Saturday, 30 June 2007

The Last of the Rocket

In a snippet from a television show a few years back, I learned that rocket (or arugula, or rucola in the U.S.) can be found growing in the wild in many places across the country, and is little more than a weed. Little more than a tasty, tasty weed. Considering I am very good at growing weeds in the garden anyway, I entered rocket on the list of things to try my hand at in my vegetable patch. Indeed, it grew, and it was good.

Last night, I gathered the last of the spring rocket. It was beginning to bolt and turn to seed, so it was time to harvest it all. It's amazing to me that this salad leaf, which is so expensive to buy, can be grown with such ease and in such abundance. It begins to sprout only a few days after planting, and is ready to have the first leaves picked after only a few weeks. Their are different varieties to grow, but all have been just as easy and full of the wonderful peppery nutty taste that fresh rocket should have.

We shall be having salads with everything for the next few days in order to work our way through the basket-full that was gathered. Then, whenever the rain stops, I'll plant the next batch of seeds so we can be munching on fresh, peppery greens through to the end of summer.

Friday, 29 June 2007

British Honey

I accept it as a universal truth that there should be a place for honey on everyone's shelves. I love the consistency of honey - there is something decadent about how you have to wait for it to fall from the serving spoon - the smell, the golden color, and of course, the taste. I love how you can genuinely taste the difference between different types of honey, and can try to grasp the scent of the flowers that gave you this treat.

I am appalled (yes, outraged and appalled) at how supermarkets fall down when it comes to stocking British honey. There are certainly bees and flowers enough in the country. Heck, it was bees brought over from European settlers of Jamestown that have been credited with shaping the fruit and farming profile of the United States. But most of the honeys on sale are from places more exotic than the UK: Australia, Spain, Greece (although even those are often an amalgam of honeys gathered from around the world, as it says on the label). I have been on the hunt for honey manufactured within the UK in many supermarkets, and I've only consistently found one brand: Duchy Originals.

Friends of ours recently came back from a trip to Norfolk, and they've given us a little pot of gold: locally produced honey. It is, as you'd expect, lovely stuff. Lovely enough to prompt a bit of baking to celebrate our gift. The result was an amazingly moist cake, as if it were thoroughly bathed in a perfect, buttery sweetness. I had 3 slices.

Honey lemon cake (adapted from Nigel Slater's demerara lemon cake)
Oven at 160 C, for about 45 minutes


  • 200 g butter
  • 200 g demerara sugar
  • 90 g flour
  • 90 g ground almond
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 large lemon, zested
  • 4 large eggs
For the syrup:
  • 2 Tbsp runny honey
  • 1 Tbsp demerara sugar
  • 1 large lemon, juiced
  1. Pre-heat the over and line a loaf-shaped tin with parchment paper
  2. Beat butter and sugar together until fluffy (best done with a mixer)
  3. Combine the dry ingredients (flour, amlonds, baking powder)
  4. Add the zest of the lemon to the dry ingredients
  5. Lightly beat all 4 eggs, and then add this to the butter and sugar mixture a bit at a time, beating all the while (Nigel says the mixture will probably curdle but you're not to worry)
  6. When done adding the eggs, fold in the flour mixture (Nigel stipulates this should be done with a large metal spoon rather than wooden, so it doesn't knock the air out)
  7. Scoop the mixture into the tin and bake for around 45 minutes until it's golden and a toothpick comes out clean.
  8. When baked, combine the syrup ingredients. The sugar won't fully dissolve.
  9. Poke holes in to the top of the cake (use a skewer so you can get right down to the bottom) and spoon the syrup over the top.
  10. Leave to cool.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Intellectual Property and Recipes

An article in today’s New York Times covers a Chef suing another Chef over intellectual property matters. Chef #1 charges that the restaurant opened by Chef #2 (who used to work under her) is too damn similar to her own, from dishes served to the look and feel of the place. He has stolen her ‘concept’ and recipes tried to pass them off as her own, and she’s attempting to use Intellectual Property law to put a stop to that.

One of the biggest shocks, the Chef #1 says, is that Chef #2 serves a Caesar salad which comes fromChef #1's 'own Caesar salad recipe’. How did she come up with this salad? Through a recipe her mother got from a Chef in L.A., at a restaurant that’s now closed. I see quite a bit of irony in that Chef # 1 is crying foul when another Chef is copying the dish that she didn’t originate herself. I have often wondered about recipes, how ‘original’ most recipes could be said to be since they borrow flavour combinations and processes that are well established, and are sometimes essential to the food being edible (a cake wouldn’t be able to rise if it didn’t have the right balance between fats, flours, and rising agents, for example). It will be interesting to see if Intellectual Property, with its dealings in questions of creation and ownership, can be deemed to apply to things like recipes, or if recipes are often too universal to fall under anything other than the public domain.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007


In a trip designed for the adventurous, I went with a group of people from Friday Cities to Archipelago, a restaurant that promises ‘the sensuous indulgence of tantalising global cuisine’. The innocent sounding ‘global cuisine’ belies the true nature of what’s on order: kangaroo, gnu, zebra and crocodile, locusts and scorpions and bumblebees – and of course, lentils and chicken. Surely, though, with this edible zoo of the weird on the menu, you’d be tempted to give in to your safari instincts and look beyond the chicken.

In our group of 13, all exotic items on the menu were accounted for. There were a few twinges of guilt, mostly over eating zebra; curiously, the kangaroo was the most popular main dish and didn’t elicit any feelings of regret. The bug salad was also popular to order, although less so when people were facing a lettuce/garlicky-locust mouthful. Chocolate covered scorpion (stinger removed) was an expensive pudding at £7.50, and despite the theatrical crunching noises it made when eaten, the taste was described as a mild ‘rice krispie flavor’.

The food on offer is clearly intended to be a talking point, but it’s not just a triumph of flash over substance. The cooking is genuinely good: my starter was an ordinary seafood and chili stir fry, cooled off with a cucumber tzatziki, and was very good at being what it was. The kangaroo was nicely laced with garlic and spices, with a creamy nutty dipping sauce and vegetables on the side. I did dip into the bug salad and emerged with a locust on my fork, which contained more shock value than anything really worth eating (and the flaked-off legs and abdomen there were resistant to being swallowed were, I admit, on this side of horrid). The dining experience comes at a price, with us paying £32/35 a head for 2/3 courses. But, with that money, you’re buying a meal that is both tasty and a showpiece.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Summer Salads

I have already confessed to a love of summer salads (especially those involving fruit), and a friend of mine has piped up to say that she, too, finds something alluring about the fruit-vegetable-protein combination. Lorraine has particular reason to seek solace in salads since she is currently living in Oman, and even as a native Trinidadian she finds the heat unbearable and turning on the oven unthinkable. It probably doesn't help that she is 5 months pregnant and already running around after a toddler.

Like salad-manna from heaven, yesterday's Observer Food Monthly was positively bursting with summer-friendly dishes (shame the British weather isn't currently bursting with the same sun-shining ebullience). Nigel Slater writes about an almost-carpaccio of beef with mint and mustard, and cold noodles with cucumber, pumpkin seeds, and lime (and just a hint of chilli). The pair behind the wonderful Moro share some mezze dishes and a very intriguing-sounding raw beetroot salad with pistachio sauce (in anyone else's hands I'd be dubious, but their recipes are excellent). To round it off, there are traditional middle eastern mezze and salads listed as well.

So either for Lorraine, who has real reason to eat light and not turn the oven on, or us in Britain, who just want to pretend we're experiencing summer - enjoy.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Irish Soda Bread

While reading another food blog on Friday, I came upon a link to an article about bread and the seeming-freshness (and nutritional dearth) of our chemical-laden food. The story resonated with me since I consider myself fairly food-aware and anti-chemical (despite some admitted indulgences, such as peanut butter). It also resonated because the article (Where Have All Our Nutrients Gone) was written by a friend with whom I've lost touch and who is now a health and nutrition writer. Funny how interests can converge without even realizing it.

So when Saturday morning came around and Tom announced he was going out to buy bread and a newspaper, I tasked Tom with coming back from the shops with only the newspaper - I would make the bread. I haven't made bread in a while and I've never been good at proofing yeast, and I had also been up the night before sick as anything due to some bug (not due to my cooking, honest), so I figured the least painful route to baked bread would be the Irish Soda Bread (no yeast or much time needed). Tom clearly didn't have faith in my health since he came back with a loaf anyway, but my determination won out and we've been happily enjoying the light, crunchy-crusted crumbly bread over the mass-produced loaf; it will probably be done before the weekend is over, with the store-bought loaf soldiering on.

Irish Soda Bread
Bake at 190 C/375 F for 35-45 minutes
(note: the recipe calls for buttermilk which helps give it the distinctive flavor, but you can use normal milk or even soya milk without doing harm; it just might need to cook for another 5 or so minutes and the taste will be less tangy)

  • 10 oz / 2 1/2 C Wholemeal flour
  • 6 oz / 1 1/2 C White flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 40g / 3 Tbsp butter (or lard)
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 350-375ml / 1 1/2 - 1 2/3 C buttermilk (or other milk)
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190 C/375 F
  2. Sift together both flours and the salt
  3. Add the soda and tartar
  4. Rub in the butter
  5. Stir in the sugar
  6. Add in the minimum amount of milk, stirring to see the result. The mixture should just be dampened through rather than properly wet. Add more milk if needed.
  7. Don't knead or mix the dough more than necessary - this will make it heavier
  8. Either on a greased baking tray or floured surface, shape the dough into a big round. Cut a cross shape into the top of the loaf, and dust with extra wholemeal flour.
  9. Bake 35-45 minutes; the loaf will be done when it sounds hollow after being tapped.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Taste of London: The Aftermath

As I suppose is only fitting during the Glastonbury weekend, we were rained on during the Taste of London festival. With the jazz in the background and people walking on the rain-proof platforms or huddling under free umbrellas, the experience felt like a posh-ified Glastonbury. But like our compatriots in Somerset, we had a thoroughly good time, reveling in that which delights our senses and getting as much of a fill of what was on offer as we could.

There were three of us at the festival: myself, my husband Tom, and my friend Sophia. Luckily, we all had similar ideas of what we wanted to eat, so we avoided the too-many-foods/too-little-time crisis by pooling our tickets. We managed a total of 15 dishes amongst the three of us, almost all of which we shared and all of which we enjoyed in varying degrees. As expected, there were many 'signature' dishes around: scallops, foie gras, lamb, and seafood featured heavily, with vegetables getting short shrift (presumably in the belief that people wouldn't want to waste their money eating humble veg). Everything was cooked and presented reasonably well, with some dishes showing the strain of cooking for masses of people at very quick turnovers. There wasn't much of a glance in at the kitchens behind the scenes (perhaps hiding the ugliness of mass catering from view), but I would have liked to seen the frenzy of many kitchens at work.

On to the highlights of the night, then. I could go on at length (I've taken pictures of each of the things we've eaten), but I'll list the stand outs in no particular order:
  • Sea bass and shitake mushroom from Sumosan - high quality fish, but a sauce made up of fish stock, lemon balm, orange zest and tarragon really made the dish. Sticky, viscose, delicate but very tasty, it was completely more-ish.
  • Lamb barbecue, piperade and coco beans from Club Gascon- posh baked beans and lamb, but whatever barbecue spices and smoking technique the used for the lamb made it a stand-out
  • Tandoori lamb chops in a fennel-scented marinade from Benares - small, very tender lamb chops helped along by some very finger-licking coating
  • Smoked chicken and foie gras terrine with lentils and truffle vinaigrette from Le Gavroche - Tom wasn't as impressed by this as I was, but I thought it excellent. There were a lot of strong and delicate flavors battling for supremacy in this but none were lost on you, with the lentils emerging as the surprising winner by tying everything together.

We had our first taste of Wagyu beef, served on a hot rock, but I was underwhelmed. It may not have helped eating the beef directly after having some spicy curried fish, but even the much-vaunted delicate texture of the beef didn't come through. The little rock was lovely, though, and I wanted to take it home.

As expected, there were some proper chefs running about. Anthony Worrell Thompson was cleverly manning his own stall and serving slices from roasted whole Middlewhite pig, and there was a crowd clamoring for him to serve them. I found myself standing in one of the food lines next to this year's MasterChef winner Steve Wallis and even though I didn't want to come across as too chef-dazzled, I couldn't resist saying hello and telling him I enjoyed watching him cook; he was there because he was training at Le Gavroche and was just taking a needed food break.

The evening ended at 9.30 with the stalls packing up very quickly and ushering everyone out. On the way to the exit, we passed by a stand with some very beautiful and tantalizing cakes, which I couldn't resist approaching to stare out. When we were there, the stall-holders handed over a knife with the explanation that they weren't able to sell or cut the cakes, but if we wanted some we could use the knife as we saw fit. Although we were all stuffed with 2 desserts each under our belts, we couldn't resist a final moment of gluttony and walked out forcing - yes, forcing - ourselves to eat more food. Every bite for me was an exquisite struggle between me, chocolate, and hazlenut, and I carried my portion through the park until I had to admit to myself that I would be physically sick if I challenged myself to eat it all (but oh! I was ready to take up the challenge). In some ways, the final cutting of the cake was the most enjoyable part of the evening, since we all un-ashamedly admitted to each other that we were equal parts gourmand and gourmet when the situation called for it.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Taste Festivals: The Anticipation

Today kicks off the Taste of London Festival, and I have my tickets for tomorrow bought and clenched in my excited, sweaty hands. I've looked through the website, printed out the list of restaurants and the dishes they're offering, and taken my trusty highlighter to the pages.

As ever, my eyes are bigger than my stomach (or more accurately, my appetite is more indulgent than my wallet) so I fear I'll have to whittle down the list. My wishlist includes 114 'crowns' worth of food bits, whereas I've only bought 56 crowns. Sadly, that math just doesn't add up. I don't know, either, if more popular food things will sell out earlier in the evening and so I'll need to gorge myself and then relax, or if I can happily sniff my way through the stalls and stop to eat only when it gets too much to not be eating. Oh the dilemmas - I can see this might need military style planning from me.

In the mean time, some of the restuarants and dishes that have caught my eye are (any links are to the recipe):

Wednesday, 20 June 2007


I have scooped the last spoonful from my American-sized jar of peanut butter - and the store that used to stock it does so no longer.

I admit to freebasing peanut butter on a daily basis, usually just with a big soup spoon and a bit of honey to round off the experience. It has become a habit, a culinary tick to fill the time between setting the pasta to boil and draining it. I'll be the first to admit my peanut butter proclivities probably hasn't helped me shift those couple of pounds I keep intending to lose (but inexplicably seem unable to).

It still seems a tragedy, though, that I can't have a thin smear of Skippy on my home made bagels. I shall have to begin a quest - a quest for somewhere in London that sells large jars of American peanut butter and doesn't charge Selfridges-style prices.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Be A Thickie

I'm going through a smoothie faze (too many nice fruits, not enough time to chew), and had a look at Innocent Smoothies for inspiration. I had a different type of inspiration than expected, though, when I noticed that their Thickies are packaged in 100% biodegradable plastic-like bottles. I squeezed and prodded the bottle, which in every way felt an just like a 'real' plastic bottle. I wanted to take it home with me and watch it compost, just to prove to myself that it was indeed as virtuous as it seemed to be.
At home, I went to the Innocent website to read more, and they are certainly trying to practice and preach sustainable methods. They state that they aim to use "no virgin finite materials in any of our packaging." I mostly gather that this means they are trying to shy away from fresh plastics (not having come from recycled materials) since plastics rely on oil to be made. It's a great but difficult goal - not just difficult because the technology is expensive and still fairly 'new', but also because bio, non-plastic, packaging still has to have an origin, which in this case is corn. Corn needs to be grown, watered, tended, harvested and converted to packaging, all the while taking up land that could have grown edible food for humans or animals. Not a perfect answer to the sustainable-resources problem, but to my mind bio-packaging still beats plastic on question of degradability. No bottle at all is probably the best answer to the sustainability problem - I went home and made my own smoothie instead.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Grilled Cherry Tomatoes

I'm not sure when I first tasted a version of these tomatoes, but I feel like I've been making them for quite a few years. My most recent fan is my husband, for whom I made them tonight after he brought home some tomatoes. There's something about the grilling that so beautifully combines all the flavors (tomato, rosemary, garlic, olive oil) and reminds you that Italian cooking is about simple but good quality ingredients combined in such a way that they produce magic.

I like these tomatoes as a side dish to a simple meat - a nice steak, lamb chops, or chicken - or as part of a bruschetta starter, served on top of toasted, crusty bread. If you have the will power to do something other than start eating and serving them directly from the roasting tray, they are also wonderful whizzed up in the blender and served either as their own tomato soup (maybe with a touch of tobasco if you like it spicy), or as added to another larger soup or to a tomato sauce. Do be sure to whizz it well to chop up the skins. Either way, grab a piece of bread and your dearest loved one (or yourself, if you're not feeling so generous) and lap up the juices left behind in the tray - they're concentrated deliciousness.

Yield: side dish or bruschetta for 4

  • 1 punnet of cherry tomatoes
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 medium garlic cloves
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

  1. Cut the tomatoes in half from pole-to-pole (so to speak)
  2. Put these in a roast tray with the leaves from the rosemary sprigs
  3. Chop up the garlic cloves and add to the roasting tray
  4. Mix together and spread out on the tray so that it's all on one layer
  5. Drizzle the olive oil on top of the tomato mixture
  6. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top of the mixture
  7. Mix everything together, and again spread out the mixture on the tray
  8. Grill for about 20 minutes at 200 degrees centigrade, until the tomatos begin to collapse slightly
  9. Drain off any excess water before serving

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Watermelon salad

When the summer season hits, I have have several fruits vying for my affection and have difficulty deciding which I find the most tasty. Proper strawberries, when not just the big tasteless supermarket variety, are a thing of fragrant tasty beauty. Raspberries and blueberries are also potently flavorful and summery and hold mouthfulls of happiness. Every peach might not be a ripe, juicy, meaty thing, but when you find one it is stunning. And watermelons are both amazingly refreshing as well as sweet and tasty and a true taste of summer time. Beauties though they may be, they're only around for the summer and not forever, so I enjoy them as often as I can.

I love making salads with summer fruits, and one of my favorites is a watermelon and mint salad - I find it like an edible serving of Pimms. The watermelon, mint, black olive and feta cheese salad recipe has done the rounds from Nigella Lawson to Oprah Winfrey, but I've thrown in a few alterations that make my palate quite happy and reduces some of the sharpness of the raw onions. The following can be either a side salad or light starter, and should happily feed 6 (or a greedy 4). Quantities are approximate, so feel free to adjust for taste.

Watermelon salad with halloumi cheese and spring onions

  • 4-5 cups of ripe cubed watermelon, ideally seeded
  • 4 spring onions
  • 60 grams/2 oz halloumi cheese
  • 3 full springs of mint, leaves roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • salt and a generous amount of pepper
Combine all ingredients, giving the salad a few minutes to let the balsamic vinegar seep in before serving. A healthy amount of pepper (not so much that you can't eat it) works surprisingly well with the watermelon.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Competitive Baking Day

A few weeks ago, some friends had the foresight to call a competitive baking competition. Are there sweeter words to my ears? I love baking, and I can't help but be competitive, so this was a combination I was destined to take seriously.

After planning my recipe for several days, sourcing the ingredients, and spending a fair amount of sweat putting together my Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake Brownies with a Oatmeal Cookie crust, I discovered an hour before we went that they were terrible. Utterly awful. I had doubled the brownie amount without getting a large anough dish, so the top and bottom had burnt and the middle was raw. I panicked but decided to stick with the brownie theme: I'm a brownie maven, and can create a batch from scratch within 4 minutes (minus cook time) even when drunk. Being American, I know a good from bad brownie and I have a good recipe. So batch number 2 became brownies with a peanut butter topping (seen below, decorated with hearts and stars. HEARTS AND STARS. Bring on the accolades).
All entries were graded on 5 seperate criteria, with you not being allowed to award yourself any points:

  • Taste
  • Texture
  • Presentation/implied effort
  • Originality
  • Carbon Footprint
Taste, being all important, was saved until last and received double the points. How did I do? I was in the lead, resoundingly (except for taking a clobbering on the carbon footprint - darn North American peanut butter)...until it came time to the taste round.

One by one, everyone gave me the least number of points available. Reasons? They didn't like peanut butter. The brownies were a bit dense. They 'just didn't like them'. These. These brownies, which when I sampled them, made me think: 'this is the best batch you've ever done'. I didn't just tate brownie when I ate them, I tasted victory.

C'MON PEOPLE! Don't like peanut butter??! Too dense (and this from my husband, too)!? I've lain awake many a night since this bake-off, wondering where things went wrong. Had some of them never tasted a real brownie before? Were they beaten as children while their school teacher made them eat brownies? I don't have an answer, I just know this was a dark day for my soul and that I haven't baked a batch of brownies since.

Konstam at the Prince Albert

I was attracted to the idea behind Konstam (that all the food served was sourced within Greater London) but I wasn't sure if this idea would turn out to be a gimmick just to draw people in, or if the cookin would be strong enough to keep people coming back. It has been around for a year and the reviews looked positive, so there was hope that this would indeed be more about the taste of the food than how close to the M25 it could be found.

And, indeed, the food was very good. Decently priced modern european/high end gastropub fare (3 courses for 2 with bottle of wine and dessert wine was around £80) and plates of food that didn't leave you questioning the chef's generosity. The grilled mackeral with beetroot and horseradish was the stand-out starter, mainly down to the fresh and meaty fish. The main courses (duck breast and halibut) were also very good, and happily came with enough vegetables and other bits so that you weren't forced into ordering more side dishes. Both dessert centered around rhubarb, but the rhubarb, walnut and almond torte was the dish of the night that lives strongest in the memory. It was both incredibly light and very moist, and with a nice balance between all three ingredients. I was (and still am) entirely jealous of whomever created that recipe, and would buy whatever cookbook it might be published in just so I could eat it again.

Konstam is appealing because of its ethical, locally-sourced foods. It makes me wonder how many more restaurants would be able to source food in the same fashion, and at what point the food-growing environment around London wouldn't be able to cope with the demand. It will be interesting to come back to Konstam in the winter when fruit and veg choices are more limited, although the quality of the cooking reassured me that any repeat visit is less a risk than an enticement.

My Birthday and Why Are We Here?

For my birthday, I asked for only one present from my husband Tom: I wanted a leather journal in which I could write my food thoughts and experiences, and which I could take away on holiday since our holidays mostly center around quests for good food. I searched over a year for the right journal (nice leather, replaceable notebook, and it had to be lined) and finally found one from Aspinal of London that ticked all the boxes. During my birthday conversation with my brother, he admired the old-school nature of my leather journal, but pushed me in the direction of starting a blog. Not for me, I thought. I couldn't really see what I had to contribute that would make people want to read it. But I am an easy sell and throughout the evening, the notion grew until, by the next day, I was testing out blog names and reminding myself to photograph my meals at any opportunity.

So that is why we're here. I hope to talk about food I've eaten - at home, at restaurants, at friends houses - and pass along the recipe where possible. Any food-related topic is fair game, I think: new kitchen utensils (will I ever get that Kitchen Aid mixer?), how my vegetable garden is going, new books I have read. For whomever is reading, I hope you enjoy whatever journeys I happen to take you on.