Porky pasta with green tomatoes, kale and preserved lemon

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I made my makeshift porchetta (pork belly infused with herbs and spices, wrapped around the loin and slow roasted) for friends the other night, and we had sufficient leftovers to warrant making a whole other meal out of it. That said, the porchetta on its own wasn’t quite enough for two, so I turned to my favourite pasta shape trofie: short little twists from Liguria, usually served with pesto Genovese – to bulk it out.

My mum sent me an email this weekend alerting me to her recipe for steak sauce involving green tomatoes – which I, like most people who grow their own, have a glut of right now. While you can ripen them up on your windowsill, when fried into the sofrito they provide a nice perky astringency, so I threw them into the mix along with some kale and preserved lemon. The result was a rather lovely pasta dish: rich and satisfying, yet fresh and fragrant: somehow perfect for late summer, when the nights are starting to get darker quicker, but there’s still some warmth in the air. I would really recommend cooking up if you ever find yourself with leftover roast pork, or even better, porchetta to hand. I think it would also work pretty well with rabbit and even chicken as the sauce is creamy enough to liven up lean meats. If you’re a veggie you could omit the meat altogether, it’s still a nice sauce on its own.

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Ingredients 

Extra virgin olive oil 
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped 
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 slices of preserved lemon, flesh and pith removed and finely chopped
handful of green and red cherry tomatoes, larger ones halved
splash of white wine – the fruitier the better
2 tbsps double cream
red chilli flakes
150-200g leftover roast pork or porchetta, roughly chopped
2 large leaves curly or black kale, thick stems removed, washed and roughly chopped 
salt and freshly ground black pepper 
parmesan

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan or cast iron skillet over a medium heat. Add in the rosemary, bay, onion, and carrot and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about five minutes, until the veg are soft and fragrant, then add the garlic and preserved lemon and cook for a further minute. Add in the tomatoes and cook until they’ve softened – a further five minutes, then add the white wine to deglaze the pan, before adding the cream and a generous pinch of chilli flakes. Cook for three more minutes and then turn off the heat.

Now cook your pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water until al dente: 6-7 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking water. 

Return the sauce skillet to the heat and add in two tablespoons of the cooking water, stirring, followed by the pork and kale. Cook, stirring to thoroughly incorporate all the ingredients, until the kale is tender and wilted and the pork is heated through. Stir in the drained trofie pasta, season to taste and grate over some fresh parmesan. Divide between plates and serve with extra parmesan.

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!

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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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!

 

Slow braised octopus with tomato, fennel, mussels and orzo

I have always been fascinated by octopus. I remember eating it on family holidays to Spain as a child, usually pickled or coated in oil and at the end of a cocktail stick, pleasingly chewy. I delighted in the texture of the tentacles – their beautiful gruesomeness, tinged with purple. I loved the way they felt against my tongue, the grooves of texture, their pleasing tangibility – they always reminded me of the suckers on those funny little furry toys I’d stick to every available window.

Whenever I’m at a fishmonger I’m drawn to the octopus – lying resplendent on the ice, dangling tentacles glistening like fishy chandeliers; but it’s never something I’ve attempted to cook. I suppose I’ve always been too scared to take such a magnificent, mystical creature and do the unthinkable to it: render it rubbery and inedible. But a gorgeous dish of slow-braised octopus eaten a few months ago at Rochelle Canteen has stuck in my mind as one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten this year, and something that I could at least try to recreate. It was deep, rich, velvety and heady – the octopus soft and tender and melding wonderfully with the olive oil, fennel, tomato and aromatic braising jus.

I’d also always assumed that cooking octopus would be super pricey, but when I was out shopping on ‘the Drive’ the other day I came face-to-face with a frozen whole octopus, priced very well at $7.99 (that’s under a fiver in British pounds!) so I thought I’d give it a go. I threw some mussels into the mix at the last minute because I was feeding three and was worried the octopus wouldn’t go so far – I was actually wrong as there was in fact leftovers – and the resulting dish was a bit of a hit. I will be making it again, and really the fact that the octopus was frozen didn’t seem to affect the flavour or texture at all. That’ll be the wonder of slow, careful braising!

Serves 2-4

1 octopus – fresh or frozen, about a kg
400g mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
half a small bulb of fennel, finely sliced
three large ripe tomatoes, chopped or, if not in season, a tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tbs tomato puree
half an onion, finely chopped
One large carrot, diced
2 sticks of celery, chopped
4 tbsp olive oil
two cloves of garlic, minced
1 glass of white wine (preferably a good chardonnay for its aromatic richness)
2 bay leaves
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of salt
Pinch of dry thyme or a few fresh thyme leaves
Bunch of cavolo nero
Handful of chopped parsley

Prepping the octopus
First, if you’re using a whole fresh octopus you need to tenderise it, by either freezing it a few days before you cook it, or whacking it with a mallet for 10 minutes until it foams. If you’re using frozen octopus defrost gently on a plate in the fridge for about 24 hours, you don’t need to worry about tenderising it as the process of freezing does that.

Then you must remove the head, innards, ink, eyes and beak.  But don’t be alarmed! This is not as hard or as horrible as it sounds. You just cut below the eyes, separating the head from the tentacles. You’ll see there’s a hole where the tentacles meet, and inside that is the ‘beak’. It’s easy to remove – just push it out with your finger or thumb. Now take the head, cut the eyes off the bottom and discard. Rinse it inside and out, getting rid of the insides, and also rinse the rest of the octopus under cold water. Separate the tentacles too.

NB if you’re using a frozen octopus you won’t have to do this as the innards will have been taken out before it’s frozen. It’s still worth cleaning it in cold water though.

Method
Put the tentacles and sack into a heavy-bottomed pan with a lid, cover with about 130ml of water and cook for 20 minutes on a low heat. This serves to partially cook the octopus, but also to extract its flavourful juices, which you can use later.

When that’s done, reserve the cooking liquor and chop the tentacles up into chunks of about 3-4cm or whichever size you prefer. I like to keep nice meaty chunks.

Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the onions, fennel, carrots, celery and sautée until the onion and fennel is turning translucent and soft – about five minutes. Then add the garlic, bay and thyme and cook for another one to two minutes. Now add the octopus and sautée for a further few minutes, stirring, before adding the tomato, tomato puree, wine, octopus juice and black pepper.

Bring to the boil and then lower to a gentle simmer and cook for about 40 minutes. It might be a little less, you just need to keep testing the octopus until it’s tender but still meaty and not in the least bit mulchy.

About eight minutes before it’s ready, cook some orzo in boiling salted water until al dente and dress with a little extra virgin olive oil.

When it’s nearly there, de-stem your cavolo nero and chiffonade the leaves. Throw in the mussels and kale, cover with a lid and cook for about three-to-four minutes, until the mussels have opened and exuded all their tasty juice into the braise. Then taste for seasoning and add salt if needed. Stir through the parsley and a dash of extra virgin olive oil, and serve in big ladlefuls on top of piles of orzo, making sure to dish out some of the octopus.

Enjoy!

From Vancouver, with love – and lots of courgette flowers

So it’s been three weeks since I’ve been living in Vancouver and I thought it was about time I wrote a ruddy blog. Sorry for the delay, but the truth is, I’ve been having something of a summer holiday. The weather, which has now turned – and all the Vancouverites, bless their delicate souls, are insisting that it’s now ‘fall’ (it’s not) – has been amazing, and we’ve been spending time on the beach, cycling lots around the wide, tree-lined avenues with their sunflowers and wooden Victorian houses, and generally I’ve just been getting to know this unique, scenic city.

My favourite flower shop in Vancouver: Olla flowers
This kind of thing is EVERYWHERE

And oh my gosh have I been eating. And cooking. And eating. And cooking. I don’t know whether it’s a comfort thing – but being somewhere new without my family and friends has just made me lose myself in food even more than usual (recipes forthcoming). I’m really lucky in that my boyfriend (who’s been out here since March) has chosen to live in an area known as Commercial Drive in the east of the city, and it’s basically this mile long drive that’s choc-full of amazing independent restaurants, businesses and food shops. It reminds me in its way of Brixton or Hackney, and I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to bakeries, health food places, specialist shops, coffee shops and grocery stores selling everything from tinned oysters to achiote paste.

So I bought this baby, and have been filling it regularly with ingredients from ‘The Drive’.

But one thing that has been really quite shocking is the price of everything. This is a very expensive place to shop in, and very often it’s actually cheaper to eat out than it is to buy a load of ingredients and cook them. Dairy products are the absolute worst:

Decent, affordable cheese is very hard to come by. I’m yet to find mozzarella that isn’t the consistency of halloumi (middle class crisis alert), and a tub of marscapone for cheesecake set me back $7. The best I’ve found so far is a gorgeously juicy, creamy truffled goat’s cheese from Salt Spring Island cheeses which is sold at the amazing Trout Lake Farmer’s market – a market that takes place every Saturday five minutes from our house, showcasing the best produce from around BC.

Space ship squashes (yes really!) at Trout Lake Farmer's Market

We’ve also been eating out quite a bit, as I’ve been researching a couple of travel pieces. My favourite place so far was Pidgin – an amazing restaurant on the Downtown Eastside which has been continually picketed by anti-gentrification protesters since opening in February. There’s a huge debate going on here in the Downtown Eastside about its low-income residents being displaced by new residential and business developments pushing up prices in the area, and protestors have been very vocal about trying to make an example out of this place, and shut it down. But given that this is a small, independently-owned, owner-run restaurant doing some really good, creative things and employing local people, and it’s a two minute walk from a cluster of places in Gastown (including Starbucks and Spaghetti House), this vitriol seems to me displaced and misguided.

Makoto Ono (left) hard at work at Pidgin

But above and beyond that, the food here is utterly amazing. And the prices are very, very reasonable for what you get – so a sharing plate of melting lamb belly with piquant pickled mustard seeds and silky, smoky egg plant was $16 (that’s under 10 English pounds). The chef, Makoto Ono, is Canadian-born Japanese but is classically French-trained, and his cooking is absolutely incredible – using French and Asian technique applied to fantastic local produce.

The delectable soft-boiled, ramen-marinated dipping egg with summer beans and yuzu brown butter at Pidgin

The above dish of ramen-marinated dippy eggs with sauteed summer beans and mushrooms in a yuzu brown butter was a total revelation, the eggs deeply savoury yet rich and creamy, and it even inspired me to have a go at my own version! I bought some kikkoman noodle base (which includes bonito, mirin and soy), gently soft-boiled a couple of eggs an picked off the shells, then packed them into a glass with the marinate and left them for an hour. The result wasn’t half as good as Pidgin’s – I think I should have diluted the marinate as it was too intense, but it was certainly a start and something I’ll carry on experimenting with. I ate them with wok-fried beet tops, radishes and zucchini from the garden, cooked in the marinate.

I’m also pretty lucky that the flat we’re living in has a kitchen garden, maintained by our lovely landlord Mr Choi. The garden is alive with runner beans, Japanese squashes, tomatoes, really fragrant basil and zucchini (courgette for us Brits), and Mr Choi was kind enough to let me have the flowers, which have been growing in abundance because he doesn’t use them. Now I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with courgette flowers, but I’ve always found them hard to come by in London – I just never seem to have been at the right Farmer’s Market at the right time (middle class trauma mark two), but now I find myself surrounded by the lovely little delicate yellow flowers!

So after paying above the odds for some marscapone I decided to stuff these beauties with it, mixed with a tin of smoked oysters, lemon juice and cayenne pepper. I then coated them in a tempura batter and shallow fried them in some olive oil. The result was a punchy, crunchy, creamy yet subtle snack which we enjoyed with some pale ale. Rather a nice way to see in a summer’s evening.

Tempura coated, smoked oyster and marscapone stuffed zucchini flowers

Last night I decided to make pizzas, as we had a friend coming over – and there were still lots of courgette flowers, so I picked them, took out their pollen-laden stamens and used them as a pizza topping along with some garden zucchini and the attractive space ship squash we bought at the farmer’s market – all of which I marinated first with a bit of lemon juice, white pepper and olive oil. I used a sour cream and raw garlic base, and chucked over some chunks of mozzarella, which was really sub-standard, and browned rather than going all creamy and gooey – but the result was still one of the prettiest pizzas I’ve ever made. And SO summery.

The experimentation continues.

 

My (Uyen Luu’s) Vietnamese Kitchen

Creme caramel for Uyen's book

So I’m sorry I have been such a bad blogger of late. I know it’s been a ridiculously long while since I last blogged. I don’t mean to fob you off, and I know this is a lame excuse, but it’s not like I’ve been sitting around eating digestives with butter and salt and catching up on Game of Thrones – oh, hang on a minute, I may have done a bit of that – but I’ve also been ruddy busy.

Meeting the beautiful and talented Uyen Luu has been a big part of this. I’m not kidding when I say that Uyen is a one woman food creative machine. As well as being a brilliant writer, film maker, blogger and food stylist (but we musn’t hate her, because she is so lovely), she runs her own supper club in her adorable flat in Hackney, where she cooks what is, in my opinion – and I’m a bloody veteran of the Kingsland Road – the BEST Vietnamese food in London. And I know this because I sometimes waitress there, and I see and eat the food that her and her mother painstakingly prepare and send out. It’s sublime. My favourites include the spicy fried frogs legs and of course the unparalleled beef pho. It’s one of the single most restorative thing I’ve ever eaten in my life.

Uyen's beef pho

When I met Uyen (over cocktails at Happiness Forgets, natch) and expressed my interest in Vietnamese food, and in learning more about food styling, she was generous to welcome me under her wing and take me on as her assistant in the creation of her debut book: My Vietnamese Kitchen, which will be published by Ryland, Peters and Small (available to pre order here, now) in October this year. Those that have followed the blog for a while, or who follow my Instagram, will have seen lots of delicious pics of Vietnamese food lately, and will know that I am obsessed with it. So much so, in fact, that I made a pilgrimage to Vietnam in 2010, visiting Hanoi, Hoi An and Saigon, writing this piece for the Guardian on street food, and conveniently getting stranded for an extra week when a certain Icelandic ash cloud decided to thwart global aviation schedules. Aside from the amazing chance to work on the cookery and visual side of a cookbook, getting hands on with Vietnamese food and learning about styling from one of London’s freshest food stylists was just too good an opportunity to turn down.

This is Vietnam!

Assisting on this book has been one of the richest and most enjoyable experiences of my life. Working alongside Uyen, who hails from Saigon but grew up in Hackney from the age of five, and her superhuman mother Le, who doesn’t speak more than a few words in English, but makes her cooking intentions incredibly clear through instructive body language, was a huge privilege. When I went to Vietnam one of the biggest things I noticed was how hard working and industrious the women are, turning their front rooms into makeshift cafes and working endlessly to make enough money – using market produce that they source first thing in the morning to make resourceful but delicious, and perfectly balanced food from scratch. Le and Uyen are set in that mold and both have huge amounts of stamina, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to learn their recipes with them first hand. While we were prepping, cooking and shooting about 6 recipes a day, I barely saw Le or Uyen take a break or eat. They were too busy creating delicious food. I felt a bit like Elizabeth David must have felt in the 50s, learning about Italian cuisine from the mamas.

I love the contrasts in Vietnamese food – its herbal vitality, and the use of acid (lime and vinegar) along with umami (the ubiquitous nuoc mam fish sauce), sugar and heat. But you need to watch out for those birdseye chillis – especially where you put your hands after you’ve been chopping them!

Cody

Uyen’s recipes cover the Vietnamese classics – everything from making the perfect Banh Mi, to a simple breakfast of pineapple dipped in chilli salt – something that will always remind me of humid mornings in Hanoi and Saigon – as well as her own more modern creations, like the delicious mackerel ceviche summer rolls, and raw tuna with the most devilishly delicious home deep fried chips. And watching and assisting Uyen as she carefully styled and propped each recipe shot for her book was a massively eye-opening experience. She has such an eye for beauty and props, and a way with making food look stunning, and watching the way she communicated and styled with the brilliant photographer Clare Winfield, whose work is careful, well thought out and unique, was so brilliant. I felt like I was really learning from the best. I also prepared some of the dishes using her recipes, and I can categorically say that this girl has been seriously conscientious about recipe testing, because I had to make a massive creme caramel for a shoot and it turned out utterly perfect (see picture at the top of the page).

When I had my first taste of Vietnamese food – in Song Que on the Kingsland Road in about 2003, when I had to negotiate my way past a man in a night gown behind a tower of tupperware to get to the toilet, my palate lit up at the herbs I scattered on my pho and the tangy garlic and scorching chilli of my soft shell crab. In Hanoi seven years later, I watched in awe as a women crouched on her haunches and spread mm thick rice pancakes over her steaming drum, filling them with the most delicious pork mince and black mushroom before scattering them with almost candied fried shallot. I dipped the banh cuon into the sweet, salty sour dipping sauce with my chopsticks, closed my eyes in delight, and never imagined, in my wildest dreams that I’d someday play some small part in the UK’s most exciting and authoritative Vietnamese cookbook.

Thank you Uyen, thank you Le and thank you Clare.

Food Styling Experiment: Persian pavlova; lamb shank curry; mackerel en papillotes; clams, and tonka bean chilli truffles

If you’ve been following my Twitter or Instagram (BrixtonRose) of late, you might have seen that the other day I got together with my pal, the lovely and hugely talented photographer Helen Cathcart for a day of cooking, styling and photography. I’m a massive fan of Helen’s work, and we’ve worked together in a writer and photographer capacity before, so it was a real treat to have her over to my flat in Brixton and play around with some props and yummy food. As someone who is lucky enough to write about food for a living, it was great fun to spend a day getting hands on with ingredients (most of which were sourced from Brixton’s markets and stalls, of course) and focusing on the visual side of things. I have also spent some time assisting the gorgeous and very brilliant Uyen Luu on her forthcoming Vietnamese cookbook, which you should all be very excited about – it’s going to be amazing!

For this shoot I prepped, cooked, styled and, with Helen’s help, propped the recipes, and Helen took these lovely pictures. We were both pretty pleased with the results, so I hope you enjoy the photos.

Clams, white beans and kale

I’ve become really obsessed with kale and white beans, together with shallots, white wine and parmesan lately. This time I added clams. I’ll print the recipe soon I promise.


Mackerel en papillotes

The recipe I used for this was taken from Elizabeth David’s French Provincal Cooking book

Saffron, rosewater and lamb shank curry

Having just got back from a trip to Mumbai, where I picked up some fantastic props in the chaotic but wonderful Chor Bazaar, I was keen to do one Indian dish. I used a fantastically fragrant recipe from Vivek Singh’s ‘Curry’ cookbook, and plated the shanks on the ancient, but brilliantly kitch blue enamel bowl I found at the market.

 

Persian pavlova: Muscovado meringues with pomegranate, lychees, whipped cream and pistachio nuts

The meringue recipe I used is from Anna Hansen’s Modern Pantry cookbook

Tonka bean and chilli truffles
In Chor bazaar I picked up a couple of fantastic vintage tins. To present these truffles, which are again from Anna Hansen’s Modern Pantry cookbook, I used the old Indian Amol tin.

A winter’s feast: slow roasted rosemary lamb shoulder, Jansson’s Temptation and kale salad

When it’s getting dark at 4pm, you know it’s time to start feasting. I had some friends round last weekend and I wanted to spoil them with cosy home-cooked dishes that would warm their cockles and make them feel sated and happy. Because I knew I had a tough week ahead of me, and because I wanted to have fun, dammit, I settled on a roast for the main course. I wanted something I could whack in the oven and leave to its own devices, which in this case was a nice fatty British lamb shoulder, covered in rosemary and garlic and slow cooked for four hours (180°C) with some peeled carrots and onions.

The starters, or perhaps ‘nibbles’ is more apt, were two things I got out of the Polpo cookbook; rough chopped chicken liver pate and walnut and rocket pesto – both things that could be easily made in advance and slathered onto some toasted sourdough (from Wild Caper, natch) on the night. I added chopped tarragon to the pate recipe because I bloody love tarragon with chicken, and I used Courvoisier rather than port and brandy, because it’s what I had to hand. It worked well, but next time I might be a bit more generous with the cognac…

With the lamb I served two sides inspired from my travels and recent meals. I did a take on Jansson’s temptation, an amazingly comforting Swedish dish which is basically dauphinois without the garlic and with the genius addition of anchovies, which as you know, go ever so well with fatty lamb. I had this recently with my Chateaubriand at the new Hawksmoor Air Street, and have been thinking about it ever since!

I adapted my recipe from one I found in Delicious magazine. I added in thyme, even though authenticity dictates rosemary, because I had some to hand and I always think thyme and caramelised onions are lovely together. I also added in the zest of a lemon to give it a fresh lift.


Jansson’s Tempation
Takes about an hour and a half including prep, serves 4-6 as a side 

2 white onions, finely sliced
25g unsalted butter, halved
5 medium waxy potatoes, finely sliced as you would for Dauphinois
300ml double cream, seasoned with white pepper and a pinch of salt (no more because of the anchovies)
1 and a half cans of good quality anchovy fillets in olive oil
The leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme, or rosemary
The zest of half a lemon

While you’re slicing all the ingredients, preheat the oven to 180°C. Drain the anchovies, pouring the oil into a frying pan, add half the butter and heat until the butter has dissolved into the oil. Then add the onions and make sure you’re cooking them over a very low heat, until they’re sweet and melty but not charred – should take about 20 mins. Near the end, add in the thyme and cook it with the onions for about five minutes.  When the onions are sweet and translucent, remove from the heat and set aside.

Butter a deep baking dish or tin with the rest of the butter and layer half of the potatoes in it. Pour over the onions and then place the anchovies evenly spaced on top. Place the remainder of the potatoes on top and pour over half of the seasoned cream and lemon zest. Bake for about 30 minutes, then add the remaining cream and bake for another 25-30 minutes, until the top has caramelised and the potatoes are cooked through.

The other side was a kale salad: because kale is in season right now, and I wanted something fresh and sort of healthy to go with the guilt of the lamb and JT. It’s based on a raw Tuscan kale salad I had in Nashville (the yanks are really good at kale) at a place called Tavern, which was so delicious and texturally interesting with all the nuts and raisins I couldn’t stop eating it. I’m pretty sure the Tavern version didn’t have chilli in it, but where I can I like to add a bit of fire to salads.

Raw kale salad with toasted almonds and sultanas
Takes about 20 minutes, serves 6 or more as a side dish

400g curly kale, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
Two good handfuls of sultanas
Two good handfuls of sliced almonds
The juice of one lemon
50ml nice extra virgin olive oil
50g Parmesan, finely grated
Red chilli flakes

Preheat the oven to 180°C. While you do this, whizz the kale up until it’s fine like tabbouleh. I did this in two batches to get an even chop. Then lay the sliced almonds onto a baking tray and toast in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until they’re starting to go golden.

Mix the lemon and olive oil until it’s emulsified. Put the kale into a large mixing bowl, add the sultanas, chilli flakes, Parmesan, and when they’ve cooled, the almonds. Mix it all up nicely using a spatula or good metal spoon. Pour over the dressing and give it one more stir.

To finish off the meal, we had a delicious hunk of Gorgonzola DOP which was kindly sent to me by Gorgonzola, which we ate with some rather interesting Sav Birch Sap wine, which was given to me by the Swedish chef Mathias Dahlgren at a recent meal he hosted in London.

Dessert was treacle tart. I had this very one a couple of weeks ago at a friend’s house and they kindly passed on the recipe, which is Heston, though I used April Bloomfield’s brilliant grated sweet pastry recipe for the case! I served it with clotted cream.  These guys enjoyed it. Or at least looked like they did:

Brixton with Editer.com

A few weeks ago I was asked by the very cool Editer.com online magazine to show them my favourite food haunts in Brixton. A greedy food crawl around Market Row and Brixton Village ensued, and it was really brilliant to revisit some places that I haven’t been for a while, as well as calling in at some of the new ones like Canon and Canon and Market Row Wines that have only just opened up. The night ended in Kaosarn – the amazing Thai that I tend to eat at once a week because I am actually addicted to the grilled chicken and the lamb massaman, and the attentions of Marni-draped hostess Gisele.

Editer has been building up some fantastic food content since its relatively recent launch – with well-written and researched blogs about restaurants, recipes and bars, and incredibly atmospheric photographs. It’s really refreshing to see a stylish, artisan (they shoot everything themselves) online mag with such attention to thought-out, quality content – check it out for up to date, in-the-know food and drink and lifestyle shiz.

And you can come on a tour of Brixton’s yummiest market spots with me here.