Sunday 31 August 2008

Covent Garden Night Market

After reading about Covent Garden Night Market on other blogs, I decided to give it a go myself. I wasn't under any illusions; Borough Market it aint, and with that I set off.

Friday was the last time the market was open this year, as it's only open throughout August. Upon first arriving, I was impressed. It was a warm night, and it reminded me of French evening markets. It had great lively atmosphere and was bustling, partly due to some questionable street performers juggling knives.

Every Friday there have been demos by various chefs, but unfortunately I missed Fergus Henderson's demo as I thought it was on at 7:30pm, rather than 6:30pm. No matter; there were lots of other foods to be sampled. A lovely Irish rock oyster at £1.50, and a portion of wild mushroom risotto completed my dinner for the evening, and I came away with lots of cured pork goods.
Of course, I couldn't walk on past a huge round of Stichelton, my favourite blue cheese. It's a shame the guy selling the cheese so obviously didn't want to be there, nor talk to me and it showed as it seemed to be the least busy stall. What happened to service with a smile?
Unfortunately they'd run out of Tuscan sausage that I was told to buy, and the spicy one didn't really do a lot for me. There was a good selection of stalls to eat your way round on a Friday night, rather than lots of places to buy fresh produce for. All in all, a nice couple of hours out but ultimately not something you'd miss too much if you'd been to Borough Market before.

Friday 29 August 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred

Just a bit of fun for a Friday night really. In preparation for an upcoming debauched long weekend, I thought it best to stay in and what better way to spend your time...

The idea behind the Omnivore's Hundred is to copy and paste this list, highlight in bold which ones you've eaten and cross out which ones you wouldn't even consider. I've done it in red as I can't find a crossy outty function.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart - I dread to think what was in it, but inebriated at 3am in Soho... well, it tasted alright. Ish.
16. Epoisses - Not really, but does Munster count?
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl - I want this. NOW.
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float - why ruin a root beer with ice cream?
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin - not through lack of trying. I WANT.
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin - If this is what I think it is... does Immodium count?
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe - eurgh. That was a bad night.
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake - When I was about 11 I saw a baby bamboo snake meet it's death from the underside of a man's shoe. Just the sight of snakes makes me feel queasy and a little sweaty. No way.

59 / 100 aint bad in my 21 years, I suppose.

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Tortilla de Patatas

I don't know a lot about Spanish food. I went to Barcelona once, just for the day and eating wasn't high on my list of priorities (shock horror!) back then.

Tapas is one of my favourite cuisines, so I thought I'd try it for myself at home. Having a look around, tortilla de patatas seemed the most straight-forward in my debut dish.

It's not exactly a healthy dish, but very flavoursome and it makes a great cold picnic dish, or to have with salad. The potatoes are simmered in olive oil with some sliced white onions until they are cooked, and then mixed with the raw egg and back in the pan for a second frying.

Tortilla de Patatas

Serves 4 as a side

3 medium potatoes (floury), sliced thinly

1/2 a white onion, sliced

3 eggs, beaten

200mls olive oil

Pinch of salt and pepper

Heat the oil up in a pan, and then add the potatoes. Simmer until cooked, about 15 minutes. 5 minutes before they're cooked, add the onions. Drain about half of the oil away, and leave to cool.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl and add the potato and onion mixture. Pour back into a 7" non-stick pan and cook on a low heat until the eggs have set on the bottom and are slightly browned. Carefully turn the tortilla over, and fry until cooked all the way through.

My history isn't great with eggs, I usually make a complete mess of it so instead of turning it over, I stuck it under the grill to finish cooking. The result was a great tortilla; layers of potato and onion lihtly flavouring the eggs. Simple, but great.

Saturday 23 August 2008

Hunan - A Heaven For Gluttons... Like Me

Let it be known that I am a glutton.

People often marvel at how much I eat, especially given my size (which isn't very big). People at work are convinced that as soon as I hit 30, or even worse, 25 my metabolism is going to slow right down and I'll balloon. So I'm making the most of it.

It was much talked about when I was younger. I once ate so much pie I was sick in my sleep - not recommended - and my mum still laments the holiday in Brittany where my dad and I literally ate our way through the week. It culminated in me not being able to decide between two main courses in a restaurant... so I got both, to run concurrently. I just didn't want to miss out, you see.

When I heard about Hunan, about 6 months ago, I had to go. A Chinese restaurant, named after the region in China known for it's liberal use of chillis. Perfect! Although they do claim that their food isn't strictly Hunanese on their website, what sealed the deal for me is that they don't offer menus. Instead, they bring you out food of the choice of the kitchen and don't stop until they tell you to.

So, tonight was the night. We arrived in Sloane Square, feeling a touch out of place, being the scruff bags that we are. The restaurant is not your typical Chinatown caff, but rather a sleeker affair. Extremely courteous staff sat us down, and away we went, furnished with a bottle of Chilean Sauvingnon Blanc. As we were sat by the window, the pictures start off pretty bright but progressively get darker.

To start, we also had marinated cucumber and some peanuts. A soup came out, steamed in a bamboo cup. A deeply savoury broth with ginger, shiitake mushrooms and pork mince came out accompanied by chicken mince in a lettuce leaf with a sauce to drizzle over it. We didn't know where to start really. The soup was gorgeous and the lettuce wrap a really pleasing texture contrast.

Next came some spicy green beans, in a light tempura-like batter. I must attempt to make these at home; not a hint of grease, but a pleasing amount of crunch, garnished with spring onion and mild(ish) chillis.

The salmon and snapper roll was interesting, but flavour-wise it was somewhat bland. I think it was meant to be, as it was quite refreshing on the palate.

In quick succession came one of my favourites of the meal - pork belly braised with star anise and ginger. The pork belly fell apart with a prod of the chopsticks - it was unctuous and melted in the mouth. I wanted more.

Various dumplings followed, some memorable, others not so. In particular a king prawn dumpling stuffed with a fish mousse and water chestnuts was particularly clever, and tasty. A prawn-topped bitter melon didn't reveal any hint of bitterness, but was well executed and beautifully presented. Tofu parcels came out, confusingly called "turkey wrapped ham" by the server. Debate between us quickly ensued - the boyfriend berudgingly admitted it was tofu, and deliciously so. Lamb parcels then came out, which reminded us of a gourmet version of sesame prawn toast; covered in sesame seeds, the lamb was barely there but enough to make it's mark. A spicy beef dish was amazingly tender, and perfumed with the smoky dried chillies nicely.

Finally, the big dishes came out. "Are you too full?" enquired the waiter. "Keep it coming!" Steamed sea bass in ginger and spring onion was perfectly cooked, and served from the beast table side. It proved to me that the restaurant didn't need to make any fancy dumplings or rolls for it to show that they can cook well.

Bewilderingly so, we were then given crispy duck and pancakes. Perfectly nice, but we did wonder if it was a mere filler.

Next, came Twice Cooked Pork in Lotus Leaves with egg fried rice and stir-fried veg. This really did top us off. The pork was a little dry, but the sauce was dark, rich and fruity.

We finally ducked out when the boyfriend gasped: "Enough! I'm done". I scoffed at him, even sulked a bit but clearly he knew better; after a small dessert of home made red bean balls, stuffed pancake and coconut jelly, I was fit to burst. We waddled off into the night, after having been eating for almost 3 hours. I'm still full now; I'm not sure sleeping is a good idea at the moment.

There is an element of trust when it comes to the bill as it was indecipherable, but it was very reasonable indeed. If you're not a fusspot, I suggest you go.

Hunan on Urbanspoon

Monday 18 August 2008

Stuffed Bitter Melon

Stuffed bitter melon is one of those dishes that I didn't like when I was a kid. My grandmother used to make it as one of many dishes for dinner. Bitter foods just don't sit well on young palates, but as I've got older my tastes have definitely changed. I am a Guinness drinker, after all.

Recently I was eating in one of my favourite Chinatown restaurants and who was next to me, but Clarissa Dickson-Wright. She had all sorts of dishes on her table that were uncommon for the average Brit to order; amongst them was stuffed bitter melon. Upon my dining companion enquiring what it was she had, she immediately offered us some. Hers were stuffed with fish and pork, in a thick black bean sauce. It was delicious, and it proved to me it was time to try it again.

Stuffed Bitter Melon in Black Bean Sauce

For 4

1 bitter melon
450gr minced pork, or half pork half raw prawn
3 shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped finely
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
4 tsp light soy sauce
Large pinch of white pepper
1 tsp cornflour

For the sauce:

3 cloves of garlic, minced
1" of ginger, chopped finely
2 1/2 tbsp fermented black beans, chopped and mashed
250 mls chicken stock (I used half a cube)
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp cornflour, slaked
2 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal

Add the pork (and prawns, if using) to a bowl with the shiitake mushrooms, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, cornflour and white pepper. Mix well so that it's all combined.

Slice the bitter melon into 1" rounds and cut out the pith carefully. Blanch in salted water and refresh. Stuff the pork mixture into the rounds carefully. It's best to overstuff them slightly, as the meat will shrink a little. Steam the melon for 15 - 20 mins. It's fine to do it in two batches, as they will get a quick braise to warm back up again.

Heat your wok up until it's slightly smoking and add some vegetable oil. Swirl it around the wok, then add the ginger and garlic and fry until fragrant. Add the black beans, and then the stock and the sugar. Carefully add the melon rounds back into the sauce and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the slaked cornflour to the mixture and simmer it further until it's thickened. Scatter with the spring onions, and serve with plain rice.

The initial blanching is said to get rid of some of the bitterness of the melon. The sugar also balances some of it out, but this dish certainly isn't for the faint-hearted.

Thursday 14 August 2008


When I saw a recipe recently for Janssen's Temptation, I was very tempted indeed. Potatoes, cream and anchovies; it instantly appealed.

Although I lived with a Swedish friend for a year, I don't know anything about Scandinavian food. She wasn't much of a cook. Tubes of cod roe resided in the fridge and she had a penchant for Ryvita and ate mostly plain food, and this was my impression of it. I was keen to try this recipe out to see if there was any truth in this.

In Sweden, pickled sprats are used and the Swedish name for it is 'ansjovis'. Apparently these are available in Ikea, but as I haven't got one near, anchovies sufficed. I used the ones in oil, not fresh. This is a great dish to introduce those who are not so keen on anchovies, as they just melt into the dish and lend a deeply savoury quality to it.

It's not a very summery dish, but let's face it. Where's summer? The rain has been catching me unaware all week; I actually left the house with a short skirt and some nice cotton pumps on yesterday. Curses upon the rain.

Janssen's Temptation

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

A few large potatoes (I used King Edwards), sliced to about the thickness of a pound coin. I can't give exact measurements, but enough to fit your casserole dish

4 anchovies per layer of potato

1 white onion, sliced

2/3rds double cream, 1/3rd milk to cover


Softened butter, to dot over the top

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Arrange the potato slices in a fish scale pattern. Scatter the onions over the layer and lay over the anchovies. Season with salt and pepper (don't use salt if you're using anchovies preserved in salt). Repeat until the dish is about 1" from the top. Mix te milk with the double cream to loosen, and pour over the potatoes until they just cover. Scatter over the breadcrumbs and dot with the butter. Bake for 45 mins - 1hr, until the potatoes are cooked through.

As I understand it, this is often served warm as part of a smorgasbord, but I like to eat gratin dishes as a big plateful, with a hefty green salad and a mustardy dressing on the side. It was gorgeous; velvety potato contrasted with the crunchy breadcrumbs was very pleasing indeed.

Sunday 10 August 2008

Har Gau - Prawn Dumplings

Har Gau is usually on all dim sum menus. It certainly is one of my favourites, and I never thought that I'd be able to recreate them at home. The pastry is quite different to that of the potsticker dumplings. When cooked, the pastry becomes translucent and silky.

When Sunflower posted a recipe for these, I had to give them a go. Off I toddled to Chinatown to pick up some wheat starch and tapoica starch. Unfortunately I went without the recipe written down, and when faced with all the different flours, I got confused and picked up glutinous rice flour instead of the tapoica starch. I didn't have the opportunity to go back; no matter, some improvisation would have to do. As the tapoica starch makes up only 20% of the pastry base, I substituted it with cornflour instead.

In comparison to the potsticker dumplings which used bread flour, this dough was easy to work with. It didn't stick to the work top, and after a super-quick knead it transformed into smooth and silky dough. That's where the easiness ended, though. Once I rolled out the dough balls into discs and stuffed them, they were virtually impossible to fold into pleats without the dough splitting at some point. I'm not sure why this is, perhaps because I used cornflour instead of the tapoica starch? But no matter. I improvised and just pinched the dumplings closed into crescent shapes.

The filling I used, to make 18 dumplings:

180gr chopped raw prawn
1 finely sliced spring onion
1 tsp light soy
1/2 tsp sesame oil
Pinch of white pepper and of salt

You can also add diced bamboo shoots, water chestnuts for texture but I wanted to keep it simple for the moment.

They were delicious. It's worth trying to roll the pastry out as thinly as possible. I ate all 18 of them... and then had to have a lie down.

Thursday 7 August 2008

If At First You Don't Suceed, Try and Try Again

Pizza dough was the first dough / bread I've made. I was given the recipe by Josh, from Cooking The Books which I have posted about before, but already I'm improving. The first few times I made it, I couldn't understand why I kept getting a really wet dough. So wet in fact that I couldn't do anything with it, and just had to add more flour to make it workable. This happened twice and it was infuriating.

It took me a while, but I realised that I was using 160gr of flour to 120gr of water. The recipe states 180gr flour. Someone wasn't paying attention in class. Still, my pizzas weren't quite right. The dough was either too wet or too tooth-breakingly crunchy. I would simmer down a tin of tomatoes with garlic and oregano, and this often had a slight petrol taste, from the garlic.

Thankfully I persisted. Mixing up the dough first thing in the morning and then covering in cling film and bunging in the fridge means that I don't have to wait an hour for it to rise in the evening. I simply take it out of the fridge to bring to room temperature, knead for about 3 or 4 mins and then roll it out. Also, instead of simmering down a tin of tomatoes with various fillings, I now just use tinned peeled plum tomatoes. No juice, just the whole tomatoes crushed and spread across the base. Thinly sliced garlic goes on next, then anchovies, capers and olives, basil leaves and topped with mozzerella. This gets baked at the top of the oven on full blast for about 15 - 20 mins, finishing off with 5 mins under the grill. I usually top it with plain rocket for a bit of greenery.

I made this for myself and my housemate, and it was worth the wait in getting it right. She declared it the best she's ever had, and I was inclined to agree. The recipe I use for the dough, for two people, is here.

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Tofu Tuesday - Fried Tofu with Sweet & Sour Noodles

After a big meat binge in the south of France, it was time for some meat free eating. We ate like kings; particularly memorable was a steak, perfectly cooked as I asked 'bleu'. Two starters of foie gras also contributed to making my mind up about this healthy eating lark upon our return.

Being Tofu Tuesday, I wanted something light and packed full of vegetables. I decided on Sweet and Sour Noodles.

Fried Tofu with Sweet & Sour Noodles

For 2

Half a block of tofu, sliced thickly, 5 per person

3 handfuls of stir-fry mix

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1" of garlic, chopped finely

1 chilli, chopped finely

Rice noodles, soaked in boiling water until soft, drained and tossed with sesame oil

3 tbsp ketchup

1 tbsp black vinegar (cheap balsamic is a good alternative)

2 tbsp light soy sauce

Large pinch of sugar

Cornflour, to dust the tofu slices

3 spring onion, sliced

Heat up a little oil in a wok until smoking. Dust the tofu with cornflour and fry in batches until golden and drain on kitchen paper. Clean and add a tbsp of oil. Fry the garlic, ginger and chilli until fragrant. Add the veg and stir-fry on a high heat for 2 mins. Add the noodles, and the ketchup, vinegar, sugar and soy sauce mix. Toss to coat, add the tofu slices back in, and take off the heat. Garnish with spring onion.

This was nice enough, but a little bland. I added chopped kimchi on top of the tofu to perk it up a bit. I think what would have been better would be to stir-fry the noodles with the veg seperately, and then make a seperate sweet and sour sauce for the fried tofu to have a quick braise in. One to experiment with, I think.

Monday 4 August 2008

Berry Nice

I'm not much of a sweet person, but lovely fresh berries like this are irresistable and perfect for a summer's day. So of course, when we had these, we were fresh off the plane from the scorching south of France and back in rainy London. It was hammering it down.

No matter - a handful each of washed raspberries, blueberries and redcurrants were bunged in the bowl with a dollop of whipped cream. Not the kind that squirts out of a can, but rather a tub of double cream, whisked with brown sugar until it's seriously thick and your arm cramps up.

Next time, a dribble of Grand Marnier in the cream, perhaps some crushed Amaretti biscuits scattered on top. Either way, still mouth-wateringly delicious.