Sunday, October 09, 2011

Union Roasted

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing – the barista has been making my Americano incorrectly. Two weeks ago I wouldn't have known but now, it's driving me nuts and I'm too Canadian to say anything so I will passive aggressively blog this instead.

I recently spent a Saturday with a bunch of food bloggers at Union Roasted in E16 learning about coffee. Union ticks many of my boxes: it's a business run by two "plan B" guys, Jeremy and Steven, who were doing something else when they fell in love with coffee and decided to pursue it. They're hands on. Small batches. Know their suppliers. Passionate about educating the people who buy and make their coffee so that the last stages of its preparation bring out the best in it. They have their finger on the bean from farm to cup. This is dedication, obsession and the reason it's so damn good.

My group spent the first part of the day in the Roastery roasting a batch of beans and asking Jeremy and Steven random questions. It takes about 15 minutes to roast a batch of beans. It's 15 focused minutes as the roaster checks the beans every few minutes to see the progression, watching the colour change and hearing the sound of the beans shift as they get closer to being done. They roast every batch of beans like this. In comparison, big corporations roast their beans super quickly over a gas flame, a process called Fluidized Bed Roasting that can take as little as 30 seconds.

Next we went into their tasting room and we went through the process that they take when evaluating coffees. I've heard of cupping before but didn't really know what it meant (and secretly snickered when I read it because it does sound a bit naughty). The process of smelling the grounds, pouring the water and brewing it then smelling again, breaking the crust and then preparing it to taste by the aerated spoonful are far more involved than the pouring and swirling you do with wine tasting.
After a quick lunch, we were on to the machines to learn the technique for pulling a proper espresso and stretching the milk. I don't have a machine at home so I won't be able to use my new found skills but I'll be able to judge the people who are making my coffee. ;) The girls who were teaching us could tell from a moment's sound what had gone wrong – dry milk or an improperly tampered down espresso.

One of the most interesting discussions of the day turned around what to do when presented with a crappy cup of coffee. Many of us said we don't drink coffee in restaurants because we expect it to be bad. When we get a crappy latté at a cafe, we sigh and drink it anyways but remember not to go back there again. We don't demand the same level of quality from our coffee as we do from our wine, or our food. If a restaurant has a sommelier why don't they have an expert barista on staff as well? Why isn't your coffee at the end of a meal as well thought out and presented as your main course?

As coffee gets more expensive I think (I hope) that people will start to demand more attention to their coffee. If I'm paying £5 for a flat white (and it's coming people, don't kid yourself), I want it to be made with the best beans and the best skills. I won't have someone ruin my Americano by scalding my espresso with boiling water. So why am I putting up with it when I am paying £2? No more. I will not have beans that have been lovingly farmed and roasted ruined by someone who simply doesn't know any better.

I left the day with bags of gorgeous coffee. I sent some to C's office (they are coffee fiends) and happily drank the rest at home. My favourite, from cupping and drinking at home, was Los Anonos from Costa Rica  grown under a canopy of avocados. If you order using the code curiosity10 you'll get 10% off.

I love the Union Roast approach. I follow them on twitter and they tweet their travels to visit coffee producers. Their blog talks about the job and the trip and the joys and sorrows and the people who grow their beans. Like I sadi, this is a food product that ticks all my boxes – delicious, responsible, passionate.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why local is the answer

I have a slight crush on Patrick Holden, former Director of the Soil Association. I saw him speak a few years ago and whenever I read anything he's written or watch a video of him I find myself nodding along with him.

I like that he presents the issues around food security but doesn't have all the answers and humbly recognises that it is a work in progress.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Green Smoothies

On twitter I follow mostly food people - bloggers, suppliers, restaurants - and one thing that pops up occasionally and that I wonder about, is how does everyone EAT like this all the time (and drink, seriously, some of you have me worried) and stay healthy? The booze effects aside I am certain that many of us are carrying a few extra pounds/kilos/stones that we would easily shed if we didn't dream of truffle egg toast, the latest gelato or extravagant multi course meals. But we do. This is pleasure and we are fortunate to get to indulge ourselves. So lucky.

Whenever I see a tweet about over indulgence and excess food pounds, I think to myself: "green smoothy".

Around the same time of the debate on the toxicity of sugar I was thinking about an upcoming beach holiday. I had never been on a holiday where the primary activities were beach bumming and pool side relaxing so I was anxious about putting on a swimsuit (let alone a two piece - terrifying!) and wanted something to help me tighten up. The basic gist of the toxic sugar debate (or at least what I took from it) is that natural sugars are fine as long as you balance them with their natural fibres - so the sugar in an apple is balanced by the fibre of the apple. If you up your fibre level you are less likely to crave sugar and less likely to snack or binge eat. This may be completely false. But this is what I took from it and right around this time I stumbled across a recipe idea for green smoothies to start your day and to help your body with cravings. Excellent. The two ideas complimented each other perfectly and I started drinking a green smoothy every morning.

In a blender:

a banana
a massive handful of spinach
a nice sized handful of frozen fruit (mango is my favourite)
a cup of water (or so)

Blend. Drink.

This totally changed the way I ate during the day. I had this massive influx of veggie fibre goodness first thing in the morning and I didn't crave anything (I was full) and I ate a small lunch, followed by a regular meal. I think it helps cure hangovers. It makes me feel hydrated. None of these assertions are based on anything but my own experience, but that is enough for me!

So, lovely food bloggers and others who find that their hobby has literally grown on them – green smoothies, five days a week for a month, see if you notice a difference and then report back to me. I mean, clearly the answer was never to cut back on going out and eating deliciousness, the answer must be to make room for the awesome by shifting other food.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bread - Making vs Buying

I made bread last night. Just two small round loaves of wholewheat. Finishing up some bits of flour. I'm really pleased with them. Good crust. Nice crumb. I ate three pieces fresh out of the oven with super yellow salted butter.

And I got to thinking about the value of making bread at home.

1. It isn't always better than what you can buy. It's special, because it's homemade but Eau a la Bouche has better bread. But Tesco (or any big store that is producing hundreds of loaves) isn't going to be as good. So homemade wins against mass produced, but not fancy artisanal.

2. Ingredients: Flour. Flour is cheap. But what about quality flour? What's the difference between grocery store brand flour and the Shipton Mills I have my eye on? The Shipton Mills is twice the price of the grocery store. Will it make that much better a loaf? What kind/quality of flour do commercially produced loaves use? Is that one of the factors in E5 Bakehouse vs Gregg's?

I feel a challenge coming on. Will buy my Shipton Mills basket (currently at ten kilos of flour), make bread and report back. And maybe ask the nice bakery people in the market if they know anything about the flour their products are made from... requires further investigation.

3. Ingredients: Extras. My bread is flour, yeast, salt and water. There is a brilliant double page spread in Richard Bertinet's book Dough - one side is a loaf of homemade bread and the ingredient list. The other side is the store bought bread and ingredient list. Four ingredients versus a long list. No question. Make your own damn bread.

4. Time investment: Not that much really. I mean sure you need to do it but seriously - making the dough takes maybe 20 minutes? Then it's mostly leave it alone until it's ready to be shaped and baked. Hell you can even do the no-knead thing. Total active time investment is probably less than walking to your nearest bakery. Unless you're super lucky. In which case can I come stay with you?

5. Love. Well, there is that.

My Grandma on the Mountain could bake anything but she didn't bake bread. The story is that she made a loaf once and my Grandpa and Great Uncle Malc took it out in the backyard and played football with it. She never repeated the experiment.

The recipe for buns that my mom makes for holiday meals is from her Aunt Jessie who was a fabulous cook. I crave her apple pudding recipe often.

Baking bread at home is special. Maybe not for everyday, but always preferable over big store bread. And it fills the house with warmth and love.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


The asparagus season will be coming to a close soonish. I know because I asked the man who I buy it from every Sunday how much was left and how much longer I could expect it. I'm starting to get tired of it (it's only in season a few weeks! You have to eat as much of it as you can!) but I don't want to miss the last bunch of this year because I'm getting bored and decide not to get any one week. Farmer man said that there isn't much left - another week or two - but he's keeping a few bunches aside for me in case I get to the market late.

He also grows cut flowers. Two weeks ago, while C was away, he had the first Sweet Williams. I must have looked sad or something because he gave me a bunch with my asparagus and strawberries. They are still on the table, beautifully scented and holding their colour - he said they sometimes last three weeks. There should be astors soon.

He's just one of a handful of farmers that I have got to know at the markets in the past couple of years. (See I know I'm Lucky) I like that my shopping habits supports them and allows them to continue to bring me excellent products. Virtuous circle.

But you can't get everything from the farmer's market. For some items there is no season in England. So while I don't ever buy asparagus from Peru, I do buy mango, rice, garlic, etc etc from the corner store and the local Tesco. And so I think about the farmers I support by purchasing mangoes. Or frozen peas. If everyone stops buying mangoes what will the mango farmers eat?  (Besides mangoes.) How does buying my ingredients from farmer A in England affect farmer B in Pakistan (where my basmati rice comes from)?

No answers, just the pieces of a conversation I am having in my head and that I would welcome people's thoughts on.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I think it is my second favourite vegetable. Seriously. Second only to peas (both frozen and fresh). Garlic, onions and tomatoes don't quite count. Certain vegetables are only excellent during their peak season and don't have an all year presence, like asparagus, so I'm not counting those either. So yes. Cauliflower is my second favourite vegetable.

How fabulously versatile is it? How many wonderful things can you do with a brassica that is, to be honest, a little dull. It's not something I sneak into the kitchen to nibble on (peas in pods don't last a day in our kitchen and cherry tomatoes are so very poppable) because on its own it is a bit bland. But the flavours it works with! And the processes and things you can do that turn it into magic. Here's to the mighty cauliflower!

The reason I am excited about cauliflowers is because I finally got around to making this sephardic dish of battered and fried caulflower in a lemony tomato sauce. I've had the recipe in my 'Make Me' pile for ages but it seemed like it might be a bit finnicky. It wasn't. You should make it.

You quickly blanch your cauliflower florets then drain them and mix them into a simple batter (half a cup of flour with some salt and pepper, tossed, then two eggs beaten with a bit of water, toss the floured cauliflower with that, then another half cup of flour - get in with yout hands!) then fry them up to golden and lovely. (I also dropped little blobs of batter into the oil.) You slip the crispy golden florets into a very simple tomato sauce with lemon zest and a squeeze of juice and let it barely simmer for ten minutes then eat it covered with parsley.

(Here's a link to the recipe proper on Michael's Herbivoracious blog.)

How good is that?

C declared it was his second favourite way to eat cauliflower. His favourite? Roasted and dipped in spicy ketchup. Yup, we're fancy.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

New Restaurants

There is a new Turkish restaurant going in on Broadway Market, where the old Efes was for about a year. It looks pretty. I popped my head in the other day to sneak a peak. The guy told me that it'll be open in a week or so, Turkish/Mediterranean menu. 

Cool. Will try it out.

Why don't restaurants have little promotional cards for the curious who stop by to peak in and see what's what? Give me a card that gives me a free drink or a dessert or 10% off in the first week. Something. Whatever. But make me feel special and make me excited about your restaurant opening up.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

Who said that?  Some of the most beautiful things are fleeting and need to be pounced on while they are in front you for they disappear so quickly.

Asparagus is one of those joys. British asparagus appears to be a Thing. It is special and celebrated. It has a specific season of about 6-8 weeks and during this time everyone seems to be talking and eating it. I love it. I love the limited time only cache of it and the urgency. If you don't get some now you won't get any at all.

Yes I know you can get asparagus year round. But that's not the point, is it? This is English asparagus, grown as it is meant to be grown in the season in which nature intended. Did you know that most out of season asparagus comes from Peru where they are draining the water level to grow it (asparagus needs lots of water) - read this article about it. That's serious stuff. And it can't possibly taste as fresh and grassy and special as the stuff that's grown in your metaphoric backyard. And who wants to eat bland wooden stalks that make you pee funny the rest of the year? Seasonality people. Look it up.

We've been doing all sorts of things with asparagus. Because I buy an awful lot of it while I can. Roasted asparagus (olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper in the hot oven for 11 minutes) is a picnic staple for us - sometimes wrapped in ham, sometimes plain, once with romesco sauce. I eat it blanched and dripping in fancy salted butter for lunch. Grilled with grilled courgette and roasted tomatoes and basil oil a la Ottolenghi. Baked into a puff pastry tart. Munched on raw and crunchy like a carrot.

Tonight we're having it with polenta and cheese a la Guardian Ottolenghi. I figure there's a month left of experimenting and tasting. At the end of it I won't want to look at an asparagus spear. Which is fine and good because I won't be getting any until the official launch of the season in April 2012.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Wild Garlic

Since moving here I have discovered all sorts of lovely seasonal specialities. Things that exist in Toronto but weren't as available or as obvious to someone who wasn't actively looking for them. Maybe part of the reason my cooking spidey senses have learnt so much in London is because so many of the cookbooks I read were, and are, British. I felt like I knew Borough Market before I ever set foot there and the Ginger Pig was like discovering an old haunt - I knew them. But I have never had that same relationship with Canadian food writers - there's very few that I can even name. Maybe it is that old thing with you are never satisfied with what is around you - grass is always greener. Or that Canadian food as such never really inspired me because there wasn't much distinctive about it. Who knows. My last trip to Toronto was delicious - so many great restaurants and dishes. I think maybe it isn't just Toronto that has expanded and grown - maybe I have too so that I am looking and seeking out those experiences. Also helps that I have a bigger budget than when I lived there. Little things. You know.

Anyways the point is that I had never had wild garlic (or ramps as I think some people call it though I am confused between ramps and the wild leeks that appear in the spring...) before moving to London and it has become one of those sure signs of spring to see the deep green leaves with white flowers in bunches in the market. 


Another sure sign of spring is bluebells. Fields of bluebells in the forests of England, and what grows hand in hand with bluebells? Garlic! Fields of pungent white garlic flowers next to lovely bluebells. So beautiful. So smelly. But in a nice way. And so delicious.

I was gifted with an obscene about of garlic leaves. They don't last long once plucked so I needed to do something with them fast. So I made wild garlic pesto - four gleaming emerald jars of the stuff which we ate over fresh pasta - plain the first time and then beet (a lovely pretty pink colour with just a hint of beetiness to it) the second.

Wild Garlic Pesto

100g wild garlic
50g pinenuts
50g parmesan
1 shallot
1/2 tsp salt
Pinch of sugar
About 200ml olive oil

Process until as smoothy or as chunky as you fancy in the food processor and taste for seasoning.  Pack in old jam jars and push down to get any air out. Gently pour a thin layer of olive on top and pop in the fridge. Covered like this it should last 2-3 weeks. But I have never had it last longer than a week or so, because we have eaten it.

Divine. Special. But also enough that I am done for a bit and will be just fine waiting until next year's crop. Except for the wild garlic butter in the freezer - I mean clearly that is going to be eaten on steaks. But after that we're done. For real this time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Black Hoof

You should go to Toronto and eat at The Black Hoof. Unless you're a vegetarian. If so skip to the next post.

C was off at a bachelor party, Susie was in London, so Nathan (from Back off Ladies, He's Taken) and I shared a an epic set of moments over a fabulous meal. Each dish. Each mouthful was transcendent. I'd tell you what we ate but it doesn't matter because the menu will have changed by the time you get there. Trust them. Eat everything. Let them pick your wine. Let them bring you a cocktail. Put your appetite in their capable hands and enjoy something special.

"Everything is made: from the charcuterie to the cocktail garnishes. Things are foraged when possible. It’s a meat and off-cut centric menu to be sure, but there is always a fish option. There is much attention to detail in the service. The atmosphere is boisterous and casual."

So much love.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Crumpets for Elevenses


I have become obsessed with crumpets. Specifically crumpets with butter and red berry jam (strawberry or raspberry) at Climpson's alongside my flat white. These are best eaten for elevenses with either a book or a small pad of paper for jotting down random thoughts while watching the people and characters of Broadway Market go by.

Seriously though - I have started waking up thinking about my mid morning snack. In Toronto I missed them and thought about them - even went to the amazing kitchen store by the Toronto Reference Library to buy crumpet rings so I could make my own. (They were out but expected a shipment later that day.) When we got back from Toronto the first thing I did on Tuesday was to go to Climpsons. They were out of crumpets. My face must have been so crestfallen and heartbroken because when I went in today the guy brightened up and told me with a smile that they had crumpets today.

Vintage Style Crumpet

I think it's the texture mix that delights me - the crunchy outside, warm from the toaster and the soft inside with holes running with butter and jam. (You need to put butter on a crumpet. Butter, then jam. I feel very strongly about this, even though I don't do the same for toast or bagels or muffins.) When I bite into a crumpet I feel satisfied and full in the way that only satisfying a deep craving can make you feel. Just a simple crumpet. Go figure.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

She's So Lucky

I know I'm lucky. I live in a big city in a wonderful area with bakeries, delis, butchers, fishmongers, a coffee roaster, boutique wine. On Saturdays one of the best markets in all of London opens its arms at the top of my street. On Sundays a small but solid farmers market appears. There is a famous flower market around the corner.

If I can't find something in my neighborhood I have only to head out into this giant city and if I look hard enough I will find it. London has everything, if you know where to look. London also keeps secrets, which makes the looking a bit more adventurous sometimes.

At the end of the day, I am SO lucky to be able to eat the food I do. To have the variety and choice, not just in terms of product, but producer and quality and ethos. There are few places on the planet that have what I have. I'm not writing this to sound haughty, I'm just writing this so that I know that I have explained to my two readers that I am aware of the privileged circumstances under which I write.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ham Hock & Beans

A few weeks ago I met G at Milk Bar on a sunny Sunday morning for breakfast. We both had their home baked beans with sourdough toast and goat cheese. It was awesome. So enjoyable in fact that it has been simmering at the back of my brain since then and I decided I would try to make my own version.
Which brings me to my newest favourite thing: smoked ham hocks. I was at the Ginger Pig picking up bits and pieces for a week of dinners and saw these massive smoked hunks of meat. I was pretty sure you had to boil them and that if you boiled them with the beans then all sorts of goodness would happen in the pot. I was right.
We ate the beans with pagnotta bread from Eau a la Bouche which is I think my favourite type of bread and very plain goat cheese. Simple, relatively easy (especially for future as the beans made a mountain and I put two meals worth in the freezer) and homey - one of those comfort meals that feel like an internal hug.
Beans & Ham
A smoked ham hock 
Enough water to cover 
An onion, split into quarters
Two carrots, cut into quarters
Bring to a simmer and let bubble happily and covered for an hour.
300 g cannellini beans, soaked over night
After an hour, add the beans to the ham hock soup. Simmer for an hour or until beans are tender.
At this point I took the ham hock out and let it cool so that I could chop it up and put all the meaty bits aside for the finished product.
Meanwhile I chopped two red onions, two cloves of garlic and a sprig of rosemary, two glugs of olive oil and let them all sizzle and sing together for about ten minutes. Just before they started to colour I added three tablespoons of brown sugar and two of cider vinegar, stirred and then added a 400g can of chopped tomatoes. Stirred, let it all start to get to know each other and then spooned the beans into the pan, making sure to save the ham/bean cooking water.
I let it simmer and bubble until it looked like it had all come together, about 10 minutes, tasted, adjusted a bit of salt and pepper, added the ham hock meat pieces and tada - homemade baked beans. That weren't baked at all.
And now I have the most luxurious ham water with which to make pea soup. Stay tuned....

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Some Light Reading

A few articles and bits that have caught my attention of late and that I think are worth passing on...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


After taking inspiration from my Vietnamese cooking class a few weeks earlier I decided that we would celebrate Tet - Vietnamese New Years. We did. On February 5. I shopped on Friday. I cooked all day on Saturday.

Basil Seed drink
Summer rolls with fabulous shrimp from Vicky at Broadway Market
Bo La Lot
Bánh chưng (traditional Vietnamese new year's cake)
Longdans with Lotus Nuts, Jelly & Seaweed

You will notice that it pretty much mirrored what I learnt from Uyen back in January, with the exception of the cake, which I bought and, following Uyen's instructions, shallow fried.

 This was probably the most out of depth meal I have ever made. Five dishes (including the funny but not entirely well liked basil seed drink that I went everywhere trying to find!) and I wasn't confident that any of them would turn out. Summer rolls were delicious - and basically foolproof as the flavours are what you make them and we had excellent shrimp and a ton of exotic herbs. Bo La Lot to Uyen's recipe were moreish and were probably the night's highlight. The banh chung was... odd... If you read this you probably know I can be a bit, um, fussy we'll say about meat, so the ingredients list that said simply 'meat' wasn't really making me feel very comfortable and, even with frying it was still a very particular texture. The longdan dessert was unique and not very desserty. Which of course made it more interesting.

But. To the point. Everyone tried everything and the evening was an interesting success. It made me realise how specific my own celebratory ways are and that my expectations of what makes something special are very particular. I'm looking forward to expanding my perception of celebration...


I love that getting shot in your game is a Thing. Considered acceptable. Maybe even a bit cool and desired. Because then it is the Real Thing. And that adds a certain air to the meal, doesn't it? 

I mean, as long as you don't break a tooth.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Year of the Rabbit - Lapin Aux Olives

Happy Chinese New Year! It is the year of the rabbit! I'm not sure what this means for the world but I am hoping it will mean a year of delicious eating for me.

As it was a Thursday night I wanted to keep celebrations low key so instead of doing a blow out feast (that was Saturday when we celebrated Tet - details to come!) I made Anthony Bourdain's rabbit recipe in Les Halles - Lapin Aux Olives.

A bit of a process but straightforward enough and low stress, C & I sat down to a lovely proper feeling dinner of simple boiled and buttered potatoes, Vichy carrots (which always remind me of the Nazi friendly government) and the rabbit. Not very authentic but delicious nonetheless.

What do people eat to celebrate the year of the Dragon?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


I saw a recipe this morning for leek soup with dill oil on 101 Cookbooks. I was reading through my Google Reader Feed. I removed my RSS feeds from Safari and put them in Google Reader and now I don't feel a constant state of panic as the numbers  keep getting bigger and I don't have time to read everything. Yes, I like my inbox to be cleared as well. 

Anyways. Heidi writes " report back if you take it in a slightly different direction you end up happy with." I didn't intend to change what she had done - it looked delicious! - so I went a head and made the dill oil. (Blender, dill, oil. Done.) Then I cleaned the leeks and dropped them into the food processor. And then I went to peel the potato. But I couldn't find them. I still can't. No idea where the potatoes are. Clearly I was going to be taking the soup in a different direction. 

I added a small handful of leftover parsley that was sitting in a glass on the counter. I added two cloves of garlic. I pulsed the vegetables in the food processor (as per the instructions) and put some dill oil and butter in my big pot and threw everything in to cook. 

At this point I remembered another 101 Cookbooks recipe, checked that out and decided to use the two tins of black eyed peas in the cupboard. (C bought them one day when I sent him out to get black beans. Why are canned black beans so difficult to come by here? And what made him think that the two were the same?) So, threw the beans in. Left everything to cook and stick to the pot in places. Then I added chicken stock, salt, pepper and a bit of cider vinegar.  Tada. Soup. Delicious soup that is nothing like what I thought I was making, but delightful nonetheless. Here's to cupboard food and making something out of nothing.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bean in the cake

Did you grow up planting a bean in the cake? Or perhaps a coin, wrapped in tin foil? Was it for birthdays? Christmas? Some random Saint Day? What happened if you got the elusively baked bit in the cake? Did you get a prize? Was the coin/bean/figure the prize itself? Did you get to wear a silly hat? Were you granted luck, love, happiness? How long did it last - a day? a month? a  year? As long as the piece of cake in front of you?

Seriously. This bean in the cake thing pops up all over! I started thinking about it on January 6 - epiphany. In France all the bakeries bake galette des rois in honour of the three wise men who arrived at the baby Jesus' manger with very expensive and inappropriate gifts. Actually I think by the time they arrived he was meant to be a toddler but that would make a very complicated nativity scene so they just stick with the baby Jesus part. Anyways the tradition is that inside the lovely puff pastry almond cream tart is baked  a figurine and whoever gets the figure gets to wear the silly crown that is provided with the tart and gets to be king for a day.

All very cute and quaint, no?

Except this bean/figure/nut/whatever baked in a cake or tart shows up all over the place. Repeatedly. All sorts of random saints days are celebrated by making a cake (often heavy on nuts or dried fruits) and hiding a Thing inside for one lucky person. How peculiar. I thought it was very strange and sort of silly but then I realised my mom used to put coins wrapped in tin foil in my birthday cake. And I think I thought that was the neatest thing ever. (Don't worry I'm sure she washed the coins first) So maybe the whole thing isn't so peculiar. But I wonder where it started? I haven't been able to find that out so if anyone knows...

Galette des rois aren't at all difficult to make. Puff pastry and almond cream. I made a smallish one as I quite like them and I knew that if I made a big full sized one I would end up nibbling away at it sliver by sliver. Which I did anyways with the help of C and T, but at least it didn't start out as big...

There are a ton of recipes for the galette des rois flitting about on the internet. I used the one at Chocolate & Zucchini and used about a third of the filling for my slightly smaller circles of pastry. I did not eat the leftover filling from the bowl. No. I did not. Stop looking at me like that!

This is what I made. I was quite pleased with it.

Until I looked over at the counter. And I realise I had forgotten to put the god damned bean in it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Know Your Pig

Illustration by Kagan McLeod from the New York Magazine article  
A brilliant post from New York Magazine and chef du jour April Bloomfield on pig pieces. I love this kind of thing. Makes going to the butcher much more satisfying.

Monday, January 10, 2011


"I recommend the Hindu meal - I have no idea what a Hindu meal is, but a curry is better than the righteous indignation of the Atheist meal" from an email sent to Nathan from his friend Dr. Justin Bahl, Evolutionary Geneticist

LA Times Article: America's Good Food Fight

A great article on the price, external costs and myths around sustainable, healthy food. Read it.

Vietnamese Cooking Class at Fernandez & Leluu

When I was a kid my mom volunteered with CARE (Central Alberta Refugee Effort) helping families who had just immigrated to Red Deer to get settled in. She'd go to various stores and services with them and help them get acquainted with how things worked, where things were. I'm sure they would have figured it all out on their own, but, having moved to a Strange Country myself, I can see the appeal of having a friendly local to show you the ropes. We've lived here for three years and a trip to the cleaning products aisle still does my head in. 

I don't remember if I met many of the families my mom met, but I do remember one family very well, and I think they had quite a profound impact on me. They were a small family - mom, dad, little boy who must have been a bit younger than my brother at the times - from Vietnam. This would have been in the late Eighties. They had some family in Canada but had (for whatever reason) landed in Red Deer. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to arrive in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. I hope they arrived in summer. It's beautiful in it's own way, but Alberta is flat prairie land and the winter's are harsh and cold and bleak and the grey of the sky blends into the grey of the houses and the grey of the snow and it can break your heart. They had pictures in their flat of Vietnam, I remember a calendar, and it looked lush and warm and full of life. 

The mother made food the likes of which I had only ever had in restaurants. And she made it every day, like it was nothing special at all. This fascinated me. 

I'm sure she made plenty of dishes but all I really remember were the summer rolls. I remember taking them home by the plate load and my dad devouring them. She never wanted to come eat at our house. I don't think they liked Canadian food. But she did come over and make chocolate chip cookies with us. An odd cultural exchange that, chocolate chip cookies for summer rolls. Eventually they moved out to BC to be closer to family and when they left I think that was the last we ever heard of them.

But I can think of no other solid reason of my deep held need to one day go to Vietnam.

In the meantime I like Vietnamese food and while I have read a number of books, I've never delved into cooking it myself. So when Uyen of Fernandez & Leluu posted that she was going to be holding Vietnamese cooking classes, I was delighted with the opportunity!

Building summer rolls

Eating summer rolls!

Uyen held her second Vietnamese cooking class over the weekend. She and her mom led a group of eight of us through a crazy number of delicious dishes. We drank, we ate, we photographed and took notes. We took a break at the pub because we were bursting. Came back with renewed energy and appetite and were off again, preparing more dishes. The day culminated in a feast - we sat around the table, eating and chatting.

Building the Green papaya salad with carrot, prawns and chicken


Bo la lot ready for the oven

Possibly my favourite thing to eat that day

Uyen took us to a nearby Vietnamese grocery store where we all picked up foreign items and asked her how and what and is it delicious? I am so excited about the prospect of heading back and walking out with my arms laden with treasures. I think that just that little bit of knowledge will make me feel quite a bit more adventurous and I might  start buying random unknown things and bringing them home to test.

Stir Fried Tofu, Oyster Mushrooms & Asparagus In Oyster Sauce and Steamed Chicken with Poached greens - and brilliant accompanying sauce

Sweet & Sour Catfish Soup

I loved what Uyen had to say about the etiquette of eating. You take only what you will eat at that moment, and don't load your dish up with a mountain of food. This feels elegant, but also beautifully communal because it makes you interact with the other diners at your table and takes your face out of your plate. 

Dinner table begins to come together


Both Uyen and Ute, one of the other students who writes at Hungry in London, wrote posts about the day. 

The full menu for the day:

Sweet Basil Drink
Beef Pho
Green Papaya,  Prawn Salad
Catfish Hot & Sour Soup
Pan Fried Fish & Fish Sauce With Steamed Rice
Sweet & Sour Ribs With Vegetable Stir Fry
Summer Rolls
Beef in Lemongrass & Peanut Rolled in Betal Leaves
Rehydrated Logans, Seaweed & Jelly Dessert
Banana Pudding

The best part? I can actually see myself making some of these dishes at home. Vietnamese feast at C&L?

Rehydrated Longans, Lotus Seed, Jelly and Wakame with Pandan

Friday, January 07, 2011

Sunday, January 02, 2011

New Years Day

I thought there would be plenty of religious celebrations on January 1st. There doesn't seem to be. The Catholics used to celebrate the Circumcision of Christ, but now it is a holy day of obligation to celebrate Mary as Mother of God. I also read something about it being a bit of penance for the pagan festivities of the night before. But I couldn't find anything delicious to eat.

But yesterday was Shogatsu, Shinto New Years. In Japan people woke up and ate a soup called Ozoni. It is prepared differently based on where you come from and I read from a number of sources that you can pinpoint a person's village based on how they eat their soup. The most important, and defining ingredient seems to be mochi, a steamy sticky Japanese rice cake. There are recipes all over the internet if you google it.

I really like the idea of soup on the first day of the year. For us it's almost always a cold, (hopefully snowy) day to cuddle up and be warm so soup is the perfect meal. Plus there is something simple and unassuming about soup which makes room for all the other thoughts and pieces that the new year's day brings.

Twitter was awash in soup yesterday. Is a new year's day soup a thing? I know the Persians make one for Norouz in March that sounds delicious and that I plan on making, but seriously, is it? Do you, dear Reader (hi mom!) make soup on New Years Day? This is the fourth New Years Day that C and I have spent on our own terms and they seem to involve pancakes for brunch (except last year when I attempted a more elaborate brunch which while good isn't something I'll do again) and soup for supper. The January 1 in Paris we ate an onion soup, which we ate an awful lot while we were in Paris, not because it was authentically French but because we were authentically poor ("ahh, when we were poor in Paris" we say now). Last year I made harira (Ottolenghi's recipe, again. Really I should just turn this into an Ottolenghi love in). Anyways.

So I had planned to make the actual Shinto soup onizo. But I realised early that the spirit of the religious festival may sometimes be more important that the letter. We got back from Vienna on the 30th and the shops closed early so there wasn't much time to stock up on groceries for the weekend. Getting dashi and odd fish stick things proved impossible. My local shops are great but they are more Turkish than Japanese and I haven't got a pantry full of Japanese staples. So instead of making the perfect Japanese Shinto new years soup to honour the past, I made Moro's Chestnut and chorizo soup, to honour the day.

And it was delicious and you should make it too.

4 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion
1 carrot
1 celery stick
2 cooking chorizo sausages

Throw these into the food processor and chop them up.

Warm your soup pot and add the olive oil. Add the food processor contents and let fry slowly and gently, caramelising, for twenty minutes until the whole kitchen smells divine.

2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp thyme leaves (supposed to be fresh but I used dried)
1 dried red chilli crumbled

Stir and let cook for two minutes.

Add Half a 400ml can of tomatoes, roughly chopped

Stir nicely together then add
400g cooked peeled chestnuts, chopped (this is two packages of the vacuum packed ones you can get at the store)
A big pinch of saffron threads, infused in 3-4 tbsp boiling water
750 ml water

Simmer for 10-15 minutes, then take off the heat and mash all the little chestnut bits with a potato masher until it is a smoother, but still rustic, texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper and a drop or two of sherry vinegar.

We ate it (almost all) with yogurt flatbread and finished it up with a lemon cake and clementine confit.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

A Tart and A Flatbread

We had two lovely friends over for dinner and I made two Ottolenghi recipes from Plenty: the caramelised garlic and goat's cheese tart and the yogurt flatbreads with mushroom barley salad. I saw via Twitter that Gastrogeek was making that tart the same night as I. I found that terribly amusing. (I didn't put butternut squash in mine though I like the addition.)

Anyways, these little flatbreads are awesome! They're quick. You can get away with making just two (which I have since done). I love them! A few years ago I got Dough out of the library and on one of the first pages is a double spread - store bought loaf and ingredient list on one side, homemade loaf and ingredient list on the other. While you and I both inherently know that there are additives and icky bits in store bought bread it really brought it home to me and I am lucky enough to live close to bakeries and markets where I can get Real Bread most of the time. But there are days when you're too late to get a loaf. Or to lazy to go out. Or the shops are closed. And you still want bread, good bread, but don't want to go to the trouble of making a proper loaf. So I turn to various flatbreads. And this is my new favourite.

Yogurt Flatbreads

135g wholemeal flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
140g greek yogurt
3 tbsp fresh coriander

butter and oil for frying them up

Combine all the ingredients. Mix with your hands into a dry dough, adding more flour if needed. Knead dough for a minute or so until it smooth and uniform. Wrap it in cling film and chill for at least an hour.

Divide dough into 6 pieces. Roll into balls and flatten with a rolling pin into rondo discs about 2mm thick. Heat some butter with some oil in a non-stick frypan and fry the breads one at a time on a medium heat for about 2 minutes per side until golden brown.