Christmas is just around the corner and there’s nothing I love more than ripping open wrapping paper to discover a shiny new cookbook. There are lots of round ups out there this year, so for what it’s worth, here are the books I’ve been loving – and will more than likely be gifting – in 2015. Continue reading
I really couldn’t decide whether to post this photo. After the success of my Double Chocolate Cardamom & Rose Cake, and so many lovely comments about its elegance and beauty, these crudely thrown together kebabs felt like a bit of an eye sore. They were far more rough and ready; simple skewers of spiced minced meat wrapped around a stick. And in all honesty, if asked to conjure up an image of beauty in food, meat on a stick probably wouldn’t be your number one choice.
Or maybe it would. I’m sure a food stylist could have drizzled them in creamy yoghurt and sprinkled over some chopped mint, found some suitably colourful prop to offset the darkness of all that meat and tinkered and tweaked until they had a plate that looked the picture of foodie beauty. But I’d made these kofte for a friend on a work night, and after we finally got around to getting them off the BBQ, sizzling hot and smelling divine, the last thing I wanted to do was faff around taking proper photos. This is real life, and sometimes hunger wins out over art.
So why did I decide to post these pictures? The answer’s pretty simple really; the recipe is too damn good not too.
Italy holds a special place in my heart. I’ve been visiting my parents house in Tuscany every summer since before I can remember, and have grown up loving the rich, rustic flavours of the region; hearty ribollita, simple sauces over thick, hand-rolled pici, earthy cavolo nero, beautiful Chianina beef and the ubiquitous cannellini bean (the Tuscans are sometimes referred to by other Italians as mangiafagoili, or ‘bean eaters’). However, while the Tuscan mountains are a place I’ll return to time and again, I also love the seaside, and this summer I was excited to visit Sicily with a group of girlfriends for the very first time. Continue reading
The Riding House Café is achingly cool. From the shabby-chic New York-inspired dining room with its sweeping bar, shared tables and bare brickwork down to the distressed metal covers on Dyson airblades in the toilets (seriously…), it’s a lesson in laid-back luxe for a twenty-first century crowd. In amongst the glamorous set of Soho after-work media types typical of a Tuesday evening, you might encounter some more unusual dining companions; a stuffed squirrel, a blue plastic Smurf or a pigeon frozen mid-flight, a light bulb clutched in its beak like an olive branch. A little pretentious perhaps, but somehow the overall effect is on-trend and very enticing; you definitely want to eat in this restaurant.
So what about the food? Does it stand up to the quirky, contemporary design or is this restaurant a matter of style over substance? Continue reading
After green curry and tom yum soup (or maybe even before), pad thai is probably the dish we associate most strongly with Thailand, enjoyed for its combination of simple, fresh flavours, and consumed in restaurants and homes around the world. Surprising, then, that this ‘classic’ Thai dish was actually invented less than a hundred years ago.
According to Australian chef and Thai food expert, David Thompson, it came about as the result of a nationwide competition under the military regime of Martial Phibun. In an attempt to revive the Thai economy by encouraging the production of rice noodles, he tasked the country with devising new noodle-based recipes. Salty, sweet and sour with the crunch of peanut and a kick of lime, the winning recipe was named pad thai, or ‘fried Thai style’. The rest, as they say, is history. Continue reading
Barcelona is a foodie haven. Sandwiched between the mountains and the Mediterranean, its menus combine the very best of land and sea; from tiny mouthfuls of tapas to huge plates of paella, there’s enough to keep even the greediest of gastronomes happy. Variety is the order of the day, and spontaneity a must – there’s nothing more fun than diving into a random bar for a plate of pinxtos and cheap copa of cava.
Sharing food is great. I’m not talking about the kind of ‘sharing’ when someone leans over and pinches the crispiest looking chip on your plate, or when an eagle-eyed, weight-watching girlfriend suggests her loved one goes halves on dessert. Absolutely not. I’m talking sharing in a specific context i.e. the joys of tapas-style dining.
No longer confined to the Spanish cuisine which inspired it, tapas-style eating is perfect for big groups. It allows you the opportunity to be both adventurous and gluttonous, ordering numerous little dishes to compare, contrast and comment on without having to commit to one main meal. If you’ve ever sat in front of a menu racked with indecision (followed shortly by food envy when your companion’s meal arrives), then this is the perfect format for you.
For the last week or so the blogosphere has been alight with talk of Da Polpo, the new venture in Russell Norman’s ever-expanding restaurant empire. The fourth to open in half as many years, it builds on the menus of Polpo and Polpetto, adding an expanded list of pizzette alongside incredible sounding variations on an italian classic, the meatball. Not surprisingly for the brainchild of one if the first restaurateurs to truly harness the power of social media, Da Polpo has been a highly trending topic on Twitter as bloggers race to get their bums on the seats and reviews on their sites.
Having read a number of reviews over the last couple of days, I was left feeling three things. Number one? Hungry. Not surprising given the mouth-watering menu, great photos and gorgeous descriptions provided by some of my fellow bloggers (for some stomach-grumble inducing snaps take a look at reviews from Eatlikeagirl, Crumpeats, Londoneater or The Skinny Bib). Two? Jealous. I’m off to Barcelona next weekend and trying to save pennies for some serious tapas-fuelled budget-blowing, so trying new restaurants isn’t really on the agenda for the next few days. Three? Itching to get in the kitchen.
Every year as summer starts to approach my eating habits begin to change. Gone are the warm, comforting dishes of the winter months, replaced by simple salads, fresh ingredients and anything that can thrown on the BBQ and chargrilled to perfection. While the BBQ lends itself to strong, hearty flavours, I also crave dishes that zing with spice, and the delicacy of a beautifully cooked fish dish. This curry is the perfect summer supper – clean, fresh flavours bound with beautiful spices in a silky, refreshing sauce.
Nowadays you can buy perfectly good pre-made curry paste in the shops, but if you have the time I’d definitely recommend making your own. Not only is it hugely satisfying, but you can use exactly the combination of flavours you like, and if you read the recipe below it’s really very simple. You can also double or triple the quantity of paste and freeze it for future occasions – as quick and easy as popping to your local shop.
In this recipe I’ve used some beautiful whole prawns and meaty chunks of haddock, but you could use any combination of fish and shellfish – pollack, gurnard (an ugly fish but so delicious), strips of squid, scallops or even handful of crabmeat for a really indulgent curry.
For the curry paste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
3 small green chillies, seeds included, chopped
50g fresh ginger, chopped
1 lemograss stalk, finely sliced
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
Juice of half a lime
2 kaffir lime leaves, chopped
1/2 tsp shrimp paste
Scrunch salt & pepper
For the curry
1 tbsp groundnut oil
1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
3 spring onions, thinly sliced lengthways
Bunch of asparagus, each stalk sliced in 3
300g haddock, cut into bite-sized portions
Large handful king prawns, shelled and deveined
Handful coriander, roughly torn
Thai fish curry
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz til smooth. You could do this in pestle and mortar if you’ve got a bit more time on your hands (or a muscley sous chef . . .).
Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan or wok. Scrape in the curry paste and fry for 3-4 mins over a medium heat. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce and sugar and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 mins.
Add the asparagus and spring onions and cook for a further 2-3 mins. Then add the fish to the pan, cover with a lid and simmer for another 5 mins or so until the fish flesh flakes easily and is just cooked through.
Remove from the heat, scatter with the coriander and serve with steamed rice.
This month Carniverous Boyfriend has decided to ramp his protein obsession up a notch by moving onto a strict no carb diet. A kind of crazy cross between Atkins and Dukan, it’s intended to turn him into a lean, mean, muscle-beach-bound machine in time for our trip to Spain in early June. Good for him. Possibly a little less good for me as I’ll no longer have a partner in crime to share the breads, brownies and other spoils of my baking obsession. Never mind, I guess my inner greedy child should see that as a positive anyway.
On another positive note, this new-found protein obsession means I’ve been experimenting a little more in the kitchen. Although CB seems pretty content to chow down on multiple chicken breasts, tins of tuna and dozens of eggs, I think it’s nice to tuck into something a little more adventurous of an evening. This weekend, I stuck my nose into our local fishmonger and came back laden with beautiful specimens; a crab shell packed with freshly picked meat, a dozen giant head-on prawns, thin opaque fillets of gurnard, some gorgeously glossy squid tubes and a little pot of tiny peeled prawns.
One of my favourite blogs at the moment is Food Stories written by Helen Graves. I’ve been eyeing up her various recipes for stuffed squid for a while now (recipe here), and thought this was the perfect opportunity to give it a go. Squid is one of my all-time favourite ingredients – flash-grilled with chilli, lemon and rocket a la River Cafe or slow-stewed with soft, melting ingredients like fennel and chorizo – but can be so easy to get wrong. A few minutes over or under and the resulting rubbery consistency is as pentitential as it gets. I was therefore a little concerned as Helen’s recipe called for baby squid, and my tubes were more of the giant variety. However a little common sense prevailed and I got the cooking time pretty much spot on, creating a dish of wonderful contrasts – melt-in-the-mouth squid packed with firm, textured prawns and punchy flavours.
What follows is recipe I pulled together using a few basic ingredients – pungent crushed garlic, fiery chilli, a zing of lemon and freshly torn parsley. If I hadn’t been under strict no-carb intructions from CB, I’d be inclined to throw in a handful of breadcrumbs or pulses (lentils or the black beans that Helen uses would be good) to help bind the filling (it slightly fell apart as you cut into the tubes), but if you’re looking for simple, strong flavours over presentation, what follows is more than adequate. My photo of the finished article is a little dodgy as by this point I was more interested in eating than snapping, but please take my word for it, these really are very nice. Perfect with some steamed woody green veg and a splash of fruity olive oil.
Squid stuffed with garlicky prawns
2 medium squid tubes, cleaned
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 birdseye chillis including seeds, chopped
Handful pinenuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
2 large handfuls tiny prawns, shelled and finely chopped
Juice of half a lemon
Large bunch parsley, chopped
Handful breadcrumbs or lentils (optional)
Heat a lug of olive oil in a small saucepan and gently fry the crushed garlic and chilli til coloured. Add the pinenuts and prawns and continue to cook a couple more minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, parsley and breadcrumbs/lentils if using to form a thick, coarse mixture.
Stuff each squid 3/4 full with the mixture, securing the end with a cocktail stick. Heat a heavy based grill pan with a little oil until smoking, then grill the squid for around 3 mins each side, adjusting depending on the size of your tubes. This would also work really well on the BBQ, with the black grill marks adding extra flavour.
Test that the contents are warmed through by inserting a skewer. Serve drizzled with fruity olive oil and accompanied by earthy rich greens.