WORD ON THE STREET

Buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese sauce | The Orange Buffallo

Sometimes, I think, that we forget what energy food has to offer. In this sound bite, quick win for easy gains, fast paced nation, the concept of food has become capsule meals of efficiency – providing sustenance but not always joy. The high street struggles to captivate our attention beyond the immediate satisfaction of a flaky pie or spicy breast of chicken. These fast food kings unwittingly monopolise on our food-culture often denying choice in our urban areas.

Yet collectively and thankfully there are people and places that are making waves.

Hawkers have been around since the dawn of economy in food. In one form or another, each offered and became known for their uniquely distinctive recipes. They succeeded or failed on a reputation of taste and word of mouth. Then – over the last century, as our cities grew and became hung up on cleanliness, we evolved to leave the humble hawker behind. Yet in the warmer climes of our European neighbours, eating al fresco is such a common occurrence. Drifting towards the equator, meal times even slow down the nature of life, and as a priority seem to focus more wholly on social and familial etiquette. Something, observably neglected in the UK today.

Yet now, in larger British cities, there are steps being made to reflect this more joyful approach to eating out. Places to socialise, to celebrate food in the shadows of hawker tradition are popping up (some legal, some not so). Over the summer and winter months these are the places to find independent taste-makers hawking hits of flavours in simple cardboard trays and paper cones.

There is something marginally quixotic about these centres and revolutionary soldiers of food with their get-it-before-it-runs-out menus, whilst you stand queuing. It’s not everyone’s idea of fun, as we have trained ourselves to prefer the inside restaurant food experience. However, take a step back and give it a chance. Observe with me, surrounded by this plethora of culinary choice: what is different?

Firstly, in a bustling hawker centre, taste starts with your eyes and ears. The busy crowds are not dull queues of jaded people in a tired looking takeaway, mulling numbered menus. These are the sorts of people expecting an adventure from taste, bubbling with anticipation, talking with vibrance, accepting the invitation to real world food. They have come for the entire experience with friends and to rejoice and socialise. Then – the seven or eight open kitchens within reach of a little gust or breeze tempt you closer with their own smells of blended spice and intoxicatingly fill your nostrils. Choice is tough, but we have all night – and mindfully, it’s not a race. Lastly (as if your mouth wasn’t watering by the time you’ve reached the front of the queue) every bite of hot, fresh food from each stall is different and full of vibrant flavours. And what’s more, you are not bound by social convention and can eat what ever you like, in what ever order you like. Places like these are abundant in both savoury and sweet stalls. So start with a maple syrup covered waffle, why not, and end with ribs. Chicken wings. Churros. Pad thai. Goan curry. Chicken wings (again). Hot doughnuts. Quesadillas. Satay. All with in ten easy steps of where I stand, right now.

Food like this animates urban spaces. It provides new energy on more than just a nutritional level. This revolution is gently breathing life back into pockets of our cities otherwise reserved for the nine-to-five routine, utilising carparks after hours or derelict warehouses and making world food accessible to everyone. Shared amongst the like-minded looking for something different – it is a far cry from the beat-up kebab shops open until late, or the bland chicken chains that offer very little variety.

So I dare you. If you want a mini food adventure and some great conversation, then grab your friends and get outside this summer. Try one of these to get you started:

Manchester:

PICCADILLY STREET FOOD MARKET – MANCHESTER

B.EAT STREET – MANCHESTER and their FRIDAY FOOD FIGHT

GUERRILLA EATS (seasonal)

London:

STREET FEAST – Dalston Yard and Model Market

BROADWAY MARKET and THE SCHOOL YARD MARKET

NIGHT TALES

MOVEABLE FEAST (a celebration of all things veggie)

KERB

Pulled jack fruit and Saitan corn tacos with avocado, sour cream an corriander toppings | Club Mexicana

A change of space (and pace) – Moving to London…

Processed with VSCOcam with b5 presetTHERE ARE ALWAYS CASUALTIES in a house move: 1 x plate, 1 x egg cup, 1 x stilton pot lid, 1 x oven dish 3x rice bowls (all porcelain) and a pack of chopsticks missing in action. I have to face it – it was a better set of statistics than the last move – I must have learnt how to wrap things a little better this time around.

Moving house is pretty stressful at it’s best. There’s always a moment in time between those two points that you call home, when your brain picks everything up and re-aligns it with a new location. Even if it’s not that far away, that’s quite a feat. But for me, my brain and my stomach were at loggerheads. Whilst my brain was trying to remember what I’ve packed in to an infinite number of boxes, my stomach was already looking ahead into logistical kitchen nightmares: Where are you putting the kettle? What will that fit? How will that work?

From a food and cooking perspective the move has included a severe downsizing from 10sq.ft kitchen and dinning area to a tiny little 4sq.ft (probably less) cooking space. As I assessed the cupboards and spaces of my new home, I began to realise just how lazy my cooking skills and how oddly obese my collection of marginally useless (but quite pretty – hence how I’ve come to own them) kitchen implements have become. It’s time to shape up, stream line, and get focused again. This is about food and substance, not style and whim – as my chinese grandmother would say.

Will I miss the old space? Absolutely – a kitchen is often the heart of a home, and mine was no exception. I was happy to have people eating, conversing, spilling sour secrets over the wooden dining table and celebrating the savoury and sweet with me. That green tiled splash back had caught more than just my tears at times of disaster and the oven had bore witness to personal triumphs.

So now I’m making headway in my new little kitchen. Things fit (just about), and the skylight window drenches a small crisp square of yellow sunshine in the morning across the shelves and invites me to look with new eyes and muse on future possibilities. Oh of course, there will be many times when my clumsy side will trouble me in such a tired and confined environment, and as a result the kitchen and I will probably fall out. However, with Portobello Road Market (among so many others) on my doorstep, for the first time a lack of home cooking does not concern me. I can not imagine the number of possibilities of eating out.

It’s been a while since I’ve been back living here in the capital, but as of this week I can happily call myself a Londoner again. Countless many memories are rushing back.

So ~ stay tuned for more London food based adventures. x

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Quick Fix Sushi Lunches

Sushi rolls

As the heat of the day really starts to kick in over summer, there is nothing I crave more than a plate of fresh sushi and a cold glass of white wine. Sadly, during the week it is unlikely I can snaffle a glass of wine on my office lunch break. Nor was there anywhere in the vicinity of the office that sold sushi.

But with the introduction of international food aisles to the likes of Sainsbury’s and Tesco, supermarkets have really stepped up the range of Asian food staples on offer. Although this doesn’t yet include fresh sushi grade fish, it does mean that packets of Nori seaweed sheets and sushi rice are readily available.

Here’s a refreshing change to your packed lunch. Give it a try.

Ingredients
Nori seaweed sheets (1 large sheet for 2 rolls)
400g Sushi rice
Smoked salmon slices, cooked prawns, ocean sticks or cold chicken strips.
Avocado (sliced)
Cucumber (julienned)
Salad (soft rocket leaves or lambs lettuce)
Mayonnaise (optional)
Sushi rolling mat or baking paper.

Method
Wash the sushi rice gently in a sieve using cold water, rinsing out any lose starch and dirt. Place in a saucepan filling with cold water (about half a pint) no further than 2/3 of the pot. Bring the pot to the boil and then immediately turn the heat down to simmer gently for 15 minutes with a lid. Remove from the heat and leave to stand and cool completely.

Lay out the Nori seaweed sheet onto your rolling mat or baking paper. Following one edge of the sheet, spread and flatten out a line of rice just over an inch wide, before making a shallow trough along the centre of your rice. If you find the rice is sticking too much to you as you do this, use wet fingers dipped in rice wine vinegar. Into the trough lay the main filling – salmon, chicken, prawns or even a mix. Then top with a light helping of salad and a drizzle of mayonnaise. Now with dry hands lift the seaweed sheet using the sushi roll mat or baking paper to help, and roll to make a tight cylinder of rice and filling in a seaweed outer shell. Place fold side down on chopping board and slice the roll to your desired length. Cut into inches for bite sized party aperitifs or longer for single snacks.

Braver sushi aficionados can spread a little wasabi paste on to the nori which will act like glue and keep the roll from unravelling.

~

On the topic of cocktails: #1 … Punching with Rum

Three rum based summer cocktails to bring a tropical burst to your back garden evenings.

Rum

The weather man was finally predicting a heatwave this weekend, heralding the optimistic rush to ready our gardens, bikes or barbecues to make the most of the British sunshine. I spent Saturday evening watching the sun dip over the garden wall, contemplating the merits of cocktails and drinks that extend those summer evenings late in to the night.

So in the first post of a summer series on cocktails, here’s some interesting tipples for your taste buds to try:

 

Mai Tai

Ingredients
4 parts white rum (Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum)
2 parts dark rum (Havana Club or Barcardi)
1 part curaçao
1 part orgeat syrup (optional)
1 part fresh lime juice

Method
Mix together the white rum, curaçao, syrup and lime juice with a hand full of ice. Strain into a tall chilled glass. Then, if you can, float the dark rum over the top of the drink by pouring slowly over the back of a spoon. The traditional garnish is usually a slice of pineapple, and a some lime peel gently twisted to release the citrus oils. But an orange slice or two would do just fine.

 

Rum Caipirinha

Ingredients
3/4 – 1 whole lime per glass (depending on how sour you like things)
2 tsps soft brown sugar
White rum to top (Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum)

Method
Slice the limes into segments, and with the brown sugar gently mash into the bottom of a tumbler glass until the sugar dissolves into the lime juices. Fill with crushed ice and top with white rum.

For more fruity variations, you can substitute the lime with skinned, seedless grapes, kiwi fruit or mango. For an entirely oriental twist try strawberries and a peach slice topped with 1 part sake and 1 part white rum.

 

Hot Cola Cube Mixer – a spicy take on the Cuba Libre

Ingredients
1 part dark rum
1 part white rum (Bacardi 151)
2 parts cola
1 part soda cream
1 inch fresh ginger (sliced) or 2 tsps ground ginger

Method
Drop the ginger slices (or powder) into a large jug or decanter with plenty of ice cubes. Pour in both rums and stir really well. Top off with the cola and soda and serve.

~

Cold Cuts and Raisins

Lamb pittas with raisins

Wednesday afternoon. Time to kick back, a moment of time to myself amidst a busy week, to catch my breath. I stare out of the kitchen window into clear skies and my thoughts turn to dinner. What happy morsel can I plate up and fit into a busy evening, without succumbing to an on-the-go fast food alternative or wasting what is still left to use in the refrigerator?

With just two of us living together there is usually a substantial amount of cold roasted meat in my fridge left over from a large chicken or an oversized leg of lamb. Couple this with some kitchen staples, and I can breathe life back into those busily overlooked midweek supper slots.

A handful of dried raisins that I always store in a Kilner jar for baking scones or fruitcake, pep up a salad of watercress and Chinese leafs.  A dollop mint sauce (for lamb, or cranberry jelly for cold chicken, or honey for ham) stirred into some cold natural yoghurt makes a lovely dip or dressing.

Then it’s just a matter of pulling it all together on a slice of bread, deposited into a  warm pitta or even with a helping of couscous or pasta.

Keeping food simple and fresh, I feel is really important during a busy week. Stay inspired and there will never be any need to sacrifice taste for time.

~

How to Roast a Leg of Lamb in Three Easy steps

photo1It’s pretty overwhelming sometimes, standing in the meat aisle in the supermarket when you don’t entirely know what to do with some of the cuts that you are presented with. You’re not alone. I know many people that don’t know their neck fillets from their lamb shoulder, and it’s not shameful – it just means you’re missing out. I was one of them, and even now I pass over cuts of meat that I have no frame of reference for – even if they are cheaper, or meatier than what I end up with.

So let’s start simple. Here’s how to roast a leg of lamb to perfection in three easy steps. And if you think that it’s too much hassle or too expensive, a cut weighing about 1.75 kg (bone included) like the one above will feed six people easily and consider the extra two or three meals of cold cuts you could get afterwards for picnics, packed lunches or quick weekday dinners: couscous, risotto, tomato and mint salad on sour dough all with cold lamb cuts are fantastic.

roastedlambIngredients:

Leg of lamb
5 cloves of garlic, each halved lengthways
6 sprigs of fresh rosemary
20g unsalted butter
3 anchovy filets
Sea salt
Freshly milled black pepper
1 glass of white wine.

Method:
1) Insert the blade of a small sharp knife directly through the meat to create incisions, and use your finger to push a sprig of rosemary, slice of garlic and a quarter of a filet of anchovy. Do this 15 – 20 times all over and under the meat.

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2) Rub the meat with butter, making sure to cover any edges without a layer of fat. Place the lamb leg in a large oven tray, then season with salt and pepper. The seasoning should stick to the butter. Gently pour the glass of wine over the meat.

3) Place the tray on the middle shelf of the oven on 180° for an hour and a half, taking out at the half way point to baste the lamb in its juices to keep it beautifully moist.

The lamb should be wonderfully tender, and not over cooked – filled with flavours of the rosemary. The anchovies will have melted away to nothing, permeating the meat with a subtle saltiness which works perfectly with the sweetly softened garlic.

Allow it to rest before carving and serving up with what ever vegetables takes your fancy! Roasted courgettes are my favourite, along with cauliflower cheese or steamed mange tout.

Broccoli and Butter Bean Soup

So that’s January completed! I feel like I need to give myself a well earned pat on the back. What is it about January that makes it just stretch out its icy fingers into the rest of the year and makes me feel as if I’m never getting any further away from winter? I’m quite impatient, but at least in the first week of February I glimpsed a slice of spring in the afternoon, when the sun hesitated for what felt like a little longer in the sky, before it sank away.

So after getting inspired by the possibility of the green colours of spring around the corner, and wanting something an energetic boost of vitamins and minerals (a good source of vitamins B and C as well as iron and potassium), here’s another fantastic soup recipe.

Broccoli and Butter Beans

Ingredients:

1 large head of broccoli
250g butter beans
1 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 1/2  pints vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup of cream
Chives to garnish

Method:
Slice and fry off the garlic and onion before adding the florets of broccoli. Add in the butter beans (softened and drained), pour in the stock and simmer until the florets are soft. Season with with salt and freshly ground white pepper. Blend to a smooth consistency (or with chunks if you prefer). Garnish with a little cream and chopped chives and serve with toasted fresh bread or sour dough.

Healthy soup