Monday, 14 July 2014

Five things I love this week #10

1. Hutong, the Shard. I won a meal at Hutong after taking part in the Cote de Rhone Chinese takeaway blogger challenge a few months ago. Last weekend, we made the (for me, stricken by vertigo, terrifying) journey high up the Shard to indulge in a leisurely four-hour, multi-course lunch in the gorgeous surroundings of Hutong. Resplendent with red lanterns, carved wood and ornate ironwork, you feel like you're eating lunch in old Shanghai or Hong Kong. We started with a pot of jasmine tea and some beautiful, delicate dim sum (crab; lobster; vegetable and bamboo; wagyu beef puffs; scallop and pumpkin; and some unusual dumpling parcels filled with a savoury, delicious meat broth that were unlike anything I've ever tasted before). Next came crispy duck, carved ceremoniously at the table, its lacquered skin sliced through like butter and placed in neat, glistening rows on a plate for us to enjoy with pancakes and hoi sin. The cocktails were incredible, presented like little glass-held meals in themselves, decorated lavishly with fresh herbs and fruit and bursting with unusual aromatic Eastern flavours.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Turmeric & lime roasted chicken with Vietnamese-style crunchy mango salad

We all, I think, have times where we wish our mouths had an ‘undo’ button. Where we would happily go back in time and refrain from eating that last piece of bread, slice of cake, cutlet of meat, forkful of noodles, entire two courses…times where we’re so disgracefully full that we empathise with force-fed foie gras geese as we waddle, moaning plaintively, home to fester fatly in bed until the following morning when we declare we are never eating that much again. A bit like a food hangover, really. 

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Risotto with blue cheese, pine nuts and caramelised balsamic pears

You can keep your chutney. Cheese, for me, is best enjoyed paired with a lusciously ripe piece of sweet fruit to complement its mouth-coating richness and dense, fudgy texture. The exact fruit will depend on the cheese: toffee-scented dates, for example, are best paired with a fairly fresh, tangy cheese like goat’s or feta; stronger, sharper, crumblier cheddars go better with crisp apples or grapes. Having said this, an excellent all-round fruit for pairing with cheese is the pear. Crisp and glassy or soft and yielding in texture, tangy and grassy or delectably syrupy depending on ripeness and variety, there’s a pear to partner almost any cheese you can think of.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Amok trey (Cambodian fish curry steamed in banana leaves)

Before I even go into the wild and wonderful merits of this beautiful dish, let’s just revel for a second in the fact that it’s called ‘amok’. Apparently this is simply a Cambodian term for cooking a curry in banana leaves, but I don’t think we use the word ‘amok’ enough in English and so let’s take a moment and think about how we can incorporate it more into our lives.

Good. Now you’ve done that, let me tell you about the beautiful amok.

Friday, 20 June 2014

An evening with California Almonds

One of my life’s great woes is that I am constantly hungry. You could see this as a blessing; my food writing career requires that I be always ready to sample whatever tasty treat should come my way. However, more often than not it’s something of a curse, given the fact that I am completely unable to function when hungry. I genuinely cannot comprehend those people – you know the type; you may even be one of them – who can breeze empty-stomached through a whole day and then remark, astonished, by evening that they haven’t eaten anything all day and gosh, how silly, they probably should have something then really shouldn’t they, but they’re just not that hungry!!!!

Sorry, but I hate these people.

Monday, 16 June 2014

A Spanish-style tapas feast involving very little effort

This is one of those times where you throw a few things in the oven, do a very small amount of chopping and arranging, put a pan on briefly and produce a miraculous array of delights that make you wonder why you ever bother slaving away over a hob for hours when you could do this in approximately thirty minutes. I had a few things in the fridge to use up, and I've had a few excellent meals over the last couple of weeks that provided me with a bit of inspiration. I didn't quite envisage the luxuriant feast it would turn into, though. Sat outside on a sunny summer evening with a glass of wine, I can think of few things better.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Deconstructing the British summer: Chablis Blogger Challenge, 2014

When I was a child, I used to collect the Michelin ‘I-spy’ books. These were little pocket guides to various aspects of the natural world – birds, flowers, rock formations – that gave detailed and illustrated overviews of the various things you might encounter within these genres, and a handy checklist for you to tick off whenever you’d seen one. While the guide to exotic frogs remained largely unticked during family holidays to rainy National Trust properties throughout the UK, I had largely more success ticking off fossils, plant and bird life, getting incredibly excited when I encountered a new bird species or tree that I could proudly tick off as ‘done’. It’s a habit I’ve retained in adulthood with countries of the world, although unfortunately this is a far more expensive hobby than ticking off different types of fern. 

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Sambocade (medieval elderflower cheesecake)

The other night, some of my fellow PhD students and I got together for a ‘Dinnertation’ party (I sadly cannot take credit for the coining of this excellent term). This involved cooking and bringing a dish related – on however tenuous a level – to your thesis, either in terms of period or theme. So for anyone out there thinking I’m not quite sure how to have fun, I hope you now stand corrected. As you’d expect from anything that involves bringing together a bunch of overachieving, highly neurotic, borderline nocturnal individuals whose everyday conversations are peppered with words like ‘ontological’ and ‘epistemology’ and who refer to their desks as ‘nests’, it was a total riot.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The best crab spaghetti

Crab is one of my absolute favourite ingredients, but I don’t cook with it as often as I’d like, on account of it being quite expensive. If you’re a crab fan, though, there is a way to get around this: brown meat. For some reason it is the white meat of the crab that is more highly prized; it has a delicate flavour and meaty texture, whereas the brown meat tends to look a bit more like, well, sludge. However, it is in the brown meat, I think, that all the flavour lies, much like with chicken or turkey. You can buy it in small pots in most supermarkets. Although not appetising enough to make the star of a salad, brown crab meat works beautifully in dishes where you really want that strong, sweet crab flavour.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Mango, coconut and toasted seed granola

Mango and coconut is such an evocative combination. For me personally, it conjures up two delicious holiday memories. The first: setting foot outside a hotel in Saigon for my very first experience of Vietnam, walking fifty yards down a street pervaded by the kind of chaos you only get in south east Asian capitals to find a little stall down a side alley serving up the most magnificent smoothies. Forget smoothie, actually – this was a meal in a cup: ambrosial marigold mango pureed with glorious ice, thick coconut cream and scattered with the glistening pulp of a passion fruit. With my hair and clothes already sticking to my damp, humid skin, this was like nectar.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Five things I love this week #9

1. Central American food. I spent a couple of weeks in Costa Rica and Nicaragua this April, and although the prospect of rice and beans for every meal did start to get a little tedious (never before have I found myself going out for a pizza while abroad somewhere that isn't Italy...oh the shame), I am a fan of this simple yet hearty, wholesome, bolstering combination of ingredients. Rice and beans (all the better if fried with a little spice), fried plantain (sweeter and more caramelised in Costa Rica, like bananas, while crispier and more starchy in Nicaragua, like potato cakes), tortillas (soft and nutty, unlike the pallid flavourless things we buy in packets over here), and some form of protein: eggs for breakfast; fish, steak or chicken for lunch. You might also get some fresh cheese and/or avocado if you're lucky, and pico de gallo: a tangy relish of ripe tomatoes, onions and coriander. Perfect for breakfast and lunch, though I did crave a bit more variety for dinner. Luckily, there was ceviche to satisfy that requirement.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Barley with avocado, feta, lemon yoghurt sauce, toasted almonds and lime & paprika salt

I have a difficult relationship with yoghurt. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been unable to stand the stuff. I think I ate it as a child, but at some point something clicked in the back of my brain somewhere and I became deeply averse to the substance, to the point where watching a woman tucking into a big pot with a spoon early one morning at a bus stop in Oxford made me feel physically sick and sidle in precaution over to the nearest bin. I’ve tried to conquer my aversion, finding it irritating that there is a foodstuff out there that I don’t like, generally priding myself on my diverse omnivorousness – I used to hate melon, but a fairly un-rigorous process involving making myself eat more melon soon conquered that minor affliction – but I simply cannot get over it.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Cinnamon cranberry porridge with rhubarb, blood orange and raspberries

It’s rhubarb season, and I feel like an excitable little girl with a penchant for Disney and ponies every time I take a tray of the stuff out of the oven, its radiant fuschia guaranteed to perk up even the lowest of spirits, even if only for a moment. While you can bury this delicious sweet-tart vegetable under a blanket of pastry or a smothering of crumble, it seems a shame to hide it when it’s so beautiful. There’s a reason rhubarb at this time of year is called ‘champagne rhubarb’: it’s far superior to the summer stalks in colour, flavour and texture. It makes sense, then, to show it off. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Chickpea, blood orange, kale & almond salad with tangy chargrilled chicken

Blood oranges make winter worthwhile. Grey rainy mornings are a little bit brighter as you take your sharp serrated knife and gently slice the skin off these reassuringly weighty citrus fruits, revealing the stained-glass segments within. Marigold orange with blushing tinges of red, through to the dark scarlet of lifeblood, every blood orange is different, and part of the enjoyment is taking a moment to admire the individual tones of the specimen you’re about to eat. You can eat them as they are, of course, but I like to mix them with other ingredients, particularly where their gorgeous colouring can be fully appreciated. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

Vietnamese-style crab, glass noodle, pomelo and edamame salad

A fabulous combination of soft, comforting noodles bound together with an incredibly complex sweet-sour-citrus dressing, brimming with the tang of lime and the fiery rasp of fresh galangal and the richness of soy, brown sugar and tamarind. There are bright, moreish edamame beans for crunch, chilli for heat, and then the rich, sweet taste of fresh crab meat, all topped off with chunks of sweet pomelo and toasted sesame seeds. I’ve essentially thrown all my favourite far-Eastern flavours into a pan with some noodles and some crab, and it emerged as something far more than the sum of its parts. It’s very loosely based on an incredible dish of glass noodles with crab and garlic that I ate in Vietnam, but with an added arsenal of punchy flavours that magically work beautifully together: the sweet pomelo and yuzu brighten up the rich crab, while the toasted seeds and edamame beans add earthy depth and texture. Go visit the AO at Home blog for the recipe!