What would you like for dinner?

Occasionally, I make the mistake of asking Himself the question “What would you like for Dinner?”

I say,  Mistake, as he always comes up with some phantasmagorical answer. He mutters, well I really liked the pasta  dish you made last night, or a Stir Fry ( what does he mean by that?) or Steak and Kidney Pie or Pudding ( for one person, I don’t think so) and so yesterday, he said Liver and Onions. He really likes liver, especially Calves Liver, and so I thought I would indulge him. Well, it was not to be, I went to Whole Foods, who can always be relied upon to have good meat, but not a bit of Offal in sight. SO that threw me a bit, and I wandered into Marks and Spencers food hall as I needed Milk anyway.

Inspiration hit me, a Poké Bowl. I hear you ask, what on earth is a Poké Bowl. I first ate a Poké Bowl in The Ned, in the city of London. The building itself is worth a visit, it is part of the SoHo House group but was designed by Sir Edwin Luytens (NED) over 100 years ago. It is a hotel but has 8 restaurants one of which is KAIA, and that is where I ate a poké bowl.

Poké is Hawaiian to slice, or to cut crosswise, and is one of the main dishes of Hawaiian cuisine. It moved across to mainland USA ( probably California in the 1970’s) and was predominantly served using raw fish, usually Tuna and Hawaiian spices. As with everything else, the traditional food becomes mainstream and cooks started adding their own touches to this dish that around 2012 it became popular in the USA and by 2016, the number of restaurants serving Poké rose to over 700. Cooks now added chicken, shrimp, avocado, Ponzu sauce, teriyaki sauce, mushrooms, onions, coriander, carrots, peppers and noodles. There is even a three day “I Love Poké Festival!”

And so it was, in Marks and Spencers, I found my inspiration, egg, noodles, coriander and bean sprouts. This is the Ultimate, make up your own poké dinner. This is a rough guide.IMG_2038

  •  egg noodles ( could use rice, vermicelli)
  • Some chopped Spinach ( Kale or broccoli)
  • sliced mushrooms (enoki, shiitake, chestnut )
  • grated carrots ( raw beetroot, radishes)
  • beansprouts
  • sweet red pepper cut into strips
  • crushed garlic
  • small bunch of coriander, chopped
  • spring  onions cut and sliced
  • grated fresh ginger
  • half an avocado per person, cut into slices
  • edamame beans ( frozen, but defrosted)
  • some chopped chillies if desired
  • salt to taste
  • Seaweed, dried ( Nori)
  • sesame oil
  • 1 Litre vegetable stock ( I used  Swiss vegetable Bouillon powder)
  • fresh salmon, skin removed and cut into strips, (I used about 6 oz for 2 people)
  • large raw shrimp ( I allowed 6 each)
  • chicken breast  cut into strips  if using chicken

Start by making the stock, IMG_2039then

  • Heat some sesame oil in a wok and sauté first the shrimp and then the fish  and then the chicken if using. Remove from pan and set aside.
  • Add more oil and sauté the garlic and ginger, do not let it burn. then add the vegetables followed by the stock and then the noodles. The noodles only take a couple of minutes to cook so make sure you have your serving bowls ready
  • Ladle the mixture into bowls adding the fish and/or shrimp and/or chicken divided equally between the bowls, garnish with the avocado slices
  • And there you go, what could be easier, but totally fresh and having many of our fresh  vegetables in one go.

Not sure how authentic this is, but certainly tastes good and looks good, so much so that himself said after one bowl, “Please ( sir) can I have some more!”

 

Catalunya and Tapas galore

For the past couple of weeks, I have been in Catalunya, joined by himself for the last week. At this point I think I am a bit Tapas out, all of these wonderful sharing plates, I think one tends to over-ndulge just a tad, and not to mention the wine. Had no idea that the local wine was so more-ish, but it certainly is!

Girls On Tour ( golf that is ) indulged themselves in the local food. One of the Tapas which was served, was Snails, and I thought that these were in fact sea snails, so Winkles. However, apparently not but more in the form of Petit Gris, small snails. In the town of Leila, in the centre of Catalunya there is every May a festival (L’Aplec del Caragol) dedicated to Snails, which unites 12,000+ “Snail Clubs“! One way of serving them is “a la Catalana”a typical tapas where they are served in a thick, sauce of tomatoes with finely chopped onion, red peppers, almonds or pine nuts, chopped ham or pancetta, and chorizo with paprika. For me they were indeed very tasty, though a bit fiddly, but I think that the majority of the girls were less than impressed. This was the one and only time that Snails were on the menu!

IMG_0212 2

One Tapas which appeared more or less on a daily basis was “Pa amb Tomàquet” , Catalan tomato bread. This obviously can be made with sough dough or baguette, but in Catalunya it is made with, what is called Crystal Bread, similar to banquette but has more water. A very simple snack to make

Toast the bread over open flame, if possible, but just toast will do.

  1. Rub over the surface of the bread some garlic, obviously can be omitted for non garlic lovers.
  2. Slice a tomato in half and rub it liberally across the bread, shredding the pulp in the process, until just the tomato skin remains.
  3. Drizzle generously with olive oil.
  4. Season with salt.

 

Consequently, we ate copious amounts of ham, tomato bread, mussels, sardines, cod and prawns and drank equally copious amounts of Spanish wines. One dinner my starter was Mozzarella di Bufala Campana . Absolutely delicious, would choose it again, and another was fresh fois gras.

If I had known it to be so wonderful, I would have chosen it for both starter and main ! All of our restaurants were a bit of a shot in the dark, I was choosing them for a group of 16, boys and girls, with different tastes, a non drinker ( she was easy ) , a non fish eater ( more difficult, lots of fishy stuff on all of the menus) one who was gluten free and allergic to garlic, one who really only like his roast dinners, and the list goes on.

Nonetheless the less, we ate in two very good restaurants in Girona, twice in our hotel, which worked out well and once which really was pot luck, but Mallorquines turned up trumps. With no set menu available, they served the 16 of us perfectly, starters all came together as did the mains. This is the home of the Fois Gras and 8 of us chose it ! Umm Umm!

Four of us, had tried months ago to have a reservation at El Celler dan Roca, a three Michelin starred restaurant in Girona. All to no avail. Not wishing to give up entirely, himself and I tried the restaurants own ice cream shop. Worth the trip, no not really, only 6 flavours, and those not very exciting.

Himself and I moved onto Barcelona, did the usual tourist viewings of everything Gaudí.

We also of course visited the market, which is of course to my mind a wonderful place, and after touring La Rambla, looking at more Gaudí buildings and Miró tiles in the middle of the pavement, we returned there to have  dinner.We chose quiet by chance Bar BOQUERIA, which our Catalan friend subsequently told us, it was the best.

Service was fast, cooked to order and with a smile and a joke. we shared the Squid to start, and then I chose their Speciality, Fish and Chips, Their way. Now Fish and Chips would be for me, if I were the condemned man, my last meal, but it would be equally awful, to be condemned and to have something that was covered in a slimy batter, soggy chips and everything greasy. So this was a real test and it WAS Perfect. a selection of fish, Whitebait, small sardines, a small flat fish, chunks of cod in crispy panko crumbs and Chips to die for. Perfect! Himself chose the giant prawns, and for once I did not have food Envy!

The bar was full and the chefs were kept busy. someone had the octopus, which was beautifully arranged.

The following day we dined with our Catalan friend and his American wife, who were in Brussels with us a lifetime ago. Once again we had the tapas and then himself chose the Oxtail. I have often cooked him Oxtail, but this was a notch above my rendition, served beautifully on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes, so I can see that next time I cook it, he will expect mine to also look like this.IMG_1979 2

 

 

Bacalhau ( Salt Cod, to you and me)

I think I am correct in saying that to the average English man, the word Salt Cod, is not something that we would relish and I have to admit that until our very recent trip to Portugal, I had not eaten it nor even tried it, almost to the point of avoiding it. Even Himself who prides himself on trying everything that is different on a menu, had not even tried it.

And so it was, when we visited the market in Porto, which had been held in a wonderful Neo Classical Building in the city centre since 1914. However, unfortunately on our visit, the merchants had been rehoused in the basement of a shopping centre nearby, as the building was in a deplorable state. The mayor of Porto had the idea of simply demolishing the structure, but such an outcry ensued that plans were changed to basically renovating but with such a major undertaking, it was necessary to move everyone out. Shame for us as the basement of a shopping centre just didn’t hack it for me ( lover of markets)!

However, there were several vendors, selling Salt Cod. What I hadn’t appreciated was that there are different qualities of Salt Cod, and why not, but it had never crossed my mind. Often, it is yellow (a sign of progressing rancidity) or excessively dry and thin. Look for the thickest filets as these are by far the best. The vendor told me exactly what to do to reconstitute the fish and then vacuum packed it for me.

Packed in my suitcase and ready for London.

Once home I set to, to create my Salt Cod dish. Salt cod croquettes.

First it is necessary to soak the fish in water, in the refrigerator for 4 days, changing the water daily. Drain and pat dry, transfer the fish to a baking tray, and place skin side down, lightly sprinkle some olive oil over the top and bake at 200C/Gas6 for about 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.

Remove the skin and then flake the fish, being sure to remove any bones.

Using equal quantities of potatoes, boil and mash them, add some chopped chives or spring onions along with some lemon zest and Salt! Yes, Salt, even as it is preserved in salt, the salt has been washed out in the soaking and so it is important to add seasoning, otherwise it will be very bland!

Refrigerate for an hour or so and then roll out into a long sausage. If it is done on cling film, easy to do and not much mess. Cut into sausage lengths, beat and egg, and dip the croquettes first in the egg wash and then into dry breadcrumbs. I prefer Panko crumbs (Japanese) but sometimes they are just a bit too chunky.

Heat some oil in a frying pan and when hot fry the croquettes turning so all sides become brown.

Serve with a salad and preferably a remouldade sauce or just lemon wedges and a vinaigrette.

Also on our Portugal trip we came across in the town of Aveiro, “Ovos Moles de Aveiro”. These sweets were created in 1502 by Nuns ( who else) and they are on the outside, Rice paper and a mixture of eggs and sugar on the inside. And they do look like eggs! They were awarded in 2008 the EU Protection of Origin. The first Portuguese bakery to be so honoured!

To be honest, I tried one, himself had a nibble, way too sweet. And as for Aveiro, a cute town, impossible parking and full to overflowing with Tourists. It is called the Venice of Portugal, with its canals, and boats, cute and busy, we didn’t linger.

Green Wine, Bacalhau and Heart Attack in the Making !

We have been travelling in Portugal this last week and started off in Porto, somewhere new to us. Porto is in the north of the country on the Douro river and the home of Port.IMG_1656

One might wonder, how come that nearly all of the brands of Ports have British names? Well, back then the Brits were every where, but were in the early 1700’s at war again with France, which meant that society could not get their supply of French wine, which led them to discover that this really rather nice drink called Port was equally acceptable. The British were always more friendly with the Portuguese  than with the French ( both disliked the French, which could be the reason). Consequently, most of the best known brands of Ports are British, such as, Broadbent, Cockburn, Croft, Dow, Graham, Osborne, Sandeman, Taylor and Warre being amongst the best known. Under European Union Protected Designation of Origin  (PDO )guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labelled as Port (  french  appellation contrôlée for Champagne etc). The Portuguese wine region is the third oldest in the world, behind Chianti and Tokaj ( Hungary).

During the 1700’s as port became increasingly popular in England, the landed gentry would retire after dinner, to drink their Port, whilst the ladies did ( what I don’t know, gossiped or titivated themselves), William Pitt the younger apparently started drinking a bottle of port a day to combat his gout ( port actually exacerbates it)!

Porto is a very old city, much of which is in a state of disrepair.This could be because, the city  ( and country) was until about 18 years ago, in the grip of a drug problem. It was a huge problem and  HIV was the highest in the EU. The government took the radical step and decriminalised drug taking and that was a start towards recovery, for the nation. And so it was in Porto, people had moved out of the city and left it to the drug dealers, hence buildings were neglected. However, today, Rua das Flores in the centre of Porto has undergone renovation ( still ongoing) and is a bustling historic street.

 

We did another Food tour of the city which I booked through a web site called ” Get Your Guide” which seems to work in many major cities World Wide. I booked online and was told where to meet our guide, who would be wearing Orange. Perfect, we met Thiago (James), outside a small cafe in Rua das Flores which was our first port of call. Here we had our first taste of green wine  Vinho Verde, but green here equals young wine and not green in colour. With our glass of wine we ate Alheira sausages. These can be made with pork, chicken, veal, duck, quail or rabbit. Probably of Jewish origin and served as a bit of a mush of sausage and bread. But very tasty. Moving on down the street,  we stopped at another small cafe to try flamed Chorizo and a glass of Rosé Vinho Verde. Most of us would have had at sometime or another Mateus Rosé, and Rosé Vinho Verde is NOT Mateus Rosé. We then moved on to a larger restaurant which was very busy, ( we had reservations, thank you Thiago) and here we drank beer and ate Bifanas, which is another typical Portuguese dish which consists of Pulled pork in a bread roll with either the cooking juices poured on, or some home made Piri-Piri sauce.

Our last stop was in a real restaurant where we ate cream of pea soup, Chilli Cod followed by Chocolate mousse and a glass of Port. An interesting fact is that during the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar , 1932-1974, if anyone was a fisherman and fished for Cod, then they were exempt form Military service !

And of course we ate the famous Pastel de Nata!

One dish which we did not try in Porto was Francesinha. Basically a Portuguese version of Croque Madame. It is made with two slices of Bread, two types of sausage, maybe some steak or roast pork, some slices of ham, a fried egg, cheese sauce and a tomato and beer sauce to top it and the whole lot is served with French Fries! A heart Attack waiting to happen ! Apparently the real secret is in the tomato beer sauce, the recipe not to be divulged. Each little cafe has its own special ingredient and some will even sell the sauce to take away. I have tried recreating it at home, and of course it it is not difficult, but maybe someone from Porto, would not find it authentic enough!

On my obligatory visit to the market, we bought some salt cod, ( vacuum packed to bring home). Bacalhau is Portuguese for Cod, and is nearly always salted. We also ate a lot of Octopus whilst in Porto as well as when we decamped to the Lisbon area. The Portuguese grow a lot of rice and this is apparent when dining as many dishes on a menu are with oven baked rice. Our favourite Octopus dish was one we had in a beach side restaurant in Caiscais. Here himself ordered grilled Octopus and when it came, talk about Food Envy!! I had the grilled squid which was delicious but the Octopus Well !!!

Nest time, Ovos Moles de Aveiro and Bacalhau croquettes and fritters !

P.S Vinho Verde and Portuguese red wine can be bought at Majestic wines, but also from portugalvineyards.com, significantly cheaper, even with delivery. We are awaiting our first order !

 

Cake Mixes, Pie Mixes and Custard

Growing up, my Mum, cooked. She cooked every day, and on Sundays she really did cook, she cooked and baked more or less the whole day. She was no different from all the other Mums, that I knew. It is what Mums did. Did she like cooking? Actually, I have no idea. She was fairly creative, especially at Christmas, when she would spend weeks making very fancy cakes, all shapes and sizes. She certainly would have knocked spots off, of Lolas Cup Cakes. But, on a daily basis, well, she was not of Monday it is cold meat Tuesday  shepherds pie, ilk, but she did overcook cabbage ( yuck the smell of overcooked cabbage).

My Aunt, ( Mums younger sister) loved to cook, but in the same mode as Mum, but I assume that , that was the way it was in Post War Britain, the luxury of having fresh foods after years of deprivation.

So on Sundays, we often had for dessert, Lemon Meringue Pie, and for years ( until I went to college) I assumed that Lemon Meringue pie could only be made with a packet mix! And even today, I am sure that many people still use a packet mix, because it is still available ( Tesco ( 45p) Sainsbury ( 50p) but not in Waitrose or Asda.)Screenshot 2019-05-05 at 18.29.58

Which brings me on to Pie and cake mixes in general. Other products that I assumed were always made using a packet, were gravy ( Bisto), I hated gravy, and Custard ( Birds custard powder) I hated custard. And cake mixes, I have to admit that my Mum, NEVER used a cake mix, she always made them from scratch, even way before she had any kind of mixer, she would cream the butter and sugar, by hand etc. etc.

The history of these products is interesting.  Alfred Bird developed this product apparently because his wife was allergic to eggs in 1837. He formed the company and diversified into baking powder, blancmange, jelly powder and other egg substitutes. The custard was so popular that it was given to troops during WW 1. The company was bought after the second world war by the American giant  general Foods, which was then bought by Philip Morris then onto Kraft foods and then that bit was sold to Premier foods and today it is just part of a larger company, just keeping the brand name.

Cake mixes were developed in the USA, in the 1920’s. In the 1950’s both General Mills and Pillsburys were trying to market their cake mixes with only a modicum of success. For the average stay at home American housewife, her cakes needed to be perfect, but the cake mixes did not quite reach that standard. They contained powdered egg and tasted as such. Then along came Ernest Dichter, an American Psychologist and one of the first  to apply to advertising a really scientific psychology.  His work was central to the development of the idea of brand image. For example he worked with Exxon/Mobil and came up with the idea of ” Put a tiger in your tank”. So thanks to Ernest, cake mixes became foolproof ( well almost) by simply excluding the egg powder and saying on the packet “Add An Egg”. And that was it, the birth or rebirth of the cake mix. Today in British supermarkets there are numerous types of cake mixes., Waitrose has a mere 28, whereas Asda, 57, Sainsbury 62 and Tesco 65!!IMG_0519

On to Custard Lemon flavoured, or Crème Anglaise ( as the French call it).

  1. 12 ml Fresh cream
  2. 75 grms caster sugar
  3. juice from a lemon
  4. 3 egg yolks

As I am basically a bit of a lazy cook, I tend to make this with the help of a food processor and a microwave.But failing that an egg whisk and a  saucepan will suffice.

Beat the egg yolks with the 1/2 of the sugar until it is think and pale in colour. Boil the cream and the rest of the sugar and the lemon juice together and pour it over the eggs stirring or whisking all the time. Return to the pan and and cook gently until the mixture thickens, and I say gently, DO NOT LET the mixture boil as it will curdle. This is the part that I resort to the Microwave. I would have boiled the cream etc in the Microwave , mixed together as above and then return to the Microwave and on high in one minute bursts, I heat and stir.

If by any chance it does curdle, then pass through a sieve. When thickened, cover with cling film touching the surface, this will prevent any skin forming. The sauce can be served hot or cold. If too thick when re-heated it can be diluted with some more cream.

Dai Tai Fung ( Mark Two) and do slurp your food !

I’m sure like me, your mother, said things like” Sit up straight, use your knife and fork AND Don’t slurp!” However, I’m sure that in many Asian countries, that this is not the case, no knife and fork ( only chop sticks or fingers) and slurping is the only way to eat your slippery noodles!

Going on from my previous Blog, we were at a loose end on Saturday night and so ventured into Covent Garden, a quick couple of stops on the tube or bus. A visit to the London version of Din Tai Fung was called for.

We found it easily enough a short walk from Rules ( London’s oldest restaurant) near the Covent Garden Piazza. There were a few people waiting outside, but the booking process is easy ( there isn’t one) but give your name to the hostess ( she who is wrapped in layers of clothing standing outside), she will take your name and mobile number, inform you of the approximate wait, and she will text when the table is ready! Therefore, one can decamp to a local bar OR just go inside to their bar! London is only the 2nd Din Tai Fung that has a bar and according to Himself the prices were very reasonable ( much more so than in any of the surrounding theatres)!

So, we sat in the bar area, where could half see part of the kitchen and all of the comings and goings, a great people watching place ! Before we had finished our glass of wine we were being summoned, Table was ready.

The interior of the London Din Tai Fung, was slightly less functional or cafeteria style than the Hong Kong branch but the general idea was the same. A pictorial menu, a menu ordering sheet complete with pen and a drinks menu. The wait staff who were very efficient, were on the whole, Asian but not necessarily Chinese.

Time out in Hong Kong

It had been many years since I was last in Hong Kong, 20, to be precise, and although I love the hustle and bustle, not sure if I could live here, just too many people. Over 7 million, almost twice as many who live in the whole of New Zealand.IMG_1488

Himself and I were here as part of our Far East trip, using it more or less as a base, to go to Mission Hills, China, ( for golf) and then onto Vietnam and Cambodia and used the hotel as storage for golf clubs. Our dining experience, hotel wise ( it was close to the airport, as lugging golf clubs around was something to be avoided) was pretty much a disaster, under cooked chicken as well as an interminable wait for it. But Hey Ho, in Hong Kong one is truly spoilt for choice and as such we only ventured into the  hotel restaurant  once, and that was only because we were a bit late to eat elsewhere. It seems that Hong Kongers eat early !

So the hotel options should be quickly forgotten as the rest was excellent.

There is in Hong Kong a Branch of  Din Tai Fung. Din Tai Fung, is to be found in London, New York, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Australia, Malaysia and China and of course the original , Taiwan ( Taipei). The company was founded as a cooking oil company in 1958, but diversified in 1972 as a dumpling and noodle restaurant, and today the Hong Kong branch, which is basically a cafeteria has a Michelin Star.

 

I think we went to the Taipei version back in  1995, but can’t be sure, but I have now been to the Hong Kong branch twice, and this the second visit with himself and was not disappointed. ( I did warn him, that I was taking him to a Michelin Starred cafeteria, he was dubious!) However, I have to try the London branch which is to be found in Covent Garden. Both Giles Coren and Tom Parker Bowles (renowned food critics) are both smitten.

Unfortunately, there are no reservations, so be prepared to queue, or they will give you a queueing time update if you give them a call. But I can assure you the wait is worthwhile.

For our Hong Kong visit, we did not have to wait, as we were early, having a pre late night , 12 hour flight dinner. Just as on my previous visit, we walked past the kitchen where all were gainfully employed and in harmony. There did not seem to be any shouting or histrionics ( à la Gordon Ramsey).

We were seated quickly and given a table number and a menu. We then had to give the waitress our order, which was also in number form, rather than saying the name of the dish, and with that she disappeared before re-appearing with a pot of Chinese tea.

There is no order to how and when the food arrives, as it is all cooked to order, and it depends on the preparation/cooking time as to when it is served.

We ordered,

  1. Beans with Pork
  2. Spicy Peppered Pork
  3. Saucy Noodles with peanut sauce, Taiwan Style
  4. Dumplings with Beans and Pork
  5. Dumplings with Shrimps

So all that remains is for me to head on down to China town, ( or to Hoo Hing at Hanger Lane, West London) to buy supplies or maybe even better go to Covent Garden and try out the London version of this Iconic restaurant chain!!