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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Sweet and Sour Pork & Egg Fried Rice

When it comes to my Mother’s culinary repertoire, this is one of her crowning dishes (and the one my Dad goes on about the most). It’s a much loved family favourite and it always seems to be this special meal that gets cooked whenever there are a million family guests visiting. I won’t deny that it is a timely and excessive recipe but with a bit of easy preparation anyone can get it tasting delicious. Don’t be deterred by the ingredients list – I promise there will be full and happy bellies all round.

Ingredients: (Serves 4)
Pork tenderloin (cut into ½ inch chunks)
1/2 cucumber
2 carrot
2 peppers
4 chestnut mushrooms
1 large onion
1 inch of ginger
Whole bulb of garlic
Pineapple chunks
Pineapple juice (if from tin)
1 cup of corn flour
Tomato sauce
Vinegar to taste
Lemon zest
Juice of half a lemon
5 small chillis
Salt and pepper to taste
2 spoons soy sauce
2 spoons of sugar
1 tbsp. five spice

Marinate the pork chunks in the fivespice, sherry, soy sauce, lemon zest and lemon juice and corn flour and pepper. Make sure the meat is coated well in the mix to ensure good cornflower coverage. Leave for at least an hour in the fridge but overnight is best.

After the marinating, give it a stir to make sure everything is coated evenly and fry in a pan with 1/2 inch of hot veg oil, carefully turning the chunks only when the underside is browned and the thin corn flour coat has crisped at the edges. Do not over cook the meat.

Drain on some kitchen towel.

Use the left over marinade to make the sauce base. To this add half a cup of tomato sauce, sugar and the pineapple juice (if using tinned pineapple).

In a large wok – fry off the onions, garlic, chills, ginger in a little oil.  To the pan, add all the veg and pineapple, stir-fry briefly then add the left over marinade sauce. As the cornflower begins to thicken the sauce, add a generous glug of vinegar. Give it a taste to make sure the sweet/sour balance is as you like it. Lastly stir in the meat and add chives and parsley chopped to season.

Serve with rice and top with finely sliced spring onions. A chilled Rosé stands up refreshingly well to the sweet and sour without overpowering (like a fuller bodied red) or skewing the flavours (like a dry white).

Steamed rice (let it dry and cool with the lid off before frying)
A dash of Shaoxing rice wine or sherry
1/2 tbsp. light soy sauce
1/2 cup of peas
2 eggs – fried like an omelette, rolled and sliced

Chop the ½ inch of ginger as finely as possible and fry in a pan with some light oil. Add an egg – breaking the yolk into the white. Fry until you have a set omelette that you can roll out and slice into thin strips.

Place the empty pan back over a hot flame, add a little more oil and add your cooked rice. Turning the rice as you go so that it does not stick, add a dash of soy sauce and an equal dash of rice wine or sherry.

When the stain of the soy sauce is mixed through all the rice – add some peas (or any other small veg pieces you’d prefer) and the egg back into the mix. Turn constantly so that the rice does not burn to the pan. When the peas are cooked (which does not take long) the rice is ready to serve.

Pork Stuffed Pancakes

I have never been one for stuffed pancakes. Call me a traditionalist but I like mine in crêpe form with just sugar and lemon juice, maybe cheese and onion if I’m feeling reckless, or as a tall stack with blueberries if I’m feeling American for breakfast.

This recipe belonging to my Grandmother had me perplexed and despite my aforementioned pancake rules, I decided to give it a try. The outcome was an interesting mix between a lasagne – and a tasty sausage with a pancake skin. If you like mushrooms, sausages and pancakes. This dish is for you:

500g pack of pork mince
250 pack of pork liver (optional)
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves (chopped)
1 cup of red wine
8 pancakes
A dash or Worcester sauce
1 tsp. sugar
3 tsp. tomato puree
100g gruyere cheese (grated)
1 anchovy fillet (chopped)
1 tin of tomatoes
1 cup of mushrooms (chopped)
salt and pepper for seasoning


Make up a batch of thin pancakes in advance.

Brown off the pork mince in a pan with a clove of garlic, bay leaves, salt, and pepper as well as a dash of Worcester sauce. Once cooked, set aside to cool. Slice the mushrooms and roughly mince the liver a blender. Mix these both into the cooled pork mixture. In a separate pan, make up a creamy béchamel sauce (butter, flour and milk) and mix this into the mince for added moisture.

For the tomato sauce, fry the other garlic clove with the chopped anchovy fillet in a little oil. Once the anchovy has mostly dissolved, add the tin of tomatoes, sugar, tomato puree, oregano, basil, and red wine. Stir briefly and then leave it to simmer for about ten minutes.

Roll the pancakes around one or two tablespoons of the cold mince mixture (depending on the size of your pancakes). Line the pancakes up in an ovenproof dish and pour the tomato sauce over them. Top it all off with a little Gruyere cheese.

Brown in the oven for 30 – 40 minutes on 200°C until browned. Serve with buttered peas and new potatoes.

Pineapple Custard Tart

Ingredients  Pineapple chunks 1 cup double cream 2 large egg yolks Vanilla essence Butter 50g (cubed) Flour 125g 1 tsp caster sugar 2 tbsp milk 2 eggs Make up the sweet short crust pastry by rubbing the butter and flour and sugar together between your fingers. When the mixture is crumbly add the eggs and […]

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Meats and Cheese and Cheese and Cheese

Manchester German Christmas Markets: Nov 17th ~ Dec 21st. It’s a seasonal foodie haven bathed in crisp winter sunlight and wrapped up in an invisible fog of spiced mulled wine and roasting hog smells.

And of course, I couldn’t help myself. Diving straight in, I bought a multitude of European cured meats; Chirizo, Kabanos and the like before standing about at the next stall like a 70’s punk-rock groupie, salivating fanatically over cheeses and firing question after question at the Frenchman selling them to me. I’ll have one of everything please.

So tonight’s dinner was a calorific Smörgåsbord of meats and cheese with an crusty artisan loaf, a simple tomato and onion salad, garlic roasted in Greek olive oil and thyme as well as fruits to accompany those amazing cheeses.

Followed by Macaroons and an espresso.  A chance to play with a new toy – a present from Ollie on his business trip last week to Rome. I love my kitchen gadgets ~

Cheesy Mushroom Winter Comfort



3 large mushrooms, thickly sliced
A handful of chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced/diced
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Fresh thyme (3-4 sprigs)
Sherry (a dash)
Black Pepper (freshly ground)
Nutmeg (freshly ground)
3/4 pint of Milk
2 medium potatoes
A handful of grated Gruyère
100g Blue cheese
Danish Blue, Dorset Blue or Gorgonzola are quite nice for this.

Serves 2

Slice the potatoes thinly, and par-boil gently for 5 minutes in the milk.

In a frying pan, begin by by frying off the sliced onion and garlic in the butter. When soft, add the mushrooms and gently turn through the butter. When the mushrooms are getting brown, add a healthy dash or two of sherry and season with generous grinds black pepper and the thyme.

Drain the potatoes but do not throw away the milk, stir it into the mushrooms. The sauce will thicken, with the potato starch. Remove from the heat and crumble in the blue cheese. Keep some bits chunky.

Add the cheese and mushroom mix into an oven proof dish, leaving enough room at the top to carefully layer over the softened potatoes.

Scatter over the nutmeg and grated Gruyère cheese before placing in an oven at 180° for ten minutes or until the top is crispy and golden.

Serving suggestion:
Perhaps plate up with a fresh Spinach salad. Or even offer these mushrooms as a different backdrop to a nice steak for something of a more substantial dinner.

On the topic of Oxtail

After an early outing this morning running errands I found myself in a supermarket across town. Because it was so ridiculously early (and the weekend no less), there were very few customers about. An enjoyable change to the way a gazillion shoppers normally clog up the aisles like saturated fats in narrowing arteries. I think it was the emptiness and better replenished shelves of the orange liveried grocery shop that led me to finding more interesting cuts of meat.

And so on to today’s topic: What can one do with a pound and a half of oxtail.

Larousse has two paragraphs on Oxtail. We’re talking slow cooking, probably some braising and either a soup or stew-style finish. What else? After further cross referencing with my favourite old recipe book French Cooking for the Home and some other tomes, we learn that this culinary experiment is probable going to take two days –  with around four hours of cooking to begin with and a cooling period in order to skim off excess fat as Louis Diat explains that, ‘An oxtail ragout that has not been thoroughly skimmed is apt to be over rich in fat and too heavy for some digestions’. Old school for ‘a bit greasy’ – and judging by the fat on the oxtail I’ve just purchased, he’s probably right. So much for my earlier saturated fat comment.

The French and Flemish seem to have the upper hand on oxtail recipes. Even the apparently English oxtail soup was reported to have been introduced to this soil by refugees fleeing the French revolution. The Flemish have hochepot which, among other things, includes boiling down pigs trotters, ears and cabbage.

However I think, for my first foray I think I will go with Oxtail Parisienne.

700g of oxtail, chopped in pieces at the joints
oil to braise in
3 carrots
6 small onions (or shallots)
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1 clove garlic
fresh parsley,
a bay leaf,
thyme (dried or fresh),
sherry (or white wine)
a tin of tomatoes
a handful mushrooms
three medium potatoes

(will serve 2-3)

Season the oxtail with salt and pepper, and brown in a large pan with some oil. Then brown off the onions and carrots in the same pan also. Drain out the excess fat, add the garlic and flour and turn everything gently to allow good coverage.

Tie the celery, bay leaf, sprigs of thyme and parsley stalks together with string (leave some parsley spare for garnish later) and drop into the pan with the wine and tomatoes. Add enough water to cover the meat, bring to the boil and then reduce heat, cover and cook slowly for 4 hours. You could transfer it to a slow cooker crock pot at this point if you wanted.

After 4 hours cooking, allow to cool until the fat that has collected on the surface is easy to skim off the top. Take care not to bully the mix around, the meat will be on the tender side. This is the point at which it can become a two day process; if you decide to leave the stew to cool over night and reheat it the next day. Allowing the stew to rest for a day also lets the flavours settle and come together for a fuller flavour.

While the stew is warming through again, sauté the mushrooms and add to the ragout. Cook for another half an hour.

Add diced boiled potatoes to the stew at the last minute, season with chopped parsley and serve. ~

If you’re one of those people that thinks stew ‘makes everything on the plate taste the same because it’s all cooked together’. This is for you. Omit the potatoes and cook them separately. Roast them, perhaps with some courgettes, or perhaps even make rostis:

Credit for this part of the article must got to @olliehunter.

Use a ratio 1 large potato to 1 small onion
Egg to bind.

Grate 2 large potatoes and 2 onions into a bowl lined with a clean teacloth. Gather the teacloth edges and draw tightly together,  squeezing excess juice out of the grated bulk. Empty into the bowl and mix in an egg. Season with salt and pepper (side note: chilli flakes, garlic, parmesan or cheddar are great additions at this point – but it depends what you are serving the rosti with). Spoon the mixture into a small hot oiled frying pan and press down to fill to the edges. Don’t make it too thick because the potato has to cook through. Allow to brown and go crisp on one side for 7 minutes on a medium to low heat (depending on thickness), before turning out onto a plate (a palette knife can be helpful) and sliding back into the pan on the opposite side. Repeat the cooking process for this side.  Make sure that the potato is soft before before serving.