Tuesday 29 July 2008

Baozi Inn

On the hottest day of the year (?), we decided to visit Baozi Inn, in Chinatown. It specialises in Sichuan and Beijing streetfood, named after the Chinese word for 'bun'. As soon as I read this review, I knew I had to go.

So off we toddled, fresh from the seaside. The restaurant don't take bookings, so we took our chances on a busy Saturday night. We got a table with a 5 minute wait. The restaurant itself is pretty basic; tables and chairs are wooden and close together, all adding to the atmosphere. Staff are young Chinese folk, perfectly pleasant.

The menu was short. One page consisted of dumplings and the baozi. Dragon wontons were offered, we went for the ones in chilli oil and garlic sauce (top picture). Gorgeous; these weren't ready made, yellow skins that they used, but rather silky and light white wheat pastry.

A Three Sliver Salad, made of carrot, kelp and vermicelli noodles was addictive and moreish, tossed in sesame oil with just the right amount of crunch. They were advertised as being in chilli oil, but it wasn't prevalent and was quite refreshing.

We also ordered Fragrant Hot & Spicy Pork Noodles (or something like that...) which came with a warning glance from the waitress. "This is very spicy, is that ok?" Perhaps we were perspiring heavily, but we eagerly nodded it in. I also ordered the Chengdu Dan Dan Noodles (above left), on the back of the Time Out review. This was disappointingly small compared with the other noodles, but it worked well. The ground pork sauce was spicy and made the lips tingle pleasantly. The noodles were perfect and toothsome. I dribble a little bit thinking about it now.

I finished off with a ground pork Baozi. I felt it wrong to come here and not try it's eponymous bun. It was probably the least favourite of the meal. Although the pork was tasty, it was a touch boring. It would make for a very plausible lunch though, especially at £1.20 a pop.

The restaurant was mainly populated by young Chinese, all conversing in Mandarin, making for a great (and authentic-feeling) atmosphere. Food is very quick, like a super tasty fast food.

It was also incredibly good value - these dishes, service, two beers and an iced lemon tea came to £30. We came out having sweated a bucket - sorry, ladies glow, don't they? - but immensely satisfied. I have found my new favourite Chinatown gaff.

Baozi Inn on Urbanspoon

Sunday 27 July 2008

Whitstable Oyster Festival

I may have mentioned it before, but I love oysters. When I heard about Whitstable Oyster Festival, I thought it must be perfect. Happily enough, it fell on the weekend after payday, so off we went to Whitstable.

A 2 hour train ride later, we arrived. The weather was balmy, although over-cast which was probably a good thing, to fend off the sun burn. We started off at Wheelers Oyster Bar on the high street, and sunk a half dozen oysters for a paltry £2.50. Large, juicy tiger prawns with garlic mayonnaise completed our breakfast, and with this we headed off to find some refreshment.

I love being by the sea, and Whitstable is a charming town. A busy and bustling town centre with plenty of cafes, restaurants and the ubiquitous Boots. The sea front was much calmer with some little beach huts, holiday homes and a pub or two.

We moved on to find the main part of the Oyster Festival. So far we had only seen the Fisherie selling half lobsters and oysters, and we were wondering whether this was it. A short stroll down to the Harbour revealed much more. Lots of stalls selling cheeses, olives, cakes and biscuits, even curry and of course, oysters.

The queues for the oysters were long. I mean, LONG. There were two stalls selling freshly shucked oysters and these were by far the most popular. We obediently joined. About half an hour and a half of super strength cider later, we slurred our way to the front. Nothing like a bit of binge-drinking on a Saturday afternoon.

A jug of Pimms later, the proper hunger set in and we set off to find some real sustenance. We found ourselves back at Wheelers, this time with a couple of dressed crabs to hand. The sun decided to make a proper appearance and the rest of the afternoon was spent watching all the crazies (the water was freezing - the toe I dipped in nearly fell off) swimming in the sea.

I recommend taking the trip down there during the Oyster Festival. There were various activities to do and watch, like the Oyster Eating Competition, and some kiddy workshops. They had BBC filming a food show, it looked like a segment of Saturday Kitchen but we were just happy to potter around and slurp down seafood.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

No Tofu Tuesday - Pork in Black Bean Sauce

This week I realised how debilitating it is to be without a Chinese supermarket. When thinking of Tofu Tuesday I wanted to try Peng's Homestyle Beancurd, which is slices of tofu deep fried and then stir-fried with pork. When I found out I would be working out of the office in South London on Tuesday, I didn't think much of it. I went straight from there home in a cab. I figured Sainsburys must have some tetrapak tofu, of the Mori-Nu brand. But as I sprinted around Sainsburys with my cab waiting outside, this was not to be. I grabbed a shelf stacker and asked him where the tofu was; he looked Japanese and knew exactly what I was talking about, and we set off together.

I often hear of people slating supermarket workers. Often if you ask them for an obscure ingredient you are met with confusion (such as arrowroot; I was led to the spices aisle). I once asked for capers, and when asked what they were, I found actually I couldn't describe them either. I have since found that they are the pickled bud of the caper plant. Anyway, I won't have a bad word said against this particular employee - he scoured the 'World Foods' aisle, I the 'Free From' section. I couldn't think of where else it might be. At last, I admitted defeat. Dejectedly, I made my way to the checkout with my lonely broccoli. He appeared again; "if you're looking for really good Asian supplies, there's a really great shop in Catford Bridge". We compared notes over the till. Now that's what I call service.

So, the pork loin was put to a different recipe, a really quick stir-fry. One of Ken Hom's, in fact, of which you can find here. I added shredded leeks.

Monday 21 July 2008

More Meat

My, what a meaty weekend I had. We had a beautiful leg of lamb on Sunday, stuffed to the brim with anchovies, rosemary and garlic.

Living with just one other often means it isn't really viable to have a roast dinner; you might as well get yourself a steak, or a lamb or pork chop instead.

I've completely abandoned the idea of a Sunday roast pub lunch - I haven't had a single decent one in recent memory. Often you get thin, grey meat, so over-cooked you can't even differentiate what meat it is. Sad yellowing vegetables that have had a time and a half under hot lamps to keep them warm swim around the plate in a limp, salty Bisto-like sea of death. On one occasion, perfectly square wafer-thin slices of stuffing resembling a minature piece of MDF even had the audacity to wink at me from my over-priced plate in a trendy N1 pub (yes, you, Keston Lodge. Tsk!).

So, what about roasts? For me, leg of lamb must be pink for tender, juicy meat. The highest heat for 20 mins to caramelise the outside of the roast, and then 15 minutes per 450gr and a good long rest, perhaps 40 minutes. Served with boulangere potatoes, simply steamed broccoli and carrots and a dribble of gravy made from the juices. Heaven.

Sunday 20 July 2008


Ah, the Great British Barbeque. As soon as a barbeque was on the cards, we nervously check the weather every day. British weather cannot be trusted. Last summer was a complete wash-out, the whole of last week was rainy and miserable, some might say positively autumnal. Conversations went a little like this:

"BBC Weather says cloudy and light showers".

"But Accuweather says sunny, and Accuweather must be accurate, it's all in the name."

"Maybe we could barbeque in the rain; we have done before".

I burst out of bed (when I say burst, I mean staggered) on Saturday morning and nervously pulled the curtains back. Hurrah! The sun was out.

My parents are champion marinaters. We had a million ribs, all swimming in the 'special marinade', so called because my dad can never remember exactly what goes in it.
What can be better than ribs? Especially these ones; they were slightly tangy, slightly sweet and well caramelised. Meaty too; quite often all you get is a bit of fat and bone, but these were something to sink your teeth into.

Other meaty morsels destined for the barbeque were squid, chicken legs, steaks and sausages.

You can see the tentacles of the squid sizzling away in the top picture. The squid was extremely tender, cooked to perfection and often the tentacles are the best bit, cooked so they have a bit of crunch.

We did have vegetably bits, such as barbequed courgettes, a lettuce, tomato and avocado salad and some potatoes with red onion and a little mayonnaise, but really - it's a barbeque! It's all about the building of the fire, the frustrations of the coals not catching, the joy of it finally being at the right temperature, and then, of course, the meat.

...And there wasn't a drop of rain.

Thursday 17 July 2008


When I was a wee nipper, I once ate so much pie I was quite sick in my sleep. It was a rather traumatising experience; I tried to wake my mum up but she just grunted and rolled away from me. Luckily, my sister was easier to rouse. She wasn't best impressed when she returned from her nasty chore to her bed to find me asleep in it.

Ever since then, I've had an aversion to pastry, shortcrust in particular. I've been trying to get over this, starting with the pasties in Cornwall and so far it seems to be working. Puff pastry is easier for me to deal with, although it's something I don't use a lot due to it's high fat content. I threw caution to the wind and made a mushroom tart.

Mushroom Tart

Serves 2

5 large closed cap mushrooms, sliced

1 tbsp dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley

3 tbsp creme fraiche

Enough puff pastry to make 2 6"x 4" tarts - I used 1/2 a block of unrolled pastry

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celcius. Fry the garlic until softened, then add all the mushrooms. Fry until softened, making sure there isn't too much liquid. Add the creme fraiche and the parsley and take off the heat. Season to taste. Roll out the pastry and make an indentation about 2 cm from the edge, all the way round. Leave to rest for 5 mins, then spread the mushroom mixture on the base. Wash with egg and bake for 15 - 20 minutes.

I served this with griddled red onions, courgettes and aubergines dressed with a little extra virgin olive oil and lime juice, and some broccoli on the side.

The pastry was lovely and light and complemented the earthy mushrooms well. The parsley really helped to cut through the creaminess of the sauce. Shortcrust pastry (maybe even home-made) will be next...

Monday 14 July 2008

General Tso's Chicken

Deep frying strikes again. I felt quite naughty deep frying chicken with skin on, but this dish was definitely worth it. Josh, a fellow blogger recommended it to me.

Apparently this is often served in American Chinese take-aways and I've certainly never seen it in my travels. It's quite a different dish there, usually very sweet and the chicken is sometimes battered. The origins of this dish and why it's General Tso's, a Qing Dynasty statesman and general, is unknown. This was a Fuschia Dunlop recipe; she's quickly becoming my favourite.

General Tso's Chicken

Serves 2

To marinade the meat:
3 or 4 chicken thighs with the skin on, deboned and chopped into pieces
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp cornflour
2 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce

Mix this in a bowl and leave to sit whilst you prepare the other ingredients.

For the sauce:
1 tbsp tomato puree
4 tbsp water
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp cornflour.

The rest:
6 - 10 dried chillis, snipped into 3cm pieces, discarding the seeds
2 tsp finely chopped ginger
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
1 spring onion, sliced for garnish
2 tsp sesame oil
Oil for deep frying

It looks like a long list of ingredients, but you just need to mix the sauce materials up for the last minute cooking.
Deep fry the chicken in 2 batches until the chicken is golden and crispy. Set to one side. Empty out the oil, reserving 2 tbsp. Fry the chillis briefly and then add the ginger and garlic. Fry until it's all fragrant, and then add all the sauce in, and then the chicken. When it is thickened, turn off the heat and serve, with the sesame oil and spring onion to garnish.

This was a great dish - slightly crispy chicken, a glossy coating of slightly sour, spicy and deeply savoury sauce. Recommended.

Saturday 12 July 2008

Bouga Restaurant, Crouch End

I don't go out often for dinner. It's not because I don't want to, but due to budgetary constraints. So hurrah, at long last it was payday last week.

We decided to go out in Crouch End, where my boyfriend lives. We originally wanted to go to Jerkmaica, but sadly it was closed on when we got there, at 7pm on a Saturday night, strangely enough.

We decided on the Bouga Restaurant. It looks quite kitsch from the outside; some of the seating consisted of couches with big squishy sofas and there were various Moroccan-looking lamps around. Having had a look at the menu, we decided to go here, especially as I hadn't had a tagine before.

The first alarm bell rang when they tried to seat us by the open window, right where the window folded back. I said no, I didn't want to sit with a huge hinge in my face, so they offered us a different table and said they needed it back in an hour and a half. Fine - do many people spend more than that amount of time on dinner, dining as a couple? It all went downhill from here. Firstly, the chairs were so low that I felt like my 27" legs were round my ears. This never happens. Then I was given the wrong main course which was then replaced by the right one, literally 10 minutes after we had ordered. If that doesn't make you feel rushed, I don't know what does. The cocktails we ordered didn't turn up until we had almost finished.

But what about the food? I ordered a lamb and prune tagine. The lamb shank was succulent and tender, falling off the bone but into a very salty and watery sauce. The poor boyfriend ordered a mixed grill. This was brought out on a big metal box containing hot coals, and then dumped in front of him, smoke billowing in his face. We moved it to a nearby table without even a whisper of help from the waiting staff. This 'mixed grill' consisted of 1 skewer of chicken, 1 skewer of lamb, a cocktail-sized sausage and a quarter of a tomato. Oh, and a side salad of cucumber and red onion. He left hungry.

When I told the waiter to take the service off the bill, he didn't ask why but just looked surly. It said it all really - miserable waiting staff, rubbish food and management obviously trying to ake as much money from as little quality as possible. It was an expensive mistake for us to make.

I don't want to use this blog as a medium to moan, but if it means that I can prevent others from being wildly disappointed with this sham of a restaurant, then moan I will.

Bouga on Urbanspoon

Thursday 10 July 2008


I've recently started to like blue cheese. It's one of those things that I think I should really like, an every time it's on offer I've tasted it again. After all, when I was younger I didn't like aubergines, carrots or swede and now they're all regulars. It certainly paid off with the blue cheese; I was recommended Stichelton and after trying a piece from Neal's Yard I was hooked on the blue stuff.

The selection of pasta shapes in the supermarket now is almost over-whelming. I'm a noodle kind of girl, so fettucini, spaghetti, linguine, tagliatelle and pappadelle are my usuals. On a whim, I bought Gigli. It's a frill edged, cone shaped pasta and is apparently excellent with cheese sauces. It held this sauce well.

Blue Cheese & Spinach Gigli

To serve 1

100gr gigli pasta
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 small leek, finely shredded
2 mushrooms, sliced
3 tbsp low fat creme fraiche
3 large handfuls of washed baby spinach
30gr (roughly) blue cheese - I used Cornish Blue

In a frying pan, sweat the leeks until they are softened. Add the garlic and the mushrooms, and fry gently. Put the pasta on to cook (I found it took about 6 minutes). When the pasta is almost done, add the spinach to the frying pan. Once wilted, add the creme frachie. Add the blue cheese, season and toss through the gigli pasta.

What sauces do you make for Gigli?

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Tofu Tuesday - Braised Tofu & Mushrooms in Oyster Sauce

Tofu Tuesday seemed to dominate the blog recently, so I opted out of it last week. I found myself craving it though. Many people say tofu doesn't taste of anything, but this really isn't so. It has a unique taste, though not strong and it was this was what I missed.

I had a massive tapas lunch today, and so was feeling quite unmotivated as to what to cook tonight. I wanted to try a new type of beancurd, like perhaps beancurd skin but most of the recipes I found involved some deep-frying. Fine, but two deep fryings in one week is a touch excessive. Peng's Home-Style Beancurd really caught my eye, but as I had eaten an ungodly amount of pork for lunch, this will have to wait until next week. Something light and meat-free was the only way forward.

Braised Tofu & Mushrooms in Oyster Sauce

Serves 2

6 shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated in boiling water
1/2 a block of fresh tofu, cubed
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
1" ginger, chopped finely
1 spring onion, sliced on the diagonal
2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
1/2 tsp five spice
3 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
Large pinch of sugar
1 tbsp cornflour, slaked

Heat your wok up until smoking and then add about 2 tbsp vegetable oil. Fry the tofu cubes until lightly browned, which will take about 10 minutes. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Fry the ginger and garlic until fragrant, then add the carrots. Fry for 5 minutes, then add the wine. Once it comes to a simmer, then add the mushrooms, slicing off any hard stems. Add the five spice, oyster sauce, soy sauce and sugar and stir it to coat. Remove to a saucepan with a lid, and then add enough boiling water to make some gravy (about 150mls). Put the lid on and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the tofu and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Add the cornflour and stir carefully. Simmer until thickened, and take off the heat. Garnish with the spring onion, and serve with white rice and some steamed greens.

This did just the trick. Despite the braising, it's still light and quite refreshing. The mushrooms are juicy and unctious while the carrots provide a sweetness to balance the intensely savoury oyster sauce. The tofu soaks up the five spice flavour of the gravy nicely. If I had any broccoli, this would work well braised with the mushrooms. Substitute the oyster sauce with mushroom sauce for a veggie-friendly dish.

Monday 7 July 2008

Deep-Fried Delights

Much to the dismay of my waistline, I've gone from a mild dislike of deep-frying - some may have even called it a fear - to something of a compulsion. The Agedashi Tofu turned me. Prior to this recipe I'd regarded deep-frying as something beyond my realm. My first deep-frying attempt saw me try to make falafels. I'd gone as far as soaking the chickpeas, blending them up with parsley, lemon, garlic, all those aromatics. When it came to cooking them, I was excited. The oil heated up and I waited patiently - I even tossed a breadcrumb in to see if the oil was hot enough.

Alas, it was not to be. The falafels fell apart into a million little pieces, all fizzing away furiously in the oil. My (now ex) housemate snorted: "Well, you f*cked that up, didn't you?". He has a way with words. Well, due to the success (with just minor burns) of the tofu, it was time to move on. Time for deep-fried meaty things... like spring rolls.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Makes 8 - 10

200gr minced pork
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
A handful of woodear mushrooms, rehydrated and sliced finely
2 spring onion, sliced into shreds
1 clove of garlic, minced
2" piece of ginger, grated
1/2 bag of stir-fry vegetables
A handful of rice vermicelli or (preferably) glass noodles, soaked in boiling water for about 10 minutes
Rice paper
About 250ml vegetable oil for deep frying

Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce

3 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp sugar
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, chopped finely
A little diced carrot

Marinate the pork in the ginger, woodear mushrooms, garlic and the dark soy. Meanwhile, once the noodles are soft cut into 3" strands. Add to the vegetable ingredients. I used a packet of bog-standard Tesco beansprout stir-fry packet, to save on the chopping. Prepare a bowl of hot water to dip the rice paper sheets in.

Mix all the ingredients for the dipping sauce and set to one side.

Lay out a clean tea towel in front of you. Dip the rice paper discs into the hot water until they soften. When they have done, place carefully on the tea towel and dab dry. Cut the discs in half. With the straight edge facing you, place a little of the pork mixture in the centre on the edge. Add some vegetables and noodles, taking care not to add too much (it's trial and error). Fold the round edges in to seal the sides, and then start rolling it up from the flat edge. You should end up with a 3 or 4" long roll. Once these are all done, heat the oil up in a wok. Once hot enough (add a breadcrumb; it should sizzle) carefully place the rolls in, ensuring they don't touch each other. Fry until browned, about 5 - 6 mins in total.

To serve, I separated the leaves of a head of Little Gem, so that you can use the leaves as a wrapper to pick up the roll and to dip into the nuoc cham.

This was quite a fiddly process for my oafish fingers, but with some practice (and a helper) it shoudn't be too time consuming. It's delicious; the crunch of the rice paper wrapper is really complemented by the crunch of the beansprouts and vegetables, whilst the dipping sauce really lifts it. This only goes to confirm my new-found love of deep-frying.

Thursday 3 July 2008

Seaweed Salad

I work near a branch of Wasabi and every time I get a sushi craving and I give in, this is where I go. There is much selection and I am often racked with indecision, mostly because I want it all. It's hard having a bottomless appetite when your wallet isn't accomodating.

I recently tried their seaweed salad and I was instantly addicted. Bundles of sesame flavoured stringy seaweed, slightly crunchy with a subtle nose-tingling heat from wasabi. It's texture is much like that of jellyfish that you get for dim sum. It's not cheap at £1.95 a box, so I set about finding out how to make it myself.

I found this packet in the Chinese supermarket, which seemed promising. No calories too, apparently...! I'm not sure how you'd incorporate it into pasta, as stated on the pack though.
Upon opening it, much of the seaweed inside was the normal wakame. There were also strands of red and clear seaweeds. It wasn't the stringy bundles as I'd hoped, but it made for a delicious vegetable side anyway.

Seaweed Salad

To serve 1

1 tbsp seaweed, soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes
1 tsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp mirin
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted
A few drops of sesame oil
A little wasabi (to taste)

Mix all of the above and dress the seaweed. Next time I'll add a little finely chopped spring onion. If anyone knows where I can buy seaweed like this, in London, please let me know!

Tuesday 1 July 2008

Fishcakes - A Leftover Treat

Mashed potato is one of the greatest comfort foods. I wonder if it stems from childhood, when all food was mashed for easy eating?

Last Sunday saw me laid up on the couch, full of self-loathing and quite hungover. One of these days I'll get bored of feeling rubbish and I'll pack in the booze... Maybe when I'm old. There was only one thing for it - mashed potatoes needed to be made. Of course I over-estimated my appetite and made far too much, but this wasn't a problem. Fishcakes can be a very cheap meal, depending on what fish you want to use. I never bother using fresh fish as I think it's a bit of a waste, but instead I used tinned salmon, tuna or smoked mackerel.

Spicy Fishcakes

Makes 4 large fishcakes

About 300gr mashed potato - this should be quite dry. If you're making this without leftover mash, steam or microwave the potatoes to get the driest mash possible.

1 tin of tuna, drained

2 spring onions, chopped finely

1 big red chilli, chopped finely

1" of ginger, grated

3 tbsp sweetcorn

1 tbsp capers, chopped roughly

A small handful of parsley, chopped finely

1 egg, beaten

Breadcrumbs & flour to coat the cakes

In a big bowl, combine the fish, potatoes, and the rest of the ingredients except the egg, breadcrumbs and flour. Mix thoroughly, and season with salt and pepper. Shape into compact patties. Put the beaten egg on a plate, with the breadcrumbs and the flour on seperate plates. Carefully dip the patties in egg, then flour, then egg, then in breadcrumbs. It's a messy business and you need quite a lot of breadcrumbs; I toasted two slices of stale bread and blended it finely.

Chill for 20 mins and then fry on all sides until browned. Then put the fishcakes in a preheated oven at 170 degrees, and bake for 10 - 15 minutes. Serve with a large wedge of lime (I also like ketchup...) and green beans or salad.