Tuesday 24 February 2009


You may (or may not) have noticed that I've gone a bit radio silent - this is due to starting a new job, and also moving house. Apparently these are in the top 5 stressful things to put yourself through, along with organising a wedding and the death of a relative. Thankfully I am not going through the latter two.

So, unfortunately thanks to BT, I will not have an internet connection for a good two weeks or so. Pffft.

Thursday 19 February 2009

Rabbit in a Cream & Mustard Sauce

I used to have a pet rabbit. Thankfully I can't remember what it was called, and so I wasn't in any way squeamish about cooking this bunny up. I spotted a wild rabbit, already skinned and portioned, for sale in Borough Market for a mere £5. I immediately snapped it up, and set about cooking it. Of course, I didn't have a recipe in mind when I bought it but having a quick squizz around inspired this.

Rabbits need long and slow cooking, especially the wild ones. I wanted some sort of rich and robust stew, but also I wanted flavours suited especially to rabbit; sometimes stew can be a bit generic.

This is a really rich dish - I cooked the usual pasta for two but we were properly stuffed afterwards, so I'd suggest a smaller portion (shock horror). Due to the long cooking times, the overnight rest and the resultant rich stock, this was one seriously tasty pasta sauce; especially given the relatively simple ingredients.

Rabbit in a Cream & Mustard Sauce

Serves 3

1 wild rabbit, jointed

3 carrots, diced

1 large onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

3 sticks of celery, chopped roughly

1/2 a pint of white wine

1/2 a pint of chicken stock

2 bay leaves

A handful of peppercorns

250gr noodles (dry weight), like fettucine

100ml double cream

2 tbsp wholegrain mustard

Large handful of flat-leaf parsley

1 lemon

In a large saucepan, sweat the onion, garlic, carrot and celery for 20 mins. Dust the rabbit portions in seasoned flour and brown in a non-stick frying pan. Add to the carrot mixture, then add the bay leaves and peppercorns. Add the stock, white wine and a tsp of salt, then bring to a boil. Turn it down to a gentle simmer and cook for a good 3 or 4 hours. Check that it isn't dry - add more chicken stock if it is.

Leave to cool (I left it overnight) and take the rabbit pieces out and take the meat off the bones. Set to one side. Reheat the sauce so that it loosens up a bit, then in a fine sieve, sieve the vegetables off. You should get a rich stock coming through the sieve. Smoosh (yes, technical term) the mixture with a wooden spoon until you're sure you got all the goodness out of it, then discard the vegetable pulp. Add the meat back in and warm gently. Add the double cream and simmer for 10 or 15 minutes until thickened slightly. Slop in the mustard, serve well, and toss with pasta, garnishing with a LOT of chopped parsley and served with a wedge of lemon. Don't forget the black pepper.

Friday 13 February 2009

Guilty Pleasures Dinner Party

One blustery night after a wine tasting meet-up, myself and some food and wine bloggers got talking about our guilty pleasures. The sort of things that you're shame-faced to admit, but absolutely insist that they're delicious. Crisp sandwiches were mentioned, and when I volunteered Spam ramen noodles, I got a chorus of "bleeeuuuurrgghh!" Well! Hmmppf.

So, we decided to have a Guilty Pleasures dinner party. Myself, Niamh, Chris, Helen and Dan from Bibendum met up at Denise's lovely flat (I got massive flat envy). On the menu: Cheesy sausage biscuits (picture above, Denise), Marmite and cucumber sandwiches (Helen), Spam ramen noodles by my good self, Bovril on toast (Chris), macaroni cheese (Niamh), and a blind tasting from Dan with wines from Bibendum - the theme being 'everyday wines you’ll probably like’ vs. ‘posher wines you should like but might not’.

So, after starting the evening off with gin martinis, we kicked off with the cheesy sausage biscuits. They were delicious - slightly herby and warm. Once I get my hands on some Bisquick I am making me some of these. Helen's Marmite and cucumber sandwiches, specifically on white bread, were next and were great, with no hint of sogginess.

Next: Spam Ramen Noodles. Everyone loved them! (No, really, they did). It was quite a common dish when I was growing up; in fact, much of Hong Kong and South East Asia (as well as Hawaii) still love their Spam without shame. I promised a recipe, so here it is...

Spam Ramen Noodles

Serves 6

1 block of instant noodles per person
1 large tin of Spam, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
3 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal
Light soy sauce
Toasted sesame oil

In a non-stick pan, add the slices of Spam. There's no need to add any oil, Spam is quite fatty enough. Fry until crispy on both sides, and leave to drain on kitchen paper. Add the noodles to a pot of boiling water and stir with a fork or chopsticks to loosen the noodles. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes. Add a few splashes of soy sauce and a drizzle of sesame oil to each bowl, then divide up the noodles with a few tablespoons of the cooking water to moisten. Toss the noodles, then lay the Spam slices on top, garnish with the spring onions. Eat with gusto, then cry a little about how guilty you feel. Or not - as you can see from the photo, the dishes were polished off.

Next, came the macaroni cheese. It was impressive - a huge baking tray filled with the stuff. It was seriously tasty too, due to an inclusion of bacon, and topped with panko breadcrumbs for added crunch. I like to eat mine with ketchup, which I suppose may be another guilty pleasure of mine.

By this time, there was some bloating occuring. It's not easy eating all this stodge, but we soldiered on gamely. Bovril on toast surprised us by being on rather artisan toasted sourdough, slathered with butter. Delicious, and really comforting. It must've been a night of revelation as Dan had never tried Marmite, Spam or Bovril.

So what about the wines? I get a bit lost when it comes to tastings. I can get the flavours once someone mentions them, but conjuring them up on my own is difficult for me. The first were two whites - #1 was Katnook Founders Block ‘07 Chardonnay, which I vastly preferred to #2 - a 1er cru ‘03 Meursault. Incidentally, most of the wines tasted better when eaten with a sliver of the extremely delicious Tomme de Savoire cheese Dan had brought.

Next up we had rosés. The first one I could barely drink; it was sweet and sickly, much too much so for my palate. The second, a salmon pink colour was much more palatable and I loved it, possibly my favourite of the night; I remember drinking rosé similar to this when I was in Provence briefly last year. Anyway, they were revealed as California Zinfandel ‘07 Delicato for the first - eurgh! - and the second as Chateau des Sarrins Cotes de Provence ‘07 Rose. Lovely stuff.

Lastly, the reds, and an Old World vs. New. I much prefered the Los Alamos '06 Cabernet Sauvignon to the Les Tourelles de Longueville 2003, Pauillac.

So what did I learn? I have common taste in wine, unless it's a rosé. But then I knew that anyway.

All in all, a great night, rounded off by a selection of ales, some seriously tasty Eis Wein and... er... some penny sweets. It was pleasurable, and I sure felt guilty by how much cheese I'd consumed.

Thursday 12 February 2009

Franco Manca

I've heard many, many things about Franco Manca. Many hail it as the best pizza in London, so off I went to sample it myself. There's a danger of the over-hype, and I was conscious of this - I was fully expecting to be completely blown away. Given that it's in Brixton and they only open from 12 - 5pm, it's not the easiest of places to visit, but I finally did.

After about 20 minutes of wandering around with Niamh and Kerri as none of us had printed maps or even noted down the address (oh, for an iPhone!), we settled down at a table outside, in the covered market area. It was cold - coats stayed on for the duration of the meal and my toes froze.The menu is small, and instantly I plumped for the anchovy, caper and olive pizza. It was disappointing that they didn't have the buffalo mozzarella that day but nevertheless, the pizza was indeed, delicious. It had a lovely crust, great flavour and was generous in the toppings. It was a decent size too, something I always look for in a pizza. A well dressed green salad accompanied it.
Home-made lemonade was delicious and tasted a bit like honey, but the white wine (at £7.50 a bottle) was pretty grim. I couldn't drink more than half a glass of it and not just because I was hungover - it was really acidic and tasted quite astringent.

Verdict? Really impressive pizzas, and extremely well priced considering it's all organic (the bill for 3 pizzas, 1 bottle of wine, 2 large bottles of lemonade and a side salad came to £31). I would definitely come again, but perhaps in the summer - I was seriously frozen by the time our meal was finished; get a table indoors if you can. The waiting staff could do with a prod too - we had to fetch our own glasses, fetch the waitress to get the bill, and then correct the waitress on said bill.

Check out Kerri's post here, and Josh over at Cooking the Books went the next day and also posted about it.

Franco Manca

4, Market Row

Electric Lane


London, SW9 8LD

Franco Manca on Urbanspoon

Oooh - Check Me Out

Fame, at last!

Well, not quite. But many thanks to Simon Majumdar of Dos Hermanos who listed me as 7th on his article of 'Top 10 Blogs for the Home Cook' in the Times. I'm flattered!

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Cavalo Nero & Portabello Mushroom Lasagne

Lasagne is another of those dishes that I struggle to decently present. Apparently you're supposed to let it rest for 15 minutes or so when it first comes out of the oven; who has the patience for that? I gave this one 10 minutes before I caved in and attacked it with gusto.

It's a recipe by Rowley Leigh using Swiss chard that I've had my eye on for a while, especially when I saw that Josh had blogged it and his looked great. Swiss Chard isn't something my local Sainsburys stocks though, and this had prevented me from trying it out. However, a weekend trip to Greenwich and a visit to a cute little greengrocers on Royal Hill found me in possession of a big bag of cavolo nero, a dark, almost black cabbage. I had seen recipes using this before, such as with pasta, but as I'm at home with not a lot else to do, I wanted something rather more time-consuming and involved.

Well, I can happily report back that cavalo nero is a pretty good substitute. It has a pleasing bite to it and a iron-rich flavour that holds it's own in the lasagne. The whole lasagne was excellent - each layer had it's own distinct flavour and nothing overwhelmed. The inclusion of basil leaves meant you got a fresh herby hit every other mouthful or so. It's definitely a recipe I'll make again.

Cavolo Nero & Portabello Mushroom Lasagne

Serves 2 - 3

300ml milk
½ onion
3 cloves
1 bay leaves
A couple sprigs of thyme
20g butter
20g plain flour

200g Cavalo Nero
3 garlic cloves
3 tbsp olive oil
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
20 basil leaves

250g Portabello mushrooms or similar
1/2 lemon
100ml double cream
4 or 5 no-cook lasagne sheets
Grated Parmesan

Put the milk, sliced onion, cloves and thyme into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for three minutes then turn off the heat and leave it to infuse and cool, then strain.

In another saucepan melt the butter then add the flour, stirring well and cooking for a couple of minutes to make a roux. Whisk in the milk, bit by bit, ensureing there are no lumps. Simmer for 10 - 15 minutes until smooth.

Wash the cavalo nero leaves and chop into centimetre thick strips.

Fry the chopped garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil for a minute then add the cabbage and fry for a few minutes it starts to wilt and become tender. Pour in the tomatoes, season well, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes before removing from the heat and allowing to cool.

Slice the mushrooms to half a centimetre thick then heat a large frying pan with a tablespoon of olive oil and fry the mushrooms, adding the juice of the lemon half way through and seasoning well. Once cooked but still firm, drain in a colander over a bowl, letting the juices drip into the bowl.

Next, to finish the white sauce, whisk in the mushroom juices and the double cream. Simmer further until it has reduced slightly and is glossy and thick. You should now have three dishes - the tomato cavalo nero, the mushrooms and the white sauce.

Assemble the lasagne starting with one layer of white sauce, one layer of lasagne, one layer of tomato mixture and one layer of the mushrooms. Continue this for three layers, scattering the basil leaves atop the tomato mixture. Grate the parmesan over the final, white sauce layer.

Bake in a 200ºC (180ºC for fan assisted) for 40 minutes then remove and leave to rest for 15 minutes. Serve with a green salad.

Monday 9 February 2009

Loh Bak Goh - Chinese Radish Cake

Today is the last day of Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year was a much more hectic affair when I was younger, as we'd be constantly visited and would be out visiting relatives. Nowadays as we're in England and they're not, we don't do a whole lot to celebrate it. Many Chinese friends and contacts have expressed surprise that I didn't spend Chinese New Year with my family.

One of the highlights of Chinese New Year is this cake, made with Chinese radish / daikon / mooli. It's not a cake in the sweet sense, but a highly savoury dish. It's a popular dim sum dish, but home-made is infinitely better. It's first steamed, then cooled overnight in the fridge, and then sliced and fried.

This is my first attempt at making this dish, and a few things went wrong. Firstly, after I bought the ingredients, I realised I didn't have a big enough steamer. I improvised and decided to steam it in a sort of bain marie - the mixture went into a 2lb loaf tin in a baking tray of boiling water, then covered in foil and into the oven.

However, before this, more other things went wrong. I decided to follow Appetite for China's recipe but of course, I didn't read the recipe through properly. I lobbed the radish right on in there with the mushrooms and sausage while it was frying, instead of setting those ingredients to the side first. I also sliced the radish up a touch too large, so I ended up with rather chunkier pieces than anticipated. I then added too much dark soy to the mixture, staining the radish a darker brown colour which then made my finished cake a light brown colour, instead of white (meanwhile, I managed to smash a pint glass and break my food processor. Whoops).

No matter, it still tasted great, but let this be a lesson to me - always read the recipe in full first!

Thursday 5 February 2009

Chickpea & Mint Leg of Lamb

There was nothing elegant about this dish. I'm sure there's an artful way I could have arranged it (perhaps a chef's ring of cous cous, a drizzle of sauce etc etc) but I was, in short, bloody starving.

The boned leg of lamb was kindly supplied by the online company Paganum, in it's own eco-friendly box, swathed in sheep's wool to insulate it and keep it cool. This started off in the marinade, but as it was a snow day and there was absolutely nothing to do, I started pacing around it like a hungry wolf. The recipe I based this loosely around was one of Jamie Oliver's, and he suggests marinading it from 1 hour - 24 hours. 24 hours! How was I going to hold off? I nibbled on crackers, vainly ate some fruit, even made myself some toast but in the end, 3 hours was as much as I could muster and I banged it in the oven.

It was worth the wait - other food bloggers, such as Helen and Niamh, have recommended Paganum and I wanted to give them a go myself. They're based in the Yorkshire Dales and they're an 'online farmers market', supplying meat from family and artisan farms. So, perfect for people like me who can't be arsed to drag my lazy backside to the local farmer's market on a Sunday morning, which more often than not turns out to be a dodgem of Ferrari pushchairs and yummy mummies with their Starbucks. The meat in this alternative roast dinner was delicious; slightly gamey as lamb is, but beautifully tender too. You could almost tell it had a happy life. The chickpea marinade made a flavoursome and slightly crunchy crust.

Chickpea & Mint Leg of Lamb

Serves 4

1kg boned, butterflied leg

1 tin of chickpeas, drained

A large handful of mint, leaves picked

1 tbsp sumac

1 tsp ground cumin

3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely

400mls natural yoghurt

1 tsp cinnamon

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

2 tsp ground coriander

4 carrots

2 onions, or 4 large shallots

1 head of garlic

Slash the lamb to allow the marinade to really get inside the meat. In a food processor, pulse the chickpeas with the garlic, sumac, lemon juice, cumin, mint, cinnamon and some salt. You don't want it pureed, but still with some texture. Add the yoghurt and mix thoroughly. Add half this marinade to the lamb, ensuring it's all covered, and reserve the rest. Marinade for at least 3 hours, if not overnight.

To cook, bring the lamb to room temperature. Peel 4 carrots and slice into thick batons and lay on the roasting tray with large peeled quartered shallots or onions, and a whole bulb of garlic. Roast on the highest setting for 20 minutes, then turn th oven down to 160 and roast until it's how you like it (and that's medium rare - mine took a total of an hour). Rest for at least 30 minutes. Any juices left in the tray should be used to cook the cous cous. Cook some cous cous with slices of lemon and steam some green beans. Serve with the reserved yoghurt as a sauce.

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Rare Grilled Tuna & Salsa Verde Salad

We've had a couple days of proper, heavy snow. I've never seen such heavy snow (given that I grew up in a sub tropical country) and these past couple of days have been something else. The picture to the left was taken from my bedroom window this morning.

Still, I craved something light and fresh. I am currently a lady of leisure, as I have two weeks between jobs and the temptation is all to great to just sit around and eat a lot. As I have mentioned before, the guilt does get the better of me. I've made use of this rare time off to properly go to the shops (instead of dashing round in a grump after work, post 7pm) and I came up trumps; a tuna steak! I haven't had one in a long while.

Tuna is quite a meaty fish, and the fresh steaks are a much different beast to the tinned. It's almost sacrilege in my book to cook the steaks anything other than rare, so this is what I did.

Rare Grilled Tuna & Salsa Verde Salad

Serves 1 hungry person

For the Salsa Verde:
Small bunch of parsley, coriander and mint
2 tsp capers, rinsed
1 anchovy, chopped finely
1 small clove of garlic, sliced
1 small green chilli, chopped and deseeded
The juice of half a lime
Extra virgin olive oil

Finely chop the herbs and the capers, and add to a mortar and pestle. Pound lightly until the herbs are well amalgamated, then add the anchovy, garlic, lime and chilli. Pound even more, adding enough extra virgin olive oil to make a smooth sauce.

For the salad:
1 tuna steak, about 200gr
2 handfuls of mixed leaves
2 cooked (not pickled) beetroot, sliced into quarters
A handful of baby tomatoes (Pomodorino are the tastiest I've found)
1/2 a small red onion, sliced thinly
A handful of cooked chickpeas
2 tbsp olives

Easy really - get a griddle pan really smoking hot, oil the tuna steak and slap it on. Depending on how thick it is, cook until rare. I think mine was about a minute on each side, if not less. Rest for 10 minutes, then slice across the grain and season with salt and pepper. Throw all the salad ingredients onto a plate, place the tuna slices on top, and drizzle with the salsa verde. I also drizzled the salad with a bit more olive oil.

Monday 2 February 2009

Sweetcorn Soup

Ah, winter. I've never seen so much snow in my life as I did this morning. Of course, it didn't help that I wasn't at home - I had a 1 hour tube journey (usually 20 mins), a 45 minute boat ride and then a 3 mile walk home. It took me the best part of 4 hours. Granted, I did get to walk through Greenwich Park and see all the kids squeal as they went down hills in sleds, but it certainly didn't help that I was in Converse trainers, the most inappropriate footwear for snow.

So when I got home, my poor little toes were frozen through. I needed sustenance, and I needed it quick, so what better than a hearty bowl of soup?

Most people will have had chicken and sweetcorn soup at the local Chinese restaurant, and this recipe is loosely based around this, but I think it's more flavoursome and less gloopy. Sweetcorn is a favourite of mine - especially steamed on the cob, slathered in butter, salt and a light sprinkle of chilli flakes, or even a squeeze of lime. The egg in the soup isn't entirely necessary, but it makes it lovely and rich.

Sweetcorn Soup

Serves 2

1 can of creamed corn (you can buy this in Tescos, or the local Oriental supermarket)
150mls vegetable stock
200gr frozen sweetcorn
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 spring onion, sliced on the diagonal
Small bunch of coriander, chopped
Pinch of white pepper
Pinch of chilli flakes
Sprinkle of sesame seeds
Splash of soy sauce
1 egg
1 tsp cornflour, slakened

In a saucepan, heat some oil and fry the shallot until softened. Add the vegetable stock, then the creamed corn, and the sweetcorn. Simmer gently for 10 - 15 minutes. Add the slakened cornflour to thicken, and once it has (but not too gloopy), whisk the egg until frothy, and very slowly drizzle into the soup, so that you get a stringy effect. Take off the heat, ladle into bowls, and garnish with the spring onion, coriander, chilli flakes, pepper and sesame seeds. Add soy to taste. Easy!