RECIPE: Roast Feta with Tomatoes, Oregano, Chilli & Red Onion
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Recipe: Roast Feta with Tomatoes, Oregano, Chilli & Red Onion

RECIPE: Roast Feta with Tomatoes, Oregano, Chilli & Red Onion

RECIPE: Roast Feta with Tomatoes, Oregano, Chilli & Red Onion

My return from Greece last weekend was chaotic, to say the least. I woke up feeling far from fresh and very sleepy. I had with me a stockpile of Greek ingredients: feta, fava, oregano, extra virgin olive oil and vinegar. I wanted to play.

I invited a friend round for dinner. I had spent the day making eclairs (recipe on My Daily) and had already eaten four before I dialled in my eclair SOS. Save me from myself, come immediately, I just can’t resist them, I plead. So we had a backwards dinner, eclairs to start, while I pottered around the kitchen playing around, a glass of Santorini Assyrtiko wine keeping me company.

I made several dishes that night, and will share this Roast Feta with you now. I was thinking of the Santorini tomatoes, tiny and intensely sweet having grown on that arid volcanic soil. I hadn’t brought any with me, but I did have oak roasted tomatoes from the Isle of Wight Tomato Stall, a regular from my culinary arsenal. They are so intense and sweet, and require no work, as it has all been done for you. They are brilliant for veggie friends too, and work really well in a veggie carbonara, as they have all of the umami intensity that bacon does (trust me, they do).

This dish is very simple and barely requires a recipe, but there are a few things you should pay attention to. Buy good and proper Greek feta, it is protected so once it is called feta you will be fine but beware of fetta or similar. Proper feta is just made with sheep and goats milk, with no cow, and has a wonderful sweet, sour, salty flavour. Also use the best extra virgin olive oil that you can afford.  If you are investing, you might as well go Greek, given the recipe that you are using it for. If you can’t get the Tomato Stall tomatoes, roast some good cherry tomatoes at home yourself under a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil at 150 deg C for about half an hour.

RECIPE: Roast Feta with Tomatoes, Oregano, Chilli & Red Onion
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Recipe: Deep Fried Pasta Snacks with Manchego & Paprika

Deep Fried Pasta Snacks with Manchego & Paprika

Deep Fried Pasta Snacks with Manchego & Paprika

Who doesn’t like the crispy bits on the top of a mac ‘n’ cheese? They are my favourite bits. The crispy bits of anything frankly, and I must be honest, I have a real problem with crisps. If there are any in the house, I just can’t help myself. From the toxic orange cheesy corn snack to swish expensive Spanish crisps fried in extra virgin olive oil, I am helpless when in range. So, I rarely have them inside the front door.

Some days however, when I am controlling my access and there are none in the house, I still want some or something / anything to snack on. This has been a life long problem, and I first tried to make crisps when I was a child from the left behind small potatoes in the field in front of my house. I wanted to replicate exactly what I had had from the shops so, after a few efforts I was disappointed, and stopped.

As an adult I have had a lot more success. The small child inside me rejoices, and the adult who would really like to fit into that lovely red vintage dress of yore ponders while tucking in. Last week I made purple potato crisps which were a massive hit (the photo here is from my instagram feed – a lot more gets posted there than ever makes it here so make sure you follow on instagram, facebook or twitter).

Purple Potato Crisps on Instagram

Purple Potato Crisps on Instagram

I haven’t just made snacks with the humble spud. I have experimented a lot. I love leftovers, and I love trying different things with them. It may not be possible to polish a turd (nor should you eat one), but leftovers can be so much more glamorous than the original dish, once the original dish was decent to begin with. Taking risks with leftovers is no big deal, they are there to play with anyway (and also, finally, to eat), so years ago in university I looked at a plate of leftover spaghetti and fried it. And that was it.

I soon found out that this is far from an original idea, the Italians do it (pasta fritti), the Maltese do it (called froga which is like a leftover spaghetti frittata). I have a recipe for an omelette with leftover papardelle with ragu in my first book, Comfort & Spice, too. Leftover long pasta lends itself brilliantly to an omelette, you should try that. Added to this, instant noodles are simply cooked noodles deep fried to extrude the water and dry them in order to preserve them, this works really well for pasta too, and you can keep your fried pasta snacks in an air tight container for a while.

I say this is a great leftover dish, but the reality is that I often cook the pasta to make this at home. Fried pasta is a fabulous crispy snack, with each shape giving a different result. Here I have used large round pasta shape which lends itself well to frying. Don’t use cheap pasta, just because you are frying it. Good ingredients make good eating, so use the best you can get.

You can use lots of different toppings – good melting cheese grated fine and used sparingly works well and dried spices and chilli too. I had some lovely manchego and some smoky Spanish paprika so I gave this rendition a nice Spanish twist.

I don’t have a deep fat fryer, so I just fill a large deep frying pan with oil to about 2 inches. You could do this in a sauce pan too but fry in batches, making sure that the pasta is in a single layer with room to mooch about or it will all stick together in a gloopy mess. A thermometer is useful and helps get best results, but it is not essential.[Read more]

monjayaki
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Eating Tokyo: Monjayaki on Monja Street, Nishinaka Dori, Tsukishima

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Nishinaka Dori in Tsukishima, also called Monja Street

Let’s talk about monjayaki.

What is it? It is often compared to okonomiyaki, I thought this too the first time that I had it in Tokyo 6 years ago, but it quickly became clear as it was cooked that it was a different beast.

Monjayaki, I was told, translates as snack cooking, and okonomiyaki, favourite style of cooking. Japanese readers, please feel free to correct if I am wrong. I tried to make myself understood but the language barrier can be brutal.

They are separated by geography too. Monjayaki comes from the Kantō region (greater Tokyo and around it) and okonomiyaki from Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka etc.). That is not to to say that okonomiyaki from Kyoto or Osaka are the same, they have their own styles, which can be very different (Hiroshima is most famous for okonomiyaki incidentally, but I didn’t get there on this trip).

The centre of monjayaki activity in Tokyo is Tsukishima. There is one particular street, Nishinaka Dori, with 75 monjayaki restaurants on it and the alleys off of it. There is even a Monjayaki Information Office on this street established by local restaurateurs.

Monjayaki started out as a snack that kids primarily would have. It is a lot wetter than okonomayaki and cooks very flat, and only on one side on a teppan grill, whereas okonomiyaki is drier, firmer and thicker. The ingredients also differ.

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After a very clumsy conversation at the Monjayaki Infortmation Office (clumsy on my part, they were very helpful), I wandered down Nishinaka Dori looking for one of the 75 that would grab me. It was impossible to choose. As I walked a lady from the office gestured that I should go into one that turned out to be hers, and her daughter spoke English. Result.

IMG_9604 Inside were several teppan tables and a bunch of Japanese school girls in for a snack after school. There were many choices, but I chose the traditional mentaiko mochi monjayaki, with primary ingredients of mentaiko (cod roe), mochi (bouncy rice cakes) with flour (a very light powdery flour), dashi (a stock made with bonito & kombu), worcester sauce, cabbage, noodles and agedama (bits of tempura batter).

IMG_9628 All of the ingredients are presented to you in a bowl, and the mentaiko, mochi, cabbage, noodles etc are poured onto the oiled hot teppan. They are fried for a couple of minutes, and then formed into a circle with a large hole in the middle. The wet portion is poured in here, and stirred about to cook it, before the other ingredients are drawn in. Everything is very well mixed in at this point and small bits of mentaiko mingle with the mochi etc.

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IMG_9685 IMG_9690 The monjayaki is allowed to cook for a bit, only on one side which crisps and caramelises beautifully. At this point, you really should get some cheese (you order it with your monjayaki). I added mine about half way through as I wanted to try it with and without. A generous amount of a simple melting cheese is scattered on top, and allowed to melt into it. It is finished with  rich dark brown monjayaki sauce and some seaweed, toasted and fine.

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The result? Heaven. A large kinda pancake with lovely savoury bits of cod roe, bouncy bites of mochi and other bits, all crisp and caramelised underneath with lots of melted cheese on top.

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Now, what can be wrong with that? Nothing. It is a comforting and rich slice of Tokyo life.

You eat it with a little spatula, leaving it on the teppan (which is turned off but still warm).

Happy monjayaki cooks, mother and daughter

Happy monjayaki cooks, mother and daughter

(I have a card from the restaurant somewhere but am struggling to locate it, I will do my best to find the name for you).

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Recipe: Sea Salt & Paprika Kale Chips

Sea Salt & Paprika Kale Chips

Sea Salt & Paprika Kale Chips

Kale chips. You are starting to worry now aren’t you? You are remembering that I have recently been to the west coast of Canada (British Columbia), and now you are worried that I have gone all – well, west coast – on you?

Don’t worry, I haven’t. You can still expect to see lots of pork belly, Iberico lard, and all lovely, tasty, and yes, fatty things here. For, we are embracing of all things food.

And that includes kale chips.

Kale chips! What am I talking about? Raw food people love them. They dehydrate kale for hours so that they are left with crispy dry kale. I don’t have a dehydrator so I came up with a way of doing these in the oven. They are a fabulous (and quick) sulphurous little snack.

To make these crispy treats, I dress a single layer of kale with a generous splash of extra virgin olive oil. I then sprinkle them with sea salt and smoked Spanish paprika and roast them in a hot oven until crisp. Don’t neglect the salt, they just don’t taste good without it.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Sea Salt & Paprika Kale Chips

Ingredients

Kale, as much as you want to make chips from – washed, dried & cut into strips
smoked paprika
sea salt
extra virgin olive oil

Method

Preheat your oven to 180 deg C.

Spread the kale in a single layer on a large oven tray. Don’t be tempted to put more as it just won’t crisp evenly.

Coat in the olive oil, a couple of tablespoons should do it.

Sprinkle with the paprika and sea salt and toss. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.

Roast until crisp – this will take 10 – 12 minutes. Watch carefully as they will burn.

You’re done. Now it is time to eat them. They eat really well hot or cold.

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Cosy, quick and healthy snacking

Toasted tortilla with manchego and tomato
Sometimes, with food, instant gratification is called for. As close to instant as is possible in any case. I am not talking about reaching for the haribo (although, that has been known to happen), but something flavoursome, healthy, crispy and super quick.

Don’t worry, I haven’t lost my mind and am not about to tout the health benefits of leftover pork belly or a bag of crisps. Tasty: yes. Healthy: not so much. The snack I am about to describe, is colourful, pretty and delicious and so easy, it’s ridiculous.

Take one tortilla (corn or flour), add a handful of chopped tomatoes, the best you can get, I like sweet, ripe cherry tomatoes. Top with some grated manchego (or similar cheese) and put in a preheated oven (180 degrees celsius should do it) on a lightly oiled tray. Toast for 5 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Drizzle some good extra virgin olive oil on top and season with salt & pepper. Serve with a handful of greens as a garnish, I used pea shoots but rocket would be good too.

Sit back, briefly admire your handiwork, for it will be pretty, and eat. Run back into the kitchen and prep another as you’ll probably want one. I almost always do.

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Spiced Chickpeas with Spinach

Yum scrum! Spiced chickpeas with spinach. The humble chickpea, small and nutty, packed full of protein and fibre. So tasty and cheap, I bow before thee. I first had chickpeas in a youth hostel in Rome many years ago, at the tender age of 19. A fellow youthful traveller was eating them out of a tin that he had hacked open with a swiss army knife, I was curious and had to try. I’ve never looked back.

I love chickpeas, whether they are in dips, stews or curries. In salads with cheeses, herbs and tomatoes. I like them baked as a snack or spiced in a pitta. Like all pulses, it is worth making the effort soaking dried ones over night and cooking them until tender, if reasonably fresh, usually for an hour or so. There’s no comparison for me between dried and tinned – the texture of those cooked from dried is so much better, firm to the bite, rich in flavour and not waterlogged like tinned.

Earlier this week, I soaked and cooked off a big bag of dried chickpeas, and, for that evening, spiced about 2 tins worth with spinach and froze the rest. It’s a quick dish with tasty results. This will serve 4 and is good served stuffed in toasted pitta bread. [Read more]