The Girls Came to Lunch

This week saw 8 of us meeting here, for lunch. We all lived in Brussels in the ’80’s and 90’s, had kids the same ages, who went maybe to the same schools, maybe played on the same soccer teams, baseball teams, and certainly all went to the same Orthodontist. I mention this because, out of all of us ( and there were many many more ex Brussels girls out there) the Orthodontist ( and one other, maybe) is the only one who is still there, after all these years! And yes! She came over for the day for lunch!

My dear friend, who now lives in New Zealand was visiting and so I thought maybe, just maybe, some of us could get together for old times sake, and so we did.Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 10.59.08

A beautiful sunny day in London, and the question was , what to eat. Something which did not require me being in the kitchen, and certainly not to have the oven on. I decided on the following:-

  1. A Super food type Salad, of enormous proportions
  2. my favourite french cheese tart
  3. a salmon mouse
  4. a vegetable frittata
  5. Japanese cheesecake
  6. Eton Mess.

The french cheese tart has been written about before ( Tart au Fromage d’Abondance…… January 15, 2016) as has the cheesecake ( March 29, 2016 and November 22, 2015) The super food salad is new as is the salmon mousse.

With apologies to Yotam Ottolenghi, whose recipe inspired mine. The quantities used are completely, hit and miss, add what you  want and as much or as little as you want. I used a mixture of all of the following

  1. 200 grms cooked quinoa
  2. 200 grms cooked puy lentils
  3. 100 grms Fregola pasta
  4. 2 grapefruit segmented and cut into chunks
  5. 2 cups pomegranates seeds, ( too much of a pain? Waitrose sells them already seeded)
  6. bunch spring onions chopped
  7. 200 grams soft apricots chopped
  8. 100 grms cooked asparagus cut into chunks
  9. 100 grms cooked green beans cut into chunks
  10. some baby gem lettuce shredded
  11. some rocket leaves
  12. 100 grms chopped nuts preferably pistachios
  13. a couple or red chillies , de-seeded and chopped

other ingredients could be, red rice, brown rice,  sun-dried tomatoes, mustard and cress type sprouts, chopped parsley, chopped coriander, can of chick peas.

The dressing I served on the side, and it was very simple, dijon mustard, with lemon juice and olive oil.IMG_4851

The cooking of the various ingredients is a little time-consuming, but worthwhile, especially as they all need to be done ahead of time, cooled and refrigerated. Just before serving, literally chuck them all into a large bowl, mix well ( using your hands is by far the best way) and serve !

Himself Cooks a Stir Fry!

This week, we have a friend from New Zealand staying ( via way of the UK and Belgium ) and I have to admit that she is a big fan of “Himself”. No criticism of Himself is allowed when she is around! So working on boosting his already high ego, he declared he would make Dinner.

Me? I was off to the golf course, whilst House guest was off to Cambridge.

I gave Himself, three options:-Stuffed chicken breast, cooked Sous Vide ( he has become quiet a dab hand with the Sous Vide machine) , problem is, it is connected via my phone! Bang Bang Chicken, which I love and have not had it in years, used to be one of my favourites in Houston, in a restaurant strangely called Houston’s, and also in The Ivy in London. Or Singapore noodles! He chose the latter!

Not sure if it really is a recipe from Singapore, Singapore is the Manhattan of the East. Its cuisine is such a mixture, with influences from Malaysia, China, India, Indonesian and don’t forget the British. All of these have influenced Singaporean cuisine. And one cuisine, that is a complete mish mash of these is Nyonya cuisine which comes from the Peranakans who were the descendants of the early Chinese settlers, who married local Malays and therefore combine, the various cuisines. The majority of Singapore’s Chinese population is Hokkien, and this a version of their all time favourite noodle dish, Singapore noodles with pork and prawns.

  1. 2tsp sesame oil ( or olive oil)
  2. 300 grams pork mince
  3. 1tsp Chinese five spice powder
  4. 3 tsp curry powder
  5. 200 grams large prawns peeled and deveined
  6. 200 grams carrots, finely sliced
  7. 3-4 red chillies de seeded and chopped
  8. 400 Grams egg noodles ( preferably ready cooked or straight to wok type.
  9. 
3-4 chopped Pak Choi ( spinach as Substitute )
  10. 6 Spring onions sliced
  11. 2 tbs soya sauce
  12. 1/2 cup water or stock as needed
  13. Maybe some peanuts or cashew nuts ( unsalted) might be a nice addition.
  14. Maybe also some chopped coriander leaves.

Heat the oil in a wok or deep-frying pan, over a fairly high heat, fry the prawns for about 3 mins, until they turn pink, be careful not to over cook as they will become tough. Remove from the pan and put to one side. Add a little more oil and fry the mince for about 4 mins, breaking it up as it cooks. Add the carrots and the chillies.

Cook for a further 3-4 mins, before adding the Pak Choi or Spinach. Add the noodles and then the water or stock, scrape the bottom of the pan. return the prawns to the pan, make sure the vegetables and noodles are cooked and serve immediately, garnished with the spring onions and soy sauce on the side.

If using nuts add them just before serving.

Not maybe the prettiest of dishes, but taste wise, excellent.

 

Frida Kahlo , Viva Mexico !!

Frida Kahlo , Viva Mexico !!

There is in London at the moment a Frida Kahlo, exhibition.  Willowy blond took her three young Mexicans ( only Sam is truly a Mexican to see it the other day, and reported back that it was worthwhile seeing. Just south of Mexico City is the real, Frida Kahlo exhibition, her house,  La Casa Azul in Coyoacán where she lived a tempestuous marriage with Diego Rivera firstly and then a relationship with Leon Trotsky, who moved around the corner from her house and where he was assassinated.

Our first introduction to Mexican food was by the way of Texas, which to be fair, has its own version of Mexican food, which bears no resemblance to Mexican food of Mexico whatsoever! It seems to make no difference whatsoever, if it is Texas, Arizona, Colorado or Florida, Mexican food USA style is what is commonly called TexMex.

It consists usually, of crunchy tortillas, fried with Salsa, so many that you can no longer do justification to your meal, and then the meal itself is beef, chicken of Shrimp Fajitas, Tacos or Burritos served with Guacamole, Salsa, Refried Beans and Rice, maybe with some jalapeno peppers on the side, but slopped on a plate and everyone ( except me that is) leaves the restaurant with a congealed mass in a styrofoam box.

Therefore it was a revelation to go to Mexico and find out all about real Mexican food. And what a revelation it turned out to be. Each morning we would go out for brunch, a choice of eggs with spicy sauces,  or soups. freshly made tortillas, made just then by the hole in the wall gang of tortilla makers, And such a choice, and no it was never the Full English !! Many of the “Best restaurants” in the world are to be found in Mexico city. amongst them Pujol, Quitonil, Biko, Bellini and Dulce Patria, and that is not forgetting some of our favourites, Maximo Bistro and Contramar. Oh how we miss them all. But help is at hand because Martha Ortiz, the chef owner of Dulcia Patria has opened a London Branch in the Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lane ( 1 Hamilton Place, to be precise). Saturday night saw us trooping off to Ella Canta, The imported Mexicans, ( the adult variety), the sylph like Brunette and us.

We started off with cocktails, something we never normally have, but himself and Nickinlaw, both like Tequila or Mezcal, himself getting into the groove by having a shot of tequila at home beforehand.IMG_7903 2

Then for dinner, three of us chose the Pulpo Con salsa de chiles ahumados y pétalos de cebolla tatemade ( octopus smoked chile sauce and burnt onion), whilst the other 2 chose the Glorioza sopa Azteca,  Aztec soup with cheese, avocado and pastilla chile. Both were excellent and would try either of them again.

For our main course four of chose the Carnitas de cerdo el estilo Michoacan con salsa de chile de arbol ( traditional Michoacan Style pork with Arbol Chile Salsa, whilst teh odd one out ( he who always waits to see what everyone ese is having, to be different, and for once that is not Himself), chose the Barbacoa de cordero con salsa de chile morita y garbanzos salterines ( Lamb Shank barbaccoa style with morita chile and jumping chick peas.

The Pork was wonderful, even the brunette who said she was out of her comfort zone eating “fatty” pork thought it was very good. Nickinlaw, loved the lamb Shank, but thought that the chick peas added nothing to the dish.

And finally to dessert. Not a lot of choice as we were having the menu. Four of them chose the churros with caramel and chocolate. whilst I chose the Coconut and vanilla custard. My impressions were that the churros were underwhelming, as all had eaten them at El Moro, in Mexico city, where they have been cooking and serving them, 24 hours a day for the last 85 years! However I enjoyed my flan very much. To round it all off, more tequila and a christmas looking cocktail. also featuring tequila.

So our overall thoughts, ? The food was delicious and value for money by taking the menu was a good option. The BIG downside was that although the restaurant was not full by any means, it was unbelievably noisy. There seems to be an unwritten thought out there, which is let us make as much noise ( in this case piped music) as possible and then everyone will think that is a fun place. It did not need to do that, gentle background would have been good, gentle background mexican would have been better, but loud to the point of drowning all conversation. we asked several times to have the music turned down, and although it was a bit, just not enough and we were told that was to create a certain atmosphere. Umm too much non atmosphere springs to mind. Would we hurry back, maybe not, despite the great food, ruined bu the noise level. Too bad, though.

A Salad need not be boring !

Growing up a salad was boring, in fact I guess we did not really eat a salad as a meal, except on a hot summers day, when a few limp lettuce leaves were put on a plate along with whatever other salad vegetables my father grew in the garden, maybe tomatoes, maybe cucumber, maybe celery and radishes! Back then I loved radishes, if you could get to them before the insects did. Then, on top of that was usually a slice of ham or maybe a slice of pork pie, pickled beetroot, ooh how I hated that, dark red vinegar adulterating my plate finished with HEINZ SALAD CREAM. It was only many years later  I learnt that other countries had mayonnaise but we had Salad Cream!! Today the Heinz company is considering changing the name to Sandwich Cream, because research shows that only 14% of purchasers use it on Salads. As far as I am concerned it can disappear from the shelves for good, but maybe I’m being controversial here, but as I have never bought a jar of it, I am not about to start now !

Many years ago, we were on holiday in Gibraltar, yes Gibraltar ! in those days it was separated from Spain, by a physical border, but it had been a dreadful summer in Europe and we wanted a sunshine holiday. So did the rest of Europe and so off we trotted to Gibraltar, being the only option. The salad here, read my childhood salad, plus a chicken leg, which was frozen ! They still wanted me to pay for it !!

Fast forward several years, and my eldest daughter declared ( home from school for the holidays), “Salads are boring!” I corrected her by saying, that maybe at school they were, but not mine. Forward again, and now on the market there is a plethora of ready-made salads to choose from. All of the fast food outlets, have good salad options as do the ready meals in the supermarkets, along with the small cafés and delicatessens, the choice is enormous!

However these can be expensive, so make yours at home, but they can be time-consuming to do.

Last night I made a salad using the following

  1. green asparagus
  2. courgettes/zucchini
  3. small tomatoes
  4. red chili peppers
  5. padrón peppers
  6. sliced mushrooms
  7. Haloumi cheese or goats cheese
  8. a basil garlic dressing. ( I cheated here by using pesto, olive oil and baked smushed  garlic)

To start with, slice the courgettes into oval rounds, if that makes sense, ie, rounds cut on the slant about 1/4″ thick. Using either a grill pan, a Teppanaki grill or BBQ grill, grill the vegetables, having brushed them with a little olive oil, do not over cook, remove from the grill and place on a cooling tray to cool.

The Padrón peppers are only available in the UK at about this time of year,, small and green they can be used whole, they give just a little zing to the salad. Sweet romano peppers can also be used. If you don’t like spice leave out the chilli peppers, but if you like them, when cooked chop into bits, make sure you remove the seeds before adding to the salad. The haloumi cheese can then be cut into slices and grilled. I used Goats Cheese, which I grilled .IMG_8117

Construct the salad, but layering some baby gem lettuce and some rocket leaves, and then tope with the cooled vegetables, arranging them neatly. Top with the dressing, ( not too much, more can be added if needed)

Remember, a salad can be healthy but never boring !

Oh No ! Not Restaurant Sat Bains Again !!

It’s that time of year, again and Himself has been barred from buying me presents, ( he can buy as many as he likes but not for birthdays or Christmas) and so it means having to put on the thinking cap for some originality. And so, as food is my thing, for Christmas we went to a superb restaurant in the City and on Christmas Eve, to boot and last week saw us off to Nottingham. This is our 3 rd visit, to this restaurant with rooms on the outskirts of Nottingham , on the edges of a trading estate, underneath the Electric pylons, but enter the gates of this former farm , peace and tranquility reign. The garden is beautiful and very practical, growing many of the specialist herbs themselves.

Sat (Satwant) Himself is a very interesting person, one of 6 children, second generation Sikh Punjabi immigrants, grew up in Derby, had a work ethic installed in him at an early age, but more or less fell into cooking by happenstance ( the cooking class, had more girls in it !)

He went to work for Raymond Blanc at the first Petit Blanc and in 1997 won the Roux Scholarship. Finally he went to work at Hotel des Clos in Nottingham, which when it went under he bought and along with his wife transformed it into a Restaurant with rooms. It has I think only 8 rooms, and on our previous visit, we stayed but be warned early booking is very much required. When staying you have the choice of the 7 or 10 course menu. The main restaurant has only 40 covers with 10 extra at the chef’s table and now 6 more on what was ( and still is ) the development kitchen whichm is called Nucleus.

Our first visit was for me to have a one on one morning in the kitchens with the chefs, which was an amazing experience and we had lunch at the chefs table. The second visit , we stayed over and ate the 7 course menu and now this our third visit was in Nucleus, where there are just 3 tables for 2 people each.

So, here we were able to watch the young Chef and Sous Chef create our lunch. Of course all of the prep marinades and sauces had been previously prepared, but the quiet calm in the kitchen has such good vibes! None of the screaming of Gordon Ramsey fame, even if that is for show!

Our meal consisted of the following:-

As far as I can remember this is, Chocolate Jelly with Shitake mushrooms, braised red cabbage ice cream with raspberry, Tapioca cake with matcha, Chinese type bun with xoxo sauce and carrots braised in liquorice, dehydrated with ground almonds!

Our first course was a scallop on ponzu squid ink jelly, with pigs trotters, wild garlic emulsion, tapioca and wild garlic emulsion and dusted with matcha.

This dish is in homage to Amish Kapoor and is made with beetroot.

Jelly beetroot, vinegar, potatoes, nasturtium leaves with braised oxtail.

And on to the third course

Baby new potatoes smoked on a barbecue with cream cheese and chives, farmed caviar from China.

For the fourth course we had pigeon leg and breast parfait on sourdough toast. I was marginally outside of my comfort zone here, and although I eat pretty much anything, I’m not sure about pigeon! However I assume this is because I currently have a vendetta against them as many have decided that my terrace is now their home !

This was followed by caramelised miso fudge with passion fruit gel

Next in line was the chocolate and yoghurt ice cream with balsamic and oil

The seventh course was macerated strawberries with two types of granita, lemon and earl grey with basil leaves

And finally, and for me this was the piece de resistance , candy floss with a surprise in the middle! Thai green curry ice cream! I can’t wait to buy my candy floss machine and try this one!

The Magic Porridge Pot, Chilli Crabs and Shrimp.

A quote from A.A. Milne. This reminds me of my friend from Belgium ( now New Zealand) ( and also himself). Whenever we stayed with each other, this is more or less what she would say!

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”

And so that leads me to the Magic Porridge Pot. If you do not know the story, it is very simple, the cooking pot makes porridge until you tell it to stop, BUT if you forget to tell it, porridge will soon swamp the town.

And so it seems that this week, which for whatever reason, seems to have been incredibly busy, we have developed a Magic Egg Fried Rice Wok. What with International Cricket, International Rugby, golf, golf and more golf, cooking plans came and then went. I had defrosted baby crabs and some shell off large shrimp ( all bought from the Chinese supermarket) . So I quickly made the sauce for the Shrimp/crabs and put to one side. Sautéed the shrimp/ crabs and some vegetables, again put to one side, cooked some rice, chopped some vegetables for the rice, quickly made scrambled egg Chinese style and when cool put all into the refrigerator, before charging out to one of the above events.

Therefore it was very easy to assemble all upon our return. The only slight problem was, too much rice. ! I find it very difficult to gauge exactly how much I need , for plain and simple rice, not a problem, but for fried rice, oh so different. I rummage in the refrigerator, oh, there are some peppers, red and green, and look some celery, some spring onions, and what about some green beans chopped up, and the frozen peas, and of course the eggs. Consequently there is always too much, even when himself has persuaded himself that he should have seconds! Hence the extra is cooled and refrigerated. Until the next night, when running short of time, and there is ample Shrimp/crab combo left and don’t forget the rice, But, oops. not enough Rice. Consequently more plain rice is cooked, not too much, but then more vegetables are needed and of course more eggs. And so it continues. So just like the magic porridge pot!

I first had Chilli Crab in Singapore many years ago. It is rated at number 35 in the worlds list of iconic foods. And I could not agree more. There are many many restaurants in Singapore that make this dish, eat it outside and the scene is set. Singapore is a complete mish mash of cultures, Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Thai, Indian and don’t forget British, they are all there. Hua Yu Wee Seafood restaurant is in the garden along the east coast. Hawker stands also serve Chilli Crab, don’t turn your nose up at sitting on a plastic stool and eating in the street, it is the best way, and be prepared to get messy ( plastic aprons are usually provided.) For the longest time, one of my families favourite quick dinner was Oyster Omelette, this we first had again in Singapore at one of the hawker stands. Um Yummy. I am beginning to drool just thinking about Singaporean food.

Onto my version, traditionally it is just Chilli Crab or Chilli Shrimp, not the two combined, but as needs must I had not enough of one or the other.

All amounts are approximate.

  1. 500 grms each of Shrimp, de-veined and shelled, and of baby crabs ( both can be bought frozen in a chinese super market)
  2. 6 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
  3. 4 ” fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  4. 3-5 fresh red chillies, de-seeded and chopped
  5. 1/2 cup chilli sauce
  6. small can tomato paste
  7. 1 tablespoon of honey
  8. 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  9. 1 tablespoon cornflour mixed to a smooth paste with some water
  10. 1 cup, stock either chicken, fish or vegetable stock.
  11. oil for frying preferably sesame.
  12. Salt and pepper to taste.

Fry the crabs, in some hot oil until they turn pink all over. repeat with the shrimp. drain both on some paper towel. Put 1/4 cup of fresh oil into the wok add the garlic, ginger and chillies, then add the chilli sauce, the tomato paste, honey, soy sauce. Add the stock and cook for about three minutes. Stir thoroughly and then add the cornflour water mix. Taste, add salt and pepper, AND if not spicy enough for your taste, add some chilli paste. Garnish with some spring onions and serve with rice ( plain or fried).

 

A word of warning about cooked rice. I first heard about this when my mother was in a nursing home. She told me that they would no longer serve rice. In fact it was a little bit of Health and Safety gone mad. There is nothing to say that Rice can not be served to the sick and elderly. In the USA, when you have an upset stomach the cure is the BRAT diet. Brat = Bananas, Rice, Apples and Toast!

What can be bad is the following

  • The NHS says that leftover rice can be bad for you.
  • Uncooked rice can contain spores that can survive when the rice is cooked.
  • If the rice stands at room temperature for too long, those spores turn into bacteria.
  • That in turn can cause food poisoning.
  • Store your rice as quickly as possible once you’re done eating it. Clet it cool and then refrigerate until ready to reheat. Make sure that it is throughly reheated and not just warmed. Covered in cling film and the Microwave is a good way and then again, use a wok, with very hot oil and cook well.

A Few Hours in Lisbon

We had a few hours to spend in Lisbon the other week and we were fortunate enough to have encountered a native who was more than willing to pass along his local knowledge.

Given our restricted time frame, we decided to ride the open top bus to give us an overview of the city. The web site was not very helpful as it did not say if one could buy tickets on the bus ( which is normally the case) but encouraged buying on the internet. However having been on the buses in Mexico City and San Francisco, we decided it was worth taking a chance, and are glad we did. The bus experience was perhaps not the best we have had, but it did give us a good  idea of what the city was about and have a list of places and things for our next visit.

One of the things that Lisbon is particularly famous for are the “Pastéis de Nata”, these are rich custard tarts. They were created in the 18th Century by Monks in the monastery of Belem in Lisbon. After the revolution of 1820, when religious orders were facing extinction, the monks moved their business to a nearby sugar refinery but the monastery closed and the monks sold their recipe to the owners of the factory who started making the Pastei de Nata and the company is still owned by the same family.

Rumour has that on a weekend they will make anything up to 25000 Pasteis, which considering that they sell for about €1 each, is not an inconsiderable sum.

The recipe is of course a secret, but as with many secret recipes, one can play around until a passable effort is achieved. It is said that the English also like Custard Tarts and indeed I remember them as being a favourite of my fathers, but they are entirely different from the Portuguese versions. English custard tarts are exactly that, pastry cases filled with egg custard and baked. Whereas the Portuguese version is far more complicated, but not unduly so, especially if you buy the pastry.IMG_8059

For the pastry, buy either from the fresh shelve in the supermarket, or frozen, or of course you can make your own, but you will need plus or minus 500 grms.

For the custard you will need

  1. 3 Tabespoons ( about 30 grms) of plain flour
  2. 250 mls of milk
  3. 200 grms caster sugar
  4. a stick of cinnamon
  5. 150mls water
  6. 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  7. 6 large egg yolks whisked
  • Whisk the flour and a quarter of the milk together until fairly smooth. Stir in the rest of the milk.
  • Bring the water, sugar and cinnamon to a boil and boil until it reaches 220F / 100 C.
  • slowly add the sugar mix, having removed the cinnamon stick to the milk mixture, which will give a white liquid, similar double cream. It could go lumpy, but do not worry, ( I gave mine a quick whizz with a stick blender)
  • Por over this mixture onto the egg yolks, whisking all the while. Cover with cling film, with it touching the surface to avoid a skin forming on top.
  • Heat the oven to 250C ( 230 Fan) gas 9
  • unroll you pastry and put onto a floured surface, roll it out until it is fairly thin, and then roll up, cut into about 1/2″  discs .
  • Grease the holes of a standard muffin/cupcake pan. Carefully press the rolls up the sides of the pan working from the centre out until the pastry reaches the top.
  • Pour the custard into the cases to just below the top and bake in the middle of the oven until the pastry is crisp and golden.
  • The tops should be brown scorched even, and the custard will sink upon cooling. Keep in the pan for about 5 mins before easing out with the point of a knife. Cool on a cooling tray. Dust with icing sugar to serve.