Monday, 18 April 2011

Eating 'abroad'

Having just got back from a weekend in London I've learned a couple of things about their restaurants based on two things that ‘make’ London: multiculturalism and creativity.

1. Multiculturalism.

London’s cultural diversity is one of its major attractions and provides constant opportunities to shoot the shit with a plethora of earth's inhabitants. This is what makes it such a great place to escape to when the mundane becomes mundane.

That said, when eating out if you dare step away from ordering anything other than something you can point to on the menu you're screwed…

Some pals and I headed to a Chinese restaurant in Balham yesterday evening. I really fancied ‘something’ in black bean sauce so I asked the waiter for tofu, stating I was a vegetarian; he shook his head and offered me chicken or beef and this is when my heart sank. After a lot of gesturing and pigeon English I thought I'd succeeded. 20 minutes later, my food arrived: a plate of vegetables in black bean sauce with an explanation of 'we've sold out of tofu'. We were the only ones there and they had only been open for an hour. Really it was 'I'm not sure what you were on about so, here, eat something you didn't order'.

2. Creativity

Food, cooking and creativity, to my mind, must co-exist. In terms of my experience in London the three are clearly interchangeable.

The example here came from a visit to an Italian restaurant in East London. The creative side being the menu only. The menu scriber clearly had talent, the food sounded amazing. I opted for tagliatelle in a tomato pesto with chilli, almonds and pine nuts topped with smoked ricotta. 'Wow', huh?

That was where the magic ended, I got a plate of tepid pasta in an insipid sauce with a few bits of chopped almonds and chilli flakes. It could have been so good! Now I'm all for well executed food writing, obviously, but at the end of the day it is the food that matters - the writing is just there as a means of describing how great something was or is going to be. In this instance the creativity ended when the writer hit 'print' and I was forced to douse my plate in salt and pepper and nick a slice of pizza from my friends.

And to finish, some humorous menu misspells:

- Tomato and chilly sauce

- Sweat and Sour Vegetable

- Steamed white rise

…lovely stuff!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

I should... writing a short fiction piece as part of my creative writing portfolio for Uni. I should have also showered, put some washing on and be making my way to my parents’ house to wait on my mama. However food, the little minx, is distracting me again.

Each Sunday the cursed cursor on the screen of my laptop clicks the web-address box (I dunno what it's called!) and insists I check out the recipes and reviews featured on The Guardian's website. I hold two men responsible for this: Jay Rayner and Yottam Ottolenghi. The former is (alongside Nigel, Nigella and Tamasin) responsible for my obsession with food writing, the latter: cooking and eating. Imagine my excitement this Sunday morning when I find that Rayner has reviewed Ottolenghi's new London restaurant, Nopi.

Jay, Yotam and Lucy, the perfect threesome - in the context of scribing and eating that is.

In the review one of Rayner's main points is one I am already aware of, Ottolenghi is a vegetarian food wizard! The things this guy can do without meat are astounding! As Rayner put it in his review: 'Ottolenghi is brilliant at arguing against the imperative to eat meat'. Being someone who has prepared many of the recipes featured in Ottolenghi's 'The New Vegetarian' series in The Observer I agree with Rayner here. To borrow a term from one of my creative writing lecturers: 'show, don't tell'. Ottolenghi does not, now I need to tread carefully here, 'preach' about the virtues of eating veggie but instead provides stunning examples of why it is not essential to eat meat in the search for great food. This is my sentiment exactly and one of the reasons I started the blog. I am not here to convert anyone, I am not here to provide statistics and 'horror stories' regarding intensive farming and the environment but I am here to offer insight into what it really is, or can be, to eat veggie. It really isn't all nut roasts and lentils.

I visited London 2 weeks ago and intended to visit Nopi or any of Ottolenghi's deli-cafes but, alas, Camden would not release me. In honour of Ottolenghi, though, I cooked myself one of the recipes taken from 'The New Vegetarian' on Friday. In my previous post I prattled on about not eating exciting foods until my Uni. work was done; that lasted a few days. We all have our vices.

Don't let the grimace-inducing word 'tofu' put you off here, I don't like it in its natural state it either. However, in this recipe it is cooked in a way that makes most things desirable: it's deep-fried.

Black Pepper Tofu by Yotam Ottolenghi

800g firm, fresh tofu Cornflour, to dust the tofu

Vegetable oil, for frying

150g butter

12 small shallots (350g), peeled and thinly sliced

8 red chillies, thinly sliced

12 garlic cloves, crushed

3 tbsp chopped ginger

5 tbsp crushed black peppercorns

3 tbsp sweet soy sauce

3 tbsp light soy sauce

4 tsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp sugar

16 small, thin spring onions, cut into segments 3cm long

Cut the tofu into 3cm x 2cm blocks and toss them in cornflour, shaking off the excess. Pour in enough oil to come 0.5cm up the sides of a large frying pan, and bring up to frying heat. Fry the tofu in batches in the oil, turning the pieces as you go. Once they are golden all around, and have a thin crust, transfer to a paper towel.

Remove the oil and any sediment from the pan and throw in the butter. Once it has melted, add the shallots, chillies, garlic and ginger, and sauté for about 15 minutes on low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the contents of the pan are shiny and totally soft. While you wait, crush the peppercorns, using a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. They should be quite coarse.

When the shallots and chillies are soft, add the soy sauces and the sugar, stir, then stir in the crushed pepper. Warm the tofu in the sauce for about a minute, then add the spring onion and stir through. Serve hot with steamed rice.

If the words 'deep fried' did not persuade you then here are some more:

The crisp yet tender tofu grips onto the flavourings with both hands. The spicing is interesting too, the red chilli is keen and racy, the crushed black pepper has a resonant haunting depth; whilst eating you are intermittently hit by both. Nigel Slater refers to eating something spicy, such as chilli, with something cooling, like yogurt, as a 'whip and kiss'. This recipe could be described as a 'whip and whack'. It is bawdy but if you eat it with some steamed rice then you may be afforded a little smooch.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

What's Up?

I am 'off' food, specifically, eating. I still have shimmers of interest in reading and writing about it. However, preparing it/watching it being prepared (on one of my usually beloved T.V shows) and eating it? Not so much.

When I go off my food it is usually symptomatic of something more sinister than simply not being hungry. I use the word sinister because I enjoy drama, not because there is something seriously wrong (maybe). However, I am wondering where my food lust has I said to a friend the other day: 'I feel hunger, yet have no desire to sate it'.


Through the mass media we now all know about emotions and the link they have to food and our 'relationship' with it. You no longer need to be a psychiatrist to say that someone who eats when they are sad is 'filling the emotional void with food' or that someone who starves them self is 'looking for control amidst feelings of chaos'. You just need to pick up a copy of Cosmo. or Marie Claire for that kind of psycho-analysis these days.

I do have a history of controlling 'chaos' via my diet so can definitely identify with that. If you can't fix your life then don't fix yourself some supper - at least you had a say in the latter. It can be comforting. So I guess there must be some kind of power struggle afoot between myself and my seems the latter controls me - more so than me 'it' - at the moment due to University and work. This could go some way to explaining the lack of interest in eating.

I think, for me, it is because I see food as sensual escapism, a transporter. Not 'mere fuel' as I once raged in a blog-gone-by. At this point in my life, however, I need to avoid basking in food's light and instead plonk myself in one of three places: the library, in front of my laptop or the office. It's as if I know food will want to whisk me away somewhere romantic and whimsical but I cannot accept it's offer and so I am residing myself to 'boring' food for sustenance rather than stimulation.

And so I have no recipes to post, except maybe:

200g dried spaghetti
1 x jar of tomato sauce

Boil pasta until al dente. Stir in sauce.


2 slices of bread
2 tsp of butter
1 can of beans

If I need to tell you what to do with these then I'd worry if I were you.

This does not mean that I do not want to 'talk' to you; no, no. I still want to interact with food mentally, it's my 'thing', what makes me tick; hence me still posting despite my apparent hunger strike.

On the topic of food, I am completing a Literature Review on the link between food and sex by checking out what other academics are saying about it. So far? Stuff we are acutely aware of anyway: food is used a metaphor for sexual organs/food is an aphrodisiac /food as 'sin'...I like the last one, makes me think of dark chocolate and ruby wine next to a trance inducing fire. That previous sentence, in a nutshell, is why I am not eating anything that may arouse anything more than an 'urge to study' (sexy, huh?). I ALMOST 'carried' myself to Montpellier to drink wine with something handsome - in my mind, of course. Clearly I need to exercise restraint when it comes to my food/word dynamic, until the end of the Semester anyway.

And so, I am off to complete yet another essay and eat 'something'...roll on summer.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Take me away

A friend and I have been discussing the finer qualities of European living. So much so that I am aching to pack up and head off tomorrow. There is, however, a catch in my romantic notion. Now I'm not sure if I've mentioned this, I am financially bereft at this particular point in my life so indulging such dreams is not something I'm afforded.

And so, food shall rescue me once again, not only as nourishment but my passport to other worlds that are shamefully out of my reach.

Italian food is a common feature in my repertoire in the form of pastas, soups and homemade pizzas and so I am packing up and heading to France.

The best of France? Beef bourguignon, charcuterie, offal...this is somewhat problematic given my dietary persuasion unless (shudder) I consider a meat substitute. I could enjoy a feast of desserts but I want to prepare and eat something that transports me to a quaint, romantic bistro in Provence where I can linger over supper with a glass of wine next to someone special. All accompanied by music of love and torment, by candlelight...

Here's a recipe stolen from Ina Garten's appropriately named 'memory lane' collection of recipes. This recipe transports Ina and her beloved Jeffrey to the streets of Paris following a trip around Europe as poor youngsters rich in love.

Eggplant (aubergine) Gratin

  • Good olive oil, for frying
  • 3/4 pound eggplant, unpeeled, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 extra-large egg
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan (a good vegetarian hard cheese will be fine here)
  • salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup good bottled marinara sauce


Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.

Heat about 1/8-inch of olive oil in a very large frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is almost smoking, add several slices of eggplant and cook, turning once, until they are evenly browned on both sides and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Be careful, it splatters! Transfer the cooked eggplant slices to paper towels todrain. Add more oil, heat, and add more eggplant until all the slices are cooked.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, egg, half-and-half, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

In each of 2 individual gratin dishes, place a layer of eggplant slices, then sprinkle with Parmesan, salt and pepper and spoon 1/2 of the marinara sauce. Next, add a second layer of eggplant, more salt and pepper, half the ricotta mixture, and finally 1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan on top.

Place the gratins on a baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the custard sets and the top is browned. Serve warm.

This post is your plane ticket and it's on me.

Saturday, 26 February 2011


I am skint. Skint.

I'm not unhappy about this really I just have to adjust to life as student/part-time employee/writer. It seems as the number of 'roles' I have increase my income takes a southern route...irony can be cruel.

Like I said, though, I don't feel hard-done-by or the slightest bit tempted to jack it all in and return to maximum pay, minimum satisfaction. Tougher times build character and, most importantly, inspire us.

A few Thursday's back I was tired and (you guessed it) skint. After a hungry rummage through my fridge I only really had bits and bobs that could be picked at alongside jars of jams, mustard, pickled onions and nowt much else. However, what emerged from half hour in the kitchen that evening turned out to be a special little something that was satisfying and made me feel like I was really treating myself. It was at this moment I realised the greatest thing about being financially bereft: simple pleasures. Pleasure is at its best unadorned: a warm bath, a good book, supper at the end of a long day – it’s cliché but I don’t care. The need to do something different, something new, crazy and exciting can render you anxious and unfulfilled.

The best way to illustrate it would be a New Years Eve equation: too much money + too much pressure = disappointment the antidote to this would be buying the Sunday papers, reading them with a cup of coffee and realising how good you already had it. The latter never disappoints as it's not trying to be anything other than what it is, it's not over complicated or marred by high expectations that often stem from little more than the amount of cash you've had to part with.

The recipe from that Thursday evening is a take on a goats cheese and onion tart - one of the vegetarian's most familiar restaurant/dinner party offerings - yet replaces the pastry with a seeded pitta base: sounds like 'diet food', it's not. I wouldn’t recommend the well known oval white flour pittas here, the bread needs to be damp and dense, the brand suggested in the recipe below was ideal.

Goats cheese & onion pitta tartelette with mustard dressed leaves

Serves One


1 round seeded pitta (I used Food Doctor multi seeded)

1 tbl sp Dijon Mustard

1 tbl sp oil, (olive, vegetable etc)

1 red onion, thinly sliced

2 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked (optional)

1 tsp sugar



1 x tomato, thinly sliced into rounds

50g goats cheese (the type with a rind), thinly sliced

For the salad:

Salad leaves (rocket, watercress etc)

1 tbl sp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbl sp lemon juice

1/2 tsp sugar

1/2 tbl sp dijon mustard




Preheat oven to 200c.

Spread the mustard on the pitta bread, leaving out approximately 1cm around the edge, and place to one side.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion, thyme, sugar and salt and cook until they soften and become 'jammy', season to taste.

Add the onions to the pitta and arrange the tomato and then the goats cheese on top, season.

Place on a baking tray in the oven for 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and golden.

Whilst the tartelette is cooking make the dressing for the salad: add the oil, lemon juice and sugar to a bowl and whisk in the mustard, season to taste adding more sugar or lemon if needed. Dress the salad leaves just before serving alongside the tartlette, finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over the tartelette.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Holidays are comin'!

Deep breaths, deep breaths! December aka Christmas Month is here and my excitement is building daily!

Unlike others, at this time of year, my jubilation does not reside under a tree wrapped in silver and gold, it does not stand expectantly beneath the mistletoe. It lives in Kilner jars, truffle cases and star shaped cookie cutters! The time has come to inhabit my kitchen for more than my nightly supper assembly; I now have an excuse to be in it for hours on end making jams, chutneys, truffles and biscuits for my nearest and dearest. The question is; who is really getting a gift here? Is it the recipients or me: pottering around my kitchen chopping, stirring, tasting and making cute labels to stick on jars of apple and cranberry chutney? I know what my answer is.

Around about this time of year I am hoping that my friends and family are eagerly waiting the moment I hand them a basket filled with jars and boxes, as I do each year, for them to feast upon over the festive period. I am also banking on some of them dutifully returning the jars from last year so that I may fill them before returning to their rightful owners; that part is not always as reliable.

The main reason my enthusiasm is reaching boiling point is down, in part, to my choice of bed-time reading. I decided, last night, that it was time to flick through one of the several foodie magazines I had already purchased this month and came across a Danish recipe for butter cookies, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar - I will be trying these out in a week or two and will, of course, post the recipe here. Also nestled within the pages were recipes for butternut squash pithivier's (French puff pastry pies; I will be having one for my Christmas Day lunch), ice-cream spiced with cinnamon, star anise and nutmeg and calvados mixed with spiced apples for a twist on mulled wine. I had to put the magazine down at this point, it was 1am, my head was spinning with ideas and I was approximately 2 recipes away from getting my notebook out and planning my (and my family’s) meals for the next 4 weeks!

So yes, yes, I know, I am in the grip of Christmas Food frenzy. I can’t help it, it happens every year -and many times throughout the year; it only takes a friend’s Birthday or a wander around a farmers market to set me off yet there’s something all consuming about food at Christmas. Whether it is to do with the fact that you have more time to linger over it or that it’s more ceremonial and luxurious than any other time of year is something to ponder.

One thing that is important to remember, though, is not to waste pity on veggies at this time of year. Over the coming posts I intend to show you that we can get as stuck in and gain the same 7, ok 10, lbs as everyone else this time of year and have a damn good time in the process!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Book Review

As promised, here's the review of Kitchen by Nigella Lawson:

The siren with a spatula is back with another abundant offering of inspired recipes mixed with her droll style of talking, and indeed, writing about her obsession with all things kitchen related. Nigella Lawson not only knows food but knows what to say about it. Kitchen is no exception.

In the Introduction, ‘Or what the kitchen means to me, and why I live in it’ Nigella mentions that this is the type of book she has wanted to write ‘for a very long time’ but that she didn’t feel ready to share details of her ‘love affair’ with her kitchen until she got to know it more herself; this is very much Nigella’s ethos. She revels in the whole experience of food from its preparation to the evocative powers it possesses; a simple roast chicken transports her to her mothers kitchen and the ‘ritual’ of cooking two chickens at a time: one to eat and one to pick at. Having read all of her previous offerings it is clear that Nigella would not be able to complete a book that was anything other than ‘memoirs with recipes’ a term she used to describe a fellow food writers’ book in her hugely successful ‘Nigella Bites’.

Being that this book is as much about the kitchen itself as it is about food there is a handy section entitled Kitchen Caboodle – this is not Nigella suggesting we need a ‘panic-inducing’ kit in order to appreciate our kitchens; quite the opposite in fact. She discourages buying anything that will gather dust; electric cheese graters and yogurt makers both feature in her tongue-in-cheek ‘ My Kitchen Gadget Hall of Shame’ section but still suggests that some items such as a mezza-luna (a half moon shaped double handled knife) are useful to those less dextrous when it comes to finely chopped herbs and vegetables. The ‘Kitchen Confidential’ section also provides useful hints and tips, such as how to remove tea stains from cups and how to stop your onions browning too much when frying them.

Being that, above all, people will part with their money in exchange for recipes and culinary-inspiration, it’s worth mentioning the food. The recipes are split into two parts each with their own sub-sections. The first, Kitchen Quandaries, looks at how to feed children without condescending their palettes but also speedily nourishing them from under your feet with offerings such as turkey meatballs in tomato sauce and chocolate chip bread pudding. A sub-section entitled ‘Off the Cuff’ also offers advice and recipes on how to rustle up a satisfying supper by having some simple store-cupboard essentials to hand.

Kitchen Comforts, the second part of the book, is true Nigella territory. Hassle free food that feeds the soul as well as your belly. An entire sub-section is dedicated to chicken and the place it has in not only Nigella’s culinary repertoire, but her heart; she writes, ‘I don’t really feel a kitchen is mine until I’ve cooked a chicken there’ recipes for said bird include Thai chicken noodle soup and ‘my mothers praised chicken’. In and amongst the traditional recipes, there are some inspired ideas such as spiced pumpkin chutney and no churn pina colada ice cream; sure to cause a stir in jaded rut-stuck home cooks. If you are a collector of her other books you may find some of the recipes repetitive – done before but with an added sauce or additional ingredient. This is no hardship though, really, they appear to have been revamped/improved and not simply recycled.

When reading this book you get the feeling Nigella is by and on your side as she encourages you to enter your kitchen both physically and emotionally – this may seem hokey to some but true foodies will relate to this entirely. Nigella is not out to intimidate but to reassure you that you should love your kitchen and all that you do in it whether it be cooking supper for 6, a bowl of something restorative for yourself or simply spending some time pottering about in a room Nigella describes as ‘part-hub, part-haven’.

Recipe - Tomato Curry by Nigella Lawson

(Serves 4)

2 tbl sp cold-pressed rapeseed oil or regular olive oil

2 large onions, peeled and chopped

1 tsp sea salt flakes or 1/2 tsp pouring salt

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1kg cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp English mustard powder

1 tsp hot chilli powder

1 tsp garam masala

200g frozen peas


1. Heat the oil in a large pan, with a lid, and add the chopped onions sprinkling with salt. Stir frequently as they cook over a low-medium heat until softened (about 7 minutes).

2. Stir in the chopped garlic, then add the tomatoes before stirring in the spices and cook for about 20 minutes, with the lid on, over a low heat.

3. Cook the peas in another pan (as per pack instructions), drain and add to the curry for the last 5 minutes cooking time. By all means cook the peas directly in the curry but be prepared to sacrifice both the vivid red of the tomatoes and the bright green of the peas.


The curry can be made a day in advance and chilled. Do not add the peas, though, until you are ready to reheat and eat.

The curry can also be frozen. Cook and cool the tomatoes as above and store in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Defrost over night in the fridge and reheat, adding the peas.

I used vegetable oil when frying the onions as I had some handy; any oil with a high burning point such as sunflower oil, groundnut oil etc will be fine. Do not use extra virgin olive oil though.

Coconut Rice by Nigella Lawson

1 tbl sp garlic oil

4 spring onions, finely sliced

2 tsp nigella seeds or black mustard seeds

300g thai or basmati rice

1 400ml can of coconut milk

600ml freshly boiled water

1 tsp sea salt flakes or 1/2 tsp pouring salt

juice of 1 lime, or to taste


1. Warm the oil in a heavy based pan that has a lid, add the spring onion and the nigella (or black mustard) seeds and cook for a minute or so, stirring with a wooden spoon.

2. Stir in the rice, letting it get slicked with oil and thoroughly mixed with the black-dotted green shreds.

3. Pour the coconut milk into a measuring jug and top it up to the 1 ltr mark with the boiling water. Add this to the rice, stirring it in with the salt.

4. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to low and put on the lid. Cook for 15 minutes, by which time the rice should be cooked and the liquid absorbed.

5. Fluff up with a fork as you pour in the lime juice, add to taste to see if you need either more salt or more lime.


I used nigella seeds as I had some stored away (along with za'atar, see previous posts for details) from my tears-of-joy inducing trip to Dean and Deluca in Soho, Manhattan - they are not as easy to get hold of this side of the pond though. Nigella seeds have an earthier taste than mustard seeds, however, mustard seeds would work as they go so well in many rice dishes used to accompany curries.


Glorious! So simple, not to mention pleasurable, to make. The mildly acidic/spicy curry dotted with sweet little peas was offset beautifully by the rich, sticky coconut rice that had depth of flavour from garlic oil and onions with the luxurious creaminess of coconut milk; the last minute spritz of lime lifted it out of and rice-pudding territory all together.

As always, I would recommend veggies and non-veggies try this. I guarantee it will be enjoyed alongside a few bottles of beer on a Saturday night. Try it guys and, if you do, please let me know your thoughts on it; I'm always happy to wax poetic about food and what it does to our kitchens, bodies and souls!

Bye x