Friday, 24 December 2010

Festive greetings!

I couldn’t resist sharing this image with you from the old Fail Dogs website:


Are the dogs about to share an iced Pedigree Chum? I think my favourite one is the podgy golden laborador looking puzzled, his fat head jammed into his green cornet hat. Durrrrr.

Anyway, hope this brings a smile to your face. Have a great Christmas and New Year!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Thai green curry with smoked tofu and aubergine


I am in the rather disconcerting position of having completely lost my sense of taste and all cravings for food after a nasty bout of winter flu. It’s the strangest sensation ever – I don’t feel hungry or want anything that tastes exciting. My palate is currently as developed as a wet piece of cardboard, and for the past week I have been living on toast and chocolate. I’m desperate for something that will rev up my palate and get it back on track. Can’t think what on earth that will be. I’m all off kilter, it’s so very weird.

Anyway, this post is to give you the recipe of the last thing I really enjoyed eating before I got this darned flu. Even though I can’t stomach anything like this at the moment, it’s the best Thai green curry paste recipe I’ve ever tasted, made by my hubby. He rather unorthodoxly doesn’t use sugar (which is the mainstay of Thai cuisine) which makes it all the better for me, as otherwise I find Thai curries a bit on the oversweet side. This paste can be used with chicken, beef, pork, tofu, vegetables – whatever you like. It’s the perfect fodder for winter – aromatic, fiery, zesty and full of herby flavours that dance on the tongue. (Except that at the moment I can’t taste ruddy anything!!!)

Serves 4 (with rice)

You will need:

For the paste:
2 generous thumb-sized pieces fresh peeled galangal root (or use fresh ginger)
3 long stems of fresh lemongrass, outer husks discarded
1 white onion
7 fresh lime leaves, central leaf veins removed
5 cloves garlic
4 – 10 birdseye chillies (up to you how hot you make it)
1/2 tsp shrimp paste
About half a 400ml  tin of full fat coconut milk
handful of fresh coriander root (or just a few stems)
1 tsp ground coriander
lots of ground black pepper

For the rest:
1 big aubergine, chopped into 2cm pieces
1 x 225g block smoked tofu (we love Clear Spot organic smoked tofu)
1 handful dried small shrimp
Remainder of tin of coconut milk (used for the paste)
juice of 1 fresh lime
Fish sauce, to taste
Chopped coriander and Thai holy basil

When you open your tin of full fat coconut milk, scoop out a large blob of the thick white coconut gloop that is concentrated around the top of the tin and set aside. Chop all your paste ingredients roughly and blitz it all together in a food processor. If you find it’s too dry, just increase the amount of coconut milk. You’ll probably need to leave the food processor on for about 5 minutes so that you get a roughly blended paste.

Preheat a wok over a medium flame, then add the coconut gloop you reserved earlier, fry it until it gets hot and transparent, then add your paste – fry it, stirring so that it doesn’t catch, for about 10 minutes.  Add the aubergines, dried shrimps and the rest of the coconut milk and stir well; then add the wok lid. Cook until the aubergines are tender – will take about 30 minutes. Keep an eye on everything and give it a stir from time to time. Then add the tofu, cut into cubes, cook for a further 5 minutes, then add the herbs before turning the heat off. Season with fresh lime juice and fish sauce, to taste. Serve with basmati rice.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Fergus Henderson’s Rice Pudding


I love the writings of chef Fergus Henderson. I’m not really one for his experimentations with offal – even he can’t convince me that pigs eyes and cows knees are a lovely thing to eat, sorry – but my goodness can this fellow cook a sterling pud and write about it wittily. I chanced across his excellent book ‘Beyond Nose to Tail: A Kind of British Cooking Part II’ at a second hand market, and found the section on puddings captivating. Its prose made me chuckle, and I was tickled that Fergus described his puddings in mock lofty tones as ‘steadying’ and ‘gastronomically as exciting as Prince Albert’. Ha ha! This man doesn’t do low fat – we’re talking serious usage of butter and cream, so look away now if you can’t handle it…

Anyway, this is his rice pudding. The book’s version is a little more complex as he completes his with an additional custard and raisins soaked in booze, but if you need just the rice pudding part to immediately improve a glum, wintry afternoon, this will be just the thing you need. It’s rich, warm, vanilla tones will wrap you in a big generous hug. Just the thing for a Sunday afternoon when the rain is pissing down and you have no need to go outside. Bliss.

Please don’t be tempted to try low fat replacements for any of the ingredients – your rice pudding will be much worse off for it.


Rice pudding, adapted from the recipe by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly

Serves 6

You will need:

125g unsalted butter (I use salted, it works fine)
150g caster sugar
200g pudding rice
1.5 litres full-fat milk
300ml double cream
1 vanilla pod
a pinch of salt (don’t bother with this if you use salted butter)

Place the butter and sugar in a large, heavy-based casserole and melt over a medium heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to the boil and let it bubble, without stirring, until it turns into a golden brown caramel. Add the rice and stir to combine it with the caramel, then add the milk and the cream. Once the liquid hits the caramel, the caramel will become hard and stringy. Don’t worry; as the liquid heats up, the caramel will melt again into it and become smooth again. Slit the vanilla pod open lengthways, scrape out the seeds and add the seeds and pod to the rice, together with the pinch of salt (if using). Bring to the boil and place in an oven preheated to 160C/Gas Mark 3. Bake for 1.5 – 2 hours, until golden brown on top and thick and creamy.

Dreamy! If you need proof of Fergus’s other excellent puddings, try out this recipe for his mighty fruit crumble cake (where you can use rhubarb, damsons, apples etc).

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Retro Britain: Harry Tuffins supermarket



I love this country, especially when I feel as though I am being sucked into a timewarp, being the retro enthusiast that I am. On my recent travels, I was constantly reminded how the 1970’s – or the 1950’s for that matter – are all around us in certain parts of this splendid isle.

Observe this independent supermarket in Shropshire (pictured above: its welcoming lobby area) called ‘Harry Tuffins’. It stocks everything from bags of peat, rubber boots and tubs of processed meat – and even has an aisle called ‘Fancy Goods’. I’m not joking!


Pray, where are the chipped potatoes? Oh, look:


All three freezers-full. Or ‘deep freezes’ as they used to say in days of yore…I like the special effort the staff have made with these laminated signs, to enable folk to find their frozen chips in every shape, size and hue.


There is a heavy grey atmosphere of pre-Iron Curtain Soviet shopping - functional and frill-free goods storage:


Tissues, anyone? There is a whole aisle dedicated to them:


I’m less in love with the retro meat presentation – how terrifying:



Aha! Pants from the Victorian Era!


Aside from its functional and sometimes disturbing array of produce, the supermarket name ‘Harry Tuffins’ makes me think of some kind of Robin Hood character prancing around in a forest, drinking mead out of a bell jar - not exactly evocative of a large food and ‘fancy goods’ retailer with a whole aisle dedicated to ‘tissues’. However, my teasing aside, it’s inspiring to learn that Harry Tuffin – an actual real person, not a marketing slogan - actually started up the business with his wife Doris in 1955, and it remains a strong independent mini chain of supermarkets to this day, run by Harry’s daughter, son-in-law and their children. You’ll find the shops in Shropshire and Wales, should you ever need some corned beef, gardening shears or some enormous underwear…

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Barrafina, Soho


What else can be said about Barrafina except for this: make haste and go there – it serves probably the best tapas I have ever eaten, even better than in Spain itself. You can’t book, but don’t fear the queues – just order a sherry and some nibbles while you wait, and the charming Spanish staff will sit you down at the marble countertop bar for the feast of your life…

Please note – the below wasn’t consumed in one sitting… I would have had to have been winched out of the restaurant, carried out Tudor-style in some kind of sedan chair!

Pan con tomate: garlicky, fresh, crispy and soft, drizzled generously with grassy olive oil – sensational:


Pimientos de Padron: one in every 20 is said to be hotter than Hades, but these little fellows were lovely and mellow:


Cured meats: melt-in-the-mouth:


Sardines: I don’t normally like sardines in this country because they’re never fresh enough, but there was no problem here:


Chipirones (baby fried squid): crsipy and very moreish, a bit like squid popcorn:


Chorizo with potatoes: smoky intense and delicious sausage offset beautifully by the creamy flavour of the potatoes:


Coca with spinach, raisins and pine nuts: beautifully savoury with flavours of nutmeg and bechamel sauce underneath the spinach – much more impressive than you’d imagine:


Ham and cheese croquettes: phwoarrrrrr! Crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside – nutmeg and salty nuggets of bacon. Yum!

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Clams (left) and fried potatoes with aioli and salsa brava: gorgeous garlicky plump clams, and the chips were a revalation because they’d been sprinkled with crushed garlic, fresh thyme and rock salt.


Santiago (almond) tart: flaky buttery pastry, gorgeous buttery almond top. Not really suitable for sharing.


Pedro Ximinez Hidalgo sherry: like drinking liquid Christmas pudding – intense!


54 Frith Street
Soho, London

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Joanna’s, Crystal Palace

Had a mediochre day blighted by tedium and annoyances? Feeling lacklustre and needing gastronomic comfort and a back rub? Well, Joanna’s in Crystal Palace doesn’t do back rubs, but their food is the next best thing. It’s the kind of place that every neighbourhood should have, serving delicious and well-executed food that is reasonably priced, and cleverly manages to feel posh and luxurious without being intimidating. And they make the best posh fish and chips I have eaten anywhere.

The restaurant, distinctive from the outside by its smart navy awnings is just swanky enough for you to feel special when you are eating there, but has a lovely snug laid back atmosphere. The waitors and waitresses are all super friendly without being overbearing, the bar staff make a mean cocktail, there is a great wine list and you can imagine that no matter how shite a day you’d just had, popping in to Joanna’s would somehow make everything seem better. Who cares that your boss might be a dick or that your job sucks when you can come to Joanna’s? Hmm?


The food is a mixture of British, European and Asian dishes – hearty portions presented beautifully. The decor is all dark woods, brass lamp fittings and mirrors. There is even a private booth nicknamed the ‘train carriage’ tucked away at the back which you can book out and have a tiny private party in. I did just that, last year, and it was brilliant. We felt so naughty!

Last night hubby and I popped there for a mid-week treat after both having experienced incredibly average days and needed cheering up. We thought we’d try the fixed menu as it was amazingly good value - £16.75 for three courses. We’d have been fools not to. At no point did we ever get the impression that we were eating from a pared-down bargain menu…just check out this amazing tucker…

Starter of mushroom soup – so much intense wild mushroom flavour, with a crisp garlic crostini:


Starter of chargrilled squid with chilli and rocket: great flavours, and the squid tasted as though fresh off a Greek beach barbecue:


The poshest fish ‘n chips: beer-battered goujons of haddock with homemade tartar sauce and minted pea puree – simply stunning:


Look at those bodacious chips – ooh me hearties:


Shepherd’s pie made with a combo of beef and lamb, with magnificent gravy – what a perfect slab of comfort (even though I dislike lamb, I couldn’t help but admire this creation):


A very decent Stilton and quince jelly:


A heartstoppingly-good chocolate brownie and vanilla ice cream sundae – there was a whole untouched wodge of brownie in here sandwiched in between molten vanilla ice cream on the bottom, and a ball of vanilla with choc sauce on the top. I actually couldn’t stop shovelling this into my mouth, even though I was totally full. Ah…greed…


For some reason, I always have the sensation that Joanna’s feels very much like a New York brasserie. I have a very limited knowledge of the New York dining scene, only having visited the city once in my life, but I have the idiotic fantasy that I will walk into Joanna’s one evening and see someone like Ted Danson propping up the bar, soaking up the swing jazz music, nursing a Whisky Sour. Whatever – the place is very definitely British, but I love the idea of it being like a portal that whizzes you directly to a neighbourhood on the Lower East Side! Great escapism.

I can’t believe we don’t go to Joanna’s more often – it’s just around the corner from our gaffe, and the chef cooks like a dream. Seems crazy – maybe we subconsciously always save this place ‘for best’. The meal we had above, including two glasses of wine and two cocktails was £30 per head. This menu is available from Mondays to Thursdays. Get your gourmet-loving asses down there!

Got a neighbourhood gem where you live? I want to hear about it…

56 Westow Hill
Crystal Palace
London SE19 1RX

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Wahaca, Soho


Tomasina Miers (victorious maiden chef-ess of Masterchef several years hence) has several very successful outposts of her Mexican streetfood restaurant under her belt, spanning Canary Wharf, Covent Garden, Westfield and now Soho. I had been a devotee of the first branch when it opened in the restaurant wasteland that is Covent Garden a few years back and was excited by her zingy, fresh Mexican food that actually tasted Mexican, as opposed to flabby Euro-Tex Mex. But  then I became super-irked when the restaurant became so popular that you had to actually QUEUE to leave your mobile phone number so that the maitre’d could call you on the off chance that a table became available. SO infuriating. Many, many harrumphing snorts of indignation and aborted trips to Wahaca. For the past two years or so, I had been in a ‘can’t be arsed’ huff with the place. I couldn’t take the rejection anymore!

But then quite by accident I stumbled upon the newest Soho branch a couple of nights ago, when out with my husband and mother-in-law. We approached the place with a fair bit of trepidation, because I really, really couldn’t be arsed with a long queue again – when I don’t eat I become absolutely vile-tempered and irrational like a child. But we walked in and a very friendly chap seated us straight away. I was almost in shock. The acid bright walls and Mexican kitsch gladdened our souls on a gloomy, rainy November evening, and as soon as an array of chilli sauces and tortilla chips was plonked down in front of me, I felt all was right with the world. And the food spoke for itself – all crisp, zingy and fresh flavours. Flavourful, aromatic Mexican grub served with flair and unpretentiousness. Lots of lovely smoky chipotle in everything. Great value, too.

Fill your boots – a selection from the streetfood menu:

Seasonal vegetable tacos:


Chicken taquitos:


Pork pilbil taco:


Super-crunchy corn tortillas and guac:


Black bean tostadas:


Chicken guajillo:


The restaurant has some great design touches – I coveted the hexagonal turquoise mosaic tiles in the toilets, the massive Jesus/Mary printed metal chain curtains hanging up in the stairwells (lush!) and the general riot of clashing bright colours on the walls. Lovely chunky recycled glassware, too. Instead of books of matches, they give away match books of chilli seeds. Brilliant. So…my advice is get there quick, before the restaurant becomes too popular again – give it a month or so and the queues will be out the door and you’ll have to get your elbows out!

Wahaca Soho
80 Wardour Street
London W1F OTF

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Feast your eyes 2

So many photos of gluttonous moments, so little time to write about them all properly - so feast your eyes on this lot:

The best 'pan con tomate' I have ever eaten, at London's Barrafina tapas restaurant in Soho. Had anyone attempted to share this with me, I might have stabbed them with a fork:


Mini tomatoes grown in my windowbox - I liked how they were all misshapen:


Apple and damson crumble with almond topping:


Sourdough bread live yeast starter - bejesus, it's alive:


The offspring of the sourdough starter – a craggy loaf made with spelt flour:


The best rice pudding I have ever eaten – recipe from St John’s:


Go away, I’m busy eating my rice pudding, and no, I’m not sharing…


Stroud farmer’s market veg, fruit and bread:


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Stroud farmer’s market alternative to Starbuck’s – much better!

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Superb ploughman’s and ale at The Woolpack pub, Slad, Gloucestershire – the pub where poet Laurie Lee used to drink:





Making fresh pasta sheets, using a chair as a drying rack:


Making porcini and mascarpone ravioli from Theo Randall’s book ‘Pasta’:



The finished dish – smoky, woody porcini mushrooms and mascarpone make a robust and deliciously punchy filling:


Till next time…