travelling back west from Melbourne would be easy peasy, but it turns out that, well, it is a bit tricky. Perhaps only if you get up at 4am to climb 850 steps into the Brunei jungle, when what you normally do is busy but not all that active. For whatever reason, my legs hate me and sleep is evasive. Terrified by my clear lack of fitness, I now think of the gym. But then swiftly of making marshmallows. Ahem. Or is that Amen?

We stopped off at Brunei on the way back from Melbourne. Brunei is one of the worlds smallest and also wealthiest countries, tucked away on the north coast of Borneo. Brunei is surrounded by Malaysia and has a similar food culture, with its own unique twists.

Food and wine lovers, take note: Brunei is a dry country. You are allowed to bring in two bottles of wine (and must declare them, excess will be confiscated and I should know, it happened to me), but it is well worth a stop off to explore the food markets, the beautiful mosques, see some monkeys, crocodiles (yes!) and spend a relaxing night in the rainforest.

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Movember: Getting my Mo On with a Cook Off [Video]

Remember , remember the Mo of November. Moustaches aren’t just for hipsters, you know.

Movember has swung round again, and while I can’t grow a moustache to support them – quiet down the back! – I did get involved in the #mofoodfight, a fun video cook off to generate interest in and awareness of Movember, and their new book Cook Like a Man: The Ultimate Cookbook for the Modern Gentleman (priced at a ridiculous £5.98 on Amazon right now, and a very reasonable £9.99 in the shops).

I dragged my carcass to a studio at way too early o’clock of a morning (hey! I am self employed, I don’t get up before 7am, you know), and it wasn’t long before I was cooking on camera with Pete Brown, maestro of beer and cider and all things in between.[Read more]

Shopping in Paris
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When in Paris: Food, Wine & Cookware Shops (so that you can bring the flavours of Paris home)

How to bring back Paris with you to London? You can’t very well shove the eiffel tower in your handbag (and why would you want to?) but there is lots of Parisian deliciousness that you can bring to your front door. What we perceive as luxury – great patisserie, brilliant lacquered duck confit in jars, (dare I say it) foie gras, great wine – are all everyday in France. Not to mention the petite copper canele moulds, gorgeous pans, staub pots, and all of the divinity that a Parisian cookware shop can involve.

Here is my guide for the shops that you mustn’t miss when in Paris. It is not an exhaustive list, but these are the places that I hit when I visit, and I add to it all the time. If you have any that I have not listed, please leave details in the comments below.

FOOD & WINE 

G Detou

I found G Detou by accident. Aiming for the nearby metro station, I spied this shop with gorgeous tins stacked high beneath the vintage signage. This higgledy piggledy shop full of tins, patisserie ingredients (a large plastic tub of popping candy for you?), boxes (marrons glacé, dried fruits, valrhona chocolate), jams, all the mustards you might ever need, vanilla pods, powder, extract, tonka beans. G Detou has everything you might want for your pantry from Paris. Gather, stagger with your haul to the counter, and get a receipt to bring to the kiosk nearby. Confusing at first, but very Parisian, and worth it. There is also a deli next door, also G Detou, with lots of fresh produce as well as more tins of gorgeousness. I always get duck leg confit, sausages confit in goose fat and a glass tube of vanilla pods, at least.

58 Rue Tiquetonne  75002 Paris, France

Comptoir de la Gastronomie

With a sign that is simply a goose with foie gras written on it outside, you can expect to find some in here, but also lots of other specialties including preserved truffles (in beautiful jars and tins), vinegars, wine and jams (including a bright pink rose petal jam – perfect presents, no?). There is also a nice looking restaurant attached although I haven’t eaten there yet. Let me know if you do, and what you think of it!

34 Rue Montmartre 75001 Paris, France

Marché des Enfants Rouge

I love stopping by Marche des Enfants Rouge on a Sunday. It is the perfect spot for brunch and is bustling (on a Sunday when most of Paris shuts down, this is unusual). I like to get oysters at L’Estaminet to start (they do brunch there too) and then stock up on some bits to bring back, including cheese from Fromagerie Jouannault just outside. There is a great butchers directly opposite too, some rotisserie chicken spots, a Greek deli, an Italian deli, a patisserie and lots of fresh produce, fish and cheese stalls from the market itself. The fish stall and butchers are probably more suitable if your accommodation in Paris has a kitchen, but what joy to buy from there and cook at your temporary Parisian home.

9 Rue de Beauce, 75003 Paris, France

Sacha Finkelstajn

I love popping to Finkelstajn’s, a busy Jewish deli in the Marais, just before heading to the train station for a slice of baked cheesecake and some latkes. There is some delicious and proper Jewish food here, and it is perfect for a train picnic on the way home.

27 Rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris, France

Pierre Hermé & Ladurée

We have both of these in London now, but when I first started going to Paris – pre when the macaron craze hit London hard – I always made sure that I stopped at each of these shops. Ladurée is a traditional gorgeous tea room serving beautiful pastries and macarons, and they also have a shop so that you can buy to take away. Pierre Hermé is a little less traditional but no less brilliant – it is my preferred of the two – and his jams, biscuits and teas are terrific too.

several locations in Paris – I like the to go to Rue Bonaparte as there is both a Pierre Hermé and a Ladurée there

COOKWARE

E Dehillerin

If G Detou is the Aladdin’s Cave of French food and produce, E Dehillerin is the equivalent for cookware. With two floors and high ceilings, the walls are lined with copper pans, moulds, and all kinds of kitchen tools that you might like to bring back. The payment system is by kiosk as at G Detou, so queue to get your bill (they will ask for your address too for the invoice, it is very old school), then go to the kiosk to pay.

18-20 Rue Coquillière, 75001 Paris, France

A Simon

A cookware shop, across the road from G Detou, with everything you might want from canele moulds to – erm – your very own stainless steel pan with an eiffel tower handle. Don’t let this put you off though, it is well worth a visit.

48 Rue Montmartre, 75002 Paris, France

La Bovida

More cookware, and very near  over two floors but also very pretty and colourful vintage style storage tins to brighten your kitchen / pantry at home.

36 Rue Montmartre, 75001 Paris, France

I travelled to France with Eurostar on their #wheninparis campaign

Sausage and Sage Frankanara - via a ropey photo from my phone
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Recipe: Sausage and Sage Frankenara

Sausage and Sage Frankanara - via a ropey photo from my phone

Sausage and Sage Frankenara – via a ropey photo from my phone

It is not my intention to wind up the purists (well, occasionally it is) or the grammar police (cough), but sometimes I do. I consider myself a bit of a purist too, and I am both intolerant and intolerable about some things, but then sometimes, I veer so wildly off course and discover a delicious, happy and impure ending, that I can’t help but embrace it with joy.

That is where I found myself this evening. I have had a bit of a traumatic week (which I will fill you in on another time), and I am in Ireland, away from home (even though it is home, and that is confusing).

Home (another ropey photo from my phone)

Home (another ropey photo from my phone)

I had bought sausages on arrival (I love Irish sausages and always have them when I am home), and I was starving. I was looking out the kitchen window at the driving rain and the grey sky but also at my sisters herb garden and the wild enormous sage bush. I thought of the sausages and ooh-eeee wouldn’t they be lovely together?

Then I wondered about a carbonara. A silky smooth sauce made from a simple egg yolk and some pecorino or parmesan. If I chopped the sausages into small chunks and got them nice and brown and served this frankenara* with a very simple garnish of lots of sage leaves, crisped whole in some butter. The die was cast.

I usually make my carbonara with spaghetti but all I had was penne, and this works very well too. It took such a short period of time to prepare. Use simple sausages that taste of pork and maybe a little white pepper as Irish sausages do, a good large egg will give you the best yolk for the sauce, fresh sage and some good pasta too. The sausages that I used were Clonakilty Ispíní (ispíní – ishpeenee – is the Irish word for sausage), which have such a strong fond taste memory of my childhood they are instantly soothing when I eat them. They are a small sausage and are very smooth, not like the crumbly sausages that are more common now. You can buy them quite easily in the UK too in most major supermarkets and some butchers too. 

Enjoy and if you like this frankenara, you will probably like Spaghetti Corkese, another one of my frankenstein pastas, and a popular one too.

*frankenara = a frankenstein approach to carbonara

Recipe: Sausage & Sage Frankenara[Read more]

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RECIPE: Toad in the Hole

Toad in the Hole

Toad in the Hole

I never even heard of toad in the hole as a child. I may have heard it referred to but I always thought that it referred to Toad of Toad Hall of The Wind in the Willows. I was quite surprised to discover it was a joyous and simple concoction of sausages roasted in Yorkshire batter. Delicious!

This is super easy to prepare at home and I am sharing the recipe with you today very quickly, because I really think you need to make it. I have also made this with the cocktail cooking chorizo sausages from Brindisa in a muffin tray. They were so cute I half wanted to tuck them up in bed instead of eating them.

For this, I used common or garden proper pork sausages. That taste of pork and just that. I am not liking the trend of sticking all types of things in sausages. Some things are best left simple (unless they are very good and then I am ok with that).

This makes enough for 2 with 2 sausages each. Or if cooking for 1 as I was, enough for 1 and a big Yorkshire pudding for later. I often cook for 1, and it upsets me that people think it is pointless to do so. We should all cook for ourselves and take pleasure in it.

Toad in the Hole

Toad in the Hole

RECIPE: Toad in the Hole

serves 1

Ingredients

1 egg
50g plain flour, sifted
pinch of salt
150ml whole milk
2 sausages
one small tray that will accomodate two sausages and wiggle room
flavourless oil or – indulgently – duck fat

Method

Whisk together the salt, egg, milk and flour until there is no lumps and leave aside for an hour.

Preheat your oven to 200 deg C and lightly roast the sausages in a little oil / fat until they are starting to brown.

Remove the sausages and add more fat, it should cover the whole of the bottom of the pan (or you won’t get a nice crisp bottom). Heat in the oven then add the sausages and pour in the batter until it comes half way up the sausages. Put the leftover batter in another small tin with fat to cook a Yorkshire pudding. Or make a second one.

Roast for 20 minutes, in white time the pastry will puff up and crisp.

Eat with gravy and lots of it.

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Hunting Down the Waterford Blaa in Newfoundland (and a recipe for you to make it at home)

Waterford Lane, in St John's Newfoundland

Waterford Lane, in St John’s Newfoundland

Do I need to reintroduce you to the blaa? I probably do. The humble bread roll from Waterford, it is fluffy, square and white with a flour crust, and we are a little obsessed with it. It is thought that it came to Waterford with the Huguenots who called it blanc (because it was a simple white roll), but with our accent and a little time to erode it, it became a blaa.

It is a simple bread, slightly sweet with a little sugar and fluffy with a little butter. Allowed to rise slowly, it is the perfect vehicle for our traditional (and my favourite) chicken and stuffing sandwich. Also, for the occasional tayto (cheese & onion) crisp sandwich with butter to cushion the crisp.

Street art in St John's, Newfoundland, featuring fish (what we know as cod), a huge part of their culture

Street art in St John’s, Newfoundland, featuring fish (what we know as cod), a huge part of their culture

There used to be 60 bakeries in Waterford that baked the blaa, and it never really left it. You never used to see the blaa anywhere else. This has changed recently, in no small part due to the efforts of the remaining bakers, now only 4, who are trying to protect it and have applied for a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). To apply there needs to be at least 3 producers and we are getting low. As a result there has been some press, and I have seen the blaa pop up here and there a bit more.

St John's, Newfoundland. It was common to build houses on stilts, to cope with the dramatic surfaces of the land.

St John’s, Newfoundland. It was common to build houses on stilts, to cope with the dramatic surfaces of the land.

I used to make and sell them at my market stall in Covent Garden 4 years ago, where I made and sold my own food. Not content with doing anything that wouldn’t push me as far as possible and drive me (seemingly) close to deaths door, every day I would make a number of different dishes, always from scratch. Soups, stews, tarts, salads and sandwiches (and all on my own). I would get up at 5am and bake blaas fresh every morning, then serve them filled with overnight roast shoulder of pork and spiced apple relish, or spiced overnight roast shoulder of lamb, with aubergine and tomato relish. They were a hit and I always had a queue, so I ensured that these recipes made it into my cookbook, Comfort & Spice.

A house on the Battery in St John's, Newfoundland

A house on the Battery in St John’s, Newfoundland

I was speaking once with my father about Nova Scotia (as I have a good friend from there who I was visiting). He, previously a master cutter at Waterford Crystal, knew some ex colleagues who had moved to Nova Scotia to set up a crystal company there. And somewhere along the way, my father had discovered that they made the Waterford blaa in Newfoundland, and only there. That sounded familiar.

That had my attention and it has been in my head ever since. Food is culture, it tells you a lot about where you come from and the land itself. Newfoundland has many Waterford connections, not least in their accent which can be very similar to my own. It turns out that this is for a strong reason, Waterford city used to be the headquarters of the seasonal cod fishery in Newfoundland dating back to the 16th century. Many people from Waterford and surrounds travelled to Newfoundland to work in the cod industry as seasonal workers (mainly between 1763 and 1830) and lots stayed on. Their mark is still there, there are many Powers, Barrys, Butlers, McCarthys, in fact there are over 1300 Irish names on Newfoundland now.

I was fascinated and determined to seek the blaa out. I was sure it must be there but my initial research proved fruitless. I contacted the tourism board and a local historian, both super helpful, they tried but could not find my blaa. I was sure it must be there, so I took a risk and thought, if I can find a baker, I will visit. I was sure that they were making them, and that they have just given them a different name.

On my first day in St John’s, I popped into a local pub for a bowl of chowder, and served next to it was what I would know as a blaa. AH-HA! I knew it! What is it? Just a bread roll. But it isn’t. Not to me and most of Waterford at least. The next day I was meeting Lori Butler, a local baker and chef with a passion for Newfoundland food and recipes. We had communicated over email, and Lori had said that she made a bread roll, but wasn’t sure if it was a blaa. I was now fairly certain that it was.

Lori and her mother in law Regina

Lori and her mother in law Regina

We started early, in Waterford Valley in St John’s. We got the dough ready and left it for a first rise. Like most home home cooks, Lori does things by eye and by feel, using recipes that have passed through the generations. We left the dough to double gently and then portioned it into 8, rolling it in flour and leaving it to rise, all cosy and cuddled together, as blaas are.

Proving the dough

Proving the dough

Proving the dough

Proving the dough

Dividing the dough into 8

Dividing the dough into 8

I was now fairly certain that we were making blaas and I was excited. We allowed it rise again, gently on the side and then dusted it with a final flour flourish. We baked it, we tore them apart and I had a bite. This is a blaa, I declared! I knew it! I have found it. It was a little bigger than normal, but it was the very same bread. I was even happier when I discovered the roast turkey and dressing sandwich, which is similar to our roast chicken and stuffing sandwich except that here they pour warm gravy on also. I am taking that back with me. (Dressing in Newfoundland is stuffing made with savoury, in place of our thyme). They drink steeped tea too, something I always associate with my childhood in Ireland.

Steeped tea

Steeped tea

Dusting the bread with extra flour

Dusting the bread with extra flour

 

Ready to taste

Ready to taste

I found them! Lori and her home baked blaas

I found them! Lori and her home baked blaas

Lori had learned her bread recipe from her mother who had learned it from her mother in turn. I brought some with me to give to some other Newfoundlanders who all agreed that they had remembered their mothers making them too.

Here is to history and culture, the kindness of strangers, the food that brings us all together, and a humble little bread that travelled to the other side of the Atlantic and stayed the course.

My Blaa Recipe

be sure to have it with roast chicken, stuffing and gravy – OR – and you have my permission, some tayto crisps and butter ;)

Makes 8 blaas
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A Postcard from Newfoundland & Labrador

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An actual postcard!*

A street of colourful houses in St John's in Newfoundland at dusk

A street of colourful houses in St John’s in Newfoundland at dusk

I say Newfoundland & Labrador, on this trip I just went to Newfoundland, but lets say the whole thing, if only so I can say that that this is where the labrador dog comes from (they were originally the St. John’s water dog) and also, there is a Newfoundland dog too. And it has webbed feet. Webbed feet! Not just that but a water resistant coat. I saw fantastic over the top puffins, with their crazy orange lipstick. A MOOSE!, some eagles but no whales or icebergs so I will be back.

Not just for the wildlife, I loved it there. It is like a quirky mirror of Ireland on the other side of the Atlantic, but everything is much bigger (N&L is almost the size of Japan but with a population approximately 248 times smaller), and the people there are some of the calmest and most laid back that I have ever met. This is the place to go and detox from the big city.

This isn’t a wildlife blog though, so what of the food? Such fresh cod, cod tongues, cod cheeks, served with scruncheons – diced fried cubes of salted pork fat. What can be wrong with that? Nothing! Don’t be fooled with the fact that these are so called cheap cuts (or have that put you off, cheap cuts are almost always the tastiest anyway), the cod tongue is so light and delicious, fried and encased in batter it beats normal fried cod. If you are worried about eating cod, the cod is caught in a sustainable way now, post moratorium, and is very tightly controlled.

I ate homemade fish cakes (always with salt cod which is not called cod here, it is simply fish), and was shown how to make them too, recipe soon. Moose sausages, pickles, lobster benedict for breakfast. What an indulgence. I saw seal flipper pie, moose pie, rabbit pie, potted seal, potted moose, bakeapples (cloudberries), partridge berries (lingonberries) and lots more. Seal flipper pie & potted seal might sound harsh, but this is a traditional food there, and so I will document it. I had my first Jiggs dinner with Lori and her family.

I also went to hunt the Waterford blaa, which I had heard was there and was determined to find. I found it, in a way, at Lori’s house, but that is a story in itself and I will be back with that soon.

For now, some pictures, as always. See you soon!

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Ferryland lighthouse, where I had a great picnic lunch (the picnics are provided on site and are excellent)

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I grew up by the sea, and this used to be true for me too :)

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A flying puffin!

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Cannonised saints – they are actually standing on canons from the war between the French & the English in Canada

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Flying puffins and murres, three up close and many more speckled behind

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A view of St John’s and the harbour from Cabot Tower, Newfoundland & Labrador

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Cod tongues with scruncheons and tartare at Blue on Water, St John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador

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Lobster benny for breakfast at the Sheraton hotel, St John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador

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A murres in flight – Newfoundland

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Baking bread (blaas!) with Lori in Waterford Valley…

...and preparing a traditional Jiggs Dinner which we ate with her family

…and preparing a traditional Jiggs Dinner which we ate with her family

I travelled to Newfoundland & Labrador with the Canadian Tourism Commission

*everyone asks when I post one of these on instagram / twitter / facebook, so, if you are wondering, the postcard was taken using a function on the camera of my Samsung S4.

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New Zealand: A Day in Wanaka Cooking with Annabel Langbein

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One of the problems with doing what you love and writing about it – and believe me there are a few – is that sometimes you are so consumed doing things, it is difficult to find the time to write about it.

Take my trip to New Zealand this time last year. Only 8 days, too brief, but packed with brilliant and inspiring things. So many, that while I was there, I was so busy *doing* that there was very little time to write. I did manage two postcards, here and here, before moving on to Hong Kong (and doing so much doing there too, that I have yet to write about that also, which is ridiculous, as I booked a stopover in Hong Kong so that I could relax and slow down for a bit).

I was watching Saturday Kitchen this morning through jet lag goggles, when I spied lovely Annabel Langbein cooking, and was immediately transported to cooking with her in her kitchen in Wanaka, New Zealand, last year.

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Annabel Langbein is a food writer, cook and tv chef from New Zealand. She has been writing (and publishing her own) cookbooks for years. She is an advert for self publishing. When she decided that it was time to pursue TV, she also did that herself, putting together a TV crew with her husband, and in the process ensuring that everything she did was exactly as she intended. She has been hugely successful and is a household name there.

Inspiring.

I can see why. Annabel’s food is packed with flavour and beautifully simple. The hallmark of Annabel’s food is the bright and fresh flavours, food that is healthy and light, that is easy to recreate at home. She combines ingredients in ways that you might not have thought of, in the process inspiring her readers to eat better at home.

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Annabel is interested in real food, so much so that when we ate lunch we had her own homemade halloumi cheese with New Zealand lamb and beetroot. This was right up my alley, my own book has a few recipes for homemade cheese, and I am forever trying new ones at home. It was terrific.

We picked vegetables from her beautiful garden overlooking Lake Wanaka and sunflowers for the table. She grows a beautiful variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers, it is magical, which you can see from the photos.

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To my relief,  she said that when she first started in the food writing business, she put on a lot of weight. I was surprised, she is so trim and healthy now, and I thought, phew, it isn’t just me! I was a (UK) size 10 when I started, and I have climbed a bit since. I am working on it, it is amazing how far it can go before you even notice, and I am getting back to normal now with exercise. Dieting isn’t for me, although I am being more sensible.

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Annabel’s books are wonderful. She isn’t well known in the UK yet, but I think it is only a matter of time before that changes. You can get her book The Free Range Cook on Amazon. Check out her website too.

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If you love to cook at home, and if you are reading my blog you probably do, I would recommend that you get it. Also keep an eye out for her new book which is out soon.

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Eating Osaka: Okonomiyaki, the pain of finding it and the joy of eating it

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I have mentioned my lack of a sense of direction, coupled with no knowledge of the language and being thrown into what feels like a maze, finding my first meal was difficult.

I thought I should start with okonomiyaki. I knew where I wanted to go, Mizuno. I was told it was one of the best and research supported this. I bounded out of the underground full of enthusiasm, spent a few minutes under my plastic clear umbrella in the rain turning my map around and then asked for help and followed it.

Lost again.

I saw two girls and asked them. They were Japanese tourists and effectively, I thought ran away, but they came back two minutes later with a girl from a sock shop nearby (who still had a lot of socks in her hand) who spoke a little English. More map twirling. Then she brought me to the shop and 3 of her colleagues helped us twirl the map. One wanted to send me one way, another the other. In the end they all agreed on a direction and I shot off.

Lost again. I asked some people at a candied potato counter. One ran way, I was getting anxious, but came back with a map. They approved of my choice of Mizuno! Go down two blocks (the opposite direction to which I had been travelling) and go left for 3 blocks and then – did a complicated gesture with her finger on her palm, I had no idea – but I followed as much as I could.

I got there. It must be here! Where is it? I couldn’t find it.

I wandered some more and asked a girl for help. Bear in mind it was pouring down and the streets were empty. She spoke no english but I had the restaurant details and by now FIVE maps. She called the restaurant and gave me directions, again with a complicated palm gesture. I followed, I couldn’t find it, I was so hungry.

I gave up. I know I shouldn’t have but I was ground down by now two hours in. I thought, I will just follow my nose, and if I find it I will.

I wandered aimlessly in the back streets for a further fifteen minutes trying to find somewhere I recognised. I turned a corner and realised that I had been walking in an enormous circle. Super.

I crossed the road into Dotonburi again and within ten minutes had found the kushikatsu that I wanted to try at Daruma, easily recognisable by the giant head outside. A big bowl of sauce sat at each seat with a sign in english “DON’T DOUBLE DIPPING”. It was good, very good. I had quail egg, oyster, Welsh leek, chicken meatball and the original beef with an iced oolong tea. Come to London, Daruma!

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As I left I spotted the takoyaki stand that had had such a long queue across the road, and only one person there so I had some of that. Little balls of batter / pancake with octopus inside. The best I have had yet.

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I went into the seating area behind and rejuvenated by such delicious food, I thought to myself, isn’t life so much easier with just the right amount of delicious food (too much is like cotton wool for the brain, I find myself there too often). So I asked a guy there, who had little english, where is the very best okonomiyaki near here?

Oh! Yes, Mizuno!

I was startled. Am I near Mizuno? Yes, it around the corner. And sure enough it was. With a huge queue that I joyfully joined.

Mizuno. Finally, some really good Osaka okonomiyaki. What I have been looking for. I celebrated with some warm sake and had a bowl of warm tofu with sauce to start. Gorgeous. Mizuno is tiny, only eight or ten sit at the counter where they cook.

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I got the special with lots of seafood and pork, bonito, an egg on top, it broke my heart a touch to see him break the yolk, but that is how they do it. I waited 20 minutes, sipping my sake, watching, smelling and then I had a taste.

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Worth it, so worth it. I am almost glad it worked out this way.

Time to go to Tokyo.

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A Postcard from Osaka

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Greetings from Osaka, folks! 15 minutes from Kyoto on the Shinkansen (bullet train), it is a world away. Kyoto is all low (ish) buildings, gorgeous old houses and narrow streets. Geishas wander, lots of people wear kimonos, and there is a feeling of an old world ever present here. There is, of course, a very modern portion, but there is a cap on how high buildings can be.

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A quick journey on the Shinkansen brings Osaka, bigger, bustling, higher, brighter and a lot more ostentatious. Japan’s third largest city by population, it is busy but it is gentle by western standards, everyone is very polite and super helpful. Tucked in between enormous buildings are small alleys bursting with okonomiyaki joints and noodle bars. It is charming and delicious.

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I spent two days and nights there, a lot of it getting lost, but I do love getting lost sometimes, unless I am hungry, then that is a nightmare and I feel violent (mainly towards myself). I mistook the loop line for an actual loop and a journey that should have taken 10 minutes took an hour and a half as I kept getting the wrong train. With two enormous suitcases en route to Tokyo. I do this anyway, I have a shocking sense of direction which combines beautifully with impatience at times like these, so I can’t really blame Japan.

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Never mind, I found everything I wanted to and tried almost everything I wanted to (except oshizushi – pressed sushi). Osakans love their food, it was once known as the nation’s kitchen as it used to be the centre for trading for rice. Indeed, there is an old phrase “Kyotoites are financially ruined by overspending on clothing, Osakans are ruined by spending on food”. Although, in my experience, those folks in Kyoto love their food too.

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I left Osaka hungry for more and I definitely want to go back there. It is really close to Kobe too, so it could be an epic food trip of its own.

Ps. lots more to come on Kyoto, I just like to write my postcards close to the time that I spent there.


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Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli, Rosemary & Kale

Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli & Kale

Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli & Kale

I found myself down an unfamiliar January cul de sac yesterday evening. Already in the midst of a Spring clean (my hoarding demands it) and with my eyes and mind firmly planted on a tin of pork sausages confit in goose fat in my cupboard, I found myself wander as I cleaned, towards the bag of kale in the fridge.

I love kale, I find it fiercely underrated and viewed as the cheap relation to the swisher (and also delicious but more expensive) cavolo nero. However, I had determined that after the horror of spring cleaning I wanted indulgence. Goose fat preserved sausages seemed more my thing. I went with the kale though, to kill the craving, I was beginning to obsess. The cleaning had demanded freshness and vibrance instead.

Spaghetti is frowned upon by dieters but ponder this: (good) pasta cooked al dente is low GI. When I say good, I mean pasta that is made with great flour that is high in protein, made properly using bronze dies and not teflon so that the pasta has roughness and grip and clings to the sauce.

The best comes from Gragnano in Italy, and I prefer Pastificcio dei Campi. In itself it is an indulgence, but once you start using it, it is hard to turn back, as my last two years of pasta eating testify. It is often assumed that fresh pasta is superior, this is not the case. Great fresh pasta is, but there is poor fresh pasta too (I am looking at you supermarket chillers).

Back to my kale. I am obsessed with crispy kale too, making it at least weekly if not several times each week. I finished this pasta with some crispy kale on top, to add texture and further deliciousness. (Looking for alternatives to the word delicious, please).

Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli & Kale

Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli & Kale

This is simple, the flavours are strong, fresh and restorative. You can substitute some things, which I have indicated in the recipe e.g. Calabrian chilli is wonderful (and highly recommended) but if you can’t get it, a normal red chilli will do.

RECIPE: Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli, Rosemary & Kale

Ingredients

(for two)

200g spaghetti
2 generous handfuls of shredded kale, leaves removed from the stem (most supermarkets sell it like this already)
1 dried Calabrian chilli, finely chopped (or a normal red chilli)
2 cloves smoked garlic (normal garlic will do), peeled and finely chopped
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 stem fresh rosemary, pines removed from the branch and finely chopped (optional – gives an extra layer of flavour, but not essential)
1 tin good chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp sherry vinegar (cider vinegar will do too)
sea salt to taste
light oil for frying
extra virgin olive oil for crispy kale

Method

Preheat your oven to 180 deg C.

Sauté the red onion over a medium heat in a tbsp of light oil until soft but not brown. About 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, chilli and rosemary for a minute.

Add the tomatoes, sugar and vinegar, bring to the boil, and reduce the heat and allow it to simmer for 10 minutes.

Place one handful of the (washed and dried) kale in a shallow tray in one layer. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Toast until crispy, 8-10 minutes. Leave to the side.

While the sauce is simmering and the kale crisping, cook your spaghetti until al dente, according to packet instructions.

When the pasta is almost done, add the remaining handful of kale to the tomato sauce and cook for a minute or so. Season to taste.

Add the spaghetti to the sauce and toss, ensuring that the pasta is coated with sauce.

Serve immediately with a sprinkling of crispy kale on top.

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Eating Buenos Aires: Pizza, Fugazzetta & Empanadas at El Cuartito

So you’re in Buenos Aires. Well, you’ve got to eat like a Porteño and go get yourself some pizza. You weren’t expecting that now, were you?

El Cuartito has been making pizza in downtown Buenos Aires since 1934. Not just any ole pizza, they serve the pizza peculiar to Buenos Aires, the fugazzetta (or fugazza con queso).

Fugazzetta at El Cuartito

Why pizza? There was a huge influx of Italian immigrants, particularly from Genoa in the 19th and 20th centuries to Argentina. Now, 25 million Argentines are of Italian descent (that is up to 60% of the total population). So, this naturally has had an enormous influence. There are Italian restaurants and pizzerias all over Buenos Aires, and El Cuartito is one of the old standards.

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Why go?

It’s brusque, big and noisy and fun. Bustling and joyful, I loved it. Eat at the counter or queue for a table. Either way, you will be having a proper local experience.

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The fugazetta is a slightly insane extremely rich deep cheese and onion pizza. If you eat a whole one I will clap you on the back and then call the ambulance. A couple of slices though, particularly at the end of the night, is heavenly. You haven’t been to Buenos Aires if you haven’t tried the fugazzetta.

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Empanadas are very good. Try the spicy beef one and the jamon y queso one.

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They serve fainá, a traditional chickpea based flatbread. You have to try that too.

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So go, and love it as much as I did. And don’t make the same mistake as me, have the dulce de leche flan. The fugazzetta and empanadas floored me and I couldn’t face it. In my defence, I had had a big lunch and dinner!

El Cuartito, Talcahuano 937, Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Parliamentary Waffle House – Mine’s a Labour/Lib Dem Cocktail!

Bompass & Parr have struck gold again. Not content with jellymongering and providing fantastic jellies for restaurants and funerals (true!), creating giant cocktails that you can row across and other magical and surreal food experiences, they have moved into the world of waffles and have established the Parliamentary Waffle House.

The video says it all realy. So much fun. Please ignore and forgive the very shaky start! I was laughing very hard.

Parliamentary Waffle House

Bompass & Parr

It launched last night with a screening of the live televised debate followed by a Waffle Eating Competition (in the video above)  and was tremendous fun. The menu lists three types of waffles, one associated with each party, and three types of beer plus tongue-in-cheek Prescott Punch made with Courvoisier. I had a Labour waffle with raspberries and vanilla ice cream. I just couldn’t bring myself to order Conservative, even if it’s only a waffle. The waffles were perfectly delicious and the porter light with a tingle. I loved it so much, I am going back and have booked a couple of tickets for election night.


So, if you’re in London, go! It runs right up to the election and entry is only £5. Further details are available on their website: http://www.jellymongers.co.uk/. The waffles are about £3.50 and the drinks are reasonably priced. A bit of a bargain I think, it really is enormous fun.

(More photos on flickr.)

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Cornish Pasta at Fifteen, Cornwall

Cornish Pasta at Fifteen Cornwall
Cornish Pasta? You mean pasty? No? Pasta?!

Yes folks! Cornish Pasta. I’ve just spent a wonderful weekend at Watergate Bay in Cornwall, in fact I am still here, but I had to tell you about this before I left. Fifteen Cornwall, as part of its policy of sourcing 80% of it’s products from Cornwall, has worked with local farmer Charlie Watson Smyth, who has grown, tended to and harvested Cornwall’s first commercially used durum wheat.

Six tonnes of this wheat, stone ground in Cornwall, is going to be made into authentic Cornish pasta. Exciting and innovative, isn’t it? So supportive of local industry too. I was at Fifteen Cornwall yesterday and watched a student make pasta from it. I’ve got a packet in my suitcase to cook when I get home. I’ll let you know how it is.

Cornish Pasta at Fifteen, Cornwall

I’ve had a terrific food soaked weeked of fabulous and local food, foraging on the beach, farmer’s marketing and all of it was topped off with the tasting menu at Fifteen. How sad I am to leave! For now I best get back to my big Cornish breakfast complete with coffee roasted here by the guys at Origin. There’s lots of interesting and inspiring food goings on down here. I’ll be back with more detail on all of it soon.

Cornish Pasta at Fifteen Cornwall

Enjoy your Sunday and hello British Summer Time! Woohooo! How long have we waited this year? Be gone foul Winter.

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January in food and frolics: the roundup

It seemed like January was never-ending, truly a bottomless pit of rushing to work while skidding on ice and low heavy skies. Skies that were so heavy, I felt like chicken licken, and wanted to roar to the world “The sky is falling in!”.

But then, it was gone. Gone! Just like that. And suddenly it was February. How can that be? To stay so long, then leave so quickly. My sense of time is distorted, and now what do I do that I no longer have January to blame for everything?

As much as I proclaimed the misery of it all, the heart wrenching, grey boredom that January cruelly bestows on me, there were some culinary moments that may make my best of 2010. Some really fun and utterly delicious adventures. An evening where I was demolished not by January, but by vodka and my own lack of sense, some time in the kitchen with Francesco Mazzei, a Bisol cookoff, a very good pie crafted by my own fair hands, and a new way with pork, for me at least.

How can this be? You’ve only read of the pork. COUGH. Like I said, I blame January. Be patient with me, I promise to give you the details soon. For now, here’s my summary.

Vongole at L'Anima

January started with an evening that I had been waiting for, for some time. The vongole evening at L’Anima, where I would get a chance to spend time with Francesco Mazzei in his kitchen, where he would demonstrate his technique for cooking linguine vongole (linguine with clams). It was a lovely experience. Francesco is a lovely guy, and very knowledgable. L’Anima is a lovely place too, with a kitchen that is enviable, I watched every beautiful pot and pan, envied their piles of vongole, and watched with glee as he took us through it, step by step.

Vongole at L'Anima

The kitchen was hot, I was beetroot red, which and impending video will testify for me. It was a treat though, and I enjoyed watching him cooking the linguine by absorption, a great technique for extruding the creaminess of the pasta without adding dairy by adding water or stock slowly and stirring, not too unlike making a creamy risotto. I do this at home all the time, the end result demands it. I should really blog about that soon too, shouldn’t I?

Vongole at L'Anima
The cooking was followed by a dinner, themed on vongole and shellfish in a luxurious private room at the restaurant. The vongole was stand out, as was the mussel starter, the mussels had been cooked in a Josper charcoal oven for only a minute until they popped open revealing a tender meaty interior, bathing in some salty sea water that the mussel had retained when it closed its shell for that last time by the sea, before it ended up in the L’Anima kitchen. We also had a wine that I loved, it was worth going for that alone, San Michele Soave Classico, perfect with the vongole, and delicious to drink on its own. I found it online circling a bargainous £12 mark. I will be stocking up on it soon.

Vongole at L'Anima

From one lovely wine to another, the next adventure was the Bisol Jeio Prosecco Cook-Off at Bibendum Wines, where three finalists that had entered the competition on this blog, cooked furiously and presented their dishes to be judged by Roberto of Bisol, Rupert of Trinity and Gal of Bibendum Wine. All entrants were excellent, a crisp and clean sea trout dish from Ailbhe; a creamy, rich and indulgent pork dish from Dan and the winning entry, a warm Winter pheasant salad from Danny. It was great fun, and we decamped to the pub after where the two Irish lasses appeared to overwhelm those Essex geezers. It seemed they could not keep up with our chatter and were mildly amused by it all. As were we!

Bisol Jeio Food & Wine Matching Cook Off

Bisol Jeio Food & Wine Matching Cook Off

Some time at home followed with a Moro recipe, Lomo Con Leche, pork cooked in milk with cinnamon and bay to you and I. Delicious it was, but could do with a few tweaks I think. I look forward to experimenting.

Pork cooked in milk with cinnamon & bay

Brunch baked eggs became a Sunday feature, well eggs en cocotte this time. Eggs cosied in individual ramekins sitting on a cushion of fried bacon, leak and shallots, with a cream and gruyere topping, and baked in a bain marie. Sounds complex and fussy, but they’re quick easy and wickedly indulgent. Take that, January!

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Pigs (plural) was about to feature in a very big way. Starting with a fantastic Pig Masterclass and wine dinner at Trinity, where I got to try some great Alsace wines from small producer Trimbach. Jean Trimbach talked us through them, and we had matched food from Trinity, including their fantastic trotter dish, more on that soon.

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St John Restaurant, famed for it’s offaly goodness, was next on the menu. A group of us were trying the suckling pig. I’d always wanted to try this so was quite excited. The suckling pig was tender, moist and full of flavour. I even got to try a bit of the tongue which had a dense texture and intense piggy flavour. Starters of bone marrow and crab were perfect. I am not really a big fan of the desserts chosen, so I didn’t pay much attention to these. All in all, a successful food adventure, even with a few problems with slow service.

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A Sunday indoors was perfect with a roast loin of pork with spiced apple sauce.

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The annual Bibendum tasting at the Saatchi Gallery was immense as always, with fantastic wines. It was lovely to see Alice of Bruno Paillard and the Chapel Down Crew again. It was a great day.

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We’ve clearly headed from the pig section to the alcohol section. I had a lovely evening at Thorsten of the Wine Rambler‘s house, sampling some German wines with food. We had a really interesting German Syrah from Pfalz (Knipser 2003). I also discovered the delights of chocolate baklava which I bought for dessert from a local baklava salon.

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An exciting vintage vodka tasting at Bob Bob Ricard managed to be both the high and low point of the month. High point: wonderful food, lovely hosts and superb vodka. Low point: there should be a heigh requirement, noone my height can drink that much vodka, be coherent and manage a normal day the day after. The food was great, lots of Russian food that I hadn’t had before, including a superb ox tongue in aspic, which was elegant and graceful, a fantastic egg mayo with anchovies, some caviar with blinis, delicious creamy lardo, and some standout meaty dumplings which were rich, dense and creamy. There was lots more which I’ll write about in more detail soon. The vodka was very good indeed, all Russian and served at -18 degrees.

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And that was it. I think we defeated January. Ka-pow!

Thanks for reading, as always :)

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It must be time for a market update?

Isn’t it just! I have now been at the market for 15 weeks. 15 WEEKS!  That’s kind of exciting, isn’t it? It’s time for an update.

Life has been rather busy, I don’t exaggerate. Nor do I seek sympathy as it was good busy. Isn’t it good to be busy? However, the downside of this busy-ness is that normal service of recipes and randomness on this blog wasn’t possible. Mainly because I didn’t have much time to cook, and if I did, I didn’t have time to write about it. Then there was the sad day that my lovely DSLR camera was appropriated by someone else. I do have a tiny point and shoot but it just doesn’t cut the mustard for me and sadly, nay stupidly, it wasn’t insured, and I am not yet in a position to replace it. I miss the sharpness, the focus, the colours and the depth. I miss my camera.

So, after all that guff,  how has the market been? I’ve been diligently baking those blaas, week after week. Thursday 5am after Thursday 5am. Blaa after blaa. Trayful after trayful. Ovenload after ovenload. I’ve managed to increase my output, although this is not down to me, this is down to the hardest working member of the team, my trusty KMix.

Some months ago, the folks at Kenwood asked if I would like to try one. At this stage my wrists ached, my fingers sobbed, but dedicated as ever, I persevered with the bread. Aren’t I just the martyr?! All jest aside, it was very important to me that I make it and that I prove that I could. It seems silly now, but that was what I was thinking. Back to the trusty KMix. I knew that I needed a mixer for the bread, but I had yet to purchase. So, after a little internet research, I could only say yes, as it looked perfect for the Thursday morning bake offs for the stall.

So this gorgeous, sturdy piece of equipment graces my kitchen counter in a glorious red, and every Thursday morning churns and kneads. The yeast gurgles by the warm oven in snug anticipation. Its companion, a peppercorn blender, awaits its load on the weeks I have time to do a soup.

Testament to it’s sturdiness, was the morning when I, excited and over eager, loaded it to the max, nay beyond the max, and left it mix unsupervised in the corner on the table. I missed it slowly vibrate to the side of the table, and cascade to the floor.

SHRIEK! I plugged it out, picked it up, and, mildly panicked. Peevishly, I plugged it back in and attempted to turn it on once more. Unphased, it recommenced its job, and I, impressed with my hardest worker, returned to my soup.

Now, however, I must reconsider. The market is 2 days a week since mid-November, Thursdays and Fridays, and I can’t continue to bake the bread two days in a row and maintain my sanity. I want to do something different and I can’t help but feel that all of the time and enery the KMix and I put into the bread, could be spent trying new things and enjoying the adventure.

People love the pork and spiced apple sandwich, and they come back week after week for it (which is amazing – thank you). The slow roast lamb and aubergine relish is also a go-er, and I usually offer both. I know that if I make them, I will sell them, and this is a very important factor. If I don’t sell my produce, well then, it’s game over. But, at the risk of a strop, I also want to take risks and try new things and some old favourites. I want to try the salt beef from October again, I want to make more of the black bean chilli from November, the delicious spiced chickpea and feta salad with pomegranate molasses dressing, some more smoked salmon.  I want to have several things on offer every time. Choice and colour, variety and vigour. The problem is, there’s only me to do it, and in order to deliver something must be sacrificed.

So, what to do? Why not be normal and buy the bread from a good source like other people do? Well now, I hate to be normal, it sounds so dull, but it does make sense. Why has it taken me until now to consider it?  I’ve bought in before for the Soho Market with those gorgeous bagels from Carmelli’s in Golders Green in October. I’ve bought bread from Sally Clarkes one day where I just couldn’t bake. They were great! So, the decision has been made, and I feel liberated, and quite excited for the next few weeks.

So, what to expect? Soup, meatballs, maybe savoury muffins! I intend to burrow around my cookbooks and savoury inclinations, and dig out some new recipes, and bring them to you at the stall. I will be back to write about them.

So, until then, I’ll get back to my research and see you soon!

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A Little Cookery Course

Raspberry, mint & ricotta tartlets w/ honey

A friend recently asked if I would consider running a cookery course for his wife’s birthday. She loves food, but doesn’t like to cook so much, and likes the kind of food that I make. I was very flattered but, I’ve not formally done anything like this before so was a little reticent to begin.

When I was in university, a flatmate used to follow me around the kitchen with a notebook and pen following my culinary movements. It used to drive me crazy, but we’re still friends :) I worried for this reason, that, perhaps I haven’t the right temperament. A  birthday present is a very big deal after all. I agreed, but insisted that no finances would change hands. I had been asked to do this before but hadn’t explored it due to time constraints. I thought it was worth a try. If it worked well, I’d consider doing it again, and if it didn’t, we’d hopefully at the very least have a nice meal and some good wines.

Once we agreed on a date, I relaxed, and didn’t worry too much. I thought we should definitely have some pork in the mix, some shellfish and a quick dessert. At first I thought that prawn curry might work, but then after some discussion we agreed on pork belly. At this stage I could make it in my sleep so wasn’t too worried. We settled on scallops for starters. Dessert was another issue as they really aren’t my forte, primarily because I rarely have them and am more inspired by savoury things, however, I did make one blackberry tart with mint, ricotta and honey recently, and loved it. So, that was it, we were all set.

The days building up to it were phenomenally busy, things always seem to happen this way! On the morning, I was struggling to complete an online task that had been deferred for longer than was healthy, and by the time it came to go to Borough Market, I hadn’t had time for lunch and was a little frazzled. Not the ideal start. I was really keen that the evening should be a worthwhile birthday treat and that they would not regret it.

We met at 3pm and wandered around Borough with our shopping list. We hit our first hurdle, I should have asked if she liked blackberries. She wasn’t a big fan so we switched to raspberries. We sped around the market, knocking off most items from our list: hand dived scallops, pancetta, chorizo, pork belly, salad stuff, herbs, ricotta, and the birthday girl had spotted some samphire and was keen to try it so we threw it in. Time to dash home, picking up lentils on the way, and get started.

The best evenings start with a glass of prosecco, in my humble opinion, so we indulged. In hindsight, this may not have been terribly clever, but it was a birthday celebration. We started with the spice rub for the pork belly (recipe here), preheated the oven, prepared the pork as I always do, some boiling water on the skin to start the crackling, pat dry, and rub in the spice rub. Placing it in the oven dish with some carrots and garlic as a vegetable trivet, it was good to roast.

We started it at 230 degrees celsius for half an hour. While this was happening we switched our attention to the homemade sweet shortcrust pastry, which when complete, we stuck in the fridge to chill  for an hour or so. For 6 small tarts sift 225g plain white flour, add 2 tbsp sugar and 110g very cold butter cut into cubes, and with your fingertips blend until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. At  this stage, add one egg blended with the same amount of water, a little at a time until the pastry pulls together but is not too wet. It’s best to use a knife for this stage.

At this stage the timings were looking good, the half hour for the pork was just coming to an end, and it was time to open the door, review the impressive crackling and turn the heat down to 170 degrees, for 45 minutes with a glass of cider.

Just one problem – where was the impressive crackling?! This was one piece of unenthusiastic meat. I’ve never had this problem before, in fact I am extremely proud of my crackling, and there’s photographic evidence to prove its existence. How disappointing, but I knew we could rectify by sticking it under the grill after it had finished roasting for a couple of minutes at a high heat. I started to get anxious though, and continued to drink wine with the birthday girl. I must remember to remove the wine from the equation (on my part) next time.

Moutabal on toast

Moutabal on toast

At this point we veered off course, although I don’t regret that. I had an aubergine and we started discussing moutabal, so we decided a quick snack would not go astray. This went down very well, as long as you don’t taste the aubergine skin before peeling it off. I was reliably informed that it tastes of cigarettes! I started to feel better, with that stubborn uncrackly pork skin glaring out the little glass door and taunting me from my oven.

Skillet bacon jam with heritage tomatoes on toast

Skillet bacon jam with heritage tomatoes on toast

Another brain wave – you’ve got to try my bacon jam that I bought from the US! It’s GREAT! Did I mention the wine? It is great, and we really enjoyed it on toast with some bright yellow heirloom tomatoes. We were now two unplanned appetisers in. Not too shabby, also not too clever, people were getting full. Normal people don’t eat as much as greedy me.

Scallops with samphire & pancetta

Scallops with samphire & pancetta

We persevered, now having a glass of champagne and prepared the scallops, removing the veins but leaving the roe. We had rinsed the samphire in several changes of water to reduce the saltiness somewhat and fried some diced pancetta and garlic before adding the drained samphire. At this stage, we started to chargrill the scallops for a couple of minutes on each side, taking care not to overcook them, as they are best still spongy and tender in the center. We gobbled these up, served in the shell with a squeeze of lemon and with a glass of lovely birthday champagne. This, for me, was the star dish of the meal.

It was time to turn our attention to the pastry once more, rolling thinly (perhaps a mm thick), and lining buttered tartlet trays (we used 4 inches across) with a layer. We blind baked these for 10 mins, covering each one in greaseproof paper and a layer of rice. I’d usually use dried beans here but had run out. We added the lentils and some cider and water to the pork (a glass of water and a glass of cider), and let this cook for another 45 minutes. We mixed the ricotta with the raspberries, and some mint, sweetening with honey. This was a nice mix but the raspberries are a lot more bitter than the very ripe blackberries I had tried, and in my enthusiasm I added too much mint. It was a little too fresh but nothing a little honey couldn’t help with. And we continued with some delicious red wine.

The pork was done, hurrah! I tortured that crackling, no friend of mine, with a couple of minutes iunder the grill and watched with glee as it blistered. Having rested for 10 minutes we served it on top of a bed of lentils with a rather tart salad on the side.

Almost there! All that was left to do was to fill the pre-baked pastry shells with the ricotta mixture, and bake for a further 5 minutes. Served with a drizzle of honey, we were finished.

Time to relax, and review. Imperfect at a first attempt, but really enjoyable. I’d do it again, with more planning, less wine, and perhaps less lengthy dishes. Prawn curry might have been a better option after all. But, that’s what this was, a trial, and a lovely evening with friends. I just hope the birthday girl enjoyed it, I certainly did.

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Spiced duck legs with pancetta & coriander potatoes

Spiced duck legs

Spiced duck legs

I do like spice, especially when it’s on some crisped skin. Chicken, pork crackling, duck… the fat on skin lends itself wonderfully to spicing, adding some flavour, and, should you choose it, heat, to the crispy skin with the unctous fat underneath. Swoon.

Last night I found myself at a loose end, mentally at least. Nothing agreed with me.

What  to do? Out, in? In, out? I wanted to go out but I didn’t want to leave the house. I was tired but I was restless. I decided to stay in.

I wanted wine, but I didn’t have any. I didn’t want to go out to get any. I had a half bottle of fino. Not quite the sleepy red that I had in mind but I do love fino, so that will do.

What to eat? I had duck legs and pork belly in the fridge. I couldn’t decide and I wanted both. So both it was. Until I realised that it was 10.30pm and the pork belly still wasn’t in the oven, plus the duck leg dinner was shaping up to be a sizable one, so I would stick with that. And it looked good.

Duck legs? Why not duck breast? Duck legs are delicious and saturated with flavour, fat and crispiness. Duck breast is delicious too but it’s more delicate and feels less rustic. I wanted rustic. I wanted bones. I wanted fat, and I wanted flavour. Lots of flavour and lots of crispy skin.

I wanted red wine but I was starting to get over it.

I placed the duck legs in a baking dish about an inch deep, so that I would capture the fat that oozed out of it. I sprinkled a little hot chilli powder over each leg and about twice as much five spice, I would estimate a half teaspoon of five spice and a quarter of the chilli powder. It need some sea salt to round it off and crisp it up. I rubbed it all in with a little groundnut oil, and made sure to wash my hands thoroughly after. That chilli powder can make your hands firey for hours after.

Into the oven, and I went back to watch Medium. I was firmly immersed in a marathon of it. I love that show!

After 20 minutes I parboiled some diced potatoes, skin still on, until soft, then drained them and chopped some pancetta, 2 generous thick slices. The duck by now was looking and smelling good and had released lots of delicious duck fat.

I removed the legs from the baking dish and put them on a tray with the pancetta. The idea here was to crisp the pancetta up to mix in with the potatoes.  I put the potatoes into the dish with the duck fat with some sea salt sand freshly ground black pepper and gave it a good mix. Then left everything for a further 10 minutes or so, when the duck was perfectly crispy and moist underneath, the pancetta crisped and the potatoes had roasted nicely in the duck fat. I added the pancetta to the potatoes and mixed in some chopped fresh coriander, about a tablespoon, and served it up.

It was delicious. So good I had to share. I hadn’t intended on blogging it so there’s no photo of the finished dish unfortunately, I was too keen to eat it and not keen on missing any more Medium. It was my Saturday night after all. Lazy, grazy and lovely! I hope you had a nice one too.

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The Girl & the Sleuth

Bisol
Announcing some exciting real world news.

Denise of The Wine Sleuth & I will be manning our very own stall in Covent Garden Summer Market next Thursday 6th August. We’ve been talking about doing a pop up bar for a while, so when Covent Garden asked if we were interested in holding a stall in their Summer market, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

This is actually happening in real life/off the blog/real people/real food & drink  and not just photographs! We’ll be serving some gorgeous prosecco from the talented people at Bisol, masters of their craft producing prosecco since 1542. We are going to match this with smoked salmon from Frank Hederman, my favourite smoked salmon in the world. Heston Blumenthal is also a fan. It will be accompanied by my homemade brown Irish soda bread and homemade cucumber pickle. Traditional, Irish and utterly delicious.

Sadly, we could only do it once, as we both work full time, but we are very excited, so do come down and say hello and join us for a tipple and some lovely Irish grub next week from 12pm to 8pm. We promise tasty food and drink and lots of fun.