Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Burmese days: noodles, tea & chicken gizzards

From the rice, sesame and chilli fields we saw during our three day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, to the wet markets of Yangon, it seemed abundantly clear that much of the Burmese cuisine revolves around the fresh ingredients the land offers.

Until now, I knew very little about Myanmar cuisine, and when trying the dishes I often struggled to work out what ingredients and flavours they were made up of. Unfortunately having not attended a cookery class, I am still none the wiser, however these flavours are something I am definitely keen to learn more of and experiment with when I get back to London. Perhaps the Burmese cookery book James bought me a while ago may get a bit of use!

Why am I so keen?

For one, they have oodles of noodles, which I absolutely love, and as through most of India my options were rice or bread, I was happy to be able to consume an alternative carb! My particular favourite were the Shan style noodle soups, with either minced pork or chicken sprinkled over the top, along with crushed peanuts, coriander, shallots and sesame. Having watched a few locals, the key thing is to get your chop sticks right in there and mix all of the ingredients together beforehand.

Usually at most 1,500 kyat (about 75p) these soups offer a lighter alternative to the Burmese curry feasts and their many accompaniments. The noodles are often sticky and salty, with an added bite of the peanuts (and until this trip I'd never knew how peanuts, or sesame seeds grew - see pics!). On some occasions our soups were served with a side dish of pickled chilli and garlic, or mustard greens, adding extra flavour to our dishes.

Noodles in Myanmar don't just have to be at lunch or dinner, but you can also stop by a teahouse for mohinga(a Burmese breakfast fish noodle soup) or even have a bowl of Shan noodles at 5am in a bus station among locals doing the same and feel completely normal... (And tired and delirious...) 

Our breakfast dish of mohinga wasn't particularly pretty to look at, but I was intrigued to discover what we'd find in the dish. After a sprinkling of the accompanying coriander, we delved in to find crunchy fried bean crackers, bites of what seemed to be lightly battered fish, and sticky noodles. The vermicelli noodle soup had flavours of garlic, chilli and lemongrass, creating a spicy but refreshingly delicious dish. A whole bowl of this for breakfast was more than enough, if not a little too much.

This was all washed down by a cup of tea, a Burmese cup of tea... I assumed this would be just a refreshing, healthy green tea.

Oh no.

And I thought India was bad for their love of sweet tea... Nope, Burmese tea is a whole new level. Condensed milk in your tea anyone? I say no more.

Luckily as with most teahouses and small roadside restaurants, cafes and beer stations, each table has a thermos of free green tea (I learnt after ordering my sweet tea), so I chased it all down with several cups of that! Local tip - before you use the cups that sit in a bit of water in the centre of the table, swill them out with a little tea first. Not only are they just sat there all day in a pool of water, many places do not wash these between customers - they just throw the dregs out onto the street and sit them back in the water!

Along with the condensed milk tea, and even an iced green tea I had which contained condensed milk, it seems the Burmese like their sweets - although you'd do well to find a authentic restaurant offering a dessert menu. Instead you'll be offered lumps of jaggery at the end of a meal or tamarind palm sugar discs wrapped in paper. Actual desserts do exist and are eaten as snacks purchased from stalls in the street, such as "pudding" - basically set custard, served in extra-large portions only, which even an ill James couldn't resist!

It's not all salt and sugar, most of the colourful culinary delights we encountered were the salads, including avocado, onion and tomato salad made from the humongous locally grown avocados, to the tea leaf salad, crunchy and bitter.

Being so close to India, Thailand and China, the culinary influences can be seen in most places we visited in Myanmar. From the steamed coriander dumplings in Yangon and the Thai basil chicken in Bagan, to the biryani in a small Muslim cafe in Mawlamyine. It gave the much needed variety, as the saltiness of the Burmese soups and curries flavoured by the pungent ngâpí (fermented fish paste - see previous post), became too much at times, and coupled with the bottles of Myanmar beer, can be very dehydrating too!

Reaching our last stop, the old British capital of Mawlamyine, offered us a new dining experience. Every evening from 5pm, a night market pops up along the water, with each stall offering similar things - barbeque and noodles. We focussed on the barbeque options, all presented on wooden skewers laid out in the evening heat and praying insects (just turn a blind eye), you select your choices and they barbeque it for you. At first we played it safe and tried what we knew (or thought we knew), including various parts of the chicken, a whole river fish, potatoes and okra. I say what we thought we knew, as one of the chicken parts turned out to be chicken gizzards... We think. There are not hoards of tourists here and not everyone speaks English, so the gizzard part may have been lost in translation!

After polishing all of that off, we start to get a bit more comfortable and cocky, and head up for seconds. I return to our table from ordering, grinning to James, exclaiming that I have no idea what I just ordered!

Food arrives and I appear to have ordered various forms off barbecued chicken and pork sausage, some stuffed with ingredients such as rice, and actually quite enjoyable. If I'm honest, they all tasted slightly of the barbeque chicken having been cooked on the unwashed grill - but still nice nonetheless.

I was sad to leave this country and I feel that there is so much more to discover, not just the food, but the people and places too. But onto new foodie experiences and I look forward to learning how to recreate some of these Burmese dishes (watch this space) and to revisiting the country again in the future.

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Our first taste of Myanmar

With such an easy flight over from India, it was hard to believe we were actually in another country. But here we are in Myanmar, with at first literally no idea what to expect. We'd been so focussed on planning our first month around India, that we hadn't really thought about what Myanmar would present us with.

Bags dropped at the hostel in Yangon, we headed to the nearest pagoda, the beautiful Sule Pagoda, and after wetting the Buddha's head, we wondered out for our first Burmese meal.

We chose Danuphyu Daw Saw Yi in downtown Yangon. A fairly plain white wash cafe, completely open out to the street, with banterous men serving out front, and women with yellow thanakha painted faces in the kitchen (sandalwood-like paste used as suncream for women and young boys).

There was no menu, only a lovely Burmese man (everyone here seems to be so nice and very apologetic!), who pointed at each of the dishes behind a glass counter with a brief explanation of what they were. "Pork... Chicken... Beef" (at last!) "... Vegetables".

We opted for the pork belly, a fish and veg mix, and sides of buttered (hello extra large waist band) cauliflower, carrot and green beans. You are automatically served a plate of rice, a bowl of chinyay hin (sour veg soup) and on the table are various forms of condiments including a super strong, grey coloured, fermented fish paste called ngâpí, herbs and an array of par boiled veg. All of this was washed down with a large bottle of Myanmar beer, a refreshing, average percent lager.

From my research, it seems that Myanmar offers the mildest curries of Asia, and our pork belly curry was a clear example of this. The pork itself was tender and easily tore apart after hours of slow cooking. The sauce was salty and flavoursome, and begged to be mopped up with the abundance of rice they serve you. Although one word of warning, most Burmese curries can be seen with a layer of oil sitting on the top - true locals skim this off before mopping up - I unfortunately didn't act the pro... Usually this oil is just down to the amount they use to cook, but sometimes it is added to help the food keep whilst it sits on food counters for hours waiting to be served!

Since arriving in Myanmar, pork has been a big fav of ours, partly because we had been deprived of it in India, but partly because on the second occasion of ordering pork belly, the fat was actually crackling (cue longing for a Sunday roast)!

Our other main dish, the fish and veg mix, didn't have a clear fish taste, and resembled a pile of chewed up this and that, but offered a different texture to supplement the pork.

The soup, like many of the soups we've had since being in Myanmar, was very salty, but served hot (more so than the curry) with a strong sour taste, so a few spoonfuls pleasantly warmed the belly alongside the curries.

Needless to say, the buttered veg went down well...

Of course with no menu, means no obvious prices and the rookies that we were, we forgot to ask before devouring our feast. However there were no nasty surprises on this occasion, just a pleasant 8000 kyat (around 4 quid), for two mains, two sides, rice and soup, plus a large beer. Not bad eh?

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Eating my way around India - the six stages

Stage one - dazed and confused
Jet lag aside, arriving in any new city around the world with the need to find food can be a daunting task. Go with the guide books or TripAdvisor and you'll probably find hoards of tourists and you feel right at home. I'm not against using these methods, and in fact some of the best places we ate at came from these, however even with these and in a big city such as Delhi, your task may still be a tricky one. So not really with it to make a decision having arrived at 4am, our hostel gave us a recommendation of a place for lunch (sleep took priority over breakfast), to introduce our western tummies to the Indian cuisine. Yes they are referring to the dreaded Delhi belly, and we were told by an Indian guy on the plane, that even he has to give himself a few days to adjust after returning from university in the UK!

The safe bet was Haldiram's, a bustling, brightly lit canteen near Connaught Place, offering fast food thalis and tandoori kebabs, supplemented by a sweet counter for afters. Tossing the salad aside, the dishes provided an easy route into the local food, along with the daal and rice, the thalis came with a yoghurt and our first of many galub jamuns (a round doughnut like dessert, deep fried and soaked in sugar syrup). The tandoori paneer started off my love for paneer throughout my time in India. It was accompanied by a coriander raita, which I was first acquainted with on our flight over. It's a yoghurt based dip mixed with blended coriander and a hint of chilli, and one which I think all curry houses back in England should serve alongside papadoms and mango chutney!

Stage two - stepping out of your comfort zone
Once you've successfully devoured and digested your first meal in India, you'll start to feel a certain level of confidence, and so delighted to have one non-sickness inducing lunch under our belt, we headed out in search of dinner in the Paharganj area of Delhi. Here the streets are lined with guesthouses, shops and cafes and a whole tonne of rickshaws and motorbikes weaving their way through food stalls, people, cows, dogs and the many backpackers that find themselves there.

A little way down the main bazaar away from New Delhi train station, we found a couple of small cafes with the odd tourist and decided to head for one. Madan Cafe was small and not all that inviting inside, but pull up a plastic chair on the roadside and you'll soon settle in as you watch the evening throng of people and traffic go by. Our bargain £3.50 evening meal consisted of a thali and a masala chai for me, and a roti, curry and lassi for James. Taking in the view of the hustle and bustle of the main strip in the Paharganj, I mopped up my daal with my roti, which although only lukewarm (praying that it did not make me ill), the daal was flavoursome but with very little spice, matching nicely with the spiciness of the vegetable curry and the cooling accompanying yoghurt.

On our walk back down the main bazaar with the confidence still lingering, if not feeling stronger, we bought a mound of shortbread type biscuits heated on an iron plate and served in a newspaper pocket. Nothing too exciting here, but are a great snack to have with a little cup of chai.

Stage three - the inevitable bout of sickness
Not something to go into any great detail about but its safe to say I lost my appetite for a while...

Stage four - bold and brazen
Although the sickness knocked me back a peg or two it wasn't long before I'm back at stage two trying new things and being even bolder than before bringing me onto stage four, after all - if I've survived Delhi belly once, I know I can beat it again!

Of course being bold and brazen is the only real way to discover what India has to offer, from its deep fried flying saucer shaped kachori, a spicy and snack-like, yet still very filling, street food or the slightly bolder mirchi bajji (deep fried battered green chilli), to the sweet indian treats such as jalebi, a deep fried pretzel shaped crispy batter soaked in sugar syrup, incredibly sweet and super indulgent. These sorts of snacks can be found on the many street food stalls - just look for the large woks filled with oil and spot the freshly cooked ones!

Our love for trying Indian street food ended at our last stop in Kolkata, but ended on a huge high when we discovered kati rolls. These are parathas (a type of Indian bread) coated in egg and fried, a filling of your choice is then added - mutton, chicken or paneer, alongside salad, chillies, a squeeze of lime and chilli sauce. Absolutely mouthwateringly delicious! I had a paneer kati roll, James had the mutton, both equally as tasty (if I had to admit it, James won here as the mutton along with the sautéed onions melted away in your mouth). The kati rolls had a fresher taste than the curries that we had been eating, provided by the lime and coriander, and absolutely dripping with juices - it was a messy treat! If you're in Kolkata - try Hot Kati Roll on Park Street, the one with hoards of people outside hunched over their kati rolls!

Stage five - establishing your favourites
Once you've had a few trial and errors - one of the latter being the slighly bland tasting palek paneer (or to put simply a blended spinach curry, little spice and chunks of paneer), then you start to establish what you like and what you don't like, and will re-order time and time again.

I think it was in Udaipur that we discovered jeera rice, in a cafe along the river called Little Prince, and then continued to order it throughout most of our time in Rajasthan. All it simply is, is cumin fried rice - fragrant and greasy. Filth. But understandably anything fried will taste great, and we often ordered it alongside a mix veg curry, a paneer tikka masala and gobhi paratha, again all firm favourites. The paratha is yet another fried Indian staple, a bread that is often stuffed with potato or cauliflower along with an array of spices. And thanks to a cookery class in Pushkar I now know how to make parathas for when I return home!

Stage 6 - seeking out something different
I love a curry, but I'm not going to lie, the craving for sausage and mash (thanks to a couple we met on a camel trek giving it the pie and mash chat) did kick in fairly early on. Thankfully there were points that we were able to stray and still have something tasty to eat, such as the falafel wraps in the hippy and religious place of Pushkar in Rajasthan. For 120 rupees (just over a quid), you can get a paneer, yellow cheese (burger cheese), fries and hummus wrap. Along with the refreshing, crisp salad inside the wrap, it made for a welcomed alternative to the curries and the fries were the greasy, homemade kind - a little home comfort! This Israeli cuisine was quite prominent, particularly in Rajasthan, partly due to the number of Israeli tourists that flock there, so even later on in Rishikesh, in Uttarakhand (a little further north), we revisited the hummus wrap!

If hummus and falafel doesn't do it for you, you can always rely on Italian. However, many of the places we visited in India were vegetarian, and even when meat was available, it was mainly chicken or mutton (which can be lamb or goat as we later found out), so unfortunately no chance of my favourite spag bol! 

There was so much more to see and taste in India, and I'm sure when we visit again in the future - perhaps further north or south - a whole new stage will be added as we discover more of the regional cuisine variances India has to offer.

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Oriental feast!

Sunday morning car boot, I pace up and down the rows of cars not really getting into the spirit of the early morning treasure hunt. I dip in here and there pretending to have a rummage when boom, a cute little 8-piece set of rice bowls, rice spoons and soy dishes catch my eye. I'm officially the worst haggler so leave the tough work to my boyfriend, and by the end of the morning I'm the owner of a lovely little set destined to be showcased at a dinner party. Best get practising then with these little numbers... 

Ingredients (serves 2):
For the pickled cucumber...

1/2 cucumber
1/2 inch of ginger, cut into batons
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame seeds

For the chicken teriyaki...200g chicken thigh fillets, cut into chunks
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 leek, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
3 tbsp teriyaki sauce
1 tsp sugar

For the crispy pan fried sea bass...
2 fillets of seabass
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp honey
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
1 inch of ginger cut into batons
1 garlic, sliced thinly
1 tsp chopped coriander stalks
Sprinkling of coriander leaves to serve

Stage one: the pickled cucumber
1. Peel and halve the cucumber lengthways, then scoop out the seeds in the middle.
2. Cut the halves of cucumber into 1cm semi circles.
3. Place the the cucumber in a bowl along with the rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and ginger and leave to pickle for 30 (or until you've finished the rest!)
4. When you're ready to serve the rest, sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

Stage two: the chicken teriyaki
1. Pan fry the chicken in the oil until the chicken starts to turn golden.
2. Add the leeks and cook until softened.
3. Throw in the teriyaki sauce and sugar and you're done.

Stage three: the crispy pan fried sea bass
1. Get your rice on the go, to make the perfect rice - see step 5 here.
2. Next, heat 1 tbsp of oil in a frying pan and score the skin of the sea bass fillets 3 times, and place into the frying pan skin side down and fry for 5 minutes, then for 30 seconds on the flesh side, then remove from the heat and cover.
3. In the same pan, turn up the heat and add the remaining oil, cabbage, most of the chilli, ginger, garlic and spring onions that were cut length ways, fry for 3-5 minutes.
4. Now add the soy sauce, fish sauce and honey and fry for a minute.
5. Remove the veg from the pan leaving behind the sauce and continue to simmer until reduced to a syrup like sauce, and then pour a little over the veg, placing the sea bass on top.
6. Once the rice is cooked, if you fancy making a rice tower, find a small bowl and line with cling film. Then if you have any sushi vinegar (or rice vinegar) coat the cling film with it and put the remaining tsp of sushi vinegar in the rice. This gives it a lovely glossy sheen and slight sweetness. The rice then is placed in the bowl and turned upside down on the plate, and then remove the bowl and voilà!
7. Finally, decorate your rice with a sprinkling of sesame seeds, the spring onion discs, a couple of slices of chilli and coriander. 


Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Smoked trout, greens & fennel salad

Ingredients (serves 2):
2 smoked trout fillets
200g mangetout, halved lengthways 
100g peas
1 fennel bulb, shredded 
2tbsp olive oil
1tbsp white wine vinegar 
1tsp honey
1/2tsp wholegrain mustard
2tbsp chopped almonds

1. Cook the peas and mangetout in boiling water for 1 minute, drain and allow to cool.
2. Once cooled, mix the greens with the shredded fennel.
3. To make the dressing, mix the oil, vinegar, honey and mustard in a pot, and give it a thorough mix by fastening the lid of the pot and shaking.
4. Flake the trout into the greens mix, pour over the dressing and mix altogether.
5. Plate the salad and sprinkle over the chopped almonds.


Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Feed the hunger. But where?

London is a fantastic place for a foodie to live. You fancy Italian? We have plenty. You want street food? It's everywhere.

Trouble is, that is the trouble. There is so much and it's hard to make a decision on a hungry stomach. So here are a couple of things I do when picking out somewhere to eat.

1. Keep a food bible
Have you ever read TimeOut and thought, I DEFINITELY need to go to that restaurant and then two weeks later you find yourself with a free evening with no dinner reservations and can't think of anywhere to go? Annoying.

So here's what I do, I collect clippings from TimeOut, Olive Magazine, The Times etc., and keep them all in a file to reference later. This includes recipes too, it's like my go to guide for all things food.
Seems like a lot of effort? Then just create a Pintrest board.

2. My favourite app
Dojo - great for finding out what's nearby: street food, markets or restaurants, they show it all. They do a regular email newsletter but I can't say I find it that useful and a little bit try hard, but the app itself is great.

3. Pop-up kitchens
These are increasingly becoming more and more popular. Many set themselves up in your favourite boozer, so although you can't count on the food being good (although I've yet to have a bad experience), you can at least rely on the venue being OK, especially if it's your regular haunt. They usually stick around for a month or so, such as the one in Market House, Brixton. Here I've sampled Nanban of Tim Anderson fame (who opened his own restaurant on Coldharbour lane this week and yes I was straight in there and visited only last night) and Baba G's Bhangra Burgers - now taking residence in Pop Brixton.

Alternatively - just check out this list by me here.

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Friday, 25 September 2015

Breakfast with my dad - Milk cafe

My food bible!
I have a long list of restaurants, bars, cafes and pop-ups that I want to visit in London. In fact I have a food bible where I take clippings from various magazines and newspapers and use it as a kind of foodie to-do list. Problem is, these places are on a lot of people's to-do lists, and with the increasing popularity to go with the no reservations policy, you can often struggle to get a foot in the door unless you queue for 45 minutes plus.

But that's the weekends.

So I have a couple of days off and my dad up to visit me - suddenly my options are limitless. So knowing my dad is a lover of coffee, I refer to my food bible and know just the place: Milk in Balham.

This trendy white brick cafe sits along Hildreth Street Market and I'm told is a popular place for the mummy and baby groups of Balham. Obviously they took this particular day off as it was filled with a mixture of young professionals gazing at laptop screens, tourists and the odd family (summer holidays of course).

Seated, we took a look at the clipboard menu, and began to work our way down the list to decipher what was what. It seemed that the menu essentially served all your traditional breakfast menu items, each with an added something extra, be it woodfired sourdough bread, or "hangover" sauce.

The Convict appeared to be the manly full English option, and not wanting to be outdone by my dad, we ordered two of those, a black Americano and a flat white.

Out comes our breakfast in what my dad called dog bowls (oval silver bowls that it seems obligatory for all London burgers to be served in). Placed within was a tower of breakfast items topped with an even bigger tower of grated cheese.

The Convict at first glance is a glorified sausage, bacon and egg McMuffin. But delve in and you will find layer upon layer of deliciously lavish ingredients, including a homemade hash brown and sausage patty. Stealing the show and standing out in this tower had to be the scrambled egg. A silky, creamy consistancy, delicately cooked and not at all representing any kind of dried up curdled egg that many places serve. A close second and providing a bite to the Convict, were the sweet bacon rashes. No flabby bacon in sight, just deliciously crisp and mouthwatering wonderful rashes of bacon.

All of this is wedged between two halves of a muffin, with the added richness of a tangy hangover sauce and grated cheese, bringing all the flavours together and delivering an indulgent breakfast that will leave you full for hours.

The coffee lived up to expectations, providing an equally rich taste to our breakfast banquet, and even had the seal of approval from my coffee-loving dad.

Overall two breakfasts and two coffees came to £22 and with increasing prices of coffee in London these days, this is easily a steal. Next time I go back I have to try their homemade juice served in a novelty glass milk bottle.

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Chorizo and paprika rice

This is a genuine "use what I had left in the fridge" recipe. The egg and crispiness from the grilled finish really makes this dish. I cooked for one (plus a bit spare), but the recipe below is for two. I also cooked this in a ovenproof frying pan, but for two or more I would probably transfer into individual ovenproof serving dishes as serving the egg in one piece is quite tricky / messy!

Ingredients (serves 2):
100g chorizo, cut into 1cm slices
1 red onion, diced 
1 green pepper, cut into 1cm strips
200g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp paprika 
1/2 vegetable stock cube dissolved in 4 cups of boiling water
2 cups of rice
Olive oil
2 eggs
Salt and pepper

1. Soften the onion in a little olive oil over a medium heat for 5 minutes.
2. Next add the chorizo and cook for a further 3-4 minutes until the edges of the chorizo starts to crisp.
3. Add the peppers, paprika and garlic, coating all of the ingredients with the paprika and allowing a few more minutes to cook.
4. Throw in the tomatoes and rice, making sure the rice is properly coated in the paprika mix.
5. Now add the stock bit by bit as if you were cooking a risotto, adding more stock only once the previous stock has been absorbed. If you need more liquid, just use boiling water. It's probably worth turning your grill on at this point too.
6. When the rice is cooked and the liquid has been absorbed, take off the heat and make two slight indents where you would like your eggs and carefully crack them into there.
7. Season the egg and place under the grill until the egg is cooked.


Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Chicken, leek and pancetta pie in a pan

I posted a picture of this on my Twitter a while ago but never got round to writing up the recipe. It is a great all in one dish - just make sure you can use your frying pan in the oven and avoid touching the handle when you bring it out!!

Ingredients (serves 2):
250g chicken, cut into small chunks
50g smoked pancetta, cubed
1 large leek, cut into 1cm slices
Large knob of butter
1 flat tbsp plain flour
200ml milk
1 pack of ready rolled puff pastry (or make your own!)
Olive oil

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees.
2. Cook the chicken in a little olive oil for 4-6 mins over a medium heat.
3. Add the pancetta to the pan and cook for a further 3-4 minutes until the chicken starts to colour and the pancetta starts to turn crisp. Set the chicken and pancetta aside, draining the fat from the pan.
4. In the same pan, melt the butter and soften the leeks over a medium heat for 5-6 minutes.
5. Remove from the heat and add the flour, allowing the butter to be absorbed by the flour.
6. Slowly add the milk (save a dab for glazing the pie) mixing well to avoid lumps, and reintroducing the pan to a low heat.
7. Add the cooked chicken and pancetta, season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
8. Lay the puff pasty over the pan, trimming the edges to fit and brush with the leftover milk to glaze.
9. Place in the oven and cook for 25-30 minutes or until golden.


Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Monday, 6 July 2015

Spicy chicken and egg ramen

This is a combination of recipes I found and altered based on what I had in the cupboard. You can easily substitute the chicken for any other meat, or the pak choi for another veg, based on what you have in your cupboard!

Ingredients (serves 2):
300g udon noodles, cooked as per the pack instructions
3 pints of boiling water
1 chicken stock cube
300g chicken thigh fillets, cut into thin strips
1 pak choi, cut into strips lengthways 
2 spring onions, cut into discs
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Worchester sauce 
1 tbsp mirin
1 inch of ginger, cut into sticks
2 cloves of garlic, minced 
1 tsp cinnamon
2 star anise
1/2 tsp of fennel seeds
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1 red chilli, sliced
2 tbsp crushed unsalted peanuts
2 eggs
Sesame oil for frying

1. In a saucepan, place the water, stock cube, soy sauce, Worcester sauce, mirin, ginger, garlic, spices, sugar and most of the chilli, bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, fry the chicken in a little sesame oil in a frying pan, adding the pak choi once it is almost cooked.
3. Just before the above two steps are complete, bring to the boil a saucepan of water, lowering two eggs into it and cook for 4 minutes. 
4. When the eggs are cooked and have cooled slightly under cold running water, peel their shells off and set aside. Don't worry if you think it needs a little longer, the stock at the end will give it that extra bit of cooking! 
5. Once your stock has simmered for 15 minutes, pass the liquid through a sieve to get rid of the whole spices.
6. Finally, divide the cooked udon noodles, chicken and pak choi between two deep serving bowls, pour over the stock, add an egg to each and garnish with spring onion, the rest of the chilli and peanuts (if I had coriander, I would have used this too!)


Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Lamb kleftiko

I'm still not entirely sure what is classed as a traditional lamb kleftiko and a recent trip to Athens left me just as confused. So I'm going with my take on one of the first ever lamb kleftiko I tried, basically a one-pot Greek lamb casserole with plenty of feta cheese!

Ingredients (serves 2):
450g diced lamb
1 red onion, cut into 8 wedges
1 clove of garlic, crushed
3 medium sized potatoes, peel and sliced into 1cm thick pieces
1 pack cherry tomatoes (approx 330g), left whole
1 green pepper, roughly chopped into large chunks
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp of English mustard
1/2 lamb stock cube dissolved into 100ml of boiling water
1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
200g feta cheese
Handful of pitted black olives, halved, to serve

You will also need...
Tin foil
Baking paper

1. Preheat the oven at 200 degrees.
2. Boil the potatoes for 10 minutes until they start to become soft.
3. Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan over a high heat, add the lamb and brown all over.
4. Remove the lamb from the frying pan, leaving behind the fat and cook the onions on a medium heat for 5-6 minutes until soft.
5. Add the garlic, green pepper and cinnamon and fry for 2 minutes.
6. Add the lamb back to the frying pan along with the cooked potatoes, tomatoes, rosemary, bay leaves, lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Mix well.
7. To prepare your dish to cook this in the oven, take a roasting tin (or ceramic roasting dish), lay two pieces of tin foil in a cross shape on top, making sure that there is plenty hanging over the edge. Do the same with two pieces of baking paper on top of the tin foil.
8. Spoon the ingredients from the frying pan into the centre of the baking paper cross, allowing the tin foil and baking paper to fall into the shape of the dish.
9. Mix the English mustard into your lamb stock until dissolved and pour all over the rest of your ingredients.
10. Bring the sides of the baking paper together over the top of your ingredients and scrunch together to secure. Do the same with the tin foil. This should seal your kleftiko ready for cooking in the oven.
11. Place your kleftiko in the oven and cook for two and a half hours until the lamb is tender.
12. After the lamb is cooked, fold back the baking paper and tin foil and crumble over the feta. Return to the oven unsealed for 30 minutes until the cheese starts to brown.
13. Serve with a scattering of the black olives. Enjoy!

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Monday, 9 March 2015

A restaurant to lead by example

I'm not sure when a service charge became 12.5%. Or when it started being automatically added for tables of less than six. But it seems to me that restaurants are becoming more and more likely not to trust their customers to reward service based on their experience. 

A tip is a sign of gratitude for someone who has provided a good service, and I have definitely experienced some shocking service even in the most unlikely, highly regarded Michelin star restaurants. So it always seems to me a little wrong to automatically add service charge, because restaurants like that become arrogant and assuming, when really someone needs to put them in their place.

So when a restaurant appears to only have a 5% service charge, I question their reasoning.

The restaurant I am referring to is Rex & Mariano, a new Soho seafood restaurant which occupies the once Vodka Revs between Dean and Wardour street. At first it seems obvious as to why service charge would be so much lower, with their ever so convenient iPad ordering system whereby the ordering is entirely down to you, and you do so at your own pace and as many times as you like.

But the service was like no other. They were efficient, friendly and informative. The waiters and waitresses appeared to work in sync with each other, obeying the sound of the bell signalling that a dish is ready for a customer.

Rex & Mariano was newly opened in 2014 serving an array of quality seafood dishes, cooked and uncooked. It got off to a fairly slow start but following recent reviews has suddenly become the must go place of Soho. A recent Friday night was no exception, with the large white-tiled restaurant complete with open plan kitchen, filled with tables brimming with hungry seafood lovers. 

Menu / iPad in hand, we opted for a respectable 6 dishes at first, including bread and olives, and were quickly alerted by our digital companion not to over order as dishes come quick and soon fill up your table.

No sooner had we set our iPad aside did the dishes start arriving. A particular highlight for me was the raw red prawns (you can opt for them cooked too). They were slippery and slimey in texture, offering something I had not experienced before, with a firmness when you took a bite.

A close joint second was the tuna tartare, with the punchy chilli and chive complementing the creamy avocado, and the seabass ceviche with coriander and tigers milk (a Peruvian term for a citrus-based marinade) which gave the dish a refreshing bite.

The beauty of the iPad ordering system is that if you feel you haven't quite reached that optimum amount of dishes, you just order more.

And so we did. And an afterthought it was. The salmon carpaccio was as expected but still, at £7 a pop you can't really complain.

My one piece of advice would be to ensure that you accompany your seafood dishes with a side order of bread. Big, chunky slices of homemade bread ready for you to mop up the remains of your dishes.

Our meal for two including drinks came to a respectable £58 (including that 5% service charge!) well worth it, not only for the experience and the atmosphere that the restaurant offers, but for the great selection of seafood dishes.

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Sunday, 1 March 2015

A Lebanese feast

This may seem like a lot to cook, but much of the preparation can be done in advance, making it ideal for a dinner party and leaving you free to host.

Lamb Fatteh
500g mince lamb
1 aubergine, cut into chunks
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1/2 cup of water
A large pinch of each of the following: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, pimento, ground coriander
A dash of Worcester sauce
1 tsp tomato purée
Handful of roasted pine nuts
Olive oil for roasting

To make the yoghurt topping...
4 tbsp natural yoghurt
1 garlic clove, crushed
A handful of fresh mint, finely chopped

1. Preheat the oven at 200 degrees.
2. Roast the aubergine in a roasting tin with plenty of olive oil for around 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, brown the mince in a pan with no oil for around 6-8 minutes.
4. Add the onion and fry for a further 5-6 minutes.
5. Next add the tomatoes, spices, Worcester sauce and water, and simmer for 25 minutes.
6. Whilst the lamb simmers, mix the yoghurt, garlic and mint in a bowl.
7. Once the time is up with the lamb, add the roasted aubergine.
8. Serve with a generous amount of the yoghurt on top with a sprinkling of the roasted pine nuts and a side of warm pittas.

Jewelled tabbouleh 
1 cup of bulgar wheat
2 cups of vegetable stock 
1/2 a fennel bulb, finely sliced
1/2 a red onion, finely diced
A handful of mint, finely chopped
A handful of parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp of pomegranate seeds
1 tbsp of chopped walnuts
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp of olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Cook the bulgar wheat in the vegetable stock on a medium heat with the lid on for 8-10 minutes. Once cooked, drain off any excess liquid if needed.
2. Once cooled add the remaining ingredients including seasoning and mix well.

Cumin roasted courgette and halloumi
1 large courgette, cut into chunks
225g halloumi, cut into chunks 
1 tsp cumin
A small handful of mint, finely chopped
A small handful of parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil 
Juice of half a lemon
Handful of roasted flaked almonds
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven at 200 degrees.
2. Mix the courgette, halloumi and cumin together in a bowl.
3. Roast the courgette and halloumi in the oil within a roasting tin for around 25 minutes until the edges of the halloumi are crisp and brown.
4. Once cooked, remove from the oven and add the lemon juice, mint, parsley, almonds and seasoning, and mix well.

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Sunday, 18 January 2015

You BEAUTIFUL steak you

Whenever a restaurant solely focusses on cooking one thing, you know it has to be relatively decent or pretty soon they will go out of business.

I have to admit, I'm a big fan of any place that does choose to put all its efforts paying homage to one thing: Chicken Shop, Le Relais de Venise, Dirty Burger, Burger & Lobster (OK two things), and now to add to the list: Flat Iron.

When you get that steak craving in London I have always thought you can pretty much go two ways: flash the cash and opt for the tenderest steak Gaucho has to offer on their display board, or head to one of many Angus Steakhouses in Leicester square and sit amongst the tourists clinging to their recently purchased goody bags from M&M World. 

Flat Iron however, one of the ever increasingly popular restaurants where you cannot book, has been offering both good quality and reasonably priced steaks since it first opened in 2012. £10 will get you a flat iron steak from Flat Iron's very own herd in Yorkshire and a side of salad. I'll be honest, I think the side salad was merely there to bring a bit of greenery to the plate and if you opt for any of their side dishes, I'm pretty sure that poor little pile of leaves will be pushed to one side.

The flat iron steak is a shoulder cut of beef that is not often seen. It's cheaper than many but still full of flavour (if not slightly tougher). The restaurant offers other cuts on the specials, but first timers as we were, we ordered the star of the show, along with two sides: chips cooked in beef dripping and creamed spinach. 

I've always liked my meat fairly rare, and the older I've grown, the rarer I like it, to the point where it almost has a pulse. So to my delight and not long after we ordered, out comes an almost breathing piece of beef, sliced and laid across a hot plate encased within a wooden board. 

To the side of my steak lay a minuture cleaver (you can also buy these as a souvenir), slightly OTT but it is the restuarant's trademark logo and actually adds to the experience.

Of course you don't really need the cleaver as your steak comes sliced, however if you are anything like me, you'll end up cutting each slice to savour every last bite.
My steak, although rare (verging on blue), had a slightly charcoaly taste on the outside, finished with a sprinkling of sea salt so that each bite was slightly different from the last.

The creamed spinach was a devilishly good accompliment, in fact I could have had a bowl just of that. It's green, so ticks off one of your five a day, but it's also incredibly indulgent, with a hint of nutmeg adding flavour to an otherwise dull veg.

I was disappointed with the chips. Don't get me wrong, they tasted great, but in this day and age, if you're serving chips they have to more than just sound like they are going to be amazing. Double cooked, triple cooked, beef dripping - I've had them all. Yes these were good chips, greasy good chips. Just not amazing chips.

But of course you don't go there for the chips. And if you are prepared to wait up to an hour (thankfully in a nearby pub if you'd like), then you should definitely visit Flat Iron at one of their two central London locations for the steak (and creamed spinach). 

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x