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The Providores Tapa Room

The Providores

I adore the tapas room at The Providores in Marylebone. Such a lovely place. Good food, fusion done well, one of the rare places that manages it, and delivers food that isn’t over powered by the sensation of the experiment. Great for dinner with a wonderful wine list to accompany the lovely food, and fabulous for brunch. I’ve blogged about my Sunday brunches there before and those wonderful Turkish Eggs. I also promised a post on the fine dining, but failed to deliver – apologies. I’ll need to go again!

For now, excuse this brief and effusive post, but I wanted to share my photos of a recent lovely dinner there with old friends. I’d recommend you try it. Everything was really good, except perhaps the snails which were too earthy for my taste, but still intriguing and comfortable amongst the deliciousness of the other dishes.

Effusive, yes. Good meal, yes. Recommended, yes. Enjoy!

Pimientos de Padron

Ginger and garlic roast pumpkin with Goat’s curd, grilled artichokes, cape gooseberries, black vinegar dressing, walnuts and sumac lavosh

Crispy crab and tapioca cakes with Sriracha yoghurt


Cyprus Lamb and bulgar wheat köfte with orange and olive salad, Turkish yoghurt and pomegranate molasses dressing

Sautéed garlic snails on chorizo mash with Oloroso and parsley

Twice cooked Middlewhite pork belly on massaman lentils with spinach and sambal bajak

Spring rolls of confit duck and chicken, shiitake and feta with green chilli jam

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Easter Sunday Lunch

Easter - Pinated Duck Eggs

I have a new house! You may have heard me mention. Once, maybe twice, maybe more? I’ve moved in now and I love it, with it’s big kitchen, range cooker, bay windows looking out onto a little garden, full of yellow and pink flowers, bathed in swathes of light. I’ve yet to unpack but that didn’t stop us having friends around for a big Easter lunch.

Drying Painted Dugg Eggs for Easter

The ground floor with the kitchen and living areas was perfectly respectable, but upstairs behind every door and one in particular (mine!) lay bags and boxes, the house’s unconscious, repressed memories of former houses and bad wardrobe decisions, pots and pans, condiments and kitchen oddities purchased for celebrating obscure festivals, I do love randomness in my life! So, we kept everyone busy downstairs, collaboratively producing a fine Easter lunch, interrupted occasionally by an Easter Egg hunt or a munch on some chocolate or a painted duck egg.

Roast Leg of Lamb for Easter Lunch

So, what did we do? We kept with tradition and had a succulent roast leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary with lots of crisp roast potatoes served with roast vegetables and a fresh bright tomato salad prepared by my flatmate and friends. I worked with my cooking partner, 3 year old Lola, making chocolate nests for mini eggs, heart shaped chocolate things with leftovers and dessert, a rhubarb coulis with raspberries and rosewater, intended for a fool, but with more fruit than cream it resulted in a half fool or a foolish. We also had some delicious Russian Easter Cake baked my a Russian friend. It was lovely and not unlike panettone.

Chocolate Egg Nests for Easter

The day before we had made lots of painted duck eggs, fun to make and delicious to eat, although, I can confirm that it’s easier to eat many chocolate eggs, duck eggs in swift multiples can move quickly from delicious to tiresome, even if they are the prettiest ones you’ve ever seen.

Rhubarb, Raspberry and Rose Foolish

I hope you had a lovely Easter! It felt so close to Christmas for me, especially as I site here typing and eating chocolate and mini egg nests for breakfast. I need a purge or a detox. Or someone to take me away for the kitchen and the temptation, save me from myself!

Painted Duck Eggs for Easter

Easter Cake

Easter Lunch Table

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Guilty! Guilty Pleasures Dinner Party

Cheese & Sausage Biscuits

Raised an Irish catholic, I am a natural with the guilt, an expert some would say, and venturing in and out of the seven deadly sins on a semi regular basis as I do (gluttony: check), I’ve got the guilt to offer up at a Guilty Pleasures dinner party.

Guilty pleasures. Isn’t that a great phrase? And, it’s so appropriate! Sneaking that bag of crisps or chocolate bar, those deep fried treats or the haribo. Nibbling at the cheese straight from the packet after a night out. Those few stolen, guilty minutes offer rare pleasure. We all have them. Really, we do. Even if you deny it, I know you have at least one… don’t blush, I won’t tell, I promise.

Some people think, or assume that I am a food snob. Nay! I love good food, home cooked or high end. I love simple food and complex food, as long as it’s done right, it’s delicious. I try to be healthy and be nice to my body, but like (almost) everyone, I slip up.

I don’t want to brag, but I think I have more guilty pleasures than most. I like lots of dodgy food stuffs. No, I love them. CRISPS! Now, that was my first food love. My mother always said that I could live in the back of a crisp lorry with no other food stuffs quite happily. She might be right, although, where’s the pork belly? ;-) Other favourites include tinned peas, toxic green like kryptonite, with lots of white pepper. Fish fingers, flaky and crispy and less wrong now than they used to be, but still GUILTY. There’s lots more: haribo, fish and chips, instant noodles, FAT. Ooooh, fat.

Do you still respect me? Maybe a little more? ;-)

helen with her guilty pleasures

Born out of a fun conversation after a blogger meet up some months ago, six of us congregated in South London with our guilty wares in hand. Decadent as we are, we started some dirty martinis, and they were fine! Then, the food. Helen (Food Stories) started us off  with her offering of cucumber and marmite sandwiches, they were lovely, and very naughty with that white processed bread. I’ll make them again. Denise (The Wine Sleuth) our lovely host, followed with cheese and sausage biscuits. She promised they’d be so good, you’d want to slap yo mamma! And, she was right… Lucky there was no mammas there for us to slap! How have I never had these before? Next stop for me: grits.

bovril on toast

How do you follow this? Chris (Cheese and Biscuits) did admirably with bovril and butter on toast. I love bovril, it was a childhood staple, but I’d forgotten about it and bovril on toast may become a guilty staple of my own.

Lizzie cooking up her guilty dish

Next up was the most controversial dish of the evening, Lizzie’s (Hollow Legs) spam ramen which we approached with caution and devoured with speed. Delicious! A guilty triumph. This dish is very popular in Hong Kong where Lizzie grew up, and in homage to this, Lizzie used a chinese brand of spam. I loved Denise’s nickname for it: spamen noodles. That’s going to stick!

One more dish: mine. I had wanted to do crisp sandwiches with cheese and onion tayto (irish crisps), white bread and mayonnaise, but Denise was surprised and disappointed that not one guilty blogger had offered to make macaroni cheese. So, I did. I did a version of the one already on this blog, using raw buffalo milk, a sharp and strong english sheep’s cheese, cheddar and lots of pancetta including it’s rendered fat. I topped it off with 50/50 panko and grated cheese. It was nice but NOT GUILTY ENOUGH. It needed more crispy pancetta and it’s fatty flavour. Ooof.

Threaded through our guilty dishes were some wonderful wines supplied by Dan of Bibendum Wines. We blind tasted and compared some wines which was really interesting and delicious. You can read more about this on Dan and Denise’s blogs.

wine!

So, I suggest we start a craze. Have your own guilty pleasure dinner party. And do come back and tell me all about it.

Want a head start? Here are some of the recipes from ours.

Lizzies spam ramen

Denise’s Cheese & Sausage Biscuits

My macaroni cheese

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Baozi Inn, Chinatown, London

Baozi Inn

Baozi Inn

I’ve developed a slight obssession with Sichuan province in China: it’s culture, and especially it’s food. My research, in print and online, has shown it to be full of colour and flavour. I’ve met people from there and Westerners that have lived there, one claims that she has never been anywhere where people smile so much. Isn’t that a lovely recommendation? I had hoped to go there on holiday last year, particularly to Chengdu, but I couldn’t squeeze it in, so, that trip is on hold for the moment, but hopefully not for too long.

Baozi Inn

Baozi Inn

Until I get there, I’ve been keeping busy reading and trying the offerings from Fuschia Dunlop, the famed English chef who studied Sichuanese cookery at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu, China. She has many lovely books, one worth trying is Sichuan Cookery. I’ve also been indulging in the recent sudden crop of authentic Sichuan restaurants which have set up in London, most to my shame, I have yet to blog. Angeles in Kilburn and the Sichuan in Acton, have been around for years, but are now accompanied by Red & Hot, Bar Shu, Snazz Sichuan and Chilli Cool, wonderful additions. Chilli Cool and Snazz Sichuan are my personal favourites and are the ones that I recommend when asked. Bar Shu is the most high end of all of them, located off Shaftesbury Ave with the most expensive menu and the most formal service. It’s very good but I prefer something a little more low key and I’ve found that the others offer food of an equivalent standard in a more intimate, less formal setting, Chilli Cool in particular, I salute you.

Bar Shu have clearly recognised the oppurtunities at the lower end of the market, some Sichuan favourites are street food after all (Dan Dan Noodles is one), and so they opened Baozi Inn in Chinatown in 2008. Baozi Inn has had some good reviews and came recommended to me by fellow blogger, Lizzie of Hollow Legs. There’s frequently a wait, and I have little patience, so after a few aborted attempts, I finally ate there last week with some visiting friends and a fellow Londoner who used to live in Chengdu.

Green Beans at Baozi Inn

Green Beans at Baozi Inn

It’s a warm and intimate place, very cosy at this time of year. All wood and the occasional lantern, bare minimalism offering broad wooden stools and tables, it’s not about comfort here, but speed and efficiency. I was pleasantly surprised by the menu. The style is similar to Bar Shu and pictorial, but don’t hold that against them! It features traditional street dishes from Beijing and Chengdu like dan dan noodles, fragrant and hot pork noodles, peace and happiness noodles and Chengdu crescent dumplings with chilli oil or in savoury broth.

Cucumber salad & baoza

Service was brusque and friendly, and after a 10 minute wait we had a table. Surprisingly, there’s no wine on the menu, just beer. We chose some noodle dishes, some crescent dumplings in broth and with oil , some baozi and a couple of sides of cucumber and green beans.

Sichuanese Spicy Beef Noodles

Sichuanese Spicy Beef Noodles

The food arrived promptly, with the sides of cucumber and green bean dressed salads. These were fantastic, lightly and spicily dressed, we didn’t have enough. Shortly after the mains arrived: Sichuanese fragrant-and-hot pork noodles, Sichuanese spicy beef noodles, Chengdu dan dan noodles, Chengdu crescent dumplings in chilli oil, Chengdue crescent dumplings in savoury broth and some baozi. Large portions, we struggled to consume all, as in our hunger, we had ordered more than one each. Overall the food felt light, spicy and fragrant, fresh and very healthy, we were very happy with our choices. The baozi were light and fresh and the dumplings robust and wholesome in a delicious spicy chicken broth. Should I get a cold anytime soon, I know where I am going for my chicken soup!

Baoza

Baoza

I loved it. It’s a quick, cheap eat and great value for money, and all agreed, including my friend that had lived in Chengdu. She thought that it was very authentic and some of the best Chinese food that she’s had in London since she lived in Chengdu (she hasn’t been to alot of the other Sichuan restaurants in London, but I plan to take her). Rushed out as we were in, we weren’t offended, that’s what it’s about after all. I’ll be going back to try their baozi with millet porridge for lunch.

Chengdu crescent dumplings in a savoury broth

Chengdu crescent dumplings in a savoury broth

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A Visit to La Boqueria in Barcelona

The Boqueria, Barcelona

La Boqueria, Barcelona

When in Barcelona, what does any self respecting food blogger do but visit the Boqueria! I’d been told by so many people that it was a must, and had seen it on tv and read about it on other blogs. So, on my recent hectic weekend trip to Barcelona, I made sure there was an afternoon free to fit it in.

Aidan at the Boqueria

Aidan at La Boqueria

Many of you will know Aidan Brooks, food blogger and chef, up until recently he was working in Michelin starred Comerç 24 in Barcelona. I am a very big fan of Aidan’ blog, it’s always interesting and entertaining. I shared a lovely meal with him at The Providore’s over the summer and had always planned to visit and eat at Comerç 24 while he was still working there. It wasn’t to be, as he had moved on already by the time I finally got there. We arranged instead, to meet and tour the Boqueria on a Saturday afternoon last month.

The Boqueria, Barcelona

La Boqueria, Barcelona

Barcelona is a lovely city, and this particular weekend in November it was gorgeous. It was so bright and sunny! Having just left London I was armed with a heavy coat, but it was too nice to wear it. I wandered the streets under an enormous blue sky in a t-shirt and cardigan – in November!

Tapas bar at the Boqueria, Barcelona

Tapas bar at La Boqueria, Barcelona

The Boqueria is an enormous indoor food market off of one of Barcelona’s main and iconic streets, La Rambla. It’s a series of stalls, shops and tapas bars, heaving with locals and tourists and selling almost anything you could imagine you’d want to buy. I saw all kinds of shellfish, offal, blood, porchetta, chorizo, jamon, mushrooms, herbs, really, anything your heart may desire seems to be available at the Boqueria.

Padron Peppers

Padron Peppers

First thoughts? It’s like the English Market in Cork, only bigger. That just goes to show how good the English Market is, to my mind, as many rate the Boqueria as one of the best in the world. Ok, it’s alot bigger but when it comes to vibe, produce and authenticity, it’s a near match! I loved finding out all about the local produce (thanks Aidan) and soaking up all the smells and colours.

Jamon! Boqueria, Barcelona

Jamon! La Boqueria, Barcelona

I really wanted to eat there especially after spending a few minutes watching someone frying razor clams and scallops at a tapas stall there and boy did I want some. It was way too busy though so we went elsewhere. I’ll definitely be going back to complete the experience and blog about it thoroughly, but maybe not on a Saturday.

Pigs! Little uns, big uns. Boqueria, Barcelona.

Pigs! Little uns, big uns - La Boqueria, Barcelona

Fishmongers - Boqueria, Barcelona

Fishmongers - La Boqueria, Barcelona

All sorts of dried fish - Boqueria, Barcelona

All sorts of dried fish - La Boqueria, Barcelona

Mushrooms - La Boqueria, Barcelona

Mushrooms - La Boqueria, Barcelona

Jamon Iberico Bellota - La Boqueria, Barcelona

Jamon Iberico Bellota - La Boqueria, Barcelona

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Cupcake Mania

Fair Cake Cupcakes

And it really was. I, like most people am not averse to a cupcake. Especially a good cupcake. Cupcake fever hit London a couple of years ago and it’s showing no sign of abating. I think that for women, cupcakes have a multidimensional appeal, ok, so that’s very general and some people might accuse me of sexism, but I do believe I can embrace the gender divide here. They’re often bright, pretty, sweet, beautifully decorated and I just want to put them in my pocket and save them rather than eat them. Until I’ve had that first bite, that is. Then it’s game over for the cupcake.

I have tried many cupcakes in the past. Among my favourites are those that Michelle bakes at the Lavender Bakery. I’ve blogged about these before on a recent trip to the Covent Garden Night Market. This post is dedicated to those at Fair Cake, who are so busy at the moment that I’ve read that they can’t take any further orders until mid-November, but I managed to procure some, lucky me :)

You can imagine my delight when 3 boxes of gorgeous cupcakes were delivered for our TrustedPlaces food & wine bloggers meetup last week. I had to turn my back to them for I could not trust myself. They smelled so incredibly fresh (and they were). A lovely light sponge with a rich and sweet buttercream, they went down a treat, and you know how fussy food bloggers are.

Thanks to Shikhita at Fair Cake for squeezing our order into her busy schedule and delivering them to us. She made a nice day even sweeter.

My preciouses

My preciouses

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Taste of Cork

Taste of Cork
Taste of Cork
Taste of Cork

Taste of Cork

I do like to do nice things, and these often involve food, ok, mostly involve food. I can never pass up the chance to attend a food festival, so when a friend mentioned that Taste of Cork would be running for the first time this year in Ireland, I made sure that I would be there for it.

Taste of Cork, like Taste of London, showcases the best food that the area has to offer. It was in a fabulous setting, in the old city gaol, and on a beautiful day. We went along to the evening session, and keen as ever, arrived early to join an enormous queue. Well, to be truthful, I thought I was late as I had the time wrong, but, just as well!

Taste of Cork

Taste of Cork

Now, I’d done a little research, and some Cork restaurants that I really wanted to try were there, so I had already drafted a list in my head, determined to start first with Ballymaloe House and then the Ivory Tower, moving onto Bell Tower, Capella from Castlemartyr. There were some others that I was curious about but these were my top three, anything after that would be a bonus.

Potato soup with garden lovage pesto and chive flowers from Ballymaloe House

First impressions, the venue was great and it was more compact than Taste of London. This, for me, was a good thing, as I only saw a small portion of Taste of London in the time that I was there. Not that that’s a hindrance, next year I’ll just go twice! Nestled in at the base were two of the restaurants from my short list, so I went straight to Ballymaloe House to sample their wares.

Ballymaloe is famous for a few things, their restaurant, Darina Allen, Rachel Allen, Rory O’Connell, their cookery school and their passion for local irish ingredients. I wasn’t ready for a dessert yet, and given I had yet to have anything to eat, a starter seemed like a sensible option. On offer was potato soup with garden lovage pesto and chive flowers. It was pretty, delicious and very smooth, full of flavour, with the chive flowers offering a bold textural contrast, that at first I wasn’t too sure about. By the end, I wanted more.

Ballycotton mackerel with gooseberry sauce and organic Shanagarry salad

The main course available was Ballycotton mackerel with gooseberry sauce and organic Shanagarry salad, however by now, I already had my eye on swordfish from the Ivory Tower next door. The swordfish was served with mango salsa and banana ketchup. I was intrigued by the banana ketchup and wondered how it might taste. It sounds idiotic to say but it tasted exactly like you would expect it to taste – banana flavour with the texture and viscosity of ketchup, yellow of course. It was beautiful with the mango salsa and the swordfish. I fell in love and must try and find a recipe to replicate it.

Blackened Swordfish with Banana Ketchup and Mango Salsa

Next up, a browse around some of the stalls, a taste of the new Lindt chilli chocolate (yum!), some flavoursome irish strawberries, and some prosecco, to wash it all down. The English Market from Cork were there, a fantastic indoor food market that has been serving the city since 1786. There are lots of traditional butchers in there selling the likes of tripe, drisheen and spiced beef, fishmongers, cheese shops, a fresh pasta stall, the farmgate café, it deserves a blog post of it’s own so I’ll leave it for now.

At the Pig’s Back from the English Market had lots of wonderful irish cheeses at Taste of Cork, and I was quite pleased to see a girl there, that had served me at the market some months previously, quite nervously as it was her first day, she seemed to be enjoying herself, which was nice to see.

What else did I eat? White bean soup with pork belly and chorizo oil from Capella, one of the stars of the evening. Definitely one restaurant to return to next time I am in Cork.

Surely, I couldn’t handle another main? Well, they were small, and I just had to! There was roast fillet of pork with black pudding, potatoes, caramelised compote of apple and plums and marjoram juice from Orchid’s at Hayfield Manor in Cork City. Phew, what a mouthful, but the dish itself, regardless of the complexity of the title, tied together beautifully and was responsible for me buying lots of black pudding to bring back to London. A potato and black pudding sandwich with tender fillet of pork on the side – soul food.

Roast fillet of pork with black pudding, potatoes, caramelised compote of apple and plums and marjoram juice from Orchid

What about dessert? I kept it savoury and went back to the Ivory Tower for some pizza ice cream: tomato and basil sorbet, olive and parmesan tuile and it was great.

Pizza ice cream: tomato and basil sorbet, olive and parmesan tuile

What about the food I wanted but didn’t have the space or mental capacity to fit? Herb Coated Slaney Valley Lamb, Carmalised Onion Crushed Potato, Saffron Emulsion from Bell Tower, Capella featured as did the aforementioned mackerel witrh gooseberry sauce from Ballymaloe, the porchetta on the spit, gubbeen cheeses, clonakilty black pudding and the connemara smoked salmon.

Herb Coated Slaney Valley Lamb, Carmalised Onion Crushed Potato, Saffron Emulsion from Bell Tower, Capella
Porchetta

I am afraid I was pretty poor on the demonstration front but I did catch the end of Rory O’Connell who was very enjoyable.

Overall, it was a very pleasant evening with some outstanding food. I’d definitely recommend it and I’d go again.

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The Real Food Festival

Real Fod Festival

Real Fod Festival

My passion for food is well known, and as a result, many leaflets for the Real Food Festival made their way to my desk in the last few weeks. It seemed anyone that knows me thought of me when they saw this festival advertised, and, came bearing leaflets or emailed the details.

I am not generally a fan of big exhibition-type events, but the Real Food Festival intrigued me with it’s promised offerings of products from small and artisan producers. It promised:

The very best line-up of produce and ingredients, incredible wines and drinks from small, unique producers, restaurants serving carefully sourced dishes and a comprehensive programme of entertaining and educational workshops where visitors will discover some of the best food and drink in the world…

Regular readers will know that I am extremely passionate about produce from small producers, particularly local producers, and this seemed like an opportunity to see a generous selection of what the UK & Ireland had to offer, a chance to sample and purchase this produce, with the bonus of having an oppurtunity to meet and chat with the producers.

I had to go check it out.

I didn’t have much time, which was a real shame. I would have loved to have a whole day to interview producers and spread the word, but, my week has been packed with activity, work and otherwise, in advance of a long weekend in Ireland. I haven’t even had a chance to indulge in London Restaurant Week, but, I had to go to this, so I squeezed in a trip between work and packing for my trip home.

Earl’s Court, for those of you that don’t know it, is an enormous exhibition hall in West London. Enormous. Lots of things go on there including gigs, my other passion. When I first moved to London 6 or so years ago, I was given tickets to a trade food fair there by friends, that had planned to go but couldn’t make it. I had really been looking forward to it, but, found the experience a little underwhelming so was not sure what to expect this time.

On approach from the station it started to hail, nightmare, so I ran and rushed indoors. On entrance to the hall, I saw an enormous Whole Foods Market stall, and, while I like Whole Foods Market, my heart sank a little, I was worried that this might be a corporate affair. Within a few minutes it was clear that this wasn’t the case, as, while there were heavy hitters there like Wholefoods, the majority of stalls were small producers, farmers, fish & meat smokers, wineries, food importers with delights like Spanish meats and Italian cheeses, and much more. I was excited and proceeded to dash around to take in as much as I could.

What can I say? I was impressed and delighted. The food that I sampled was wonderful and the selection vast, why isn’t all of this stocked somewhere I can buy it every week? Beautiful sausages and hams, beef, mutton, game, exotic meats, wonderful smoked salmon (including Kinvara which I blogged about recently), wines, juices, real cornish pasties (gorgeous), pastries and on, all dished up with pride and enthusiasm. The restaurants serving included a favourite of mine – the Duke of Cambridge organic pub from Islington, and one I’ve yet to try – Konstam in King’s Cross although I used to frequent Konstam Café before it was closed so that they could focus on Konstam at the Prince Albert.

I was very sorry to have to leave and would urge all of you to go. Support and encourage these fantastic producers and farmer’s, we need more of them. Had I chance to go back, and I very much regret that I can’t, I would spend hours, so get there early, you might want to too.

Lots more details on their website: http://www.realfoodfestival.co.uk

Tickets cost £15 in advance or £18 on the door. The ticket price was used to subsidise the costs for the small producers, so your ticket will directly sustain small producers.

Earl’s Court, London, 24 – 27 April 2008.

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Easter roundup

I hope everyone has had a lovely Easter, and that, like me you are all full and tucked up nice and warm :-)

I am at home in Ireland, and so, generally enjoying other people’s food (roast pork today! mmm), so I don’t have anything to share with you bar a picture of my Easter egg. Other blogger’s have done wonderfully, so I’ll share a few of my Easter favourites from the web. I am full and feeling a little unhealthy after all this indulgence so I have been focussing (mainly but not exclusively) on the healthier recipes.

There’s Roman Easter Soup at Serious Eats.

Pille, at Nami Nami, made marbled beetroot eggs.

On a similar theme, Eating out Loud has chinese tea eggs.

Not on my savoury buzz? Prefer something sweeter? There are seriously beautiful Golden Easter Eggs on the Kitchn.

And, finally, Cream Puffs in Venice made Easter Egg Nest Cupcakes.

Enjoy the rest of this chocolatey day!

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Hinamatsuri – Japanese Girl’s Day

I was in Japan last year around the time of Hinamatsuri – Japanese Girl’s Day or the Doll Festival. It was really charming. Traditionally, all houses (and hotels in my case!) have dolls on display that represent the Emperor and Empress dressed in the traditional dress of the Heian period, often other dolls too representative of other people in the court. It’s believed that these dolls can contain bad spirits and that these bad spirits are removed from the house when the dolls are floated down the river.

I’ve been eating alot of Japanese food of late, and had many trips to the Japan Centre in Picadilly. I spotted the hinamatsuri dolls on my last trip and this prompted a fit of nostalgia and a longing for a break and the thought – I wonder what kind of food is associated with hinamatsuri? I had a browse and I found the most wonderful things. Japanese food is fabulous on so many levels: fresh, bursting with flavour and the presentation is always beautiful. Here’s two items I found, although the first link is actually a link to many other blogs.

The Bento Challenge have a fantastic selection of hinamatsuri themed bento boxes, including one brilliant and very Japanese Hello Kitty one. I also quite like the one with the girl made of ham!

At Just Hungry, Maki has made gorgeous Shell-shaped sushi (Hamaguri-zushi).

As I’ve been a little crap on the food front, I’ll wheel out some of my photos from Japan last year to give you some colour. Girlie photos for a belated girl’s day. Any excuse, I know ;) Enjoy!

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Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year! The Chinese New Year festivities start today – the year of the rat – the first year of the 12 year chinese zodiac, an apparant year of plenty, opportunities and good prospects.

I love Chinese New Year in London, Chinatown is just buzzing and there’s always a big celebration organised by the Mayor of London, this year on this coming Sunday. It’s an excuse to explore another culture and join in on the fun. After work I wandered down to Chinatown to grab some chinese pastries from Kowloon Patisserie and some ingredients to make some chinese food over the coming days. Lots were staples that I’ve run out of, and others random things I picked up after they grabbed my interest! Makes for a creative few days.

There were some dragons lions wandering around, no – dancing and jumping to drums, and popping into local businesses, bringing good luck with them and receiving red envelopes, containing cash I believe, for their efforts. There was lots of drums and excitement and police ensuring that their journey was smooth.

The 15 day celebrations are days of feasting, beginning on the first day of the lunar month (today) and ending on the 15th. Many buddhists abstain from meat on the first day as it is believed to ensure longevity. Often noodles are consumed for the same reason, but never cut, as uncut noodles are believed to represent longevity and long life.

I’ve been craving noodles recently, it’s been ages since I’ve made them and they’re perfect for light meals like lunches. So, before I left today, I did a little searching online for a chinese noodle dish that might ensure a quick tasty bite after my chinatown adventure and meet the chinese new year requirements. The dish that caught my eye, I found published in a number of places, but the recipe appears to have originated at eatingwell.com – Long Life Noodles with Green Tea.

This really appealed, I have never had noodles with tea in them before for a start and it looks really light and healthy, a perfect counter to the Chinese pastries I was intent on consuming. Green tea tastes great and it’s healthy, so it looked like I might be on to a winner. The origin of the dish, or this type of dish, is said to be the Yangtze River valley where there are many tea farms and where it’s popular to serve noodles with ingredients like green tea and tofu in summer as they are perceived to be cooling. A little bit of a climate mismatch here really, in February in London, I am not looking to cool down, but I am looking for a new light noodle recipe so I thought that I would give it a go.

I made a few changes to the recipe as I had normal tofu, not baked, although I am sure that smoked would work well here too if I had found it. I couldn’t find a yellow pepper either so doubled the amount of red. My research said that egg noodles are not traditional for this day, but again, it’s what I had so I made do. It’s a really nice recipe, really light, healthy and delicious, the green tea is very subtle and the dressing flavoursome but not overwhelming. Nice hot or cold, I had it hot this evening and will be having it cold for lunch tomorrow! I will be making it again.

This recipe will serve 4.

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