Wednesday 31 December 2008


...vegetables, that is, although I wouldn't be that surprised if my liver were in the same condition. The Christmas period can be quite punishing what with work parties, catching up with old friends, and any other excuse to go out and celebrate.

Recently, myself and a bunch of food blogger friends went for a quick bite after a wine tasting at Ping Pong, a chain of dim sum restaurants. The dim sum is pretty average, but what stood out was a dish of pickled celery (right) which was immediately ordered due to my love of all
things, excepting eggs and walnuts, pickled. It was a rather meagre dish which was wolfed down with gusto, and I decided then to have a bash at making it myself.

So, a month or so later, my sister gave me Yan-Kit So's Classic Chinese Cookery book for Christmas. It's a lovely book with a great chapter on Chinese ingredients and full of brightly coloured and well styled photos. A quick flick through drew my attention immediately to a recipe called 'Chinese Pickled Vegetables' - just what I wanted. So, armed with the recipe, I set about making it last night, with some minor alterations.

Yan-Kit So's recipe doesn't use chillis or sesame, but I added these as I couldn't see it working out badly.

Chinese Pickled Vegetables

Makes enough to accompany a meal for 4

1/2 a cucumber
350gr carrots
5 sticks of celery
2 tbsp salt
4 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 red chillis
A small pinch of chilli flakes
1 tsp sesame seeds
A drizzle of toasted sesame oil

Slice the cucumber in half lengthways and deseed. Slice into even batons. Peel the carrots and slice into the same sized batons as the cucumber, and do the same for the celery. I find that if you run a vegetable peeler down the length of the celery, it'll get rid of any unwanted stringy bits. Put all the vegetables in a colander and sprinkle with the salt, tossing it all together so that it all gets an even coating. Leave to drain for 2 1/2 hours. While draining, the vegetables will limpen slightly, but this is normal.

Next, give the vegetables a quick rinse and pat dry, leaving them still slightly damp. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar and the vinegar (don't do what I did and mistaken mirin for rice wine vinegar - luckily I noticed in time!). Add the chopped up chillis, the chilli flakes and the sesame seeds, then add the vegetables. Toss well, so that all the vegetables get a coating, then drizzle with the sesame oil and toss again. Cover, and put in the fridge overnight.

I had a quick taste of them today, and the result is delicious. The celery loses it's raw flavour (which I'm not a huge fan of) but still keeps it's crunch, as does the carrot and the cucumber. It's sweet yet salty, and a nice subtle tang from the rice vinegar. It packs quite a punch, so if you're not a big chilli head then perhaps leave out the chilli flakes. I doubt these will make it to the table; I keep nibbling on them here and there. The sesame also enhances the sweetness of the vegetables, although next time I think I will up the cucumber and decrease some celery, as I think the cucumber is the star of the show.

Monday 29 December 2008

Sometimes Simple Is Best

When does the meat feast end? When I said my parents go over the top with Christmas food orders, I really wasn't joking. By the time we'd whacked this hefty three-rib of beef in the oven, we'd already had goose, ham and pigeon breasts in days previous. Morning, noon and night was domintated by conversations of "so, what shall we have with the (insert meat here)?"

Christmas dinner has to be fairly extravagant, or else it just ends up being another roast dinner. Time is taken over what to enhance the stuffing with, and what can be done to jazz up the sprouts. Some, I hear, even make roasted potatoes and mashed potatoes! It's an event in itself, one that many people get worked into a stressful frenzy about.

Similarly, as pigeon is such a treat, we spent a good while thinking about what would work well in a salad to accompany it. As it happens, a soft leaf with toasted pine nuts, red onions, beetroot, tomato and grilled fennel work very well indeed.

So, when it came to the beef, we were exhausted of ideas. Simple is best, I declared - roasted garlic mash, green beans and red wine gravy, mustard and horseradish on the side. It was a heavenly piece of beef; well-aged, cooked to rare and extremely tender and succulent. As I learnt from my steak at Hawksmoor, no fiddling is required when you have a quality piece of meat.

Sunday 28 December 2008

A Festive Salad

There are many things I love about Christmas, mostly revolving around food and drink. It doesn't hold any religious significance for me whatsoever, but rather a time to see family and to indulge a bit (a lot).

As good as the main event is (and it definitely was; goose is king of the birds), it's often the bits around the main event that excite me the most. The Gravadlax is something I get particularly excited about as Pops makes it so well - who can resist dill cured salmon? Boxing Day breakfast MUST consist of bubble and squeak, one of the only times I have the chance to eat it. Branston pickle, pickled onions and ketchup are the perfect accompaniments.

There must also be a ham and lentil soup along the way, made from the ham bone. Much to our distress, there was a mix-up at the butchers and we got a boneless gammon. But, no matter, a gammon shank was found at the trusty supermarket. All is not lost.

Of course, a family of four doesn't easily eat a 5.6kg goose and a 2kg ham in two days (though we gave it a good go) without a fair share of leftovers. The beetroot and tomato salad is pretty and festive, and provides a nice healthy side for the cold cut meats and pickles. A salad? At Christmas? Well, there's only so many sprouts one can eat...

Beetroot & Tomato Salad
Serves 4 as a side

250gr cherry tomatoes, halved

250gr cooked (not pickled) beetroot, quartered

1 large shallot, sliced finely

A handful of curly leaf parsley

A large pinch of salt

A small pinch of sugar

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Plenty of black pepper

In a large bowl, combine the pepper, salt, sugar, balsamic vinegar and the oil. Whisk into a dressing, then add the parsley chopped finely with the shallots. Leave for 10 minutes to let the flavours steep, then add the tomatoes and the beetroot. This goes very well with cold ham and hot boiled new potatoes.

Saturday 27 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

Gravadlax & Guinness:

Roast Goose:


Board games:

The aftermath:

Saturday 20 December 2008

Leftovers - Egg Fried Rice

Fried rice dishes are one of my favourites; for me, they're easy to make and are a good one dish meal that you can chuck all your leftover odds and ends into. It's best to use cold, cooked rice preferably from the night before. Usually, I purposefully make extra rice for this.

Many people have different methods of making egg fried rice, such as making a thin omelette and then shredding it to add to the rice, or cooking the egg first and then adding the rice. I like all my grains of rice to be coated with the egg, so I whisk up the egg and then add it while stir-frying the rice.

You can use almost any vegetable you have that needs using up. What I have set out below is just what I used in the picture, but shredded cabbage, fine green beans, peppers, or even broccoli (steamed till al dente first) work very well. Whatever you have lying around, really. Just add the vegetables that take a little longer to cook first.

Egg Fried Rice

Serves 2

200gr cold leftover rice

2 eggs, beaten in a bowl

2 cloves garlic, minced

1" ginger, chopped finely

2 red chillis, chopped finely (optional)

200gr leftover meat, such as roasted chicken or pork. Alternatively, raw chicken or prawns can be used

A handful of frozen peas

2 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal

1 carrot, diced

A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved

A few sprigs of coriander

3 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp Chinese rice wine

3 tbsp vegetable oil

Heat the wok or a non-stick frying pan (must be non-stick or you'll have a miserable mess) until nearly smoking, then add the oil until it shimmers. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli and stir-fry briskly, taking care not to let it burn. Add the carrot, then add the rice, breaking up any clumps with wet hands. Then add the peas, the rice wine and the soy sauce. Stir fry briskly on a high heat and then add the cherry tomatoes. Lastly, the egg is poured in. Stir fry only until the egg has just set and take off the heat immediately. Add the spring onion and the coriander, and serve.

For any already cooked meat or prawns, add this just before the egg so that it just heats through. For any raw meat, brown in the oil before the garlic, ginger and chilli and remove; add it back in when stir-frying the rice before the egg goes in, to cook it through.

Chilli oil or chilli sauce complement egg fried rice perfectly.

Sunday 14 December 2008

All Sausaged Out

Oof. Having just returned from 4 days in Berlin, I don't think I'll be eating any wurst for a while.

It's tricky travelling with a vegetarian, especially in Germany. She didn't suffer too badly, but it also meant we didn't go anywhere really traditional to eat. Still, I didn't do too badly; above, currywurst from Konnopke's Imbiss, a snack stand under the U-Bahn rails, recommended to me by two separate friends.

We went to a couple of Christmas markets too; drank the ubiquitous Glühwein, made arses of ourselves on the ice rink, and ate some bratwurst. Good times!

I love Berlin; I wish I hadn't left. I found it strange that there wasn't one main central area, but I liked how there were lots of little centres dotted around. I liked how you could get a seat on the U-Bahn, and there was no pushing around; some areas were positively deserted (until Friday night). I also liked how everyone doesn't go out until quite late, like in a lot of European cities - and smoking in (some) bars! There were snack stalls everywhere; I'd heard that Berliners like to eat on the go, and yet there wasn't much rubbish around at all.

I couldn't leave Berlin without eating potatoes and Sauerkraut. We went to a restaurant called Chez Gino and tried to decipher the menu. In the end, I asked the waitress for a recommendation. She told me the Boudin Noir with potato puree and Sauerkraut is what she would have picked. With some apprehension as I'm not even a fan of black pudding, I went with her suggestion (more sausage!).

Unfortunately I completely forgot to take a photo at the beginning, so I have just a half eaten one. I loved the sauerkraut; it's tang cut through the richness of the sausage perfectly. My dining companions (especially the veggie) turned rather green when I explained what the sausage consisted of, but I actually really enjoyed it, much more than I thought I would. It's texture was very soft, with a nice, almost crunchy casing.

What I have also discovered is that Jagerbombs are bad.

Monday 8 December 2008

Whitley Neill Gin - My Favourite Cocktail

I love gin. Gin is my favourite spirit; it's great with ice cold tonic and a big fat wedge of lime. I never used to like it when I was younger, especially when everyone said it makes you cry and it has a bad reputation for being 'Mother's Ruin'. A holiday in Goa changed all that; fresh lime juice, soda, a little sugar and a shot of gin converted me nicely. On occasion, I have been known to drink gin n' juice (of the orange kind, or sometimes even pineapple). So it was with great excitement that I attended the Whitley Neill 'Top of the Tree' Challenge bar crawl, to taste the original cocktails in four different bars, created with Whitley Neill gin.

Whitley Neill is made in England and inspired by Africa. At the event, I met Johnny Neill who started the company. He told me that this gin is made with nine different botanicals, two specifically from Africa to make a warmly spiced gin. What's more, a part of the profits is donated to Tree Aid; even more of a reason to drink it.

We started off at the Lobby Bar at One Aldwych and kicked off with a cocktail called 'Africa', spiced with star anise and cinnamon. I'm not a great fan of cinnamon, but the Amaretto that was also in the drink mellowed it out somewhat. The bar snacks at the Lobby Bar were gorgeous; crystallised physalis, of which I haven't eaten before, bursted in the mouth through the initial hard sugar coating. We also had some huge, buttery and luridly green olives that got exclaimations of deliciousness. I wanted to eat them all.

With four bars in total and many cocktails to sample, we moved through each one fairly quickly, but not so that we were rushed. The definite highlight for me was a cocktail pictured above, called 'Passing Thyme'. We had it at a bar called Bureau in Kingly Street; as we all traipsed in we inadvertently gate-crashed Labour MP Diane Abbott giving a speech about Barack Obama winning the election. Rather surreal!

Here is the recipe:

Cocktail: Passing Thyme

Bar: Bureau

Bartender: Lewis Wilkinson

50ml Whitley Neill

3 x sprigs fresh Thyme
20ml lemon juice
15ml sugar syrup
2 dash of peach bitters
Top with soda

Glass: Collins.
Muddle, shake, strain, top with soda. Garnish with lemon wedge and thyme sprigs.
This cocktail was great. I've had a thyme sorbet before and thought it worked really well, perhaps better than in savoury dishes. The peach bitters really complemented the gin and made for a very refreshing drink and I did comment that it was perhaps the only one I could have had more than one of so far.

So there it was, my new favourite cocktail. Other bloggers were invited and have written up about it (with better photos than mine): Niamh, Helen, Chris, Tim, Melanie, tikichris, Annie, and Life On The Edge. Tikichris especially has a good set of photos of all the cocktails on Flickr, here.

Saturday 6 December 2008

Orzo Pasta

I often go through stages of eating one thing somewhat obsessively (I've only just kicked my Hula Hoop addiction). I recently picked up some orzo, meaning 'barley' in Italian, from a local deli and was instantly hooked. It looks a lot like rice, so there was no surprise that I'd like it, really.

I've had it before at barbeques, deliciously dressed with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and oregano but I wanted to make a more substantial meal of it. I had also had my eye on this recipe, and decided to incorporate the two as I was a little short on time, resulting in a rather Italian-Turkish twist.

Lamb & Aubergine Orzo Pasta

Serves 2

200gr orzo pasta
200gr minced lamb
1 medium aubergine
1 red pepper, chopped roughly
1 red chilli, sliced finely
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 spring onion, sliced finely
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
A handful of frozen peas
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped roughly
The juice of half a lemon

In rapidly boiling salted water, cook the orzo for about 8 minutes until tender. Drain and toss with a tablespoon or so of extra virgin olive oil (I used Good Oil). Meanwhile, slice the aubergine into large chunks. In a non-stick frying pan, heat some oil up and fry the aubergine chunks until they're browned. Set aside on kitchen paper.

Minced lamb can be quite fatty, so I fried the lamb in a dry pan and then drained the fat off. Add the clove of garlic, minced, and stir-fry on a high heat. Add the red pepper, chilli and the frozen peas, then add the aubergine back into the pan. Carry on frying until the aubergine becomes soft and the peas are tender. Add the pomegranate molasses, the lemon juice, spring onion and the parsley, then toss through with the pasta and season.

I ate this warm rather than piping hot, and it tasted great with a complexity of flavours. The pomegranate molasses (unsurprisingly) lent a fruity background and the lemon and parsley cut through the rich flavour of the lamb.

Sunday 30 November 2008

There's No Place Like Home

These past two weeks have been pretty hectic. Christmas is coming up, the booze is flowing, and everyone seems to be in a partying kind of mood. I feel like I've been either drunk or hungover this past fortnight and December is going to be even more manic, what with work parties and a trip to Berlin approaching. So, this weekend I gladly took myself off to the country (well, Surrey) to see Mum and Pops.

I've never lived in their current abode save for a week last Christmas, but it still feels like home. One question asked frequently by my family cropped up again: "What shall we eat?" It didn't take long for me to request something fishy and nothing to do with pasta; as much as I love it, I seem to have existed on pasta for a week now.

This is my dad's recipe, but as I was lurking around the kitchen I managed to get a glimpse of what was going on.

Spanish Seafood Stew

For 4

4 fillets of white fish (we used tilapia)

A handful of raw tiger prawns, deveined

2 tubes of squid and tentacles, cleaned and sliced into large pieces

1 tail of monkfish, deboned and chopped into large pieces

8 scallops, roe attached

6 tomatoes, deskinned and chopped

1 large onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 head of fennel, chopped roughly

1 green chilli, sliced finely

1 Romano pepper, cut into large chunks

Pinch of saffron

1 tsp hot paprika

A glass of white wine

Large handful of curly parsley, chopped finely

In a large saucepan, fry the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and the green chilli and sweat gently. Then add the fennel and fry until it's softened, and then add the Romano pepper and the chopped tomatoes. Add the white wine, bring to the boil, and then turn it down to a simmer until all the tomatoes have broken down into a thick sauce. Add the saffron and the paprika. Add about 200mls of boiling water. Add the monkfish and keep on a low heat. Meanwhile, dredge the white fish fillets in a little seasoned flour and pan fry in some vegetable oil until cooked. Add to the serving bowls. Then fry the scallops on a high heat in a clean pan, ready to place on top of the stew. Turn the heat up on the stew and add the prawns, and then the squid. When the prawns have turned pink, take off the heat and add the parsley.

To serve, ladle the stew over the white fish fillets, and then add a couple of scallops per person on top. Serve with some fresh bread to mop up the juices.

It was a very decadent dish, what with the monkfish and scallops not being the cheapest of seafood. It was a great mixture of textures, from the slightly crunchy squid tentacles to the soft scallops. The saffron really brought out the flavour of the fish, the paprika gave it a spicy hit, and the parsley, always a great match with fish, freshened it nicely. It's surprisingly rich; we were stuffed afterwards, but not in a heavy, stodgy way. I'm wondering if I can move back home...

Thursday 27 November 2008

Good Oil For Good Health

I was recently invited to a dinner party held by Glynis Murray and Henry Braham. They wanted to tell us about their product, Good Oil, that is made with hemp seeds. Intruiged, off I went to Westbourne Park. We were very well looked after indeed; they have an admirable story of years of struggle to get their product launched from using this sustainable and ethically sound crop. The dinner menu, cooked by their talented son Ben, was all made to showcase the oil.

When I think of hemp oil it brings to mind crusty old hippies, and visiting dodgy shops full of 'ornamental' bongs, the heady scent of incense, and horrible shoulder bags made of hemp. I cast this out of my mind when we tried the starter, a pea and pecorino crostini. You could really taste the oil in this, as it made it taste a lot more earthy and lent a nuttiness to it. Venison and cranberry casserole followed with a great mash potato, but for me the best way for using the oil was drizzling it over vanilla ice cream. Don't ask me how it worked, but it most certainly did.

So, armed with a bottle I decided to give it a go for myself. Special oils seem to work well on pasta dishes, as the pasta works well as a bland background for you to dress.

Good Oil Spaghetti & Rocket

For 1

100gr dried spaghetti or linguine

50gr cured pork product - chorizo, bacon or spicy salami works well

1 handful of washed rocket

1 clove of garlic

Squeeze of lemon juice

1 tbsp Good Oil


Cook the spaghetti until al dente. Meanwhile, in a dry, non stick frying pan, fry the pork on a low heat with the clove of garlic, cut in half. When the pork has released some fat (or has cooked, if it's bacon) remove the garlic and discard it. Once the spaghetti has cooked, add this to the frying pan along with the oil, rocket and lemon juice. Toss well, sling it on a plate, and top with plenty of Parmesan and lots of black pepper.

So perhaps cured pork products aren't particularly healthy, but Good Oil is. Not only does it contain half the saturated fat of olive oil, it also has a higher content of Omega 3, 6 and 9 than any other oils. Out with the old (olive oil) and in with the new.

Sunday 23 November 2008

Braised Pork Belly & Cucumber Salad

It snowed today, the first snow I've seen this winter. It was pretty horrible; grey, cold and it didn't settle. Happily enough, as it's proper rib-sticking stuff, I had some leftover braised pork belly to have, but as I've had a particularly unhealthy week I wanted something green to go with it.

I have made this Sichuan Cucumber Salad before, but once I'd peeled and chopped the cucumber up, I realised I was out of chilli bean sauce. I had a good ol' rummage around the fridge and instead came up with this recipe, which I think worked very well. It was spicy, sour and sweet at the same time.

Hot & Sour Cucumber Salad

Serves 3 as part of a main meal

1 cucumber, peeled, quartered lengthways and deseeded

1 handful of frozen peas

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced finely

2 tsp rice vinegar

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp Hoi Sin sauce

1/2 tsp yellow bean paste

1 tsp ground Sichuan pepper

In a wok, heat up a little vegetable oil and fry the garlic and the Sichuan pepper. Add the peas and fry on a low heat until the peas are defrosted. Take off the heat and leave to cool. Slice the cucumber into 1" pieces and salt in a sieve for 5 - 10 mins to remove the moisture. Rinse and pat dry. In a bowl, add the Hoi Sin sauce, sugar, yellow bean paste, vinegar, sesame oil and chilli. Add the pea mixture and the cucumber and toss well. Leave for a few minutes to let the flavours mingle.

Pork belly is one of my favourite cuts of meat. The fat in the meat is crucial in making it tender and tasty, although I try and keep consumption of it down as I'm not sure it's particularly good for you. Still; it's cheap and tasty, as long as it's treated properly. Long, slow cooking is the best way to keep it succulent and tender.

Chinese five spice is traditionally used when braising or roasting meat and not for quick cooking. It's a pungent combination of star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon (cassia), Sichuan pepper and fennel. Many brands add salt to this mixture and it's entirely unnecessary, so I always look out for that in the ingredient list. The five spice lends a great depth to the pork. For the health conscious, cook it the day before and refridgerate it before thickening it with the cornflour and you should be able to skim some fat off. I don't bother.

Chinese Braised Pork Belly

Serves 3

600gr pork belly slices, cut into chunks. I leave the skin on, as I like the texture

3 cloves of garlic, minced

2" ginger, chopped finely

3 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine

1 heaped tsp of Chinese 5 spice powder

2 tsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp of cornflour, mixed with 1 tbsp cold water

2 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal

Heat some oil in a wok, and brown the pork belly chunks thoroughly. Remove with a slotted spoon, and tip out the fat, reserving about 1 tbsp. Fry the ginger and garlic, then add the pork back in. Add the 5 spice, soy sauces and enough water to just cover the pork. Simmer gently with the lid on for about an hour, if not more, and thicken with the cornflour. Serve with rice, garnished with the spring onion.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Making Macarons

Last week, the kind people at Trusted Places invited myself and 13 others to a macaron making class at L'Atelier Des Chefs, a new cookery school on Wigmore Street.

Many people rave about macarons, especially those from Ladurée in Harrods but if I'm honest with you, I can't recall ever eating a macaron and being particularly bowled over. Then again, I've never been to Ladurée. However, I have heard that they are tricky to make and with this I went with some trepidation.

The guys at L'Atelier were lovely, and welcomed us warmly. When we entered the room, there were four different work stations, as we were making four different flavours: Foie gras and Porto, lime and ginger, salted caramel and raspberry and rose.

Myself and Josh chose the station for the lime and ginger (and then kicked ourselves for not choosing the foie gras one). We were shown each stage of making the macarons by the chef, Baldwin Stoel. He was a great teacher and very patient; although we did get told off for swearing like naughty school kids...!

There was a lot of ooh-ing and ah-ing over the various batters which were simply ground almonds, icing sugar, egg whites and food colouring. The green was very lurid indeed. Next, the batter was added into a piping bag and we were schooled on how to pipe circles. Then came the noisy part; you had to pick up the baking tray and drop them, to get any air bubbles out of the macarons. My ears were ringing a bit afterwards.

Off they went into the oven, and then we were instructed on how to make the various fillings, and finnally sandwiching them together.

Afterwards, we all sat down to have a taste of them. The foie gras ones were very rich indeed; they were sweet but also quite livery, and the flavour of the Porto coming through strongly. It was a bit mind boggling. I think we all agreed that the classic, salted caramel was the best flavour.

It was a really enjoyable afternoon. I learnt a lot about making macarons, and also new techniques, such as making piping the mixture. I haven't done much piping before, you see.

Here's a list of all the other attendees; not everyone has blogged it, but some have:

Niamh from eatlikeagirl and Trusted Places
Su-Lin from Tamarind and Thyme
Krista from londonelicious
Alice from An American in London
Helen from World Foodie Guide
Tom from The Food Flunky
Mark from Food By Mark
Jonathan from Around Britain With A Paunch
Abi from foodrambler
Alex from The Princess And The Recipe
Mia from Urban Foodie
Shuna from eggbeater
Josh from Cooking The Books
Heather, a Trusted Places reviewer

Tuesday 18 November 2008


The past couple of weeks have been rather meaty. Only last week, I had a pre-gig dinner in Haché, recommended to me by fellow food bloggers and told that they do very good burgers indeed. They weren't wrong; I had a great medium rare burger topped with Stilton, possibly the best burger I've had so far.

Cut to less than a week later, and I'm told that Hawksmoor do the best steaks in London. If you'd told me a year ago that I would be meeting people from the internet for dinner, I'd have probably laughed at you. But it's not that weird really. Having joined Twitter, myself and a few other bloggers decided that a steak night must be arranged, mainly out of sympathy for someone having to endure a meal at a vegan restaurant that don't cook their food much. So myself, Chris, Helen and Charles (who works at Tipped) met on a rainy Monday night for a healthy dose of protein.

Upon arrival, the name of the restaurant is rather obscure. Luckily I printed out a map before I left, as I have absolutely no sense of direction and frequently get lost. The restaurant is quite simply decorated; a few circular tables, several square and a small bar lined at the back. I'm told the cocktails are great, but as it was a Monday night I resisted. They did serve a mean Punk IPA which I later discovered to be a very good accompaniment to the steak.

The menu is quite extensive. There were starters of ribs, smoked salmon and the like, but we were only there for one thing - the steak. I opted for the 400g rib eye, cooked to medium rare, with a side of triple cooked chips.

All the meat at Hawksmoor is supplied by The Ginger Pig, a rather well known and respected producer. Their beef is Longhorn cattle, raised in North Yorkshire, hung for at least 28 days and cooked simply on a charcoal grill.

Everyone elses steaks came out first, and they were huge. At around 3" thick, they were nicely charred on the outside, and by all accounts, perfectly cooked. When mine came out I was mildly disappointed as it was a mere inch thick but bigger in surface area. However, upon tasting it all disappointment was expelled. It had a great charcoal flavour, whilst still remaining perfectly medium rare, as requested. It was also generously seasonsed, something many restaurants inexplicably fail to do. Served alongside were Béarnaise and peppercorn sauces, my favourite being the peppercorn. Purists will say that steak doesn't need a sauce, but whatever; it was good. Pleasingly, mid-way through I encountered a gorgeous pocket of buttery flavoursome fat, my main reason for ordering the rib eye. The chips were crispy on the outside and fluffy within, and complemented well by a fresh ketchup.

When we got there we were only one of two tables, but when we left it was almost full which is impressive for a Monday night. It isn't cheap, but good meat rarely is. I'm not sure if I can order another steak (or indeed, cook one myself) again as I don't think it would live up to this one.

157 Commercial Street
E1 6BJ
Tel: 0207 247 7392

Hawksmoor on Urbanspoon

Sunday 16 November 2008

Vietnamese Spicy Pork & Aubergine

Aubergines are my favourite vegetable, although Wikipedia tells me they're actually classed as a berry. I claimed I didn't like them when I was a child, as in Hong Kong (where I grew up) they were often called eggplants and I wasn't overly fond of eggs. It made sense to me at the time, but clearly I missed out and have been making up for it ever since.

Texturally they are really pleasing; I find twice cooking them is the best way to get them meltingly tender rather than spongy and squeaky. It's also unnecessary to salt them to get rid of their bitterness, as modern technology means it's been bred out of them. I have found that salting them means that they soak up less oil, if you're trying to be health conscious.

Pork and aubergine is a great combination. Already, Fish Fragrant Aubergines is one of my favourite dishes and so I'm always keen to try this combination with different flavourings. Originally this recipe instructed to prick the aubergine and roast it for 45 minutes until collapsed, then to peel it and scrape the flesh out to spread the mince over. Either way is as good, but this is a little quicker.

Vietnamese Spicy Pork & Aubergine

Serves 2

1 large aubergine, chopped into large chunks
250gr minced pork
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 red birds eye chillis, deseeded and chopped
2 stalks of spring onion, sliced finely
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 lime
Small bunch of coriander and mint, finely chopped.

In a non stick pan, fry the aubergine chunks in oil until it's browned on both sides. Remove and set to one side. Heat some oil up in a wok or a non-stick pan and fry the garlic and chilli until fragrant. Add the pork mince and fry until browned, then add the aubergine chunks back in. Stir fry on a high heat and add the spring onions. Add the fish sauce and the sugar. When the aubergines are completely cooked, take off the heat and add the herbs and the lime juice. Serve with rice.

This a great recipe; the fish sauce imparts a really great savoury depth to it, whilst the mint and the lime juice really makes it taste very fresh. The chilli isn't too overpowering; I often add more when just cooking for myself as I like it rather fiery.

Sunday 9 November 2008

Wasabi Salmon & Soba Noodle Salad

Wasabi is one of those things that hurts me to eat, but I still love it. Recently more and more pubs are offering up mugs of wasabi peas instead of pork scratchings, and I can't help but shovel handfuls of them, no matter how much they make my eyes well up when you get that inevitable 'wasabi head' like you do with mustard.

To go with the salmon marinated with wasabi, I thought a cold soba noodle salad would be refreshing and would temper the heat. Soba noodles have a great nuttiness to them, and although they're quite fine, they're still pleasantly chewy.

Wasabi Salmon & Soba Noodle Salad

Serves 2

2 salmon fillets
3 tsp of wasabi powder, made up with 1 tsp water
2 tsp light soy sauce
1" ginger, grated

Combine the soy sauce with the ginger and the wasabi, and spread over the salmon fillets. Leave to marinate for an hour.

For the noodle salad:

100gr soba noodles
1 carrot, grated
5 little gem lettuce leaves, washed and shredded
1 spring onion, sliced on the diagonal
1 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
2 tsp light soy sauce
A few drops of sesame oil
1/2 tsp mirin
1 tsp rice vinegar
Bonito flakes (optional)

Cook the soba noodles in boiling water for exactly 3 minutes. Refresh in iced water, and drain well. Toss the noodles in a large bowl with a few drops of vegetable oil, so that they don't stick together. Add the carrot, spring onion and lettuce and toss well. In a bowl, combine the soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar and sesame oil and add the toasted sesame seeds. Add to the noodles, toss well ensuring all the noodles are coated well.

Meanwhile, preheat the grill and grill the salmon for roughly 8 minutes, depending on how thick your fillet is. Serve, sprinkling some bonito flakes on top of the noodles, which adds a great umami depth to the salad.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Stuffed Cabbage

The humble cabbage isn't a very sexy vegetable. Thankfully I'm not of the age that I'd remember the waft of it it being boiled to death in school cafeterias, but even it's name isn't particularly alluring. However, it's one of my favourite vegetables; I also love kimchi, a spicy pickled cabbage of Korean origin.

Savoy cabbage seems to be the most versatile of the brassicas. It works well stir fried, creamed, in stews, in soups, and as I have just discovered, stuffed. In my aim to eat more vegetarian meals (I worry about my health...) I came across this recipe which I modified slightly.

It's very herb-heavy, perhaps to provide flavour that it lacks from meat. Dill isn't a herb I use a lot so I was keen to try it out. It results in a flavoursome filling, moistened nicely by the spicy tomato sauce and tempered by the soured cream.

Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

For two (the linked recipe claims it serves four, but this cannot be...)

8 Savoy cabbage leaves, blanched and refreshed with the hard stem cut out

For the filling:

200gr cooked rice
3 tbsp each of dill, parsley and mint
1 leek, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
75gr pine nuts, toasted

Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees. In a pan, heat up some oil and fry the leek, garlic and celery until softened. Add the rice and the herbs and season well. Take off the heat and fold in the pine nuts.

For the sauce:

1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
Pinch of sugar
1 tbsp tomato puree
Large pinch of chilli flakes

Meanwhile, sweat the onion and the garlic in a saucepan until very soft. Add the chilli flakes, sugar, tomato puree and the tinned tomatoes and simmer until thickened.

To assemble, add about 3 heaped tablespoons of the ixture above the point of where the stem has been cut off. Fold the two sides over and roll into a parcel. Sit snugly in a baking dish, and ladle the sauce over the cabbage. Bake for 20 - 25 mins, and serve with a pat of soured cream.

Monday 3 November 2008

Comfort Food - Congee

After a couple of rather heavy weeks of binge eating and drinking, the time came for something mildly detoxifying and light on the palate. My grandmother used to make me congee whenever I was ill, and she always made it with the magic ingredient; dried scallops. My mother had a friend bring her some from Hong Kong, and when I was given some the first thing that sprung to my mind was congee.

Congee is like a rice porridge. It's very bland and has often been likened to wallpaper paste. You can really add any kind of toppings you like, as long as they're highly flavoured. Many people eat century eggs or salted duck eggs in congee. You can also have mixed meat congee; I have ghastly memories of eating congee with boiled pigs liver in it, which was similar in texture to licking velvet - very unpleasant.


Serves 2

1 mugful of white long grain rice (I use Thai)

6 mugfuls of water or stock

3 or 4 dried scallops (optional - they're very expensive)

Bring the water to the boil in a large saucepan and add the rice. Simmer for an hour or so, stirring occasionally until thick. You may need to add more stock / water if it begins to catch.

Good toppings to use are salted peanuts, rinsed fermented black beans, chilli sauce (I used Nam Prik Pao), spring onions, soy sauce, white pepper and ginger. Marinated meats and seafood also work well, as do eggs.

It's not an earth shattering recipe, but rather good comfort food.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Perfect Saturday in London - The Round Up

Taken somewhere near London Bridge

A few weeks ago, Krista from Londonelicious put the call out to London bloggers: What's your idea of a perfect Saturday in London? The American girl who likes food and London but not cooking wined and dined her way around town and wrote about it here in the post that kicked it all off. Others quickly followed, posting their idea of a perfect Saturday in London. So whether you've always lived in London, or whether you're just visiting for the weekend and want to experience London as a local, here's some inspiration for you and all of your Saturdays. Now get yourself out there and explore!

ML at SPAstic, Tales from a London Spa takes you around South Kensington and Notting Hill for a culture-filled day that ends in Holland Park.

Su-Lin at Tamarind & Thyme gets some culture AND shopping in as she trolls central London, with the riches she imagines.

Two entries from Mini-et-moi, a great site for modern mums in London. Sarah takes in Marylebone and The London Transport Museum while Michelle explores the South Bank, tots in tow.

Danielle at Bloody Brilliant starts with a full English and then heads east to explore Brick Lane and Spitalfields.

Over at Gourmet Larder, Gregory begins his day in Borough and then works his way south through Clapham and Vauxhall.

Leah from Curiosity and The Cupcake arrives at Broadway Market bright and early and then enjoys a leisurely stroll through Victoria Park and east London.

Christine over at If Music Be The Food of Love has a musical slant to her day as she explores Hampstead and hits the town with her idol.

Blogger Priyanka begins at Cafe au Lait in Brixton and ends her day at Meson De Felipe and The Beehive in Borough.

Another blogger choosing to start around Borough Market. Helen at Food Stories kicks off her Saturday with a visit to Tower Bridge, wanders over to Borough and then ends her day with a visit to Shunt and by checking out Dinner in The Sky.

Lizzie of Hollow Legs (that's me, of course) is very busy geographically and takes us through Blackheath, North Greenwich, Trafalgar Square, Belgravia, Shoreditch, Whitechapel, and then back to Shoreditch.

And finally, new-to-the-scene Liz (of Liz Does London, not to be confused with Lizzie above) hits Chelsea, Hyde Park, Notting Hill, and Parson's Green.

I think that's everyone. Thanks to all the great bloggers who contributed their perfect Saturday. Please feel free to republish this post on your own blog and add your own perfect London, or elsewhere.

Sunday 26 October 2008

The Kitchen at Parson's Green

Last week, Niamh from Trusted Places invited myself and 10 others (amongst them Tom, Helen, Su Lin, Josh, Melanie, Alex and Chris) to an evening at The Kitchen. Newly opened, this place's concept is popular in the US. All you do is pick which dishes you'd like online, turn up, assemble them there, and take it home to cook it. No chopping, no slicing, no peeling and best of all, minimal washing up. Co-owner and Michelin-starred chef Thierry Laborde and his colleagues are on hand to help (and teach me how to pipe mashed potato...).

The operation ran smoothly. We were given sheets with clear step-by-step instructions on how to assemble our dishes and once assembled, we took them over to a fancy machine which sealed them with a plastic wrap and instructions on how to further cook it once you get home. By the time we got back to our work stations, new ingredients for the next dish were ready waiting.

It's a good concept and perfect for those with busy lifestyles but also concerned about the provenance of their food. All the ingredients are of high quality and sourced from independent traders and not wholesale. I don't think I'm the target market as I will make the time to cook, but I can see the attraction. I would recommend picking a day when Chelsea aren't playing at home though; it was a rather unpleasant sweat-a-thon on the tube on the way there.

I immediately cooked up the salmon teriyaki I had assembled when I got home and it was gorgeous. Melt-in-the-mouth salmon, decent teriyaki sauce and mushroom and pak choi stir-fried in sake. I wish I'd made more.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

A Perfect Saturday in London

Krista of Londonelicious has called for bloggers to blog their 'Perfect Saturday in London'. So here's mine.

I'm not much of an early riser (this here is the understatement of the year) but since I have a lot to fit in, we start at:

9:30am It will, of course be a perfectly sunny day. I like to walk; I do at least 3 miles a day, if not more. I leave the house and walk to Blackheath, a rather pleasant and tree-lined 40 min stroll. At Blackheath, I jump on the 108 to North Greenwich.

10:30am I arrive at the Peninsula Restaurant at the Holiday Inn, North Greenwich to join the masses for a dim sum breakfast / brunch. North Greenwich is a strange, deserted place full of new builds, the O2 and motorways. I swear I see tumbleweed roll past in the distance, but the restaurant takes me straight back to the dim sum places in Hong Kong. It's usually heaving and very noisy, often not an English word heard.

11:45am Sufficiently stuffed, I jump on the Jubilee line to London Bridge (15 mins) and walk to Borough Market. Batting aside the crowds, I grab a pint of mulled cider and 6 oysters. These are slurped / drank in the shadow of the church.

1pm Back to the overland at London Bridge to catch a Southeastern to Charing Cross (11 min). I walk past Trafalgar Square to the National Portrait Gallery (my favourite of London galleries I've been to so far) and have a potter around inside. A cup of over-priced coffee (you're not in London if you're not being ripped off) in the cafe to revive my mulled-cider-brain.

3:30pm Leaving the gallery, I then walk (25 min) down to Lanesborough Hotel for Afternoon Tea, more specifically the Belgravia Tea. I haven't been before, but it's been on the list for ages.

6pm Leaving the Lanesborough, I jump on the tube (30 mins) to Old Street. A few beers in The Reliance - they have Scrumpy Jack on tap. I like.

8pm Jump on the 205 to Tayyabbs (via an offie to pick up more beers for the inevitable queue). Lots of grilled lamb chops.

11pm I waddle off, home-bound. Or, more likely than not, we head to Catch on Kingsland Road for a boogie and I end up having to catch a miserable night bus. Wait - this is the perfect Saturday, right? In that case, I am chauffered home by a taxi.