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I ate food served out of small vans twice in 24 hours this weekend and the two experiences could not have exemplified better what I love and hate about London. First, a hipster pop-up restaurant in Southwark, a one night only conceptual dining experience, learned about through word-of-mouth and ticketed online and second, a street food stall in Brixton market with some plastic tables and chairs set up opposite the recreation centre. Which do you suppose I loved and which made me seethingly homicidal? Hmm… Read the rest of this entry »

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I’m not, I swear, writing a super meaty post right after my vegetarian recipe in some freaky ‘fair and balanced’ way. This is just how things sometimes work out when you’re an onmivore. After cooking for Thrifty Gal on Friday night, Mr Lemur and I spent Saturday celebrating with old friends K&L (K of the amazing gnocchi), who are in the process of moving from the US to my neck of the woods. I’m massively excited to have them within weekend visiting distance and we’re already plotting culinary adventures for the autumn. We wanted a suitably posh celebratory dinner but, typically, hadn’t got around to actually booking anything. But since we were on the early side and in restaurant-heavy Clerkenwell, we thought we might manage to blag a table somewhere nice if we were very polite about it. We sent K into St John to ask about cancellations and – joy – he managed to score us a table.

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Another busy weekend for the lemurs began with blogging chum Thrifty Gal popping down from London on Friday night. She’s an old friend and a famously easy house guest – she tends to arrive with champagne, and she is completely happy to watch me cook, pour me wine, and then slob on the sofa with the cat. She is, however, a mildly challenging person to cook for as she’s both vegetarian and deathly allergic to nuts. It’s not really a problem – despite my porky qualities, I cook vegetarian as often as not, as I think all meat eaters should do. Just because we eat meat doesn’t mean we eat only meat and I am perplexed by those who expect hunks of flesh to show up on every plate. So the challenge of cooking for Thrifty Gal is more self-imposed: I like making her the things she’d never usually order because she’s afraid of stealth nuts. She rarely eats in ethnic restaurants as she is never sure if peanut oil or ground nuts might have been used. As a result, she ends up eating the boring crap that fancy European restaurants offer to veggies (why hello again mushroom risotto) and doesn’t get to experience the joys of Indian, Southeast Asian or Mexican cuisines. This is where I come in…

Over the years, I’ve cooked her Thai food that won’t kill her, Indian food that won’t kill her and Malaysian food that won’t kill her. (Er, we’ll draw a veil over the bowl of shrimp paste sambal I thought I could sneak in for myself, only to discover that the smell actually sent her running for the front door in horror. Oops-ee.) This weekend, I thought I’d take advantage of the summer corn to make her some Mexican food that won’t kill her.

Ever since I lived in the midwest, I’ve made some version of corn enchiladas every summer. The corn in Iowa is amazing and to be honest spoils you for all other corn. Especially the dried out pathetic husks in the UK that are, to add insult to injury, 69p each. Yes, Iowans, go ahead and laugh. I know. Trust me, I know. But not-quite-farm-fresh corn notwithstanding, I love the combination of sweet corn with good cheese and a zesty tomatillo sauce. I’ve made this dish with corn tortillas or flour tortillas, with goat cheese or sheep cheese, with all manner of summer vegetables or with a mix of corn and black beans. It truly cannot go wrong so long as you keep the filling seasonal and the sauce good and flavourful. This version is altered for what’s available in the UK. Thrifty Gal still pronounced it a triumph.

Corn and zucchini enchiladas

  • 2 ears of corn, kernels stripped off with a sharp knife
  • 2 zucchini, diced
  • 2 red peppers, diced
  • oregano, preferably Mexican (fresh or dried)
  • 1 tuma dla paja cheese (or other soft goat or sheep’s milk cheese)
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 large green chilies
  • a handful of cilantro
  • 2 tins of tomatillos or 8-10 fresh tomatillos
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • salt to taste
  • vegetable oil
  • 9 flour tortillas or 12 corn tortillas
  • a little Mexican queso añejo or parmesan

First roast the tomatoes (and tomatillos if fresh) under a grill/broiler until split and slightly charred. Turn once to do both sides. Meanwhile, toast the garlic cloves (still in skins) and chilies in a dry skillet for about 10 mins, turning often. Peel all when cool. At the same time, sauté the onions in oil until lightly browned.

Put the peeled tomatoes, tomatillos, chilies, garlic and onions in a food processor along with cilantro and pulse till saucy but not totally smooth. Heat some more oil (I use the same pot I did for the onions) and, when hot, empty in the sauce and fry on medium high heat for 10 minutes, till thickened and a bit reduced.

While the sauce cooks, prepare the filling. Sauté zucchini, peppers and corn in a large frying pan until softened and slightly browned. Season with salt, pepper and a generous pinch of oregano. If you’re using corn tortillas, you’re going to want to fry them in advance (ideally in oil which isn’t so healthy but hey, the rest of the dish is pretty good for you). Flour tortillas can be used direct.

Assemble the dish: for each tortilla add a big spoon of corn mixture, top with a slice of cheese, roll tightly and place in a lasagna pan. When the pan is full, pour the sauce over the top, top with a grating of queso añejo or parmesan and put in a medium oven for about 30-45 minutes, or until bubbling and browned.

Serves 3-4

I served it with a simple pea shoot and avocado salad and followed with Mexican-style coconut paletas. But that’s another post…

My old roommate N is a fan of garlic. I haven’t lived with her for over ten years, since we were in graduate school together, but I remember vividly the image of her crushing garlic and salt with a huge butcher’s knife, and folding little mountains of garlic paste into caesar salad dressing, soup, or skordalia. She is also a real northern Californian foodie, serious about the kind of high-quality fresh ingredients that are second nature in West Coast farmers’ markets. When we lived together, her mother (a professional food writer) actually FedExed tomatoes to the East Coast, which I thought was kind of crazy until I tasted them.

So when a conference brought N to visit me, I immediately considered what I would cook for her. We don’t have California levels of beautiful produce here but we do have some lovely local food in the summer. I figured that what would make her happiest would be the simplest presentation of Sussex foods…with a healthy dose of young garlic to keep things interesting. I got a lovely rolled lamb shoulder from the butcher and slathered it generously with a mixture of olive oil, salt, and a head of young garlic pounded to a paste. There are lots of nooks and crannies in a rolled shoulder that you can stuff garlic paste into. I roasted it for an hour and then sliced it and topped with mint salsa.

The salsa was pretty simple too: I just chopped a bunch of spring onions, two long green chilies, four tomatoes, a small handful of cilantro and a big handful of mint. Mix together, salt generously, and squeeze over the juice of a lime. It’s a simple summer foil to the roast lamb.

To round out the meal, I added local chard wilted with a little agrodolce, and Jersey royal potatoes tossed in butter and mint.

N and I had a great time catching up, sharing photos and hanging out on the beach. This super casual meal – so casual none of it really calls for a recipe – isn’t the most complicated thing I’ve ever cooked but it was definitely reflective of laid-back British summer eating. Now, if we could just arrange for the sun to come back…?

My geeky little heart loves things that deploy science in unusual places, so I was pleased to come across Caren Alpert’s food photography. Alpert uses lab equipment including electron microscopes to take extreme close up photographs of food, revealing the strange and beautiful inner lives of vegetables, shrimp and even candy. In my non-food life I spend a lot of time thinking about images, considering what we look at and what goes unseen in visual cultures. We’re fairly used to these kinds of beyond-the-naked-eye images in the medical context or in CSI, but this cross-pollination of food porn with science was new to me and rather lovely.

The image above is pineapple leaf. This one, if you can believe it, is shrimp tail. With feathers, apparently. Gorgeous! Check out Alpert’s work at Caren Alpert Fine Art.

Via boing boing.

Ok, I know this blog can be a little bit, shall we say, pork-centric. And I admit it: I love me some pig. But I think it is only fair to say that maiale al latte, or Italian pork roasted in milk, is one of the world’s great dishes. I’ve always been slightly obsessed with the way that the milk cooks down to almost nothing, leaving not so much a sauce as a pile of rich caramel nuggets. It’s like savoury dulce de leche, which can only be a Very Good Thing.

I actually came to cooking this dish yesterday in a roundabout manner, via a bag of sorrel. I’d gone to the hippie market on Friday for some vegetables and cheese, and came across big bags of sorrel. I don’t see sorrel in such quantities very often, so I bought it without a clear idea of what exactly I was going to do with it. When lovely Glasgow friends D&J came down for the weekend, I decided that sorrel pesto was the way to go, and thus, that I was cooking Italian. Sorrel pesto is grassy, lemony and sharp, so I wanted something a bit more comforting for a main course, especially given the appalling rainy weather we’ve been having. (Poor D&J had imagined that Brighton in July would mean lying on the beach, walking on the Downs and boutique shopping in town. Instead we huddled indoors with the weekend newspapers and several bottles of wine. Granted, this was not in any way unpleasant, but still.) I hit on maiale al latte as a dish that’s both shockingly simple to make and delicious enough to feed to company.

Now, there are various accounts of maiale al latte that seek to complicate it. Some recipes add aromatics and herbs at the beginning, from garlic and juniper to bay leaves or rosemary. Others seek to render the final sauce more visually appealing by whisking it with cream or wine. To these modernisers I say feh! As Marcella Hazan’s classic recipe in The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking demonstrates, the true wonder of this dish is its simplicity. The only ingredients you need are pork, milk, butter, salt, pepper. It’s barely a recipe really and yet the results are sublime.

Maiale al latte

  • 1 leg of pork (or other cut that will stand up to long cooking)
  • 2 1/2 cups of whole milk
  • butter and/or oil for frying

Season the meat with salt and pepper but don’t go overboard – the flavours will concentrate as the sauce reduces! Brown the pork all over in the butter and/or oil in a heavy pot. Add a cup of milk, stir while it boils, and turn the heat down low.  Cover the pot, leaving it slightly ajar and simmer gently for about an hour until the milk has cooked down to curds and fat. Turn the meat now and again. Add another cup of milk and go through the same process, then do the same with a half cup of milk – this will take less time to cook down, obviously. With a big chunk of pork leg, I cooked it for about 2.5 hours in total but if your meat requires less cooking time, you can either take out out it early or use less milk. Remove the pork, let it rest for a few minutes, and then slice it. Spoon over the ‘sauce’, which should be lumpy, brown, and yet unutterably delicious.

Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s version, serves 4.

 

Sometimes the universe is just in a good mood. Yesterday, a total stranger stopped me in the corridor to compliment my dress, instantly raising my spirits. And, if that wasn’t enough, someone I don’t know terribly well brought me a gift back from Taiwan of green tea and pineapple cake. It was such a lovely gesture and of course, tapped right into my love of Asian foods.

Since I was already wearing my posh frock, it seemed only correct to have tea and cake when I got home yesterday. The tea is amazing looking, with big clusters of whole, dark green leaves. (It looks a lot like some other kind of dried green leaves, not that I’d know about that…) I wasn’t sure exactly how much tea to put in the pot, and I think to be honest I overdid it a bit since the tea was rather on the strong and bitter side. But it had that distinctive heady aroma of good Chinese teas and I’m sure it will be delicious when I make it a bit less like the Chinese equivalent of builders’ tea.

The cakes, which are a Taiwanese speciality called feng li su, were a revelation. The outer cake is actually a bit like shortbread, but softer and chewy, more buttery than many Asian desserts. Inside is a thick and sweet pineapple jam. Sometimes, Asian sweets don’t entirely appeal to me – this is one of the few areas in which I agree that the French really do win the day – but these little mouthfuls of pineapple, butter and sugar are actually pretty damn good. And, of course, they were made even sweeter by arriving so unexpectedly. Sometimes, it really is the little things that count…

My very wonderful friends K & L bought me a present last time they visited: David Thompson’s Thai Street Food. Now, I know everyone’s been heaping praise on the book for a while now, so I’m a bit late to the party. Some of my favourite food bloggers like Andrea Nguyen love it, and it’s been reviewed everywhere from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly. It’s as much a cultural moment as a book, finally bringing Thai street food into the cultural mainstream, courtesy of the chef many people see as Thai cuisine’s answer to Julia Child.

It’s certainly a handsome book: far too big to fit on even my tallest bookshelf and with enough glossy full-page colour photos to make the recipes sometimes hard to find. A cynical soul might imagine it to be a coffee-table cookbook for the kind of foodie that doesn’t actually cook. Certainly, one could spent happy hours leafing through its beautiful pictures of Thai street food culture (my favourite might be the man hugging a rather large dog, who seems to be looking at the camera thinking ‘yeah, he loves me, what of it?’). But you’d be missing the point if you didn’t realise that these are some seriously good recipes.

Now I know a more normal person might have started with a substantial curry dish, or perhaps checked out how Thompson riffs on a well-known dish like pad thai. But for some reason what caught my eye was a dish of kanom jin with dried shrimp and pineapple. Kanom jin are rice noodles usually served in the morning, but this mix of savoury and sweet was hitting all of my Thai buttons and I had to have it for dinner. Pineapple and noodles for dinner? I know, it sounds totally perverse but Thompson’s recipes don’t steer you wrong, and this dish was vibrant and ridiculously moreish. The ginger, garlic and shrimp cut the sweetness and provide an amazing savoury setting for the pineapple flavour to shine.

This version is based on Thompson’s recipe but I didn’t have all the ingredients to hand, so I’ve switched a couple of things around. For instance, I replaced green mango with carrot – Thompson also suggests apple or cucumber.

Kanom jin sao nahm

  • 1/2 cup white sugar (I know, this seems alarming but have faith)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 3 bird’s eye chilies, pounded
  • squeeze of lime juice
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream
  • pinch salt
  • 250 g kanom jin noodles
  • 1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
  • 1/2 cup shredded ginger
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  •  1 tbsp thinly sliced garlic
  • 1/4 cup ground dried prawns
  • some more small chilies to taste
  • dash of fish sauce

Begin with the dressing: simmer the sugar with 1/2 cup of water, salt, fish sauce and chilies until slightly reduced. Take off the heat and add lime juice – I put in half a lime. The sauce is sweet (no shit, 1/2 cup of sugar) but also salty and nicely tart. It’s also already crazily delicious. I wanted to drink it.

Thompson instructs that you simmer the coconut cream but I didn’t bother as it was already pretty thick. I just stirred in a pinch of salt and put it aside for later. Grind the dried shrimp in a mini-prep until fluffy. Thinly slice the garlic, chilies, ginger and carrot. Chop the pineapple into small chunks. Boil the noodles until ready and cool to room temperature. Now you’re ready to serve.

Start with a pile of noodles in a bowl. Thompson recommends wrapping them like yarn around the fingers into skeins, which does produce a pretty effect. Add a handful of pineapple, ginger and carrots to each bowl. Add garlic and sliced chilies. Spoon on some dressing. Sprinkle generously with dried shrimp. Drizzle fish sauce over the top and lastly, spoon on some coconut cream.

I can’t tell you how delicious this dish was. Thanks again, K&L, your present rocks!

Serves 2. Mildly adapted from David Thompson’s Thai Street Food.

 

I’m going to Chiang Mai in December, and one of the things I’m most looking forward to is the varieties of Northern somtam. My friends know that I’m an absolute sucker for green papaya salad, which I find it hard not to order in any Thai restaurant, but the mild papaya version we get in the west is just the tip of the Thai somtam iceberg. (I’m not sure how I feel about that metaphor but let’s go with the awesome vision of a somtam iceberg, shall we?) Eating Asia had a great piece a while back on the many types of somtam, where Robyn pointed out that somtam is more of a method of preparation – pounding ingredients into a dressing in a mortar and pestle – than it is a set of ingredients. As luck would have it, I had reason to call upon that knowledge when I was prepping my own somtam last night.

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My year of travelling continues, this time closer to home with a long weekend in Glasgow. I was there both for work and to see family and old friends, so I didn’t have a huge amount of time for culinary planning. (Please feel free to translate this as ‘I didn’t do anything in my spare time except drink terrifying quantities of gin’.) Luckily, I know the city well and even on autopilot can steer myself toward deliciousness. Glasgow is a pretty good food city, especially in the West End where I was based. There’s a strong emphasis on new Scottish cuisine, in which traditional dishes are reimagined and local ingredients blended with the flavours of the city’s South and East Asian immigrant cuisines. You can have amazing local seafood, game, and vegetables here but we never forget the importance of a good curry. As my friend D says, the nan bread up here is giant and pillowy. I did have a proper old-school Glasgow curry but, unsurprisingly, I was far too drunk to photograph it, so you’ll have to take my word on that one. After the jump, a walk through some of the highlights both Scottish and cosmopolitan.

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