Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Best of 2014

This year I've moved to London and I've started culinary school, so I've eaten out a lot more and so I've posted fewer recipes and more reviews.  However, as it's still a cooking blog, in my "Best of 2014" I'm just going to have my favorite recipes.  Yes, these are the best according to me.  Sometimes I look at the page views for different posts and get quite disappointed as the popularity is not proportional to the quality of the recipes.  I mean I personally have to say that all the recipes are good because I'm biased and shameless but.... Well, these recipes are my favorite from this year.

Best Dessert
This soft and moist Plum Cake.
I know, it seems quite simple, but it has mascarpone in the batter and the plums are roasted in the oven and become incredibly sweet and juicy.  Simplicity at its best. 

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Best Eats This Week - Porcini Risotto & Truffle Flatbread (Beijing)

"Risotto with fermented porcini mushrooms, fermented mushroom powder, shaved champignon mushrooms and, of course, the obligatory Japanese element, yuzu."  Chef de cuisine Marco Calenzo described enthusiastically as he personally delivered the dishes along with Nello, his Sous Chef.

These two are all about Italian food with modern twists, food that's exciting, that's different, that makes you beam with anticipation when you read the menu, and have your expectations exceeded when you finally eat it -- because even with all those fancy experimental concepts, their main focus is still on the flavor.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Stir-Fried Napa Cabbage with Chestnuts

You know what I hate about YouTube?  I hate that it forces me to watch a 1 minute ad for a 2 minute video.  I try to be understanding when I'm watching longer things on Hulu or 4oD, yes, 5 minutes of advertisements for 20 minutes of worthwhile content, okay, that's fine.  It can't be half and half, if I'm watching an episode of Friends, which is about 20 minutes, you can't give me 10 minutes of advertisements beforehand.

Anyway.  I was listening to The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole because...Chestnuts.  Here they're not quite roasting on an open fire so much as stir-fried in a wok but I'm spending Christmas in China, what do you expect?

Friday, 19 December 2014

Miso Butter Beans & Sauerkraut on Toast

I was lost for words and thoughts and didn't know what to write in this post, so I actually found a prezi presentation on fun facts about sauerkraut.  I have to say, the word "fun" is used too liberally at times.  I do love presentations made with prezi though, so I still spent a good couple of minutes of my life watching the whole presentation. I love that under the heading of "Sensory Perceptions", after "sour", "salty" and "sulphuric", they've put "divisive in opinion".
I love random facts and would like to think I have quite a large collection of fun trivia in my mind, however, they're so useless that they have rarely even been helpful in pub quizzes.   Fun facts and one-liners.  I use the two to break awkward silences...which don't always alleviate the situation but you can't please everyone. 

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Best Eats This Week - Smoked Lamb & Hake (London)

Chef Neil Rankin is a bit of a legend when it comes to BBQs in London.   I had heard all about him and his meats and thus I had just assumed that his restaurant in Islington, Smokehouse, would be very much of a "guy" restaurant with meats of big, bold flavors.  To my surprise, it was all incredibly delicate and complex.

My two best eats this week were the mains at his restaurant -

Cornish hake, smoked mussels & bacon chowder.
 Smoked lamb shoulder, polenta, raclette & sambal. 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Vanilla Raspberry Jam

I'll be honest, jam has never excited me.  I never opted for jam on my toast, or in my croissants, or as a filling in any other pastry.  Meh, I always preferred nutella and peanut butter or just pure butter with some sugar and cinnamon.  However, I love making jam, especially in the winter.  I love hovering over a stove and stirring continuously in a slow regular motion.  The steam rising up to your face and fogging up the windows, the scent sweetening the kitchen -- I mean it's like the equivalent of going to the spa for me.   
 Raspberry jam's great if you have no patience for what I just said.  I think this altogether took 20 minutes max.  I just make them for other people as gifts now.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Homemade Baked Beans On Toast

Heinz baked beans.

With any dodgy breakfast-fry-up, it's the one thing you're guaranteed to be good.  The eggs will taste of rubber, the bacon will be dry, the mushrooms will be greasy, but you know that those baked beans will be alright. 
 I'm a foreigner and I find it fascinating that when British people talk of "proper baked beans" they mean the Heinz baked beans.  Not homemade, not some gourmet version sold by some small independent business, no, no, it's Heinz.  It's a staple in most people's households, isn't it?  And you wouldn't dream of any restaurant using anything else.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Orange Pumpkin Seed Nougatine

Sugar can be scary. We have this one teacher in culinary school who often recounts these traumatizing stories involving hot caramel and skin and bones and scars.  In this recipe the sugar goes up to 158C -- yes, that's a light caramel that will burn through your skin to your bones and have you scarred for life but you know what, just be careful  because you have to play with sugar, it's just the most fascinating ingredient.  It's amazing how its properties change when heated up to different temperatures and then all the things you can do with it.  Just be careful, though. 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Shropshire Blue & Raisin Biscuits

I got my 10th post in for the month!  Phew.  I used to do around 15 posts a month, now I'm just trying to do at least 10, and even with these 10, like what, only half are recipes?  My God.  Stressful times.  I go to culinary school, I'm in school 40 hours a week cooking, cooking things that I'm not allowed to share online, and when I'm home the lighting's not good enough because of the shortened days.  Happy Belly really is my only motivation to cook now. 
Maybe December will be better as I'll be on holiday, I'll be back home, so no more forced cooking.  I really am the last person you'd expect in the world to not enjoy culinary school.  Maybe it's just the time of the year with the winter blues kicking in.  I should invest in a SAD lamp. 

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Best Eats This Week - Pappardelle with Wild Boar (London)

Like every Italian, I’m very particular about my pasta. Everyone thinks they can make pasta, and sure, everyone can to a certain extent, but you can say the same thing about ramen and steak and sushi. I’ve witnessed and unfortunately sampled very disappointing pastas outside of Italy– mostly just bland and overcooked – heart-breakingly overcooked. And so I never order pasta here.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Kintan (London)

It was first sushi that took this town by a storm. Bite-size pieces of seasoned rice topped with raw fish, or rolled and encased in seaweed with an imaginative range of other ingredients, still remain stylish and trendy today. Then more recently, the tonkotsu ramen, with its creamy pork broth and thin noodles, was given the spotlight, and now the Japanese have finally brought their BBQ over here as well. With a mini grill installed onto every table, plates of meat and vegetables are brought out and you, the diner, get to cook away with a pair of metal tongs throughout the meal. Yakiniku, as it’s called in Japanese, and Kintan is apparently the first of its kind in London.
With establishments already in Tokyo, Jakarta, and Hong Kong, Kintan recently opened up their branch in London right on High Holborn. A massive venue that spans over two floors, with large open space, sparse tables, high ceilings, dim lighting and atrocious signal. The staff is largely Japanese and so is the clientele. In fact the socioeconomic profile of 80% of the patrons that evening was middle-aged Japanese businessman in a suit.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Rosemary Olive Oil Pancakes w/ Honey & Goat's Cheese

I had the most distressing experience in purchasing this goat's cheese.  I was on my way to a date, a lovely man was making me a lovely dinner and I thought bringing cheese would be appropriate.  I had planned this out in my head - to arrive at 7, I would leave my house at 6:30.  I would finish class at 5:20 and it would take me 30 minutes to get to my house.  It would take me 20 minutes to get ready, therefore I had 25 minutes to purchase cheese.  I had thought that a purchase should take no longer than 10 minutes and thus I had an extra 10 minutes as a leeway.  I unfortunately underestimated the incompetency and inefficiency of some of the people in this world.  Went to a health store that had a cheese deli at the back.  It was a Wednesday afternoon and the woman at the deli informed me that the cheese man's off on Wednesday's and she was not an expert.  No problem, in that case I will just choose the cheeses that I know, I said.  "Not an expert" is very different from "I don't know what the f*ck I'm doing".  She did not know what the cheeses were, she did not know  how to slice the cheese, and she did not f*cking know how to use the scale.  My cheese probably aged into a whole new category by the time she handed it to me.  The worst part of the whole experience was that she just kept apologizing and so I just apologized back and told her to take her time because I felt bad.  I hate it when incompetent people are nice because then I can't get angry. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Cardamom and Cashew Granola Bars

I apologize, you will be seeing a lot more healthy recipes on this blog for a bit.  I'm in a French culinary school.  Everything I cook and eat there is laden with butter and cream and other love handle-friendly ingredients.  I need to eat healthy at home when I can... But that doesn't mean it has to be boring!  Look at these delicious cardamom and cashew granola bars.  They're healthy if you eat them in the right..amounts... See, granola bars are a weakness of mine.  I try not to make them because if I make a batch I usually eat it all in one go.... I was better this time, I ate them in two goes. 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Best Eats This Week - Buttermilk Pudding with Plum Compote & Ginger Biscuit (London)

There's such an art to perfecting simplicity.  We can get so caught up with out-of-the-box ideas of flavor combinations and presentation that we get these overwhelming plates of a dozen different components and colors and textures.  At the end it's more about showcasing the technical skills of the chef rather than the actual consumption and enjoyment of the dish. 

Don't get me wrong, I love an art-gallery-fit plate of food that's more complex than I could ever comprehend, but sometimes something like this, a simple buttermilk pudding with plum compote and a ginger biscuit, cooked perfectly, is better.  It's difficult though, because like I said, it needs to be perfect when you don't have much going on.  That's what 40 Maltby Street is good for - faultless, unfussy, simple food, and this dessert was the best thing I ate this week.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Roasted Butternut Squash with Brussels Sprouts Salsa

 So I was given a peeler on a date once.  I was invited over for dinner, and he was peeling some beetroots, I commented on the aesthetics and the quality of his peeler, and next thing I know he said he had two and he gave me one.  I got a lovely home cooked meal AND a peeler at the end of the date.  I think I did well.

Anyway, thought about that date as I was peeling the butternut squash for this dish.  This is a recipe from Ottolenghi, and oh, that brussels sprouts salsa is simply amazing.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Best Eats This Week - The Emilia Burger (London)

When are brioche burger buns going to leave the food scene? When it first showed up couple of years ago, it was cool.  A classic French pastry encasing your meat patty, giving your standard comfort food a posh spin was new and different and cool. There came a wave of gourmet burgers with truffle oil, foie gras, caviar and diamond speckled baby veal meat patties all sandwiched in a brioche bun, and yea, it was fascinating but these food trends come and leave and it's time for the f*cking brioche bun to leave.  After the gourmet aspect was stripped away you just started getting everything in a brioche bun.  Everything's in a f*cking brioche bun.  From your classic cheese burgers to your exotic curried chicken patties and sausages.  What happened to the humble burger buns? Your down to earth American buns that are perfect in their simplicity?  What happened to your simple burgers?  Fortunately Shake Shack's sticking to traditional ways.  Serving your roadside American classics with fries, milkshakes and your 50's burgers -- no posh spin on them, rather they just focused on using quality produce. And whilst their usual items are good, on Sunday they had the holy grail of burgers.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Sun-Dried Tomato and Cheese Profiteroles

 I can't cook in culinary school.  Something about the time limit, the teacher watching my every move, the need to strive for perfection.  I'm having to weigh the salt and butter, quadruple-check the recipe, and be constantly conscious of washing my hands and not double-dipping.  I know they're good habits to keep but f*cking hell.  My food's often overcooked or undercooked or bland or unevenly cut or served on a plate with finger prints on.  The other day I f*cked up a risotto and a pasta in front of an English chef.  An Italian, having her pasta and risotto criticized by an English man.  That was a new low.

So I haven't been cooking much at home.  Not because I cook all day in school and I'm in school 40 hours a week but because I come home everyday utterly deflated as I doubt my ability to turn on a stove. 

Monday, 3 November 2014

Peanut Butter Granola

I officially joined the gym today.  I signed away a large sum of money to be taken out of my account every month for 12 months.  12 months.  I've never been committed to anything for 12 months before -- even my current flat lease, I can choose to end the lease early in just 6 months.  This gym membership, no.  I'm having regrets already.  Well, the sense of regret flooded in as soon as I signed in blood this morning.

Culinary school hasn't been good for my love-handles so I thought it'd be good to join the gym and eat healthy stuff like this.  I used to be addicted to granola.  Granola and coffee made up a large part of my diet when I studied for exams in university.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Carrot Pancakes with Spiced Salted Yogurt

I just went to an Italian deli and totally spoiled myself by buying some Parma ham and pickled artichokes.  Sorry, this has absolutely nothing to do with these pancakes but the taste of the prosciutto is still in my mouth and, I'll be honest, these pancakes, which I just had as well, were good, but man that prosciutto was divine.  I eat cheap meals of carrots and root veg and pulses normally so that I can afford to splurge every now and then at a nice deli.  I've always wanted to work in a nice deli where you're taught so much.  And you probably get to nibble on everything as well.  

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Mung Bean Hummus

I grew up with mung beans being something sweet.  Mashed with lots of sugar and fat as a filling in pastries or powdered down and turned into cakes, they're very popular in China.  Oh and mung bean popsicles are fantastic.  I realized, however, that it is unfortunately only an acquired taste.  See, I love sharing food.  I love introducing people to foods they've never had before and sharing everything that's on my plate.  So when foreign friends come to visit in China, I make them try all sorts of weird and wonderful things and I've learned that mung bean popsicles are not well-received by everyone.  What a shame. 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Rustic Spiced Cauliflower Soup

Soups can be made with care and finesse.   They can be passed through a chinois twice, velvety smooth, meticulously presented on an oversized white plate with dainty garnishes neatly placed on top.  It's a starter, a small portion, something to introduce you to the main meal.  It's clean, delicate, and pleasing to all senses.

Then you have the more rustic soups.  Soups made without a kitchen scale, chinois or even a whisk.  Lumpy dollops dropped into a bowl with a ladle and it's as simple as that.  In a big bowl that you can cradle and love and makes you warm and satisfied.  It's anything but delicate.  It's made with care but no finesse.  It's made with care and love and your own senses and it's beautiful.  

Monday, 20 October 2014

Arepa & Co. (London)

As a devoted fan of their food stall in Camden Market, it's exciting see Arepa & Co finally with a permanent home in London, and their restaurant/cafe/bar is simply brilliant.  It's a quirky place with colorful hammocks and rainbow-tiled open bar but also simple metal chairs and humble wooden tables. Oddly enough you can see how it's a casual brunch place by day and a Latin-themed party venue by night with lots of rum. The atmosphere is friendly and lively and most importantly, the food is absolutely fantastic.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Carrot Terrine with Walnut Sauce

The most distressing thing happened to me -- I went to four different grocery stores before I could find simple goat's cheese.  I went to a Turkish greengrocer where there was feta, feta and more feta.  A Mediterranean supermarket where there was feta, feta, and more feta along with cheddar, parmesan and mozzarella.  Then a Food Coop where there was cheddar, more cheddar, feta, mozzarella  and parmesan.  Then finally I went to a Sainsbury and there was goat's cheese amongst the feta, cheddar and parmesan.  I'm in London, guys.  I know stores stock based on the demographics of the area but I live in Kentish Town, one of the "Whitest" areas in London supposedly, and no goat's cheese? 

But then I did a bit of research and discovered the problem.  This area has no continental Europeans.  It's largely British and hence no goat's cheese.  Or camembert.  Or brie or any other standard supermarket cheeses. 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Cumin Roasted Aubergines with Persimmon

How cute are these baby aubergines?  They're literally 5 times more expensive than your normal aubergines and they taste exactly the same but look how cute.  You know how we are evolutionarily predisposed to like babies and puppies and kittens and I think the same applies to vegetables.  We find baby vegetables irresistible.  I personally prefer these to human babies.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Simple Chinese Crispy Fried Tofu

Pity the poor tofu. In the West, if you're not vegan or overly health conscious you probably dislike tofu.  In fact, most vegans and overly health conscious people here probably dislike it as well and only consume it due to the fact that it's vegan and healthy.  Poor tofu.  Tofu is loved by omnivores in Asia and yet here it has the reputation of being bland and boring.  Perhaps due to its association with vegans.  See, back home in China, we eat them deep-fried with dried shrimp and minced pork.  I love it.  I love it drenched in oil and accompanied by meat and seafood.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Tahini and Rye Pancakes

It's the sudden change of seasons.  The harsh winds, the incessant rain, the miserable gray sky -- and this is all just from looking out the window. Then, no matter how prepared you think you are to endure the bitter conditions outside, the weather gods still slap you in the face with the most unexpected cold as you walk out the door.

This is why everyone's a bit stressed and grumpy lately.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Coconut Butter & Lemon Scottish Oatcakes

These have been my breakfast on the go.  I leave at 6:45am most mornings to get to school by 7:30.  I can't eat breakfast at 6:30.  My stomach is not yet awake at 6:30, which I only just discovered.  I normally wake up with the hunger of a bear awaken from hibernation and I thought my bottomless pit of a stomach could eat at any time, but 6:30 no.  So this is the perfect breakfast on the go which I can eat on my way to school.  They're filling and tasty and.. in all honesty, I'm scared that if I do this for a whole year I'll grow to hate oatcakes.  I love oatcakes, I don't want to hate oatcakes... That's why I try to change them up a bit every now and then.  They're identical to my Olive Oil Oatcakes, but you know, coconut butter instead of olive oil.  Maybe next time I could do a mix of butter and sesame oil..or walnut oil or other flavorings.... Some spices..

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Salmon with Grapefruit Hollandaise

So, as you may know, I'm in culinary school now.  Yes, after 4 years of blood, sweat and tears to obtain my Psychology and Economics degree, I'm now bleeding, sweating and crying to get a diploma in Culinary Arts.  Oh I'm loving it. I've just started, it's only been a week and it's been so exciting/nerve wrecking/exhilarating/terrifying/intimidating... But good, overall good... I just have serious problems with anxiety haha.  Anyway.  We've been doing basic knife skills and I simply need to practice.  I've been julienning carrots, emenciering onions and macedoining courgettes.  And I need to segment my citruses.  So I got some grapefruits to practice.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Chocolatiest Cookies

I loved these cookies so much that I had to write a haiku about them.

Dark, bitter and rich
The taste sweetly lingers on
And another one

Sorry, I'm not a poet, but I like haikus, haikus are fun and simple. 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Burmese Spiced Cabbage

I need to learn to look at myself in the mirror before leaving the house.  I left this evening with yellow patches all over my mouth and cheek (don't ask me how I eat).  I often go out with chocolate dough or tomato sauce on myself and as bad as that is, today I looked like I had jaundice or some other liver-related disease.

Anyway.  This thing's got a lot of turmeric. Love turmeric, but like beetroot, it annoyingly marks its presence on everything.  It's a nice color though as it's like everything's been painted by rays of sunshine.  You get the counter tops yellow, you get your plastic containers yellow, you get your hands yellow, if you can't eat like an adult, you get your face yellow too like me. 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Kanada-Ya (London)

It was a bit painful to be craving for ramen while I was in Edinburgh and all that people could recommend was Wagamama. Thankfully, London delivers on most food wishes and cravings, and as I was walking about in Soho, I discovered Kanada-Ya, a little gem on St Giles High Street that specializes in tonkotsu ramen. 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Humble Peanut Butter Cookies

I went to the gym for another class a few days ago.  See, whereas previous sessions just bred anger, that night the instructor almost made me cry.

Now, imagine the following said in high volume and a Caribbean accent:
"Is that the best you can do?"
"I don't think you're trying hard enough.  Stretch those legs." 
"You can do better.  What will you do when you turn 50?"


Yea, that's what I have in my gym bag: deodorant, water, headphones, towel and cookies.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Crunchy Tahini Thins

I'm still getting to know my oven.  It's an interesting relationship, the one you have with your oven.  It's pretty much one way and communication is quite difficult from their part.  Unlike maybe some people, I don't really have a personal relationship with it.  I see it as simply a service provider with horrible customer service.  My current oven looks quite impressive, it's a big bad metal industrial Italian brand that looks amazing.  Like an Italian stallion.  But that's just on the outside and with ovens you cannot be shallow.
 It does seem to heat pretty evenly..I just can't really..I don't really know about the temperature.  It's fine for these simple cookies but if I want to do something more technical..

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Spiced Lamb with Aubergines & Plums

Befriending the butcher/fishmonger: check.  Befriending the greengrocer: check.  Befriending the dry cleaner's people: check.  This is me settling into my new neighborhood.

My neighborhood is perfect.  I live literally one minute away from an excellent butchers/fishmongers and perhaps 10 minutes away to the best greengrocers in London.  Furthermore, I'm surrounded by supermarkets, there's a farmer's market right outside my house every week, there's a gym 5 minutes away, there's a park, there's a hardware store, pound store, health store, beauty store...

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Roasted Baby Carrots

I went to the gym again... This time for a Legs Bum and Tums class.  Oh it's as horrific as it sounds. 
Russian twists - a KPG torture method or a sweet pastry?  More like the former I discovered in the class.  It was 45 minutes of pain and self-hatred.  It was a class of 10 people with an instructor who I wanted to hit repeatedly with a blunt object.  You know, the gym isn't good for me, it just breeds too much anger and hatred.

"'re doing really well, feel those abs....8... almost there... 7...keep going, keep going, keep those knees nice and high now...6..."  COUNT B*TCH JUST KEEP COUNTING.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Chocolate Ginger Biscotti

#Awkwardmoments When I went to the gym and halfway through I found chocolate cookie dough all over my arms.
 The only reason I was at the gym was because they gave me this free day pass, psssh the gym just makes me hate myself. 10 minutes in on the treadmill and I felt like I was about to have a heart attack.  After a painful 45 minutes the lady working there tried to convince me to join the gym -- £50 a month on a 12 month contract.  B*tch please, my phone contract isn't even that committed.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Spiced Carrot & Mung Bean Salad

You know, I like the idea of moving around and traveling and living in different places, but f*cking hell I hate the act of moving.  I hate packing and throwing things away and putting my things in storage and delivering them and then unpacking and then buying everything I threw away.  I've been doing that for the past four years, moving houses every 4 years. Urgh and the one thing I always have to do when I move into a new place is restock my pantry.  This is  both fun and heartbreaking as it's just a lot of money.  I just go and buy everything at once -- all my spices and my condiments and pulses and it' much money. I know it's saving in the long run but in the short run it makes me very sad at the till.  But anyway, with a well stocked pantry I can make wonderful spiced dishes like this!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Baked Okra with Tomatoes & Ginger

Look, an Ottolenghi recipe that has less than 10 ingredients!  I had to do something like this as I still don't have access to my spices.... ok, time for a quick rant.
I'm so annoyed because I haven't had access to a well-equipped kitchen in over a month.  I was in Edinburgh in August living in a house with a guy who eats frozen pizzas and McDonalds. And I moved to London on Thursday, also living with people who don't really cook... But I was all excited as on Friday my boxes were due to arrive.  See, I've been wanting to bake.  The Great British Bake Off is on and I just want to whisk, weigh, stir and knead alongside Mary and Paul, and on Friday it was all going to happen.  I was going to make just a cardamom pound cake and maybe a bread of some sort. 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Summer Chili

Okay I don't know if this constitutes as a chili.  I was going to call it Summer Beans but it's not as exciting and it implies salad.  Didn't want to call it a stew was so quick's not saucy enough to be a stew.  I wanted to call it Bejeweled Beans but I think "bejeweled" entails nuts and dried fruits.  Look at the colors though, doesn't the word "bejeweled" spring to mind?  Look at the beautiful warm colors, all the different shades of red and orange, it's like happiness in a bowl.  Anyway, after much contemplation, I decided to name this Summer Chili.  It's got beans and peppers and chili-like spices.  And it's served with rice. 
I love rice and beans as it's so cheap and healthy -- this costs less than £2 per head! It's also filled with proteins and vegetables that will keep you full and energized and at the same time this should also be at least 3 of your 5-a-days, right, NHS?

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Lentil Shepherd's Pie

Dear Readers, it may come as a surprise, but other than cooking, checking recipes, exploring restaurants, watching cookery videos and reading food-related articles, I've got other hobbies too.  I like sudokus, jigsaw puzzles, bananagrams, Rubik's cubes and things to do with psychology.  But now I've got a new interest - metal detecting. 
Let me take you to the night where I made this Shepherd's Pie.

My dear friend, Nina, invited me over to her house for dinner with her friend, her husband and her son.  Ok, not related, but look at how cute her son is?  That's Miles with his finger dipped in chia seeds.  He's going to be a strong healthy boy.  Forget crackers and peanut butter jelly sandwiches, this kid has chia seed puddings as his snacks.  Cute little Miles.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Breakfast Lentil Porridge with Apples and Lime

So about every two months I go vegan for one to two weeks.  It's like my inner guilty Italian catholic forces regular lent upon me.  Some people think it's to lose weight, but really, I just sort of overload on carbs most of the time.  When we're at a pub and people order cheesy nachos and burgers, what can I eat?  Chips.  Crisps.  Maybe a burger bun.  It's not too healthy really.  It really is more of a discipline thing as usually I just devour anything in front of me, now I only devour it if it's vegan.  I've been eating a lot of plain bread and rice.
I like to eat eggs and porridge for breakfast, and as I cannot have the former, ran out of the latter and have a bag of red split lentils to use up before I leave Edinburgh next week -- lentils for breakfast seemed logical.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Zingy Butternut Squash

I've missed eating homecooked meals.  I hadn't in a long time as I had been working two jobs in Edinburgh.  I was hostessing at restaurant A and I was waitressing at restaurant B, both jobs were making me slightly miserable (perhaps A more so than B), but they were both just to get some money and last Saturday I was fired from both.  So now I have all the time in the world to cook for myself.   Look at how beautiful this butternut squash dish is.  It's got all these wonderful things like spring onions and lime and ginger and just look at the colors.  I really can only describe it as full of "zing". It's like a more summery/springy take on this winter root veg.
*Sigh*.  Ok, here's how I actually got fired from both jobs because it's quite entertaining.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

How to Make Your Greens Taste Good

One should always be cautious with school cafeteria foods.  I can still see the horrid scene of steaming piles of mush in metal trays and thinking that I should just eat the side vegetables, the vegetables should be fine.  See, it's easy to screw up a moussaka or pasta (oh the sight of the pasta was heartbreaking -- flaccid pieces of penne stuck together and drowning in a pool of "cheese sauce"),  so, I thought, okay, let's stick to the vegetables, and I got a plate of broccoli and peas and I had no idea you could screw up simple vegetables. They were of that lifeless dark green, tossed in some cheap butter, unsalted and just..cooked to a soft mush. Urgh, I've used the word "mush" twice already and it's never good to describe food as "mush".  But it was.  And I was there, struggling to finish this bland mush, thinking to myself, how the f*ck do you screw up vegetables?

How the f*ck do you expect your country to eat their 5-a-days if people are only exposed to such ways of eating vegetables?  I had always found it mind-boggling why people kept advertising these smoothie recipes with "hidden" greens because you wouldn't taste them.  What the f*ck?  I love spinach, why would I want it somewhere where it can't be tasted?   And then it all made sense to me as I stared at my pile of mush - I wouldn't like my greens either if people cooked the life out of them and didn't season them. Broccoli, spinach, kale, green beans, brussels sprouts, chard can all be delicious and now I will teach you how not to screw them up (you are welcome, NHS).

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Table for one, please.

Yes, I'm that person that goes to restaurants by herself.  It's a treat for me.  I'm also that person that goes to one coffee/lunch/dinner/drinks date after another, trying to fit in as many social functions into my diary as possible, with a smile glued on my face, ready to be engaged, ask questions, listen and chat away and all the mean time keeping up with social media, replying to texts and Facebook and Whatsapp messages and...yea.  I actually love being alone sometimes where it's just me and my thoughts.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Cucumber & Avocado Salad

I'm not a fan of those standard green salads with lettuce, spinach, watercress, rocket and other raw leaves.  My friend Aiden sometimes buys a bag of washed salad and just eats it like that. Unseasoned, cold, bland leaves.  What kind of a snack is that? That's no way of getting your five-a-day.  I prefer cooked vegetables.  I love steamed green beans, sauteed spinach, baked broccoli, braised kale and that is how I get my greens in.   I don't like raw leafy salads.
I remember when I went on my raw challenge and I just ate stupid leaves for three days.  It was a bad experience, I ended up hating everyone and everything.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Vegetables in Desserts

Before you grimace in disgust, think - you've got carrot cake, you've got courgette cake, you've got beet cake (at least these are all quite common to me).  Now open up more doors, there are no boundaries.  Why should some ingredients remain in savory dishes?  Why must we be so close-minded?  After a thorough brainstorm and online research, I present to you a couple of ingredients that feature themselves in a perhaps rather odd context.  These recipes are not tested, I merely chose them for you as inspiration and if you would like to try them out, be my guest, but if they turn out to be disastrous, I am not responsible for your waste of time and ingredients. 

There is no controversy, we all know that it is actually a fruit and it's time to just treat it as what it is.  My Chinese mother used to make this sweet snack for me --- she chopped up those big beef tomatoes and tossed them with sugar and it was the most refreshing dessert for a hot summer day.  See, you can kind of see how it'd work right?  It's naturally sweet and so obviously there's a place for it in desserts.

Tomato Tarte Tatin from In Sweet Treatment
Tomato, Olive oil and Cinnamon cake from Love Food Eat

Friday, 8 August 2014

Favorite Basil Recipes

I always associate basil with summer.  I grew up in China but every summer my family would go back to Italy, and so I link all Italian produce like basil and cheese and san marzano tomatoes to those summers.  Back then you couldn't get anything remotely "Western" in China.  Forget basil, forget cheese, any kind of cheese.  Maybe you could get a hold of Philidelphia cream cheese if you managed to find some "gourmet" imported goods deli in the embassy area.  Even now, it's funny, it's still bad, so bad that you get these cheese delis where they have Philidelphia cream cheese there next to the parmesan.  Bless the Chinese. 

But I digress and should focus on the basil.  Shredded on a plate of bright red spaghetti, scattered on top of pizzas or pounded with parmesan, pine nuts and olive oil to make a luscious sauce -- basil has a strong role in Italian classics.  But I want you to open your mind and think about basil in another context.   Here are some more.. adventurous recipes.

Instead of chopped chives in your bold potato salad, why not try basil, like in this recipe from The Kitchin. 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Cauliflower and Caraway Soup

Today I had a sandwich with rye and caraway seed bread and my god, unexpectedly, I rekindled my relationship with caraway seeds.
Surprisingly, caraway seeds were perfect with the egg salad filling.  Let's be honest, egg salad can be a bit boring without some herbs or spices. I had always just paired it with chopped chives, but caraway seeds are waay better than chives as a match for the humble and plain egg salad.

So I spent most of the day thinking about what I should make with caraway seeds.  And as I'm currently in Scotland, a place that never quite understands what "summer" entails, a warming soup was what I was craving for. 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Sea Bass en Papillote with Fennel

Fish en papillote is simply done by enclosing the fish in a parchment paper packet and baking it in the oven so essentially the fish steams in its own wonderfulness.  I was looking for its recipes and I noted that most say to cut the parchment paper into a heart shape and putting the fish on one half of the heart and the other half goes over it.  I just thought that was brilliant -- best date dish ever.  Next time you want to show your significant other that you care -- forget about chocolates, champagne and other cliched aphrodisiacs -- it's time for fish en papillote. Set the scene: soft instrumental music, dim lighting, table set up, your stunning woman/man sitting opposite you sipping wine and nibbling on the delicious antipasti you put out.  Then she/he opens up this parcel to reveal the heart with a beautiful piece of fish in the middle.  Oh my god, you can even enclose a ring in it!  That's the best way to propose.  Putting it in cakes/drinks risks choking to death.  Have it right there on top of the fish in the middle of the parchment paper heart.  Although it'd probably smell quite fish and you risk scalding their finger.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Spaghetti with Gorgonzola, Caramelized Garlic & Lemon

I discovered this little gourmet deli near my house in Rome -- ok, all delis are essentially gourmet in Italy, but this is like extra gourmet with truffled anchovies and gold speckled mozzarella and stuff.  The owner was...enthusiastic.  Ten minutes in that tiny store and he'd used the word "fantastic" and its synonyms 50 times.  The tuna's superb, the parmesan's extraordinary, the salami's marvelous.  Everything in the store is just fab.  Just fantastic.   What an obnoxious little man.  But anyway, I felt awkward not buying anything at the end (I'm just the perfect customer) and so out of all the fantastic products, I decided to try some champagne gorgonzola.
It was pretty good. But I don't even know why I opted for that because gorgonzola's not even one of my favorite cheeses.  I was under pressure.  It was good and I really enjoyed it with bread this morning, but then I decided to make a pasta out of it. 
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