Monday, 30 April 2012

In The Absence Of Cheese and Potatoes

"Are you sure you want the yellow fish?"


"But what about this fish? Which is the same but just slightly different. Tasty and smokey but not so yellow."

"I want the yellow fish though."

"Why? Why do you want the yellow fish?"

"Because that's what Batman eats."

Now ordinarily, I wouldn't put up with this sort of fuss in the supermarket. Ordinarily, I would take control, be steadfast and strong. But considering that I had just publicly vented my spleen over a display of sword fighting, with cucumbers in place of actual swords. And had run a gamut of disapproving looks and barely concealed tuts throughout the aisles as a result. Which was probably due to due to my vigorous arm pumping and shouting. "Oh those poor kids," came the whispers. I decided that any more spazing off over yellow fish was not going to help me or the children. This was, after all, supposed to be a quick shop for an easy Sunday supper. If the boy wanted luminescent, radioactive haddock to go into his pie, he could bloody well have it. Plus, a quick peep at the label revealed it had been dyed with curcumin, a natural product apparently, thus alleviating any parental paranoia about colourants and E numbers. I do care for my children you know. So we bomb it around some more, throwing food into the trolley with gay abandon, get through the checkout unscathed and make it back home in a flash, clocking in an impressive time of 20 minutes for the whole round trip. I bring the bags in, the twins go upstairs to smash their bedrooms into tiny, little pieces and I set to start making a delicious fish pie.

I then discover that I have forgotten to buy potatoes and cheddar cheese and soon afterwards fall into a cliché of Fawltyesque proportions by running into the front room, to bury my head inbetween the sofa cushions and scream. Seconds, minutes, hours pass and suddenly, I am aware of two sets of eyes burning holes into my back. I pull my head out out of the darkness, turn and stand up tall. And with lint and crumbs atop my head, I announce to the open mouthed, little people standing at my feet that we are having haddock risotto for tea. Because I knew there was arborio rice in the cupboard, which would serve as a starchy substitute for the spuds. I was unsure at first about using the cream we had bought originally for the pie but in the absence of cheese, it worked rather well and delivered quite a decadent dish in the end. A bit like kedgeree. But without the curry. Or the egg.

And then Mum returns from work. The scene around the table is silent and calm except for the scraping of spoons on china. She peers into a large, flat pan on the hob and makes a confused enquiry, "I thought we were having fish pie tonight?" And the situation is explained.

"But, look, there is a pack of cheese in the back of the fridge and there are some Maris Pipers left in the shed."

A chair scrapes back and heavy footsteps disappear off, a soft thump echoes and in the distance resonates a long, tortured, muffled howl.

"That's the second time that's happened today Mummy," says Fin, as he spoons a tiny bit of rice, straight onto Batman's firm and closed square jaw.

Haddock Risotto - serves 4


2 large fillets of smoked haddock (dyed or undyed)

1 bay leaf

10 whole peppercorns

1 pint of milk

2tbs of olive oil

knob of butter

1 onion, finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

300gms of arborio rice

1 litre of fish stock

100ml of double cream

handful of frozen peas

handful of broccoli florets, trimmed and blanched in boiling water for 2 minutes

handful of parsley, finely chopped

salt and pepper, to season

handfull of freshly grated cheese (whatever you have to hand, in the back of the fridge)


Firstly, place the haddock fillets, bay leaf and peppercorns in a wide pan, using just enough milk to cover and bring up to a gentle simmer on the hob. Once simmering, poach the haddock for about 5-7 minutes or until just cooked through (or just under in fact). Take out of pan, remove the skin and flake into chunks. Put to one side.

In another wide pan, heat the olive oil and butter until it foams and then add the onion and celery and bring the heat down to a very gentle simmer. Cook the onion and celery slowly for at least 10 minutes or so until it becomes very soft. Stir in the garlic and continue to cook for another few minutes. Meanwhile, heat the fish stock in another pan, you could also add the poaching milk to the stock if you like.

Once the onion, celery and garlic is soft, add the rice and raise the heat, cooking the rice for a minute or so until it becomes slightly translucent. Then add a ladle of hot stock, stirring all the while. Bring the heat down again and stir the rice, adding a ladle of stock each time the liquid is absorbed into the rice. Keep doing so for about 15 minutes until the rice is soft yet still retains a slight bite.

Take off the heat and add the haddock and cream, stirring through and then add the peas, broccoli and parsley. Season to taste with salty and pepper and then cover and leave to rest for 5 minutes.

Serve in bowls with a sprinkle of grated cheese.

Radioactive Haddock


Batman and Fin

Saturday, 28 April 2012

ASIAN LEAF – Looking to add some spice to your cooking? Treat your tastebuds to the exotic, rich flavours of the east with our Asian leaf recipes

Betel leaves topped with chicken, roasted coconut, peanuts and lime
Serves 6 as an entrée or 18 as an appetizer
These make a great little nibble with drinks, you could plate up for a pretty entr
ée or serve deconstructed, as we have, on a platter for friends to share and make their own.

¼ cup shredded or flaked coconut
¼ cup raw peanuts
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon grated root ginger
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
250g chicken mince
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon shaved palm sugar
18 betel leaves, rinsed and dried
½ lime, unpeeled and very finely diced
¼ cup coriander leaves
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely julienned

1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C . Roast the coconut and peanuts on separate trays for 5 minutes or until each is golden brown. Once cool, roughly chop the peanuts, set aside with the coconut.
2. Heat the oil in the wok over a high heat and sauté garlic, ginger and chilli for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the chicken mince and sauté until browned. Add the fish sauce and the palm sugar, stir until sugar is dissolved.
3. Serve each betel leaf topped with chicken mixture, a little sprinkle of the coconut, peanuts, diced lime and top with coriander and kaffir lime leaves. Serve immediately.

food dept fact: Glossy, dark green betel leaves are available at Thai grocers, it you can’t find them substitute with small English spinach leaves.

Crispy pork belly with palm sugar caramel sauce and steamed baby buk choy
Serves 4
Crispy on the outside, succulent and juicy in the centre. These pork pieces are worth every second of the cooking involved in this recipe.

1kg boneless pork belly
2 litres chicken stock
4 cloves garlic, peeled and bruised
4 slices ginger
1 star anise
1 piece cassia bark
¼ cup soy sauce
I tablespoon salt flakes
1 teaspoon white peppercorns
vegetable oil, for deep frying
1 quantity palm sugar caramel sauce
1 tablespoon fried shallots, for garnish
½ cup coriander (cilantro) leaves, for garnish
1 quantity steamed baby buk choy
Chinese red vinegar, for serving

1. Place pork belly into a large pot of cold water and bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes and then drain.
2. Return the pork to the pot and cover the pork belly with the chicken stock, add garlic, ginger, star anise, cassia bark and soy sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid, then drain the pork belly and allow to cool.
3. Cut the pork belly into 3x3cm cubes and place in a large bowl. In a motar and pestle crush together the salt flakes and white peppercorns, toss through the pork pieces. 
4. Heat oil in a wok over a medium heat until hot. Fry the pork belly pieces in batches for 5 minutes until the crackling is golden and bubbled. Drain on paper towel and keep warm.
5. Place the pork belly pieces in a large bowl and gently toss with a few spoonfuls of the palm sugar caramel sauce. Place onto a serving platter and sprinkle over the fried shallots and coriander leaves, place remaining caramel sauce in a jug and serve alongside the pork. Accompany the pork with steamed baby buk choy and a drizzle of red vinegar. The red vinegar adds a delicious contrast to the rich and sweet flavour of the pork.

food dept fact: Star anise, cassia bark, fried shallots and Chinese red vinegar can all be purchased at good Chinese grocery stores.

Palm sugar caramel sauce
Makes approx 1 cup

1½ firmly packed cups chopped palm sugar
½ cup boiling water
1 cup reserved cooking liquid
2 star anise
1 stick cassia bark
2 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste
2 tablespoons fish sauce, or to taste

1. Place the palm sugar and water in a large saucepan over a low heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Increase to a high heat and cook until sugar begins to caramelize, it will become a dark golden brown colour. You can smell the caramlisation of the sugar. Be careful to not burn the sugar or it will make the sauce bitter.
2. Cautiously pour in the reserved cooking liquid to stop the caramelisation process. It will spit and foam up in the pan. It will reduce in the pan again. Reduce the heat add the star anise and the cassia bark and simmer for 30 minutes or until the sauce thickens to a honey consistency.
3. Add the soy and fish sauces and taste the sauce, if it is still too sweet add a little more of the salty sauces until the flavours taste balanced. Serve warm as required.

food dept fact: Left over caramel sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Steamed baby buk choy
Serves 4

8 baby buk choy, approximately 2 bunches
1 teaspoon peanut oil
1 long red chilli, finely sliced

1. Rinse the buk choy and arrange in a bamboo steamer, place over a wok of simmering water. Cook for 3-5 minutes or until buk choy turns bright green. Be careful not to overcook, it should still be crisp.
2. Drizzle with a small amount of peanut oil and sprinkle over the chilli. Use as required.

Green curry of sin qua, pea eggplant and fried tofu
Serves 4–6
Nothing beats the freshness of a homemade curry paste. This is a delicious vegetarian curry but can easily be modified to make your favourite chicken green curry. Sin Qua has a similar texture to zucchini (courgette), its best eaten when young, if you have trouble finding it you can easily substitute with zucchini. Baby zucchinis with flowers would be lovely to use when in season.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
⅔ cup green curry paste, or to taste
2 cups coconut milk
1 cup water
4 kaffir lime leaves, crush the leaves to bruise and release the flavours
2 small sin qua
½ cup pea eggplants
100g fried tofu, halved
1 tablespoon fish sauce, or to taste
1 tablespoon palm sugar, finely chopped, or to taste
Steamed rice, for serving
½ cup coriander (cilantro) leaves
½ cup Thai basil leaves
1 tablespoon fried shallots

1. Heat oil in a wok or a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the green curry paste and fry for 2-3 minutes, until the paste is fragrant.
2. Add the coconut milk, water and kaffir lime leaves, bring to a simmer. Peel the sin qua, keep paring down the corrugated skin until it is all removed, the skin is very tough. Add the sin qua, pea eggplants and tofu, simmer for 5-7 minutes or until the sin qua is tender. 
3. Season the curry with fish sauce and palm sugar. The flavours in Thai recipes are a blend of hot, salty, sweet and sometimes sour. The heat in this curry comes from the amount of curry paste used and the saltiness and sweetness come from the fish sauce and palm sugar and the sour/bitter flavor comes from the pea eggplants. 
4. Serve the curry over rice and sprinkle with coriander, Thai basil and fried shallots.

food dept fact: Pea eggplants are commonly used in green curry and are available at Thai grocers. They have a bitter flavor that blends beautifully with the other flavours in the curry.

Green curry paste
Makes enough for 2-3 curries depending on how much paste you like to use.

6 large green chilies, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon shrimp paste, wrapped in foil and toasted under a hot griller for 5 minutes
½ cup purple shallots
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bunch coriander leaves stems and root, washed
2 kaffir lime leaves
2 sticks lemon grass, tender part only, roughly chopped
1 x 5cm piece galangal, peeled and roughly chopped
2 teaspoon white peppercorns
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Finely grated rind, 1 kaffir lime

1. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until it forms a paste. Use as required.

food dept fact: This curry paste can be made and stored for a few weeks in the refrigerator or if you would like to keep it for up to 6 months freeze it in 1/3 cup portions. You could substitute the fresh curry paste for a bought green curry paste, but be sure to use the amount as recommended on the package, curry pastes can vary a lot in intensity.

Fried choy sum and snake beans with mustard greens
Serves 4
An easy stir fry that can be served on its own or as part of a selection of Asian dishes.

1 bunch choy sum
1 cup vegetable oil 
1 bunch snake beans, trimmed and cut into 10cm lengths 
250 g pork mince
1 tablespoon dried shrimp soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes, drained 
2 tablespoons finely chopped, preserved mustards greens 
¼ cup soy sauce
½ teaspoon salt flakes
2 teaspoons sugar 
• ¼ cup garlic chives, cut in 3 cm lengths

1. Rinse choy sum and trim the leaves from the stems. Cut steams into 10 cm pieces and reserve leaves.
2. Heat oil in a wok over a high heat, plunge choy sum stems into the oil for one minute until the skin starts to blister. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towel. Do the same with the snake beans.
3. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the wok and stir fry the pork mince until browned, add the prawns and mustard greens and continue to cook for another 1-2 minutes. Return the choy sum stems, snake beans and the choy sum leaves to the wok, toss to combine. Stir through the soy sauce, salt and sugar for 3-4 minutes until the choy sum leaves are bright green. Toss through the garlic chives and serve immediately.
food dept fact: Dried shrimp and mustard greens are available at any good Chinese grocery store.

Crisp skin red fish on wilted gai lan with hot and sour tamarind sauce and fried basil leaves
Serves 4

¼ cup peanut oil
8 purple shallots, peeled and finely sliced
½ cup Thai basil leaves, rinsed and well dried
4 cloves garlic, crushed
4 small red chillies, finely chopped
2 tablespoons grated ginger
1 cup tamarind liquid
½ cup shaved palm sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon salt flakes
1 teaspoon sichuan peppercorns
4 x 200g red fish (nannygai) fillets, skin on
Extra, 2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 bunch gai lan (Chinese broccoli), rinsed and trimmed

1. Heat peanut oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat. Fry the shallots until browned and crisp. Using a slotted spoon remove the shallots and drain on paper towel. In the same oil fry the basil leaves a few at a time. Be careful to dry them well, any water on the leaves will cause the oil to spit. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
2. Using the same oil, sauté the garlic, chilli and ginger for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the Tamarind Liquid, palm sugar and fish sauce and simmer over a low heat for approximately 10 minutes or until slightly thickened, keep warm.
3. Crush the salt flakes and Sichuan peppercorns in a motar and pestle. Dry the skin of the fish fillets and rub the salt mix onto the skin. Heat extra oil in a large frying pan and cook the snapper skin side down for 2-3 minutes, turn and cook the other side for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the pan and keep warm, uncovered in a low oven.
4. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and plunge the gai lan into the water, cook for 1-2 minutes until bright green. Be careful not to overcook, drain well.
5. Divide the gai lan between 4 serving plates and top with a piece of fish. Spoon over sauce and sprinkle with fried shallots and basil leaves. Serve immediately.

food dept fact: Substitute the red fish fillet with any white fish fillets with skin on. It also looks fantastic if you serve the sauce over a whole fish (bream works well). Score the flesh of a plate size fish, rub the skin with flour that has been seasoned with salt and sichuan pepper, deep fry until crispy and golden, serve with sauce. 

Tamarind liquid
Makes 2½ cups

100g tamarind pulp
2 cups hot water

1. Roughly chop the tamarind and place in a medium bowl, pour over the hot water and allow to stand for 10 minutes or until the water has cooled enough for you to put your hands in.
2. Knead the tamarind to remove the pulp from the seeds and fibers. Strain and use as required. Left over liquid may be stored in the refrigerator for 1 week.

Barbecued squid and mizuna salad with herb and lime dressing 
Serves 6
Mizuna is a pretty leaf lettuce with a mild peppery taste. It’s often one of the leaves found in mesclun but can also be bought separately at good greengrocers. You could use mesclun or rocket (arugula) in its place.

750g baby squid, cleaned – reserving the tentacles
1 tablespoon vegetable or light olive oil
Salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 quantity of herb and lime dressing
200g mizuna leaves
1 small red onion, peeled and cut into thin wedges
½ bunch mint leaves, for garnish
½ bunch coriander (cilantro) leaves, for garnish

1. Cut the squid hoods open and lay flat with the outside of the hood facing up on a chopping board. Score the squid in a crisscross pattern and then cut into 4-5cm square pieces. Trim the tentacles but leave whole. Toss the squid with the oil and season.
2. Heat a barbecue or char grill plate until hot. Char grill the squid for 2-3 minutes on each side, until the squid turns white and has a char grilled look.
3. Place in a bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of the dressing and set aside to cool slightly.
4. Arrange mizuna on a serving platter and sprinkle over the onion, arrange the squid on the salad and drizzle with a little more dressing. Sprinkle over extra mint and coriander leaves. Serve immediately.

food dept fact: For a sweet Asian twist , add some fresh lychees to the salad. If you would like less heat, remove the seeds from the chilli.

Herb and lime dressing
Makes 1 cup

½ bunch mint
½ bunch coriander
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 large green chilli, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 large lime
½ cup vegetable or light olive oil

1. Pick the mint leaves from the stems and place them in a food processer, add the coriander leaves and stems, garlic, chilli, fish sauce and sugar. Peel the lime making sure there is no pith left. Roughly chop the lime to make sure there are no seeds, add the lime flesh to the processor.
2. Process until the dressing ingredients are finely chopped, gradually add the oil through the spout of the processor and blend the dressing until it is well emulsified. Use as required.

food dept fact: Dressing can be stored in a jar in the refrigerator for up to a week, shake well before use to emulsify. This dressing makes a delicious sauce poured over barbecued seafood.

Prawn and mushroom wonton soup with water spinach
Serves 4 – 6
This beautiful clear soup is full of delicious Asian flavours.
Serve a small bowl for an entrée or a generous bowl for a soul warming meal.

2 litres good quality chicken stock
⅓ cup soy sauce
• 8 slices ginger
1 quantity prawn and mushroom wontons
1 bunch water spinach (kang kong), cut into 10 cm lengths and washed
Sesame oil, for serving
1 shallot, finely sliced on the diagonal

1. Combine the stock, soy and ginger in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes.
2. Gently drop the wontons into the simmering soup and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the water spinach and simmer for a further 2 minutes, being careful not to overcook the water spinach.
3. Carefully lift wontons and water spinach into serving bowls and ladle over the soup.
Drizzle with a small amount of sesame oil and sprinkle with shallots, serve.

Prawn and mushroom wontons
Makes 24 wontons

4 medium, approximately 20g dried shitake mushrooms,
soaked in hot water, drained and finely chopped
4 shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon shao shin wine
1 packet wonton wrappers
1 egg, lightly beaten
24 medium green prawns, shelled leaving the tails on and deveined

1. Combine the first 5 ingredients in a small bowl.
2. Place 1 teaspoonful of mixture onto each wonton wrapper. Lightly brush the edges with egg.
Place a prawn onto the mushroom mixture and gather up the edges of the wonton wrapper to form a bag shape leaving the prawn tail exposed. Seal tightly.
3. Place onto a tray lined with baking paper and refrigerate until required.

food dept fact: These can be steamed over simmering water for 5 minutes and served with a soy dipping sauce as an appetizer. For a crispy version, try deep frying them.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Delicious by DS5 with Tim Anderson

Gone In 60 Seconds

Temptation is seductive mistress and she can appear in many guises and just lately, she seems to be appearing a lot in my life. And I am not just talking about an alluring packet of chocolate digestives that lies in wait, on the shelf, ready to spring whenever you open the cupboard. Or about the leg of roast chicken that beckons to you, coyly, amidst the soft, yellow glow of the fridge in the midnight hour. This is not Nigella. No, I am talking about inducement of solicitous kind, the sort of temptation that will get you into trouble, big trouble, enough to get you banged up. So, with that in mind, I am truly grateful to the PR girl from Citroën for snatching the keys away from me last week because I would have done it, I would have pinched their brand new shiny DS5 and screeched it off the drive, off into the sunset, never to be seen again. But thankfully that didn't happen. All because my driving license is just out of date and some Suzy sharp eyes spotted it just in time. Sh*t.

What the hell am I going on about?

Well, last week I was invited to attend a preview lunch in opulent Dulwich as Citroën are to be proud sponsors of charitable pop up restaurant called Delicious by DS5 and the main man at the helm will none other than Tim Anderson, winner of BBC MasterChef 2011. The premise is that Tim and his cohorts will present a five course menu based upon the five senses at a secret location in trendy Shoreditch and tickets for the event will cost a paltry five pounds. And from there on, all profits will go towards Fareshare, a very worthwhile charity that aims to fight food poverty in this country and educate nutrition by redistributing surplus food which, inexcusably, often heads for landfill sites. And naturally, Citroën are launching their brand new car, the aforementioned DS5 in conjunction with the whole shebang, which brings me neatly back to the 'incident'.

You see for the first part of the proceedings, the assembled bloggers had to go off on a scavenger hunt around Dulwich to bring back ingredients for two of the dishes we were going to sample, ubiquitously named Aromas of Syrah and Taste of Beef. Now the concept of scavenging in Dulwich is probably a bit of a misnomer, especially as the crib sheet said we had to find a delicatessen and a farm shop, although I am sure the bins in the village are full of fine fare. And we had to do this using a map and our very own DS5 to drive. The keys were handed over to me and then I paused. I did just mention 10 minutes earlier that I shouldn't be driving because my licence was just out of date and could therefore cause a severe lapse on the insurance policy. But once I squeezed into the soft, leather driving seat and took a look around at all the fancy gizmos and gadgets surrounding me, I suddenly became convinced that everything would be ok. 'It would be very unlikely that I will ever have an accident,' I said to myself, in a monotone voice and so I clicked the automatic into DRIVE.

And then tap, tap, tap, there she stood, the PR girl, like a blonde angel of mercy, politely asking me to get out of the car and into the passenger seat, because she was going to be driving.

Which was quite embarrassing really. Sh*t.

Thankfully, once we had collected our ingredients, the rest of the day went without any further hitches and it was a pleasure to spend some time in the company of Tim and partnering chef Sujan Sarkar, helping out in the kitchen and learning about some of the concepts behind the menu for the pop up. As you might expect from someone who has endured a competition that doesn't get tougher than this, Tim had quite a few tricks up his sleeve and it was interesting to see the processes employed first hand. I definitely think that Tim's aim of delivering a multi-sensual experience is going to pay off. And because there is a certain element of surprise behind all of this, I am slightly loathed to describe the dishes we sampled in detail. However, I can say the beef or the 'tasting' course, delivers an intense umami hit and that dessert or the 'aroma' course is a clever deconstruction of the flavours and characteristics of Syrah wine.

To find out more about the pop up, which will be open to members of the public from Wednesday 16th to Saturday 20th May and to be in with a chance of getting a place at the table, you need to register your interest at Citroën's Facebook page here. To be frank, five squids for five courses is a steal so this is going to be a hot ticket. Remember, it is also for a very good cause so I for one, am hoping that I will make the ballot to get a seat.

Because I really want a second chance at nicking a DS5.

Tim and Sujan


Scavenging with Doreen from Tasty Fever!.....................pffft.

Tim pouring

Tim smoking

Taste of Beef

Smoke gets in your eyes

Aromas of Syrah

Gone In erm 10 Seconds

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Cooking in Bamboo Tubes

I hope I can entice you to make this delectable dish. So straightforward in flavor, so prehistoric in cooking method. And dare I say rather stunning in presentation? In Cambodia and Thailand I think it's called kao lam. Versions exist throughout Southeast Asia, sometimes with beans or other ingredients. First you need a pole of freshly cut bamboo. Grow it yourself or find a friend who grows it. Saw it into sections about a foot and a half long. Saw below the nodes so one end is open and the other closed. Then soak some sticky rice in water for about an hour. Drain and add coconut milk. Add some unrefined sugar (salt too) and chopped bits of dried fermented sausage. I thought this was lap cheung when I pulled it from the cave, but the fennel said otherwise. No matter. Fill the tubes 3/4 way up and add coconut milk almost to the top. Then take a patch of banana leaf, which you can buy in a SE Asian grocery store and tie it to the top opened end. You can use a strip of the leaf or string works even better. Then make a good roaring fire and prop the tubes up against it. I think an iron bar running above the fire would work best. Not directly in the flame, but pretty close. They will char on the outside and maybe even catch on fire. Don't worry, just turn them around and continue cooking. After about 45 minutes remove and split them horizontally with a sturdy machete. Serve right in the tube. There's a lovely bambooish aroma and a little smoke. I made this for the first time at a party yesterday and I can't wait to go tell the lady at the Cambodian gorcery store how they came out. She was excited and perplexed that I was trying it, but I think her good luck wish hit the target.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Save Time With Potatoes, Don't Dig, Dib

In passing conversation, whenever I mention that I have an allotment, responses nearly always come back in the form of a cosy smile with a soft tilting of the head and a drawn out mewing of "Awwwwwww, really?" It's quite a strange phenomenon actually. Strange because usually after uttering the phrase, the face of the person in question will often melt into this bizarre, beatific repose and dewy-eyed, they will then go on, mumbling incoherently, something along the lines of "Oh, I would love to have a plot on an allotment." And then, they go absolutely dumb on me. Mute, stupefied, carried off to this wistfully bucolic parallel universe, where the sun always shines, where carrots dance, cabbages hug and whole swathes of vegetables sway in unison, singing in glorious chorus as they imagine themselves skipping through the patch with a watering can. This is the point when I usually take the opportunity to deliver a short hard slap, to shake the person out of their stupor and to deliver the harsh, damning verdict that running a plot and growing your own vegetables is "FARKING HARD WORK! NOW WAKE UP YOU FANNY!!"

And it really is hard work, let's not make any illusions. If you work, have a young family, a steady and varied social life, various commitments elsewhere, a nagging and groaning list of things to do at home and in the garden, then finding opportunities to tend to a plot is very difficult indeed. And it's something that we struggle with all the time. Our visits to Norfolk Road are generally punctuated by running footsteps and a clattering of forks and spades, peppered with grunts and whispered swearing. Pops and crackles fill the air as seedlings get ripped from eroding, black plastic trays, wheelbarrows trundle back and forth, weeds fly up in a frenzy and old, gnarly potatoes get stuffed into orange carrier bags. In the background, there is a soundtrack of much splashing and laughter and then screams as a little girl gets admonished for trying to drown her brother in the water butt. No sooner than we've got there, we're back home. The kids get tossed out into the garden to play gladiatorial scooters on the patio and Dad lies flat on the floor in the front room, grabbing a quick moments peace before looking up and groaning inwardly at a crack in the ceiling.

If you are retired, it's a different kettle of fish for then, you have all the time in the world. Well, seemingly so, after all, no-one knows when Joe Black will come tapping on your shoulder and the odds do get shorter after 65. But I do get envious of the older guys on the allotment and their pristine, well managed, abundant plots. And whenever I go down there, I am sure that the grumpy git across from me hums Louie Armstrong's classic on purpose. Equally, I am sure that he is bemused by our smash and grab antics. He wasn't around on Saturday to frown when I arrived to plant our spuds for the year. With my sister's boyfriend I should add, we get on like a house on fire now. Before us lay five boxes of five varieties of tato and we resolved to get it done as quickly as possible. But how? Well here is the thrust of the post, if you own an allotment or grow vegetables at home and are very, very busy people like myself, rather breaking your back, digging drills and the like, simply dib your potatoes into the ground *badoom-tish*.

OK, using the word 'dib', as in employ the use of a dibber, is a bit of a misnomer. You actually need to us a bulb planter but as both are tools that used to make make holes in the ground, I am quite happy to go with dib. So the method is simple, rake your earth over, dib a series of deep holes in a line, at least 13cms deep and approximately 30cms apart and drop your chitting seed spuds in. Cover with soil and when the green shoots start to appear, earth up some more. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Russ and I planted half the potatoes in about an hour using this technique, roughly 150 all told, which was pretty good going. So our lunch break in the pub down the road was well deserved and we definitely deserved that pint. We might not have deserved the sixth one and we'll probably finish planting the rest this weekend. But let me assure you, allotmenteering is bloody hard work.

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.


A dibber........sorry bulb planter

Potato nestled nice and deep

This is a waste of time

Monday, 16 April 2012

Feed Yourself

What's more fun than cooking? (No, not that, but yes it is.) I mean FEEDING other people. I brought a mess of odds and ends to class to today, a huge honking bread, some very fresh cheese and some old stinky salame from the back of the cave. And my students devoured most of it. But sometimes, you just have to feed yourself. I mean cook something you love even though you know no one else will dare eat it, for no good reason whatsoever. It's not guts, just some simple beans for heaven's sake! They look familiar, but no, they're really young favas, not phaseolus. Cooked pods and all with olive oil, grated tomato, basil and some water so they don't burn. I can't remember the last time I found favas this young and tender, but if you see them, please promise me you will feed yourself first and don't worry who else will eat it.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Another Coteghino

If you can believe it, this was an accident. About a year ago I made a coteghino (aka skin sausage) and wasn't planning on doing it again. But I just a got a new knife, a lovely curved Buffalo Skinner from J. Russell & Co. which I am told is not stainless steel. So I needed something with skin to remove, hence some slabs of pork belly now curing into bacon. The skin came off easily. And a tongue is curing too. (Long story, but a tongue that was impossible to peel went into an Olla Podrida the other day in Fullerton, and so I'm into the tongue thing.) Anyway, the finely chopped skin was mixed with pork and went into this wonderfully baroque middle, which curved right around itself into this remarkably obscene form. Lots of fennel. I think I will bring it Darrell Corti's next weekend. I also baked a few monstrous breads for my class, made a little cheese, who knows what else. Every day should be such as this.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Stir Wars Is Coming

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a young(ish) man found himself staring at a computer monitor, listlessly watching the rolling feed of a popular social meeja website when suddenly out of the blue, a tweet leapt from the screen which immediately captured his nerdish imagination.

"There's a Mos Eisley pop up??? A Star Wars Supper Club?? Where? WHERE??", he furiously tapped away.

Yet apparently, as is often the case, the young(ish) man got his wires completely crossed. There was no such thing but Gail Doggett, the originator of the mistaken tweet, responded by saying "Hey but that's not a bad idea." And then into action sprung a flurry of conversation which propelled the concept forward via a freefall spiral of enthusiasm, goading and games of 'chicken'. Within 10 minutes or so, a council of Jedi Knights was formed and suddenly Stir Wars: a Night at the Death Star Cantina was born, a charity event that would a) hopefully raise some money for a good cause and b) indulge our geeky fantasies of eating tauntaun whilst dressed as Boba Fett.

But like I said, that was a long time ago and the night of feeding 40 fellow fans has come around around rather quickly. Too quickly possibly, the menu has yet to be final, finally, finalised. Although it will be up very soon, promise. However, one thing I can tell you is that it will be fun. A great night in fact. Tauntaun will definitely be served up. Baby bantha ribs too. Han Solo may or may not appear in time for dessert, it really does depend upon whether the team can free him successfully from carbonite. But Darth Vader is definitely showing up with some Stormtroopers in tow. Will he be giving us a cooking masterclass, showing how to make his classic Penne alla Arrabiatta? Mind you, he looks like he's pretty crap in the kitchen if you ask me. But don't tell him I said tha........................arrrrgghhh death grip!!! ACK!! THE DARK SIDE OF THE FORCE!!................*chokes*.......................*dies*

Stir Wars: a Night at the Death Star Cantina will be held at Tsuru, Bishopsgate on May 5th, 2012.

There are FOUR tickets left. WE HAVE NOW SOLD OUT

May the Force be with you.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Death To All Snails (And The Menu For FU Supper Club April 28th 2012)

Lemony, tangy Sorrel

Resolution has failed, the treatise is broken, scattered and torn and all notions of diplomacy now fade, fall and dissipate within a portentous, desperate dusk. It is too late. Lines have now been drawn, lines which scour deep and scar the sodden earth, an emblem of vicious intent. The sky is black, generals gather in their masses, machines manoeuvre, distinctions of illusion and reality, blur and focus, in and out of view. But there is no denying it. It's time to engage, it's time to smite them from this earth, time to bring down my mighty wrath and to rid them completely from my back garden. Yes, it's time to declare war on the snails.

These may be strong words. They may even be a touch melodramatic. But today, I discovered that the snails in my garden have been laying into my precious sorrel, feasting with gleeful, greedy joy and quite frankly, I have had enough of the parasites. In fact, I think I am ready to go apeshit on their slimy asses. With beer, copper, salt, nightly raids by torchlight, napalm, whatever it takes. Especially since I have great plans to use the sorrel for the latest Food Urchin Supper Club which is up and coming on April 28th (of which there are lots of places left by the way).

So if you fancy a night out, dining with beautiful guests, eating wonderful food, enjoying stimulating conversation, in glorious surroundings, all within easy reach from central London (Hornchurch), please do get in touch. Your host might be a bit frazzled around the edges, jittery, prone to staring into space and occasionally yelling - "You weren't there maaaan! You weren't there!!" - but just remember, he did all for you, he did it to save the sorrel.

The man is a hero.

Food Urchin Supper Club Menu - April 28th 2012

Sorrel, Pea and Lettuce Soup.

Crab, Tomato and Saffron Tart.

Pan-Roast Breast of Suffolk Chicken with Chargrilled Asparagus, Crushed New Potatoes and a Tarragon and Lemon Sauce.
Rhubarb and Ginger Polenta Crumble with Soured Vanilla Ice Cream.

If you would like to attend, please contact moi, Danny at Suggested donation is £25 a head (which includes homemade bread, palate cleanser, free tap water and a jar of pickled snails. Vegetarian options available on request)

STOP PRESS: Kavey of Kavey Eats has come up with the marvelous suggestion of adding a snail amuse bouche to the menu so I am going to try and source some and come up with a recipe. No time for purging my own and no signs of Blumenthal porridge but I am sure I can come up with something.

So, how do you like your snails?

I shall smite thee snail with all my might!!!

Monday, 9 April 2012

One Bunny on a Bun?

It aint Louisiana Back Bayou Bunny Bordelaise a la Antoine. But Easter comes, and goes, and then I think of rabbit. Little time to spare. And I think, Asian cooking must have rabbit. India? Tandoori was suggested to me. Maybe. No stir fry. Not BBQ. SO how about a good SE Asian marinade? Fish sauce, lime, galangal, shallots, chilies. A touch of tomato paste for fun. Then on the grill. These were really delightful. This combination would taste great with a hunk of shoe leather. Next time I'll try that. In the meantime, I encourage you to embrace rabbit. OK, cuddle up first, then eat him for heaven's sake!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Gefilte Fish

For those of you poor souls who sufferred the jarred gefilte the past two nights, you know, the kind with a little wad of snot attached and some equally jarred horseradish, here's a step up. Ideally you want to find fresh pike or carp. Not in Stockfish, CA. So I tried basa. Why not? The key is to make a good stock with bones, aromatic vegs, shallots, tarragon and goodly salt. Then pound the fish in a mortar. Seriously, a food processor will cut the fish, you want everything pounded and gummy. I have to admit I departed in a heretical way, as usual, by adding a drop of sesame oil and a pinch of dried ginger, but otherwise these were gefilte, not Asian fish balls. Three big filets held together by one egg, and a half cup of matzoh meal. Then form into torpedos with two spoons and drop gently into a little pot of barely simmering fish stock. Let them chill thoroughly in the stock. Serve with ABSOLUTELY freshly grated horseradish with a touch of salt and white vinegar. Be sure to cover the horseradish after grating or it will lose the lovely heat. These were devoured, two nights in a row. I adore them.

Friday, 6 April 2012

University of the Pacific Spotlight

This is a fun promotional piece from the university, including still shots and video from all over the place, including my current freshman food policy seminar. I have no idea how they got all this footage!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

CHOCOLATE MADE EASY– some tips and tricks to help you with the recipes from our hot chocolate feature

Would the world revolve without chocolate?
Well certainly not here at the food dept....

Chocolate is a divine product made from the seeds of a mexican tree, called the Theobroma Caco. The fruit contains seeds which are fermented dried and roasted and processed into cocoa liquor. It is then further processed and mixed in various forms with fat and sugar to produce chocolate.

Varieties of chocolate
White Chocolate
A purest might say, it is not chocolate at all. White chocolate has virtually no cocoa at all but is a blend of fat, sugar, milk solids and vanilla. White chocolate tends to be the trickiest to melt, but some say the yummiest to eat.

Milk Chocolate
Paler in colour, milk chocolate is a sweet chocolate with a lower cocoa content, and a higher amount of milk solids and sugar. It is mostly enjoyed as confectionary, but can be used in baking, especially in the form of chocolate chips.

Dark Chocolate is commonly found in 3 types: 
Semi Sweet Dark Chocolate
Has a higher content of cocoa compared with milk chocolate, anywhere between 35-62%. Semi sweet contains a smaller amount of milk solids and is the chocolate that is mostly sold for baking in supermarkets.

Bittersweet Chocolate
Contains between 60-85% cocoa and therefore less sugar, giving it that bitter but sweet taste. It is mostly used for cooking but if you’re a dark chocolate fan you might not be able to resist it. The good thing about it is that it satisfies some people’s chocolate cravings in smaller quantities.

Unsweetened Chocolate
Contains about 99% cocoa. But don’t be fooled, the high percentage suggests there is virtually no sugar, so it is not really suitable for eating, it is better used for cooking.

As chocolate has a high fat content it should be stored in a cool dark place. Don’t be tempted to put it in the refrigerator, as it will sweat when brought to room temperature. Keep it in an airtight container so that it doesn’t take on flavours of anything that it is stored near. If chocolate gets that grey powdery look to it, it has become too hot during storage and the cocoa and fat content have started to separate.

How to melt chocolate

Chocolate melts beautifully in the microwave. The trick is to melt it in shorts bursts of 30 seconds at 50% power. Allow it to rest for 30 seconds between each cooking and give it a little stir each time until the chocolate has melted. Be patient and wait between each cooking as residual heat will continue to melt it. If chocolate is over heated it will seize and become dry and grainy. This can also happen if water is introduced to the melting chocolate, be careful to always use clean dry utensils. If you would rather not use the microwave, place the chocolate in a clean and dry heat proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Give it an occasional stir until melted and then remove the bowl from the saucepan. Make sure that the bowl does not touch the water and that the water is not boiling. Again over heating or water splashed in will cause the chocolate to seize.
The most important thing to remember with
Chocolate is to enjoy! 

Here's a quick little recipe for truffles
.... just in time for Easter

The Bottom Drawer Of Strangeness And Mystery

In every home and in every kitchen, there remains a drawer of strangeness and mystery. It is usually the bottom draw and it is often full, cluttered with a right load of old tut. Purchases from Lakeland, IKEA and the Ideal Home Exhibition. Gifts received with a perplexed frown and fake, fixed smile. Gadgets and thingymabobs that normally don't get used, don't get to see the light of day. Except in times of panic, when the bottom drawer is flung open with tremendous fury. The collective sigh of joy is palpable as rays of sunshine beam down but more often than not, all they get is a fist, which plunges in and frantically rummages around for a second or two before extracting painfully in shock. And then the drawer is slammed shut again, amidst howls of anguish and profanity, leaving those poor, unloved tools of the kitchen to continue their existence in darkness and shame.

I decided to sort out my bottom drawer yesterday in a drive to spring clean the kitchen, with a view to de-clutter and simplify but it was a lot harder than I expected. Perhaps I am a hoarder. Perhaps I need a bigger drawer. Perhaps I need to get a life and stop photographising random gizmos and concentrate on other things. Let me know what you think.

So, let's start with the 'Gastro Max' cheese slicer. Ergonomic, light, flexible and able to withstand very high temperatures with a melting point of 265C, this plastic cheese slicer is ultimately very naff and very pointless. I don't know where it came from, I have never ever used it and it's unlikely that I ever will. Not unless I find myself wanting to cut some really really hot, volcanic, cheese. That doesn't melt. Alex James would probably find this device a boon and would gladly put his name behind it for an extortionate fee but I reckon it's a piece of crap, so I should probably bin it soon. But not yet, because, well you never know.

This Progressive Dough Scraper was bought to save a dozen stainless steel bowls and a dozen debit cards. Much as I like to bake bread, I am quite a messy, wasteful baker and I am forever getting told off for not clearing dough out of bowls and off surfaces properly because once that heady mix of flour and water and yeast dries, it becomes like superglue and sticks steadfast to everything. Enter the Progressive Dough Scraper! Except I still prefer to use a debit card, especially my wife's, which I get told off for too. Apparently, I can't chuck this out. Apparently, I am going to learn to remember to use the Progressive Dough Scraper. Well, let's just see how we go forward with that one then.

There is a story behind this vicious pizza wheel. A few years ago now we held a 'Pizza Party' at our house. Essentially a 'bring a load of alcohol and toppings and we'll all make pizza and get drunk' type affair. Throughout the evening, we had been cutting our brash, handmade pizzas with a plain old carving knife, when suddenly I remembered that I had this cutter in the drawer, new and still wrapped in cellophane. I bounded back into the room with a triumphant "Da-dah!", sat down and proceeded to tear at the plastic with my teeth and then swish, the pizza wheel was free. Or rather, slice, the pizza wheel was free. Looks of horror immediately focused and fixed towards one side of my face. I had slashed myself a neat, half cocked Chelsea Smile from the corner of my mouth up to my cheekbone. I still use it from time to time but in my opinion, a plain old carving knife is much safer.

Nanny FU gave me this strange contraption. By all accounts it's a pastry whisk. Well at least that's what it says on the side. It's obviously old, been well used and has a certain charm but it's not really practical, well at least not in my hands. I've used it to mash potatoes before but that's about it. Oh and I also use it when cooking with the twins, pretending to be some sort of culinary robot called Gadetmatrix Prime, teaching them how to mix cookie dough or something. With the pastry whisk in one hand, some stainless tongs in the other and a colander on my head, I reckon I am quite convincing. Rolling eyes and stifled yawns suggest otherwise but I can't get rid of it for purely sentimental reasons. And Nanny FU would bollock me if she found out.

I can't remember if I bought this craft blade specifically for carving lines into sumptuous pork skin for salting and crackling or whether it a remnant from a wallpaper job in the front room and has just wound up in the drawer. Either way it looks filthy and probably shouldn't go anywhere near meat so alas, I do think I am going to have to throw this away. But no matter, I can always go marching into B&Q and get another one, asking one of the oh so helpful staff, "Good man, can you please tell me where your pig scoring knives are please?"

I have no idea what this is or does, it may well have come from a Christmas cracker or something, I just don't know. Do you know what it's for? Answers on a postcard please.

Jean-Patrique is a spiv and a charlatan who has conned a million Sunday supplement readers from middle England, selling his cheap, crap, blunt, 'Professional' knives. OK, Jean is only filching pensioners for £1.99 a time but all adds up. I bet you he is living it up on his own island in the Caribbean somewhere and he is laughing, laughing at all of us. And it makes me mad that he gets away with it and it makes me mad that I ever fell for his advertising promotion in the back of the Mail on Sunday. I won't get mugged again. This cleaver is being sent back to you Jean, in the post, embedded in a horses head. Your time will come.

I think these are picking olives or pickles out of jars. Or maybe they are to be used for skewering corn on the cobs that have been cooked on the barbecue and slathered in butter. Or maybe they are little spears that the Borrowers use, to keep the cat at bay when raiding the fridge at night. No matter, they are quite cute and I shan't be throwing them out yet.

Once a year, I probably make spätzle, just once a year. Yet whenever I do make these 'little sparrows' of joy, I can't help but smile at my own ingenuity. Because I bet no-one else uses a Pyrex pizza tray and grout spreader to smear sloppy, eggy dough through holes into a stock pot of boiling water. No, I bet the likes of Sebastian Stevenson of Islington have forked out fifty quid for their Original Kull Spätzle-Schwob HOCHGLANZ Spätzlepresse. But not me. This is about keeping it real. Which is why I will always keep my little bit of homemade kit tucked away in the draw. Even if I only make spätzle just once a year.

And on a familiar and final note, I don't think I'll be getting rid of my stash of tin cans either which are excellent for creating pretty, poncy, towers of food or simple, perfectly symmetrical fried eggs. Especially since the whole enterprise is highly ethical from an environmental point of view (hmm I now starting to sound like Sebastian). So yes, the tin cans can stay in the bottom drawer. As for the fifty or so empty, hollow cans that are cluttering the cupboard above. I think that I am going to have to get rid of them, but it will pain me to do so.

Am I a hoarder? Do I need to get a bigger bottom drawer? Do I need to get a life?

I think I just answered all three questions with this post.