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 Gl├╝hwein, 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.