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Rigatoni with Bolognese Style Ragu and Crispy Kale

Rigatoni with Bolognese Style Ragu & Crispy Kale

Rigatoni with Bolognese Style Ragu & Crispy Kale

Can you handle another ragu recipe? So close to the last? I ate this ragu several days in a row last week, which is normally something that I am loathe to do, but this was so delicious and utterly more-ish, that I couldn’t resist it. It has a little twist too. Normally ragu is served with parmesan, but I chose something else, also intense, oven crisped kale with paprika and sea salt, for a wonderful textural and flavour contrast. It is something that I do quite often, I have blogged about it before too.

One of the things that I love about Italy is their adherence to tradition. They love their recipe rules and stick stringently to them. Very much so. Do not break the rules! They eat so well as a result. Who wouldn’t want to be Italian?

One of the good things about not being Italian is that I can come home and absorb all of the different influences and stories and concoct something new. I can make something inspired by tradition, but not wedded to it. Italians, I know you are shrieking, but without this attitude my beloved Spaghetti Corkese would never have been born. I think you might even like it! Nor would today’s dinner, with the wrong pasta shape and a Bolognese inspired ragu that was a little too wet to be Bolognese, and that I finished with cream before topping with crispy kale.  I know, cream. Cream! But you know, delicious.

The rigatoni was the wrong pasta shape but it was a lovely one from Gragnano that I bought in Italy (the best dried pasta comes from there). It was there, and it was the perfect size tube for the ragu to snuggle and hide in. The cream was my Irish and indulgent take on finishing a ragu with milk. Just a lick of cream gives each portion a decadent texture and roundness, and when cooked in, you may not even know it is there. Now that I have done it, I am fairly sure that one of my favourite Emilia Romagna trattoria ragus was finished like this.

The recipe is based on the ragu that I made with Walter in Bologna. Walter is from Lazio and we cooked a ragu based on the one that his father taught him, but adapted so that it was Bologna style. I made it a little Irish, I think, but it is still more authentic than most you will get outside Italy.

Try it. Enjoy it. Make lots and eat it all week. And make lots of the crispy kale, as you won’t be able to stop eating it. Unless you don’t like kale, of course!

As the Italian say, cook with love and passion. Which I translate as: enjoy it, give it time and patience, and be tender. [Read more]

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Recipe: Prawn and Pork Lemongrass Patties in Lettuce Leaf Wraps with Carrot Salad

Recipe: Prawn and Pork Lemongrass Patties in Lettuce Wraps

Recipe: Prawn and Pork Lemongrass Patties in Lettuce Wraps

The inspiration for these patties comes from fond memory of a lovely trip to Sydney some years ago, pre blogging, so I have never written about it here. Particularly, of an evening in a Vietnamese restaurant in Sydney’s Chinatown. Now, brace yourselves. At the time, I didn’t eat meat. It is ok really – calm down – it really is ok.

I ordered a prawn on sugar cane dish. I asked what was in it, was there any meat? No just prawns, don’t worry. Any meat at all, any pork? (I expected there would be). No, no! Just garlic! The waitress looked at me, suddenly worried and said: do you have a problem with garlic?

No, no I don’t. Bring it on.

I took a bite. SAUSAGE. Pork sausage with a lick of the sea. It was lovely and I couldn’t resist it. I conferred with the waitress who said, why yes, there is pork in there! Of course there is.

I ate every bit, it was delicious. And that taste memory, and the recall of a lovely dinner with an old friend, is what inspires this recipe today.

These patties are super speedy, packed with flavour and versatile. I have been eating them all week in different guises. As sandwich fillings, as meatballs in a beautiful aromatic home made chicken broth made from raw chicken carcasses and lots of veg, served with noodles, bean sprouts, pak choi and fresh herbs. That should keep any illness at bay.

The simplest and quickest way was a fresh light lunch of these patties in lettuce leaf wraps with a light carrot, coriander and red onion salad. I made a big batch of the paste and stored it in the fridge, using it as I fancied over the course of 3 days.

I will post the recipe for the soup soon too. For now, enjoy these wraps.

Carrot, coriander and red onion salad

Carrot, coriander and red onion salad

Note on the recipe: a food processor is best for this, if you have one. I have been asked if it is possible to substitute chicken for pork. I will work out the recipe for this too and post it. You can half the recipe too, obviously, if you are making for one or two.

Recipe: Prawn & Pork Lemongrass Patties in Lettuce Leaf Wraps with Carrot Salad

Makes approx 10 patties

Ingredients

Patties:
600g minced pork – avoid lean, fat gives moisture and flavour, I used 8% fat
400g raw shelled and deveined prawns
2 red chillies (to taste – I like heat)
1 stick of lemongrass, outer layer peeled and bottom removed
1 inch of ginger, peeled
3 cloves garlic, peeled
4 spring onions, trimmed with green tops
handful of coriander leaves
juice of a fresh lime
sea salt

a couple of heads of gem lettuce

Carrot salad:
3 carrots, peeled and grated
1 red onion, peeled and finely sliced
a handful of fresh coriander
juice of a lemon
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced and crisped for about 30 seconds on each side

light oil for frying

Method

Soak the red onion for the salad in the lemon juice, while you make the patties, so that the sharpness of the raw onion mellows out.

Put all of the ingredients for the patties, except the pork and prawns, in a food processor and blitz to a paste. Add the pork and prawns. Blitz until thoroughly mixed and a paste. Season with sea salt and fry a small bit to taste. Adjust and repeat if necessary.

Divide the patties into 10 pieces and fry for 3 – 4 minutes on each side, until brown and cooked through. Don’t overcook or they will become dry.

Add the carrot and the coriander to the onion and lemon juice and mix. Serve each patty in a lettuce leaf with the salad on the side and the crisped garlic on top.

Enjoy!

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Recipe: Courgette and Truffle Carbonara

Courgette & Truffle Carbonara

I have a really bad habit of going food shopping on a whim and being charmed by the glistening ingredients which I can’t resist. I pop them in my trolley gleefully, only to review when I go home and wonder, so how does all of this fit together, and when exactly amd I going to get time to eat it all? Eating it all is never really a worry, although it has worrying effects of late. It does prompt some creative cooking, driven by what I am in the mood for, and what I have nabbed en route home.

I was faced with one such dilemna last night. All I knew is that I wanted to eat something rich, comforting and light, and it had to contain some pasta. Not just any pasta, I was eyeing up my box of Pastificio dei Campi linguine, the grand cru pasta (as declared in Italian food magazine Gambero Rosso) from Gragnano which I have been covetting. I never need an excuse to eat pasta, I love the stuff and frankly am in awe of anyone that can cut out carbs. I just don’t know why you would do that to yourself. However,if you need one, and you just might, good pasta like this cooked al dente is low GI my friends. Eat your fill.

Gragnano is to pasta what Parma is to ham. A town dedicated to artisan pasta making using traditional techniques. The Pastificio dei Campi pasta is finished by hand and gently passed through bronze dies before being slow dried at low temperatures creating pasta with superior flavour and texture, unlike anything you get at your local supermarket. This really is top of the range stuff.

The bronze die lends it a rough outer texture which allows it to grip the sauce eagerly. Interestingly in this age where so many cultures are disconnected from the origins of their food, every box of pasta can be traced back to the day that batch of wheat was sown, the field it was grown in and when it was harvested, directly linking the sourcing of the best limited supply grain back to the farmers. A human connection and real food. Regular readers will know me well enough to realise that quality and sourcing drives my cooking, so it won’t surprise you that this is my primary source of pasta now.

Back to dinner. It was late and I was hungry. I wanted something creamy and rich but not too intense. It is summer after all. My eyes fell upon the new season courgettes, medium sized and shiny, my favourite blue Old Cotswold Legbar eggs with their large golden yolks, some rich aged Grana Padano cheese and some luscious bulbs of garlic. The cupboard yielded some Tetsuya’s Black Truffle Salsa. I knew what I was going to have. A truffle and courgette carbonara.

Odd combination? Perhaps. Although courgette goes very well with rich hard cheeses like Grana Padano, and courgettes love eggs. Truffles love eggs even more, and we all love pasta. Courgettes would ease and comfort the intensity of the truffle, adding a sweetness and some moisture and texture. Like those couples you see with one noisy one and one nice calm one.  You know what I mean, it just works, doesn’t it?

Before I go further, carbonara needs no cream. Just egg yolks and cheese. A lick of garlic on the pan, you can finely chop it, or just cut it in half and fry it briefly to flavour some oil. Egg yolks are so rich and intense and a perfect sauce for the linguine.

Notes on ingredients: you can get the Tetsuya’s Black Truffle Salsa at Harvey Nichols in London, or substitute with grated fresh truffle or some jarred black truffle from the supermarket. Some truffle oil would lend some flavour too. The Pasificio dei Campi linguine is available from Food in the City online UK and internationally, or at Harvey Nichols.

Note on the photograph: the linguine shown in the photo isn’t quite al dente as I gobbled mine up, and photographed a cold portion after, whih had continued to cook as it cooled down. I didn’t waste it though – don’t fear. It makes a tasty leftover dish when fried.

Courgette & Truffle Carbonara

Serves 2

Ingredients:

200g linguine
2 egg yolks
2tbsp Grana Padano (or parmesan)
1 fat clove of garlic cut in half
1 heaped tsp Tetsuya’s Black Truffle Salsa
3 medium courgettes, quatrered lengthways and sliced finely
grated Grana Padano to serve
S&P
Olive oil

Method:

The pasta should take 10 minutes so get that on first.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over a moderate heat and add the cove of garlic until starting to brown, discard. You’ve got the garlic flavour now and that’s all you need.
Add the courgettes and cook over a gentle heat for 5/6 minutes until tender.
Place the egg yolks in a large bowl and stir in the cheese. Season with S&P.
When the pasta is almost dente, add the truffle to to the courgette and stir through.
Drain the pasta and add to the truffle/courgette mixture.
Add the pasta mixture to the bowl of eggs and stir quickly preserving the creamyness of the egg yolks and cheese and not allowing it to scramble (really, it never does as long as you’re quick).
Taste & season. Add some more Grana Padano to taste.

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Recipe: Home Cured Salmon

home cured salmon

Continuing with the fishy theme from my last post, this next post is also a recipe from the Tante Marie Seafood Cookery Course that I recently attended. This home cured salmon was swift and gratifying, the prep is super quick, and then it’s just a matter of waiting. The taste and textures tells of an altogether more complex process, but it’s the science behind the curing that does all of the work. It relies as always on high quality ingredients, so source good salmon, the best you can afford.

I think that I will be rolling this out for the summer picnic season. It would be perfect, especially with a nice cold glass of prosecco. Let’s hope it’s soon! The clocks have changed and these glimmers of sunshine tease me so.

Home Cured Salmon

Ingredients:

750g piece middle cut salmon fillet

Cure mixture for salmon:

1tbsp coriander seeds
2tbsp juniper berries
1tbsp fennel seeds
1tbsp pink peppercorns
225g sea salt
375g granulated sugar

Method:

Place the pink peppercorns, coriander, juniper and fennel seeds, in a dry frying pan and shake over the heat to toast them. Grind them all together in a pestle & mortar or spice grinder.

Mix the ground spices with the salt and sugar.

Rub over the salmon, wrap well and leave to cure for 4-5 days.

To serve, wipe the cure mixture from the salmon with kitchen towel. Slice vertically, excluding the skin if you have left it on.

Recipe courtesy of Tante Marie Cookery School – for further info and for details on courses see http://www.tantemarie.co.uk/

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Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

I love the River Cafe. It’s so bright and cheerful. By the Thames, the room is lined with high large windows and the room is flooded with light. A big woodfired oven blazes at the end of the room, and the kitchen and bar line the restaurant. Staff buzz behind and high ceilings mean the surrounding customer chatter isn’t imposing. It’s really nice and lively. Even the toilets are cheerful with big bright doors of different colours.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

It’s at the high end of most budgets, and mine is no exception, so it’s been a while since I visited. Some years ago, pre blog days in fact. Imagine, there was a time when I didn’t blog?! I have long been a fan of their style of cooking, simple flavoursome Italian far so I was excited at the prospect of a return visit, especially as I had secured a reservation with the Winter lunch offer of 3 courses for £24.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray are accredited with changing perceptions of Italian food in this country, and many established chefs like Jamie Oliver have passed through their kitchens, crediting River Cafe as an inspiration, in terms of their food and their values. Sadly, co-founder and one of the chefs Rose Gray passed away after a long illness recently, and our reservation was moved as a result. Impressively, Ruth Rogers was there, manning the pass. I really like the fact that they never expanded or formed a chain, and stayed dedicated to their restaurant, still cooking and creating. It’s rare these days, no?

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

The set menu offers lots of choice, and I wanted every main on it (there were four). We decided to forego the appetisers and to have a primi, secondi and dolce (starter, main and sweet). I was sorely tempted to go the whole hog, but that’s enough for lunch, when you’ve been eating out as much as I have been lately.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

I chose the Ribolita for primi, and my friend Caroline, fellow Irish gal and market buddy dining with me that day, chose the Gnocchi di Spinaci. I couldn’t resist two of my favourite ingredients, borlotti beans and cavolo nero but sadly it wasn’t remarkable. It was too wintry for me now that we are in Spring. I would have been happy with it at home, but at River Cafe I wanted something with more vibrance and more appeal. It just didn’t have any va-va-voom. The gnocchi were much better. Light, springy and bursting with flavour in a delicious lively sage butter.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

My main promised to be better and delivered. Coscia d’Agnello ai Ferri – chargrilled leg of lamb with cannelinni beans , parsley and slow cooked florence fennel. Bright pink in the centre with a gorgeous charred exterior and a beautiful texture, the lamb was perfect. The beans and fennel were a lovely compliment, the beans had a perfect bite, these were not depressing supermarket tinned beans that I loathe so much. Beans are so very underrated, I love the liberal placement of them in the River Cafe menu.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Caroline had the Coda di Rospo alla Griglia – chargrilled monkfish with anchovy and rosemary sauce, soft polenta with butter and parmesan, and cicoria. Caroline was worried that the polenta would be heavy, but I was confident that this would be the real deal, light and fluffy having been made with great care and over time. Polenta, like risotto, needs careful handling and lots of love, and this had liberal amounts of both. She loved it.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

The famous chocolate nemesis had to be ordered for dessert, it was mousse like in texture and utterly more-ish with the intensity of dark chocolate but none of the heaviness common in most chocolate desserts. We also ordered the lemon tart which was light and zingy, and a perfect end to the meal.

We had a bottle of Greganico with the meal, a Sicilian white compared to Sauvignon. I preferred it and found it lovely and aromatic with nice acidity that worked well with our lunch. It was light enough not to feel too guilty about a second glass that early in the day! It was a very reasonable £17.50, and was a good indicator for the rest of the list, being the cheapest available.

So, overall a lovely experience, even if the ribolita failed to impress. The service was charming, friendly and very helpful, even when I hopped around the wine list interminably, failing to decide. With wine it came to £40 each, which for the River Cafe is a bit of a bargain. The Winter Lunch Offer finishes at the end of March.

http://www.rivercafe.co.uk/

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And that’s it folks…

And, that’s it folks.  No more crazy early mornings filled with  intense baking sessions, vats of soup and spiced bramley apples. No more frenetic tweeting of mes petits désastres. No more waking to the intense  savouriness that is the smell of  kilos of slow roasting pork, wading through the aroma and the sleepiness down the stairs, and opening the oven to a rush of steam and porky goodness. The draining of the fat and the crisping of the crackling. Dipping my hand into the meaty cavern and pulling out the tender shreds of juicy meat.

That’s it The last week is down. A snow filled Wednesday, but cheery to the end and committed to the market, we carried on. We went out with a bang. Yeterday at market was a fantastically busy day and a perfect day to go out on.

The night before, I was exhausted, and really not in the mind for cooking. On the way home from work, I stopped at Selfirdge’s, knowing they had Brindisa chorizo which I wanted for my stew. Sadly, I was too late for Brindisa itself. Then  a quick pit stop in Covent Garden to collect my enormous stock pot, which I had loaned to Denise of The Wine Sleuth, who had taken my place at the market for the previous two days while I was at work, selling her Spicy Tortilla Soup and toasties. Finally, a quick stop in King’s Cross, to see a visiting friend from Tokyo.

By the time I got home, lugging pots, chorizo, kilos of Bramley apples, and what was left of me, I had no energy to cook.  But I had to. That pork ain’t going to slow roast itself. So, in I went, preheated the oven to 220, prepared the pork, put it in the oven, and went to wait the 20 minutes before turning it down to allow it to roast gently. Perfect, no?

No. I fell asleep. I was so very tired, and it was only for half an hour or so, but that was enough to destroy that precious crackling. Luckily I had some extra meat in the fridge, so I could start again. Although, I felt terrible, guilty and annoyed. What a *waste* of lovely meat. I could save the inner portion for my own use later, but I would not be selling it at market.

I decided against boiling the soaked dried chickpeas for the stew, as clearly, I could not be trusted to stay awake, and left this for the morning, setting the alarm a little earlier to fit it in. I went to bed annoyed and, ironically, unable to sleep, worried that I would not have enough food for Saturday, or the time to prepare it

Roll on the morning. I am tired, and it is very cold, I’ve had very little sleep. A peer out the window reveals a carpet of snow on the roof tops.  Shivering, I proceeded down the stairs, by now loathing that porky fragrance.  I sorted out the pork, boiled up the chickpeas and started the stew; sauteeing onions, garlic, chorizo, paprika and adding several good glugs of good red wine, before adding the tomatoes and the chickpeas. Things were smelling good. Bay leaves for extra fragrance, and then it was  time to start the spiced apple, peeling all of those apples, how I’ve come to dread it! Some time later, they’re bubbling in the pot,their sturdy mass  slowly giving way to the water, the spices and the sugar, and transforming to the sweet and spicy condiment that would nestle next to the pork, conspiratorial in their bread blanket later that afternoon.

All done, it’s time to turn my attention to me, and get ready. Bolstering myself with layer after layer, fleece socks over wooly tights, thermals under polo necks under jumpers. Time to call the cab, and collect the bread, get to Covent Garden and set up the market.

At the market it’s busy, and things are looking good. I set up, ask my neighbouring Argentinian stallholder to make me a quick coffee (as that is what he does), and, lastly, as always, I reveal the pork. I’ve come to learn that once this is exposed, I get busy, and there really is no time to do anything else.

It’s the last day, and it’s nearing Christmas. There’s a lovely atmophere. Lots of smiles, is it me or the mulled wine? I expect the latter. It’s lots of fun, and non-stop for 3 hours. I am desperate for a break and a bowl of my lovely Chorizo and Chickpea stew, for I have not eaten since I got up. A girl cannot live on coffee alone.  In the end I have to steal bites in between customers, and in the end consume most of it cold. But who can complain, when everyone is enjoying what I am serving? It makes me very happy.

Several hours later, the pork is gone, and I am relieved. The stew follows shortly after, and friends arrive. We chatter, and indulge in some Bisol Jeio Prosecco. We eat gorgeous shot sized desserts from The Dessert Deli, chocolate mousse and panacotta, and follow with chocolate marshmallows from Sugar Grain. We’re indulgent and we’re having lots of fun. It must be Christmas.

It’s time to pack up! Hooray, it’s been a long day.  I hate this bit normally, but I have lots of helpers, and swiftly, the stall is deconstructed, the wash up is done, everything is put away and it’s time for dinner and wine at Terroirs.

And that’s it. No more market until mid February 2010. Hopefully, I’ll be back. Market days are rumoured to be Fridays and Saturdays next year, which hopefully is true, as I can no longer do Thursdays and I want to continue and explore further. Who knows, maybe I will learn to drive, get some equipment, try new things. I really, really want to.

It’s been a fun 5 months. 5 whole months! I can’t believe it either. Getting out there, cooking, trying new recipes, selling my food, seeing what people like, talking to people about my recipes and getting tips from them. I’ll miss the regulars, I never would have imagined that I would have lunch time queues. Most of all I’ll miss the camraderie with my neighbouring stallholders. Even in Wednesday’s snow, people were smiling, and that helped me smile too.

End of a chapter, but not of an era. Bring on 2010 and it’s culinary adventures.

PS. Photos are from my iphone, forgive the poor quality.

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And that was 2008! What for 2009? Part 2

Yesterday, I blogged the fist part of my annual sum up, And that was 2008! What for 2009? , with the promise of returning with the second part. I know you’re all just dying to read it, so here it is.

Last year was a sociable one for food bloggers, putting it mildly, we had many meetups and events. It was a busy few months prior to Christmas, so much so that I didn’t blog half of what I did, and wondered at times if I should have a second blog, as it seemed that recipe posts were being dwarfed by everything else, if only because I had no time to cook. I will change that this year. I love to cook, and I need to. I love playing and creating, tasting and eating, photographing and styling, but there was just no time.

Ah, blog guilt.

After our first bloggers meetup, we had many more, my personal highlight was the macaron classes at L’atelier des Chefs with 18 other food bloggers. I’ve always wanted to make these scary little things, but never had, and was very excited at the prospect of being taught by a chef. More than this, it was such a fun day, I laughed so much, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I want to run my own little class at home for friends now, a kind of macaron party, but my kitchen right now, is too small for that!

At the start of November, I went to Barcelona for the weekend and paid a trip to the food mecca that is La Boqueria, Barcelona’s enormous food market. I met fellow blogger Aidan Brooks while there, and had a lovely afternoon, soaking in all of the colours, smells, flavours, and that lovely November sunshine.

Another highlight involved L’atelier des Chefs. They invited me to be a judge for their annual cooking compeition, the Cusine Cup, with fellow judges Pascal Aussignac, chef at Club Gascon & Will Torrent, an up and coming confectioner and pastry chef. It was an inspiring day and a very worthwhile experience. I am looking forward to seeing how our winner, Luke, fares in final in Paris this year and I wish him the very best.

Ferran Adria paid a trip to London as part of his international book tour, how could I miss that? It was a really interesting evening where Ferran led us through the magic that he creates in his kitchen. It was fantastic. I just hope that some day I get to eat there!

We’re coming to the end now, if you’re still reading, I am flattered, as I am rambling! The year ended on a high, when Eat Like a Girl was included in The Times Online Top 10 Food Blogs in the World. I was very honoured and flattered to be included. It still brings a very big smile to my face when I think of it.

Another big feature for 2008, was twitter. I’ve had many moments laughing and sharing ideas with fellow food bloggers, friends, and peers from all over the world on there. We started lunchtweets! It’s enormous fun and a huge distraction when you allow it to be, but it’s worthwhile. Follow me on twitter if you are on there.

Any regrets? I try not to have any as a rule, as I find them negative and destructive if you dwell on them, but you can learn from them too. It’s best to live in the moment and enjoy what you can, do all you can well and be proud of what you achieve. But, what I will change, is that I will blog more. There were times last year where I was blogging terribly infrequently, but I don’t want to blog for the sake of it, and only when I have done something worth sharing and have the time to do it justice. So, I’ll create more of those food moments this year make sure that I have the time to write about them.

This year, I will make sure that posts don’t linger in drafts, as so many did last year, I am looking at you: Chicken Noodle Soup; Chicken, Chorizo & Kale Stew; Black Bean Chilli; Linguine with Courgette, Tomato & Basil, Sherry & Food Matchingw ith Heston Blumenthal; Whitley Neill Gin Tasting and Gallery Chocolate Tasting. Perhaps I should finish them and publish them throughout this month anyway! What do you think?

So, having reviewed this, and pieced it all together, I’ve just had to exhale. 2008 was a charmer! It took me by surprise and brought me to great places. I met some great people and fellow food bloggers, and I look forward to meeting them some more. I wait with anticipation for the joys that I hope 2009 will bring.

Next post: 2008 food highlights. Mine & your top posts.

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Slow Roast Pork Belly with Cider & Lentils

Roast Pork Belly with Cider

Slow roast pork belly with cider - a little messy but it tastes *good*!

And now it’s November. It’s dark and cold, it’s been quite wet. That’s ok though, life is all about balance, the rough with the smooth, the highs with the lows, the summer with the winter, and I embrace it. Well, most of the time and maybe not the rain, I had enough of that growing up in Ireland!

I’ve had a busy few months leading up to this, new flat, new job, new everything it seemed, and now that everything is starting to settle, well almost, I took some time this month to experiment, a little, and indulge alot. It’s been a month for comfort food.

Comfort food is at once a friend and an enemy, that first spoonful is so lovely, but by the end, I can start to hate it as I’ve usually eaten way too much. One of the exceptions to this rule is slow roast pork belly, which never grows tired. In fact, I only wished I’d roasted double so that I could have eaten it for the week and not just two days. Of course, that would have been horribly greedy and gluttonous (catholic guilt: seven deadly sins!), there’s also the small issue of health to think of, so I am destined forever to cook small portions, in an attempt at control.

Vegetables that the pork belly roasted on

I have been obsessed with pork belly for some time, the obsession ramped up a notch at Taste of London when I sampled the pork belly from Le Cafe Anglais. Within a short time I was at the restaurant and sampling it there. Hola, full blown obsession! The moist and tender meat blanketed with that oh so crispy crackling, I started researching to see how I could recreate that perfect meal.

So, these are the secrets I uncovered. Most important is slow roasting, start it at a high temperature and reduce it to low, and wait. Roast it with cider or wine for moisture or flavour. Add vegetables to flavour the juices. A variety of herbs and spices are used from fennel to aniseed. So, I thought, what kind of flavours do I want with my pork? I settled on fennel, thyme and cider, and it worked quite well.

Pork Belly Lunch!

Pork Belly Lunch!

I roasted 500g pork, enough for one greedy person over two days or two normal people for dinner. I had my leftovers for lunch the next day, mmmm. Double up if you want to make enough for two, and on and on. It’s a very cheap dish incidentally, pork belly is very inexpensive, especially when you consider the luxury of the final product.

Enjoy![Read more]

butternut squash curry
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Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry

This has been a great couple of weeks for festivities. Diwali, Halloween, Day of the Dead last week, and Guy Fawkes coming up. It certainly takes the bite out of the impending Winter!

I always like to celebrate anything like this with food if I can, hey, I don’t need an excuse I know, even if it’s just for me, or, better again with friends. Last week was busy but I did sneak in a dish that would in some way cover Diwali and Halloween, well, kind of.

Diwali being a Hindu festival is all about vegetarian food, particularly curry, snacks and sweets. As for Halloween, well, Halloween is about spooks and scary things, but also pumpkins, so I thought, why not make a veggie curry with pumpkin in? Or, in this case, butternut squash.

I had an ulterior motive, I felt I needed a few veggie days, or veggie meals at least. I usually have quite a balanced diet but lately I’ve been buying lunch out alot more than usual, and as I work so near to delicious Brindisa, my diet has been leaning heavily on the meat side. So, beans, veg, tomato and coconut seemed like a good alternative to a chorizo stew!

It’s very easy and very light. I made this on a weekday evening and it was absolutely manageable. The measurements are loose as always, feel free to experiment, it’s more about the spices and the flavours in the sauce. I used a small butternut squash about 6-8 inches high. The spice blend is very basic. I just used what I had in my cupboard. It works, though!

This will serve 4. I served it with steamed basmati rice. It keeps well, indeed like most tomato based dishes, tastes better the next day.[Read more]

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Sweetcorn fritters with tomato and avocado salsa

Sweetcorn fritters with tomato and avocado salsa

I went to a friends yesterday for dinner and she made the most beautiful sweetcorn and roast red pepper fritters with salsa. I had to try and recreate something similar tonight and I am very happy with the results, so unusually, I am happy to blog immediately and encourage you to try them.

Sweetcorn fritters remind me fondly of a holiday in Australia a couple of years ago when I had them for breakfast and had one of those – why haven’t I had these for brekfast before! – revelations. They also remind me of my vegetarian years, when, not a fan of meat substitutes, I instead indulged in sweetcorn fingers and fritters and the like. The texture is wonderful, and each piece of sweetcorn is just bursting with flavour. With a side of avocado and tomato salsa, I challenge anyone to dislike this quick and nutritious evening staple.

I kept these simple, the fritter batter contains only sweetcorn, shallots and fresh coriander with a vibrant and flavoursome salsa of heirloom tomatoes and hass avocado on the side. I used frozen sweetcorn as this was really last minute and I didn’t have time to seek out fresh, but fresh sweetcorn would be wonderful in this recipe, if you have it. I used a wonderful heirloom tomato for the salsa but you can substitute with a beef tomato, 2 plum tomatoes, or some cherry tomatoes. I used shallots but you could substitiute spring onions or red onion. Can’t have dairy? Substitute soya milk or coconut milk – both work really well. If adding the coconut milk, I’d add some green chilli to the batter too and maybe some lime. I sverved some extra heirloom tomato on the side, it was too good not to!

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Fregola Sarda with Asparagus, heirloom tomato and goat’s curd

Finding something new to cook with is always exciting. I love prowling food markets and shops looking for that new ingredient or spice. My most recent discovery is fregola sarda (or fregula sarda), a toasted pasta from Sardinia, similar to cous cous but coarser, and because of the way it is toasted quite nutty. Like alot of Italian ingredients, it is exclusive to its area, and is relatively unknown outside of Sardinia. It is also still handmade, something I would like to try sometime in the future when I have time to spare.

I have been cooking with alot of grains recently: pearl barley, farro, wheat, rye. They’re perfect for light summer lunches or side dishes, and fregola is a welcome member of this summer arsenal. With no strong flavour of its own, It combines well with almost anything, and is traditionally served with the likes of clams. This sounds wonderful and is on my list to try, but today, I felt like giving it a London twist, using seasonal produce for a nice light lunch.

Accompanying the fregula in this dish is English asparagus, absolutely bursting with flavour at this time of year. The season is short so I am making the most of it. A punnet of heirloom tomatoes from the Isle of Wight tomato stall at Borough Market accompanied, these incredible tomatoes are juicy and succulent with thick meaty flesh, and absolutely wonderful for this purpose. The final main ingredient is goats curd, a fresh cream cheese made from goats milk that is really light and delicious. I saw this for the first time when I visited Australia (Sydney) some years ago. It’s a great place for food, fresh ricotta and other culinary gems are so easy to come by, it was here that I first had goats curd and have lamented that it’s not available here since. Earlier this year I spotted a large bowl of it in Neal’s Yard Dairy in Borough Market and I’ve been using it since. I use shallots as a base ingredient, I used half an eschalion shallot as they’re quite large. If you don’t have any shallots you can substitute red onion or spring onions (scallions).

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Clam Linguine

Clam linguine is one of those dishes that I love but am extremely fussy about. Hang on, isn’t that every dish? I digress… I won’t order it out unless I am absolutely certain that the restaurant is reliable and uses fresh clams (fresh = very fresh) and not tinned or jarred clams.

Now, I have had many a “discussion” with friends about this. They think I am a snob, but, hey, clams come in a shell, so why not eat them that way? With seafood generally, the fresher the better, that fresh sea taste, like the salt air, and none of the fishiness that arrives when the fish are out of the water too long.

I really struggle with anything that isn’t extremely fresh, and although I hate to admit it, I really can’t stomach alot of tinned fish. For this reason, I always go to good fishmongers when I can, like in Borough Market or Steve Hatts on Essex Rd in Islington.

I distinctly remember the first time that I had clams. I had been eating mussels for some time but was a bit squeamish about other unknown shellfish. On holiday in Croatia, whilst island hopping and on a visit to a gorgeous island called Vis, we had the most lovely seafood experiences. Fabulous fresh seafood and lots that I hadn’t tried before. Fish there is sold as either white fish or blue fish, white fish being the deep water fish like hake or pollock, whereas the blue fish swim closer to the surface and are a bit cheaper, like mackerel. When you arrive at most restaurants they bring a platter of fresh fish and you choose which one you want them to cook for you and pay by the weight.

We ate in one restaurant there, as we had started talking to someone across the road from it when I noticed a fisherman nearby gutting a large white fish, it turned out that his daughter owned the restuarant and this very fish was destined for the pot, immediately after gutting. How could I resist? It was delicious, a leerfish barbecued over hot coals, with oil brushed on it using herbs as a brush.

It was another lovely local restaurant down the road where I had the clams, larger than palourde and full of meat as they were wild not farmed, they were cooked simply in tomatoes and wine and served with crusty bread, still the best way to eat them in my mind.

Back to the linguine. Clams are a little high maintenance, although this is balanced by how quickly they cook. Before using, soak in several changes of cold water for 5 minutes at a time, so that the clams release any sand contained within the shell. Then scrub the outside shell, they’re usually pretty clean, you just want to get rid of any excess grit that may affect your lovely pasta dish. This really is worth the time and effort.

I treat my clam linguine simply, like the clam dish mentioned above. Some shallots and garlic, sautéed in olive oil, followed by diced, peeled & seeded tomatoes, then some white wine and the clams, stewed with the lid on until the clams open, and finally some lemon to lift the flavour and some parsely to finish.

On this occasion, I got some palourde (or carpetshell) clams from Borough Market. You can get clams at any good fishmonger, and I’d recommend that you treat yourself to some.

Some notes on the recipe:

  • I like this dish fruity so I use alot of tomatoes, feel free to decrease if you don’t feel the same. Alot of recipes use more clams and less tomatoes, you could do this here too and easily increase the amount of clams (up to double) and at the end remove some of the meat from the shells so that you are not fighting with the shells while eating.
  • To peel the tomatoes, score a small cross at the bottom, barely piercing the skin and cover with boiling water for 15-30 seconds or so, as soon as you see the skin start to peel back.
  • You’ll need a dish with a tight fitting lid for the clams.

This dish, as always serves two or one hungry person. I was hungry tonight :-) The recipe follows.

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Eat Like a Girl is ONE!

eat like a girl is one

This little blog is one year old. Or, was one year old last Friday, but the bank holiday intervened, then work and since then the sunshine, so, I am celebrating late :-)

What a year! When I started I had no idea how it was going to work out, but 121 posts later, it’s now my favourite hobby. It’s forced me to be creative with my cooking, and the other wonderful food blogs out there are so inspiring on that score.

Where did I think this blog would be one year later when I wrote my first post? I was quite nervous so I did it entirely anonymously, and those early posts were quite brief, but, as I settled into it, I loved doing it and found I spent so much time thinking and arranging what I was doing around it. All in a positive way – promise!

I never would have thought that 12 months later I would have 13,922 views in one month! Nor did I think for a second that someone at the Guardian Food Blog (Word of Mouth) would blog me, or that a colleague of theirs would interview me. I was suprised and flattered to see two of my photos blogged at Slashfood (here and here). I was delighted to win the photography competition run by lastminute.com for London Restaurant Week and am very much looking forward to indulging in that lovely prize. The lovely people at Trusted Places interviewed me – you can watch the video here.

Most importantly of all, I’ve loved the gorgeous feedback from my readers.

Guardian interview

Guardian article photograph

All good? Surely not? Well, there is a downside. Lots of cooking & overeating whilst bad before, is now like an extreme sport. Not the healthiest of pursuits (but lots of fun!). So, there has been some corporal expansion which needs to be dealt with *soon*.

Have I delivered what I promised in that first post? I hope so, but I have lots of ideas for improvements in the future. I want to travel more and learn more. I want to photograph better. First stop: a better camera.

For now, I am very happy and very grateful. Thank you for coming by and making this such a lovely experience for me.

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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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Smoked Salmon with Brown Soda Bread & Pickled Cucumber

Smoked Salmon, Cucumber Pickle & Brown Soda Bread

Did someone mention smoked salmon?? Oh, that’s right – I did! On Sunday and on flickr last week. Shall I let you in on a secret? I’ve discovered that Selfridge’s (in Oxford St, London) have started selling Frank Hederman’s smoked salmon from the Belvelly Smokehouse in Cork. Haven’t they always done that? Well, yes but now, it’s available not only at the Oyster and Champagne Bar as a dish, but, by the side and fillet at the, well, smoked salmon counter.

It’s not cheap, but I’ve been staying with friends for a bit and wanted to leave with a splash (decadent, moi?). Besides, it’s worth every penny and more. The texture is supple and firm with a delicate flavour and a beautiful smoky aftertaste from the beechwood chips. There’s a wonderful quote from the NY Times - Mr. Hederman smokes fish, which is a little like saying Steinway makes pianos. It’s just wonderful.

We know, I hear you roar! I blogged it when I had it in Selfridge’s last year and I mentioned it recently while in Ireland. I saw the man himself when I visited Midleton Farmer’s Market in Cork and I very much look forward to my next trip so that I can sample his smoked mackerel and smoked eel.

So, what to do with this beautiful smoked wild salmon? I prefer to keep it simple and let the smoked salmon sing. A simple accompaniment of good brown bread and cucumber pickle is all it needs – no cheeses, no cream, just the salmon, smoked with such care and attention.

The recipe for each is very straight-forward, there are more complex recipes with more delicate and elaborate flavours, but my quick, simple recipe was given to me by a friend that was a chef and it works for me. I love cucumber pickle, I love the sharp, tartness and intense sweetness of the pickle, it makes my mouth tingle, and in a very good way. As for soda bread, I grew up with it, and it’s something that I should make more often. I prefer a wholemeal soda bread, some people do half wholemeal/half white or white, but for me it’s wholemeal all the way.

This will make a large jar of cucumber pickle and a small loaf of bread. Soda bread is quite dense so it goes a long way.

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Tagliatelle with Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Anchovies and Pecorino

I made a long overdue trip to the farmer’s market at the weekend. It was Islington Farmer’s Market this time and quite by accident. I was meeting friends for a Sunday roast lunch and, despite rigorous planning, turned up an hour before the pub opened. So, we wandered off in the snow, after they had really sweetly let us in and allowed us to have a coffee in the warmth even though they were closed.

Snowy London

I love the snow. Well, that’s not quite true, I like the idea of snow. Until, after about half an hour out in it, I remember that it’s cold and wet and uncomfortable. Then I want to get out of it. Then there’s the snowball fights. Not such a problem as an adult, the last time that I was in one was about 5 years ago when I ran screaming into the house with one deposited in my hood. So, I love the snow, if there’s no threat of a snowball fight, and I don’t have to touch it but can just walk about in it and admire how pretty it looks.

Snowy London

So that we did, and we happened upon Islington Farmer’s Market. The last time that I was there was some years ago, when it was in Islington Green. It has moved further north now, nearer Highbury at William Tyndale School (behind the Town Hall), and has alot more space. There was quite a few nice stalls there, alot of the regulars on the London Farmer’s Market scene – Alham Wood Farm with their buffalo cheeses and meats, Chegworth juices and others I haven’t seen so often like Two Fishwive’s. In my rush, there was one stall that particularly impressed me: Kingcup Farm, they had a fantastic variety of leaves, herbs and heritage products that I have been looking for like candy beetroot and parsely roots. There was also a producer selling a fantastic range of potted herbs and salads, I’ll be going back to sample some of them and the other wares that I had no time to investigate.

Kingcup farm produce

One of the things I bought from Kingcup Farm was purple sprouting broccoli. This is a wonderful seasonal vegetable, more tender and flavoursome than the green broccoli (calabrese) that we are more familiar with. The ones on offer from Kingcup were very young and tender with slender shoots and small heads of purple broccoli.

I wondered what I would do with it, often like to serve it in a salad with a cheese like feta or pecorino shavings, simple dressed and still crisp having been briefly fried or blanched. This time I wanted to do something different so had a browse around to see what it’s paired with frequently. My searches quickly threw up the following: capers, anchovies, garlic, chilli and pasta with herbs like rosemary and parsley.

I decided to go down the pasta route, most recipes went with orechiette, rigatoni or penne. I fancied trying a taglliatelle recipe as the shoots were so tender it would be a nice complement. Having had an enormous roast yesterday, I wanted something light, so I steered clear of cream and kept it simple. It was tasty and light, I think perfect for lunch or a light summer supper. The anchovies imparted a wonderful savoury flavour and depth and the chillies some warmth, all topped with the lovely purple sprouting broccoli.

This served two.[Read more]

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London Restaurant Week

Two fools – me and my winning photo

Following a tough week last week, packing and moving once more, this week has started on a fine note. One of my photos (Rhubarb Fool) was chosen to be exhibited at the launch party for London Restaurant Week last night along with food photos from celebrities (Amy Winehouse, Jodie Harsh, Jean Christophe Novelli to name a few) and members of the public like myself. I was invited, and with a friend attended, quite excited at the prospect of attending such a high profile event.

The champagne flowed and lovely small bites were provided, I indulged in the Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Green Peas and the Fish & Chips – greedy as I am, fear not, they were mini portions. I wolfed it down so quickly, I forgot to take a photo, which frankly, is unheard of. This was followed by a mini chocolate pudding and knickerbocker glory, delicious, and I do have photos of these :-)

All the while, there was much people watching and speculation, always fun. After a couple of hours, Jean Christophe Novelli took the floor and gave a speech, thanking everyone for attending and supporting the event. Then came the time to announce the winner of the photography competition. I wasn’t paying much heed as, really, the other photos were fantastic, so I continued to drink my champagne and nibble. Imagine my shock and surprise when he called out my name! So exciting.

So, here I am, the proud winner, with a fantastic prize: a dinner for two at a michelin starred restaurant. I really can’t wait to indulge. And indulge further I will, for those of you that don’t know of it, London Restaurant Week (actually two weeks this year) is an opportunity to eat at up to 100 of London’s leading restaurants for much less than normal. This list includes no less than 10 michelin starred restaurants. These 100 restaurants include some I’ve been really keen to try: Lindsay House, Bentley’s Bar & Grill, Tamarind, Quilon & The Cinnamon Club. Added to this, a charity benefits, lastminute.com has partnered for the second year running with Capital 95.8’s Help a London Child and 20p from each booking will be donated to the charity. It starts on the 14th April, but you can book now, so, get in there early and make the most of it! I will be. More on http://www.londonrestaurantweek.co.uk.

I’ll leave you with a very cheesy pic of me & Mr Novelli. Haha! What a nice man! Really charming and friendly, even with people like me approaching him with my little camera in hand looking for a photo :-)

Thanks to Sophie and all the guys from lastminute.com for organising a wonderful and fun party, and, of course, for my lovely prize!