Cooking with elderflower: simple cordial and rhubarb and elderflower upside down cake

Elderflower picking, Hackney

Photo by Helen Cathcart

I really love the start of spring, when rhubarb comes into season and the trees are fragrant and floral with little white elderflowers. I’ve never lived anywhere where elderflower season has been so apparent, but I’m near the River Lea and Hackney marshes, and suddenly my morning runs and bike rides have become heady with the gorgeous scent of these pretty, fragrant and short-lived white flowers, which seem to be growing from every tree and hedgerow. I’ve been collecting it by the bag-load, covering myself in pollen and making cordial (some of which is now fermenting into wine) and more besides. Elderflower is such a versatile ingredient, wonderfully pretty for garnishing desserts, great as fritters dipped in a light batter and eaten crispy and hot, or made into cordial and used in cocktails or baking. The season will be over soon, the flowers will start to turn brown – so hurry, get out there and get picking!

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Here’s my very simple cordial recipe – it uses less sugar than normal and I’ve put the citric acid as optional because I’ve made it with and without, both successfully. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to wash the elderflower before you make it as that will wash away all the aromatic pollen which gives it its special scent and flavour.

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20 heads of elderflower
2 lemons, zested and finely sliced
 into rounds
500g caster sugar
1/2 tsp citric acid
 (optional)

Put your sugar into a large saucepan or casserole, cover with about a litre and a half of water and bring up until it’s not quite boiling, but the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool slightly, then add the lemon, zest and elderflower, and citric acid if you’re using. Stir, and steep for 24 hours.

Line a colander or sieve with a clean tea towel and place over a large bowl. Carefully pour the elderflower mixture into it in stages if you need to, and allow it to drip through, filtering. Remove to a jug and fill sterilised bottles and jars with your cordial. It should keep for up to 6 weeks in the fridge.

Rhubarb and elderflower upside down cake
Serves 6

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This recipe combines elderfower with fruity, tart rhubarb in a light, gooey-bottomed, self-saucing sponge cake. This is best enjoyed with a large dollop of cool creme fraiche.

40g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
300g trimmed rhubarb, cut into 3cm pieces
2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
80g caster sugar
4 heads of elderflower, tough stems removed, plus another head for garnish
40g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
100g natural yoghurt
2 medium eggs, separated

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Lightly grease a pudding dish or cake tin. Place the rhubarb in a saucepan with the elderflower cordial and a tablespoon of the sugar over a low heat. Simmer gently for 5–10 minutes until it’s softened and part-cooked but still holds its shape. It will release its juice during this time.
Put a sieve over a bowl and strain the rhubarb, reserving its juices. Set aside to cool.

Once cool, arrange half of your rhubarb on the bottom of your cake tin/pudding basin, as neatly as you can, along with some of the elderflowers. This will be the top of the cake and look very pretty once you take it out of the tin.

Beat together the butter and the remaining sugar. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition. Slowly add in the flour and baking powder, mixing well, followed by the yoghurt, the rhubarb juices, and the remaining rhubarb and elderflowers, mixing well after each addition. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and lightly fold into the batter.

Spoon the batter on top of the rhubarb in your baking tin and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is firm and golden. Leave to cool for and settle for 5 minutes on a wire rack, then use a palate knife to loosen it from the tin. Serve immediately with loads of creme fraiche.

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Restaurant crush: Lardo

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The food at Lardo is so good, that I found myself chowing down on a radicchio, gorgonzola and walnut pizza about an hour after eating a HUGE bowl of nduja pasta and raspberry jelly at home, like it was the most normal thing in the world. I know. I’d popped in for a ‘drink’ with a pal (thankfully it’s in my new hood Hackney), and I wasn’t intending on eating, but once I saddled up on a high stool overlooking the chefs at work and the pizza-spewing wood oven, it was like I’d never eaten… well I suppose this blog isn’t called ‘A Lot On Her Plate’ for nothing.

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In the last couple of weeks I’ve been there twice, and I will continue to go there as long as it carries on being what I reckon is one of the best informal, reasonably priced Italians in London.

From the outside, looking in on this pared-back, understated restaurant near London Fields, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is simply a pizza joint, thanks to the huge, disco ball-esque wood-fired pizza oven that looms large through the window. But great as the pizzas are, this place is about so much more than that.

For starters, you might not know this, but Lardo – which takes its name from the delicious cured back fat of the beast – has its own extra special charcuterie made from Mangalitza pigs that are bred especially for it in the West Country. These pigs are furry and cute, so you might not want to Google pictures of them too much, but they’re also perfectly suited to yielding cured meats, thanks to their marbled meat and plentiful, flavourful fat. Try the deliciously fragrant fennel pollen salami and silky, silky coppa.

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To keep it true to the inexpensive, local Italian restaurants on which it’s modeled, the team at Lardo put huge effort into sourcing exceptional fresh produce and making things like pasta, simple cheeses, breads and even the syrups for its drinks from scratch. There are specials on all the time, and the menu changes according to what’s in season, sometimes on a daily basis, meaning that even though I visited twice in a few weeks (and ate the same pizza twice – it’s that nice), there were different things to try, and seasonal gems like stuffed tempura courgette flowers (£6), spaghetti with clams and wilted wild garlic (£12), or beautiful pale green nettle tagliatelle (£12) which comes wonderfully al dente and slathered in a creamy sauce with mushrooms and cheese.

The wine list at Lardo is focused and reasonably priced, honed on Italy and flitting between Northern Europe in winter, and Southern Europe in summer, with an emphasis on lesser-known European grape varieties. You can just pop in for a carafe and a bite, and sit at the bar watching the chefs (as I did) if you just fancy something light. But really, everything is so good you’ll just want to order and order – and I’d heartily encourage you to do just that.

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LARDO will open its summer rooftop bar and grill COPPA this summer on 24th May 2014, and I can’t wait for this as I stupidly managed to miss it entirely last summer. Bring it on!

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Kale and coriander pancakes with avocado butter and roasted tomato

kalepancakes

It was Pancake Day yesterday. This post was supposed to go up then. But you, know, life happened (and I may just have forgotten to update WordPress in ages, rendering it unusable). But boy, did I get busy with the pancake pan. I did this smoked haddock pancake with frazzled leeks and lemony creme fraiche recipe for Fish On Friday – an amazing new fish website, and I also made these little beauties for breakfast – mostly because I wanted to feel better about eating pancakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner (dinner was the talented Uyen Luu’s Banh Xeo – thanks Uyen!)

Here’s my recipe – yes, sorry, another kale one, but it’s tasty, I promise! – for an alternative, and wonderfully healthy Pancake Day dish. The pancakes themselves are stuffed full of goodness in the form of very finely chopped kale, with the slow-roasted tomatoes lending a richness and acidity. The creamy, perky avocado butter is made with tahini and is dangerously addictive. Make too much and then smear it on hot toasted sourdough. Or just eat it with your fingers like I do!

Pans

Kale pancakes with avocado butter and roasted tomato 
Makes two big stacks of pancakes

For the avocado butter
Half a very ripe avocado
1 Tbspn tahini
Pinch of red chilli flakes
Tbspn lemon juice or more to taste
Half a shallot, peeled
Pinch of salt and a good grind of freshly milled black pepper

For the kale pancakes
85g plain flour
15g rye flour
Half tsp baking powder
Tsp garlic powder
Tsp cumin powder
Lime zest
Tsp Maldon sea salt and a good grind of freshly milled black pepper

100ml milk
1 beaten egg
1 tbspn olive oil
Two big leaves of kale, destemmed and blitzed in a food processor until VERY finely chopped
Handful of coriander leaves, blitzed until very finely chopped
15ml cold water
Rapeseed oil, for frying

For the slow roasted tomato
1 large tomato, sliced into rounds
Olive oil
Maldon sea salt and pepper
A sprig of thyme

Preheat your oven to 160. On a greased baking tray or enamel plate, place your tomato. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and scatter over the thyme leaves. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until it’s softened and slightly shriveled.

Toms

While they’re roasting, you can make your pancake batter. Put your flour, baking powder, the lime zest, spices and salt and pepper into a mixing bowl. Combine the beaten egg, olive oil, chopped kale and coriander in another bowl or jug. Pour the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture and whisk with a fork or balloon whisk, until you have a batter, adding the water to loosen it – you want it about the consistency of double cream. Leave to rest while you make the avocado butter.

Blitz your shallot in a food processor until finely chopped. Scoop the flesh of your avocado into the food processor and add the tahini, lemon juice, chilli flakes and salt and pepper. Blitz until you have a smooth paste – it should be the consistency of whipped butter. Scrape out of the food processor and into a bowl.

Now it’s time to make the pancakes. Dig out your best non-stick pan (I love the ceramic coated ones) and a silicone brush. Pour about a tablespoon of rapeseed oil onto a small plate and brush your pan with the oil. Heat the pan up over a high heat and then spoon about half a ladleful of the pancake mixture into your pan. Swizzle to evenly distribute the mixture – you’re aiming for small, thick pancakes rather than traditional thin, large ones. Cook for two-to-three minutes and then shake the pan. If the pancake comes away from the bottom easily, flip it over and cook on the other side for another two minutes, until golden. Remove to a plate and keep warm in the oven – which should be turned off but still warm from cooking the tomatoes. Repeat the process with the rest of the mixture, divide the pancakes between two plates and serve topped with the tomatoes and avocado butter.

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Woodland Pie Recipe

Chocolates and flowers are all very well, but I think if you really adore someone, making them something hearty and full of love is the way to go. And who doesn’t love a pie? Which is what my boyfriend will be getting this Valentine’s Day (well he did go and take me to Venice for my 30th, so I thought I should make a leetle bit of an effort!).

A raised, hot water crust pie takes some time to make, especially if you’re filling it with something other than sausage meat, but it’s worth it in the end for a nice chunk of flavour-packed pie, succulent with jelly. And it’s really not as scary as it sounds, you just need to make sure you put aside an afternoon when you’ll be pottering in the kitchen to give the dough time to cool and rest, and you time to poach the chicken, make the filling, bake the pies and them wait for them to cool before you make and add the jelly. But it’s a satisfying process, and a pie like this should last you a while, especially if you just dip into it – it’s perfect as a snack to have with drinks, or as a little starter before a main meal.

I decided to fill mine with chicken, pork belly and mushrooms, because I wanted something a bit lighter than solid pork, and had some fab dried porcini I brought back from Venice. You could easily substitute chicken for game like guinea fowl or pheasant when during game season. I used the stock from poaching the chicken and the rehydration stock from the dried mushrooms to make the jelly – giving it a sort of woodland character. I also put some dried tarragon through the pastry to give it a little lift, and because obviously tarragon is great with chicken and mushrooms. I also used pork belly rather than sausage meat as I couldn’t get hold of any decent fresh pork mince. I’ve made this pastry twice now, and I found using my Kitchen Aid stand mixer a massive help the second time because it incorporates the hot fat and water more smoothly than my rather lame mixing action, but it can obviously also be done by hand in a big bowl. Let me know how you get on with this recipe if you try it out.

Woodland (chicken, pork and mushroom) pies

Makes two medium pies or one big one

It goes without saying that you should use the best quality meat you can find and afford. Corn-fed chickens have more flavour and make for a better stock. I prefer to use pork belly and mince it myself than using pork mince. Marscapone adds a bit more fat to the mix and lemon zest keeps it fresh.

For the filling
1 medium chicken (you will only use 300g of this, but keep the rest for salad, sandwiches etc)
300g pork belly, skin and bone removed
1 tbspn olive oil
5 g butter
2 star anise
1 bay leaf
5 black peppercorns
1 leek, halved and washed
2 cloves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
Large pinch of dried red chilli flakes
zest of one lemon
30g dried mushrooms, keeping their rehydration stock for the jelly
2 rashers of smoked bacon, chopped into lardons
Small bunch of sage leaves, torn up finely
1 tbspn marscapone
Very good grating of nutmeg
1 tsp fish sauce
pinch sea salt
good grinding of black pepper

For the pastry
100g lard
75g unsalted butter
2 tsp dried tarragon
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 egg, beaten
475g flour
160ml boiling water
1 egg, beaten (for the egg wash)

For the jelly
200ml chicken stock
100ml mushroom stock
50ml dry white wine
3 leaves of gelatin.

Fill a pot big enough to poach an entire chicken full of water, add the anise, black peppercorns, cloves, leek and bay leaf and bring to the boil. When it’s boiling, add the chicken and gently poach for 1 hour, skimming off any scum that comes to the surface as you go. When an hour has passed, pierce with a skewer to check the juices run clear, and leave to cool. Pass the stock through a sieve and reserve – you will need this for the jelly. When it’s cool enough to handle, shred 300g of breast and thigh meat into a bowl and reserve.

Then make the pastry. Place your flour and tarragon in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Add the beaten egg and stir in until it’s incorporated. You could do this in a stand mixer for ease.

Now melt the lard and butter in a saucepan with the salt and sugar. When it’s almost all melted, add the boiling water and bring to the boil, stirring with a wooden spoon. Once it’s boiled, remove quickly from the heat and leave it for about half a minute.
Now stir it into the flour and egg mix, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon to form a smooth, sticky dough. If you’re using a stand mixer, put it on the lowest mix setting with the paddle beater and let it mix until a soft, smooth dough forms – being careful to not over work. Cover with a tea towel and rest for one hour.

After the pastry has cooled and rested for an hour, tip it out onto a floured surface and flatten it out with your hands, shaping it into a rough rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds by bringing one end into the middle and pushing down with your fingers. Repeat with the opposite end, folding it on top of the other. Press down again with your fingertips. Flatten it out again into a rough rectangle and place on a floured plate or tray, covering with foil or grease-proof paper and refrigerating for a minimum of 30 minutes. 

While the pastry is resting you can get on with the filling. First rehydrate the dried mushrooms in 100ml of boiling water. Put 5g of butter and olive oil in a frying pan and gently sauté the onions with 6 shredded sage leaves. After three minutes, add the chopped bacon and cook until the bacon is lightly cooked – about five minutes.

Drain the mushrooms, reserving the stock, squeeze out the moisture from them and chop them up. You want them to be about the same bulkiness as the shredded chicken. Add the mushroom stock to 200ml of chicken stock and put in a separate pan.

Put the pork belly chunks in a food processor and whizz until you have a chunky mince, adding in the onion and bacon mixture for a blitz. Put this in bowl with chicken, lemon zest, garlic, sage, marscapone, fish sauce, nutmeg, chopped mushrooms and mix together well with your hands, rubbing it all together to get the flavours incorporated. Put this in the fridge to infuse while the pastry rests.

Preheat the oven to 180. Grease and flour (tapping out the excess flour) two enamel pudding bowls or high-sided pie moulds.

Take the pastry out of the fridge and transfer it to a floured surface. Cut it in half and roll out each half as follows. Sweep it in a circular motion across the surface to coat it in flour. It should feel much stiffer and firmer to the touch now it’s cooled. Roll it out lightly, and then fold it into thirds, as before. Rotate it by a quarter turn and roll it out to about 4mm thickness, being sure to rotate it by a quarter turn every two or so rolls so it doesn’t stick.

Once it’s your desired diameter and thickness, drape it over a smaller cup or bowl that will fit inside your pie mould, reserving the rest of the dough for the lid (you may need to cut off the excess, press together the scraps and re-roll for this). Put the pie mould over it, and then flip the right side up. Remove the inner bowl and press the pastry into the bottom of the mould and against the sides. Chop of the excess off that’s draping over the rim and use this for your lid. 

Divide the filling between the pastry bowls. Put the lid on and squeeze the edges together with the side crusts, being sure it’s well sealed. Crimp the edges with your fingers and put a hole in the middle with a skewer – it needs to be big enough to fit a piping bag nozzle for the jelly.

Egg wash the pies and bake them for 40 minutes, checking that the tops aren’t burning as you go. If they start to blacken or burn, cover them with tin foil and return them to the oven. 

When they’re baked, check using a meat thermometer inserted through the skewer hole that the meat is 80c or more. If you don’t have a thermometer, insert a skewer – it should come out piping hot. 

Leave the pies to cool for two hours.

When they’re cool, make the jelly. Put the gelatin in some cold water for a few minutes until it’s squidgy, then squeeze out the water. Heat the stocks and wine up to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in the gelatin until it’s dissolved.

When it’s cool enough to handle, but not so cool that it’s setting, put the jelly into a piping bag and carefully pipe into the hole in your pie. Fill it with jelly until it’s coming out the hole. Wipe any that leaks onto the surface of the pie with kitchen roll.

Cool in the fridge for about 8 hours. Cut up and serve with a nicely dressed green salad.

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Kale me now: kale and almond pesto recipe

While Jackie Stallone has said that the secret to her – err – longevity is eating a bag of spinach a day, I’ve got to admit I’m more of a kale girl.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to bang on about all the reasons I love kale – you can read that here in this food trends piece I did recently for the Independent.

But I will say this – as you might have guessed from my Instagram and Twitter feeds, I eat a lot of our green (and sometimes red) curly leaved friend. Me and Elly Pear (who started the – initially tongue-in-cheek – #100wayswithkale tag on instagram) are forever swapping ideas, and I just never seem get bored of it.

I always had it growing up, as a nice robust green often as a side to a slow braise or beef stew, but it was my time in Vancouver that really converted me to this hearty, wholesome green. It was EVERYWHERE, and in a city where ingredients were very expensive, it was one of the most affordable and available ingredients. I really like it with my poached egg in the morning, or, in summer, blitzed up into a smoothie with banana, ginger and coconut water. It’s so fricking good for you!

Photo: Kale smoothie time. So West Coast right now.

A bag of kale goes a long way too, and doesn’t wither in the fridge like spinach or broccoli. I know I sound a bit like shrimp-obsessed Bubba in Forrest Gump, but you can steam it, roast it into wonderfully crisp chips, saute it in a little bit of olive oil, use it to bulk-out and health-up various soups, stews and salads, and even make it into a tasty pesto to slather on spaghetti.

It’s fair to say there’s going to be the odd kale recipe in my forthcoming cookbook ‘Fresh: 80 new recipes from market to table’, which, very excitingly, is being published by the amazing Hardie Grant next spring, but for now, here’s my recipe for kale and almond pesto for you to be getting on with. It’s delicious, super-simple to whizz up, economical, and will completely negate any guilt you might feel (you shouldn’t) about eating a big old bowl of pasta…

Kale and almond pesto
Makes a small jar of pesto for smothering on toasted sourdough, gallettes, fish, steak or for stirring into spaghetti

60g/three big handfuls of washed curly kale, stems removed and discarded
Large handful basil
Large handful parsley
three spring onions, roughly chopped
four cloves of garlic
40g sliced/flaked almonds
25g of grated parmesan – the best you can find
Large pinch of red chilli flakes
4 tbspn extra virgin olive oil, plus some for drizzling
Good grind of black pepper
Large pinch of sea salt
1 tbspn lemon juice
75g spaghetti

Put a pan of salted water on to boil. Add the spring onions and garlic once it boils and cook for three minutes, until they’re soft. Add the kale and cook for about 40 seconds, until it’s bright green and floppy – could be less. Don’t overcook it as it will lose that lovely bright green colour.

Lift out the kale with a slotted spoon and put it onto a plate. Lift our the garlic and spring onion and blitz them in a food processor with the almonds. Add the parsley, basil and chilli flakes and blitz again. Squeeze the excess water out of the kale and add that to the food processor too, blitzing, followed by the lemon juice and zest, Parmesan and 4 tbspn of the olive oil. Season with black pepper and salt to taste, and stir. Store your pesto in a clean jar and drizzle with olive oil to seal in the freshness.

You can cook your pasta in the same water. When the spaghetti is al dente – do not overcook- it will take five or six minutes, drain, reserving a splash of the pasta water. Stir in generous tablespoons of the pesto and cooking water and top with freshly ground black pepper.

Posted in Canadian food, Food Styling, Fresh cookbook, healthy recipes, Pasta, Photography, Recipes, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Photo blog: when we went to Portland

Charcuterie boards at Olympic Provisions

It seems like an absolute age ago now, but I was in Portland in September for FEAST – the city’s annual food festival in association with Bon Appetit magazine. Feast is a three day feeding frenzy which sees the city’s top chefs come together and cook superb Oregonian bounty at events like the Sandwich Invitational – a night where they all competed to create the tastiest meal between two slices of bread.

The whole trip got off to rather a rollicking start, as it turned out that we were staying in the Jupiter Motel, whose ground floor was the venue for the festival’s industry launch, so that night, after attending the ‘Sandwich Invitational’, Jamie and I found ourselves rubbing shoulders with the city’s chef and food big shots, dancing like maniacs to My Sharona and drinking free-flowing gin and tonics until 3am. I met a lot of people that night, and I’m sure I don’t remember all of them – but one thing’s for sure, the food scene in Portland is one of the friendliest and most inclusive anywhere in the world, and (said like Frank Gallagher) it knows how to throw a party.

I was there writing a food and travel piece on the Oregon city, which has, in the past ten years, become one of the finest US food cities thanks to all the amazing punk rock restaurants, food carts and cafes that have sprung up serving a global mish-mash of kick-ass cooking. I write about this in more depth in a forthcoming piece for Escapism Magazine (out soon), but here is a little snapshot of the place we visited and the things we ate.

Ned Ludd: nedluddpdx.com

 

Nong’s Khao Man Gai food truck

Nong's Khao Man Gai food truck

Pok Pok: pokpokpdx.com

For more information on Portland see travelportland.com

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Vancouver feature in January’s Jamie Oliver Magazine

Wahoooo! Anyone who knew the 15 year-old-Rosie will know how fricking exciting it is for me to appear in Jamie Oliver Magazine. I’m not going to even try and be cool or understated about this. The Naked Chef rocked my teenage world, and changed my ideas about cooking. Jamie Oliver was just so enthusiastic, relaxed and good at making food, and sliding down staircases, and riding scooters to Borough Market, where he knew all the traders by name. I loved it! I used to record every single episode and watch it at least twice. OK, I’ll admit I did the same thing with Jonathan Creek, but it’s obvious which show has had more of an actual impact on my life. And I’m thankful it was the former.

Like the show so many years ago, Jamie Magazine captures all that is exciting and modern about food. It’s incredibly well made, creative and inspiring, and features fantastic food writers, stylists and photographers from across the globe, so I am suitably stoked about contributing to it. This food-led travel guide came about when good friend and work co-conspirator Helen Cathcart decided to take a well-earned break and come visit me during my sabbatical. Five days of cycling around Vancouver, eating and shooting all the best restaurants, bars, cafes and street food ensued, with me taking furious notes for the piece. Along the way, we met Renee, who would go on to become such a good friend and fixture of our time in Van. This is the kind of work I relish!

My favourite thing about Vancouver – apart from the friends we made – was the food, and getting the chance to document it, complete with Helen’s vibrant, evocative pictures was a real treat. Eating out there is very easy because there is just so much choice – from amazing, affordable sushi to incredible Baja-inspired Mexican, or brilliant West Coast farm-to-table fine dining. But you can read about all that in the feature, so check it!

 

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My little Vancouver kitchen and salted chocolate popcorn recipe

Crysanthemums from Mr Choi's garden

So the time has come for me to say goodbye to my little Vancouver kitchen, as we head off for our long journey home, via Nashville, Mexico (yay!!), Montreal and New York. It’s been good to me, this little basement room where I’ve cooked some of my best recipes yet. Sure, me and the oven have had our ups and downs – the temperature settings can be more than slightly temperamental, but in general this is a space where I’ve had the time to be creative, and inspired by all the frankly amazing produce they have here in British Columbia. Because it’s the fresh, seasonal produce that has to be my favourite thing about Vancouver, apart from gorgeous new friends. That’s what I’ll miss, Mr Choi’s garden bounty, and walking for 10 minutes to be on Commercial Drive, surrounded by little independent shops selling fresh apples, peaches and pears from the Okanagan Valley, Normans (my favourite shop) with its big crates of orange-frilled chantarelles, local beets and kale, and the Hungarian-run smoked sausage shop where a delicious hot, paprika-packed preserved sausage is only $1.85.

We’ve had some good times here, some fabulous dinners with our friends Renee, pictured, (who never failed to bring a lovely bottle of Zinfandel or two) and Cyril, who was always on-hand with chocolate, and shares my addiction for roasted hazelnuts.

In fact, the chocolate popcorn recipe below that I created for Suitcase magazine’s chocolate week content is partly inspired by Cyril. So I’ll leave you with that, and keep you posted from our travels. Mexico here we come!

Salted popcorn with dark chocolate and toasted hazelnuts

Ingredients: 

  • 100g dark chocolate, broken up (I like Green and Black’s)
  • 
Large handful of popcorn kernels
  • 30g roasted hazelnuts, skins rubbed off, and blitzed in a food processor or roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 
1 tbspn ground nut, rapeseed or vegetable oil

Method:

  • 
First, pop your popcorn. Put a large pot with a lid on a medium high heat and heat up the oil and half the salt.
  • Add the kernels in an even layer and put the lid on.
  • When the corn starts popping, shake the pan around gently to make sure the unpopped kernels get to the heat.
  • Put the slid slightly ajar so as to release some of the steam and make crisper corn.
  • Once the popcorn has stopped popping every few seconds, take it off the heat and rest it until all the popping has stopped. You don’t want to burn it!

  • Now heat up half a pan of boiling water.
  • Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and melt it gently with the rest of the salt until it’s liquid. Add in half the hazelnuts.
  • Line a large plate or baking tray with baking paper and scatter the popcorn over it in a layer.
  • Pour over the melted chocolate and hazelnut mixture and toss it around the corn until it’s coated, and leave to set at room temperature for an hour.
  • Serve in a bowl with the extra hazelnuts and an extra pinch of salt. You could add some chilli flakes if you were feeling adventurous…
Posted in Canada, Canadian food, Food Styling, Homegrown ingredients, ingredients, Photography, Recipes, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Special fried rice recipe and Chinatown with Mr Choi

When our lovely landlord Mr Choi offered to take me and Jamie down to Chinatown for a little show-round, of course we jumped at the chance. We’ve had many a conversation with him about the sorry fact that Vancouver’s previously buzzing Chinese district is now just a shadow of its former self when it comes to Chinese-run businesses, in particular restaurants, with most of the restaurateurs swapping the rising rents of the area for those of Richmond – a nearby suburb. If you want really good Chinese food, that’s the place to get it. If you want really amazing Chinese-influenced food, Bao Bei, a  is the spot in Chinatown proper – and for sure one of my favourite places to eat in this city.

But this was less of a food tour, more of a guided tour from a man who’s been hanging out there since the 50s. He told us how, when he was a teenager attending high school here, the racism he experienced led him to wag lessons and retreat to Chinatown, where, when the ‘white kids came down looking for trouble, we showed them what was what – and they didn’t come back.’ It’s so hard to imagine our gentle, sparkly-eyed, sweet-toothed Mr Choi brawling in the streets of Vancouver, but things were pretty back different then. There was far less of a drug problem, for one thing – something that you can’t miss these days when you head to Chinatown. Tony (as he revealed his first name is) went on to be something of a mover and shaker down there, owning various properties and businesses, including, for the most of his working life, a car wash.

He showed us around what’s left of his old stomping ground, including highlights like the world’s narrowest building (who knew?) and the Dr Sun Yat Sen Chinese garden, which was very pretty and quite an oasis of calm amidst the clamour of the city. Of course I loved the little shops selling trinkets, and picked up a cute Chinese lantern and lovely vintage poster. We ate char sui pork buns from a little dim sum shop he showed us, and later some bok choi, ginger tofu and fried rice from Kent’s – a cheap and cheerful institution where a huge amount of food (one portion was enough for me and Jamie, and THEN SOME) will set you back six bucks. It was great to see that there are still plenty of amazing food shops and Chinese grocers selling dried fish, prawns and even lizards (for medicinal purposes) among other exotic things, as well as butchers filled with Chinese sausages and glistening, fatty pork cuts. We even spotted  some durian, but I was way too much of a wuss to buy one and try it. I did get some amazingly ripe mangoes though – two for $1.

This is a little recipe I made for fried rice, inspired by our little visit. I basically muddled it together from what we had in our fridge and cupboard. Putting lettuce in it was something I picked up from Bao Bei – which has a ‘kick ass’ fried rice with pancetta and iceberg running through it. This is best served with some chilli oil drizzled over it.

for the rice
1 cup basmati
2 cups water
pinch of salt
2 eggs
tsp soy
3 drops sesame
half a head of iceberg lettuce, cut into squares
two sticks of celery, finely chopped
chinese sausage, chorizo or 6 slices of prosciutto, finely sliced
half a white onion, chopped
handful of mint leaves
2 tbsps nuoc cham/fish sauce

quick pickled carrots and radishes
2 carrots, brunoised
radishes, chunked
2 tbspns sugar, dissolved in 2 tbspns cider vinegar, topped up with 3 tbspns water

Start by quick pickling the carrots and radishes in the vinegar and sugar solution.

Put the rice on to cook: place in a pan with double the amount in cold water and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer – do not boil or stir, but cook until air holes puff through the surface of the rice and all the water has evaporated, checking occasionally that it’s not sticking to the bottom – about 12-15 mins.

While the rice is cooking put 1 tbsp of oil in a wok and stir fry the onion until browned – about 8 minutes. Reserve. Fry the ham/sausage for three minutes and reserve. Then add a bit more oil, scramble the eggs with the soy and sesame and add to the wok. Swirl around to make an omelette, when it starts to puff, flip it and cook for one more minute. Reserve and finely chop.

When the rice is cooked, remove from the pan onto a plate and fluff/separate grains with a fork. Then add remaining oil to pan, add onions, ham, rice, then egg, lettuce, celery and pickled carrots and radishes which you’ve drained and reserved pickling juice. Add a splash of soy, the nuoc cham, and two tbs of sweet pickling juice and toss it all together with the lettuce, celery and carrot. If your diners don’t mind spice, also finish with some chilli oil. Otherwise, stir through a bit of olive oil for gloss.

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Tongue sandwich?

As I was struggling to peel the skin, taste-buds and all, from the massive beef tongue I’d been poaching for a couple of hours, my French housemate walked past me. “I’d offer to help you, but it disgusts me,” he said, totally straight-faced. And that’s the thing with tongue, isn’t it? Some people just can’t do it (he later tried it and liked it) – they find the idea of chewing on another animal’s tongue just too repulsive. Lord knows the photo below got a mixed response on Instagram. I might be among the grossed out, had my mother not fed it to me from a young age. I somehow maintained the opinion that ‘tongue’ was a colloquialism for another kind of meat, or pate or something – until she confessed that it was exactly what it sounded like: tongue. Still loved it, still do. Love that beefy (it tastes like brisket, no?), earthy flavour. Essentially, it’s a muscle just like any other, and it has a really delicate, delicious flavour. Especially poached in a fragrant bouillon like this one. Plus, once it’s cooked and prepped and chopped up, it’s just a piece of beef. Saying that, the prep can seem a little gruesome if you’re a bit squeamish – like I mentioned, you do have to peel the skin and tastebuds off the thing before you serve it, so do bear that in mind before you embark on the recipe.

One thing I learned on this occasion is to not serve it warm. The texture is all flobby and fatty, it’s just too much like French kissing a cow. But once it’s been chilled in the fridge for a couple of hours, and taken as a cold cut, it is divine. The flavours settle in and it has a meaty, satisfying texture.

Why the sudden urge to cook tongue? I recently got back from Portland, armed with a copy of the beautiful Le Pigeon cookbook, which has a whole chapter dedicated to this cut. Will certainly have to try the ‘elk tongue stroganoff’ and ‘lamb’s tongue fries’ – but first I just wanted to reacquaint myself with beef tongue, which is best poached gently and slowly, with lovely fragrant aromatics for a couple of hours. I got mine from the amazing organic, biodynamic butcher here on Commercial Drive, called Pasture to Plate. I’m now a regular here because their meat is second-to-none, well priced and they can get you unusual cuts, plus they usually have a nice stash of frozen tongues and beef cheeks etc. And all their meat comes from one ranch!

Having discovered that my tongue was better as a cold cut, sliced quite thin, I put it on an open sandwich with lovely toasted sourdough from the Italian bakery also on the Drive. To go with it, and give the sandwich a smoky piquancy reminiscent of a deli sandwich, I made a celeriac remoulade with a smoked oyster emulsion. Oysters and beef go really nicely together, and the punchy, smoky mayo created by blending the oysters with garlic, lemon juice and parsley works well against the crunchy, creamy celeriac. It’s a good way to create a smoked meat effect – without having to actually smoke any meat. Give it a go and let me know what you think about the remoulade/tongue combo.

Beef tongue and smoked oyster and celeriac open sandwich

1 beef tongue,
1/2 bulb of fennel,
1 big carrot
1 onion, halted and studded with cloves
2 cups white wine
sprig or two of parsley
6 black peppercorns
1 clove garlic
3 cloves
bay leaf
sea salt

for the celeriac
1 tin smoked oysters in oil
1/2 clove very fresh garlic
extra virgin olive oil
squeeze of lemon juice

For the sandwich
sliced white sourdough
mustard
1 large tomato, sliced
2 small leaves of baby gem or romaine
salt and pepper

Method

First prep your tongue. Give it a good wash, then pop it in a big casserole with a lid, or curl it around in a large pot. Add in the aromatics – the carrot, onion, parsley, fennel, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, cloves and salt. Cover with the wine and fill up with water until it covers the tongue. Bring to the boil on the hob, skimming off any scum as you go. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover with the lid, and let poach for around 3 hours.

In the meantime, you can make the celeriac remoulade for the sandwich. Peel the gnarly celeriac and slice in half. You’ll only need a half for this recipe. Then julienne the celeriac into matchsticks.

Blend the oysters, garlic and parsley in a food processor with half of the smoky oil from the tin. Add a drizzle of olive oil until the mixture is the consistency of a thick mayonnaise. Add a squeeze of lemon and pinch of white pepper to taste.

Put the celeriac in a large bowl and pour over the mayo. Use your hands to coat it evenly and refrigerate.

Once your tongue is feeling tender – poke it with the prongs of a fork at the base and tip to check – remove it from the stock onto a chopping board. (NB Reserve the stock – it’s good for cooking potatoes or making gravy, just like a more funky beef stock!)

Wait for it to be cool enough to handle, but while it’s still warm you need to peel it. Peeling becomes impossible once it’s fully cool. To peel it, use a pairing knife to get under the skin and create a flap which you can then peel off – hopefully pretty easily. If you’re finding it difficult to pull the skin off, use your pairing knife to cut it off.

Once it’s fully peeled, leave it to cool completely and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

To assemble the sandwich

Use some really nice sourdough. Pop it in the toaster until it’s deep gold and crunchy. Hot butter. Remove the tongue from the fridge and slice it finely. Top the toast with the lettuce, tomato and tongue and slap a bit of mustard on the tongue, if you’re that way inclined. Top with the smoky celeriac remoulade and some salt and pepper. Enjoy!

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