Sunday, 12 October 2014

Saturday Night - Dim Sum Delight - A Cooking Class

I love Yum Cha or Dim Sum – its glorious Chinese tapas!  Dumplings, turnip cake, spring rolls and chicken feet – so lovely when enjoyed on a Sunday over copious cups of tea.  So, how hard could it be to make these little delicious tastes?

I found out on a rainy Saturday night in a unprepossessing row of shops in Walthamstow when I arrived to try out Dim Sum making.  Having had lunch with friends earlier in the day, I had a little liquid courage so I leaped right into the experience with my usual enthusiasm.  We were to make:

  •         Chiu Chow Steamed Dumplings [pork dumplings that resemble very small                     empanadas]
  •          Har Gow [Prawn Dumplings that resemble little Cornish pasties]
  •          Sui Mai [open top port dumplings]

The first hour was spent creating the fillings.  The Har Gow needed prawns finely minced mixed with corn flour, salt, water chestnuts, ginger, sugar and white pepper.  Corn flour became a theme for the evening as all of the fillings use this to help the ingredients combine.



Sui Mai was great fun – having mixed all the ingredients, you need to take the pork mixture, stand up and throw it into your bowl.  This loosens the protein threads and you can see the change.  The instructor – who was lovely if a little exhausted having taught a class earlier – explained that the pork needed to have 20% fat (even if you had to add a bit) as this kept the filling succulent when steamed.

We then made the filling for the steamed dumplings which used similar ingredients.  Chatting to the various people on the long table was entertainment in itself, especially the lovely boys off for a night in Vauxhall and making dim sum as a birthday treat.

Then came the dough which essentially involves wheat starch, salt, sugar, tapioca flour and corn flour – then boiling water and oil.  All the dry ingredients are mixed then the boiling water added before being covered for 2 minutes to cook the flour.  You then add the veggie oil and mix into soft dough. 




Divide into 10 pieces and then you get to start making the individual dim sums.  You roll each individual ball into a circle as thin as possible and then use a pastry cutter to cut a circle.  Pop a little of Chiu Chow or Har Gow mixture into the middle then either fold it over like a taco.  Crimp the edges for Har Gow similar to how you work a Cornish pasty and simply close the Chiu Chow edges smoothing them.

We used premade pastry for the Sui Mai and dolloped a little into the middle of the circle then created a circle with your fingers and pushed the dough up the sides of the mixture (similar to a cup).




The results where then steamed, eaten and laughed over [well, we had all bought wine by then which helped with the realisation that I would never be a dim sum master].  Was it worth it?  Well £35 for a fun evening and the opportunity to try something different – definitely! 

L xx


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Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Ethnic Mother Gene

I grew up in a matriarchal society – or rather South Africa, where we let the boys think they are in charge and then get them to light the braai which we enjoy a glass of wine.    Love is food!  If you’re tired, ill, happy or your leg is about to drop off, then don’t worry tannie (or auntie) will make something that will make you feel better.  Nothing can’t be cured with the right ingredients and – if you are British – a cup of tea!

So what is this phenomenon?  I call it the “Ethnic mother” syndrome as my Indian, Chinese, Jewish, Muslim, Cajun, Afrikaans and Irish friends seem to have a proud tradition of “Food = love”.   However – despite being somewhat of a hybrid - I am sure that I have the “ethnic mother” gene as when a cold hits, I reach for the Chicken and noodles or if someone’s love life implodes its gooey chocolate every time.

So how do you recognise if you too would like to solve world peace with a well place slice of pie? If you tick yes to more than half of these questions, welcome to the club – let’s swap recipes:

1.       If the world experience a nuclear winter – or 35 people arrived unannounced – could you feed them all without having to visit a supermarket?  Just using the contents of your kitchen?
2.       Do you have go too dishes which you can whip up while washing the dishes, drinking a glass of wine, hanging up the washing, correcting homework and stepping over the random mutt in the middle of the kitchen?  Perfectly everytime.
3.       Can food cure most ailments?  You have a cold?  Yes, chicken noodle soup or fiery curry to kill the germs!  Exhausted after a long day?  Let me perk you up with something slow cooked and comforting.
4.       When you visit do you arrive with food?  Do you make people leave your home with carefully pulled together packages of leftovers? Do you offer food at Christmas, Hanukkah or Eid to anyone within a 3 mile radius irrespective of whether you know them or not?
5.       Do relatives – and not just those who are blood relatives but those of your friends – provide you with recipes?  Aunt Jo’s rice?  No worries got that sorted!  Mom’s chocolate pudding, already squirreled away.
6.       Is slow cooking and pinches of ingredient’s your friend?  I love making curry but I do so through experience, taste and time – sadly nothing I’ve managed to get into a recipe yet.
7.       Is cooking an expression of love, comfort, celebration – the list is endless.  As the advert on the British TV suggests, a shepherd pie can mean ‘I love you but I just don’t know how to say the words’.

So what is your score?  Do you have a matriarchal streak of ethnic mum?  Most foodies probably do and I would humbly suggest that while the food isn’t always uber-healthy the sheer love, companionship and care that is put into it makes it far less harmful than the pre-packaged calorie controlled supermarket offerings.

Lxx


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Sunday, 5 October 2014

A little visit to the Breakfast Club

Breakfast, it isn’t my favourite meal as I have a couple of issues around gluten, eggs, lactose and citrus!  However, if I do need to have a working breakfast and think that the other guests are relaxed enough to enjoy something new then my favourite destination in London is The Breakfast Club!

A chain – but so not a chain – with branches across London, it pays homage to the epic film, good food and simply being an individual!  Each of the locations are quirky shrines to that era and sadly, I did recognise most of the references.

My companions – a work colleague and a journalist – met me out side and we queued quietly for our table.  The Breakfast Club doesn’t do the fuss that reservations bring [and didn’t do it well before it became popular] so make sure you get up a little early when you visit.

We were ushered to a table and I noticed by guests faces – both bemused, bewildered and – they were boys – hungry!  Catching a passing waiters eyes, we ordered good coffee, tea and a couple of fresh fruit smoothies to nourish us as we flicked through the menu.

While, I am sure that the genius behind this menu has never taken any substances that were not strictly legal [as of course have I never], the list looks like a cross between a stoners dream and an American diner – bouncing from the full English, to waffles, to halloumi and BBQ chicken sandwich.  Yes, my young padawan, we have found the force that will get us through today even though the dark hungover force is strong in you!



Chilli is my friend and I chose guacamole, chili, poached egg with bacon on toast!  Substantial, tasty with a nice hint of tabasco (this is a standard condiment on all tables)!   Once the sheer majesty of the place had worn off my companions when for the full monty and waffles with bacon.









The food arrived in good time and while we managed to cover all the points we needed to discuss, let’s just say that initial five minutes of food-bliss was not eloquent moment of our lives.  Dear Gosh that was good!




Are there any downsides to the Breakfast café?  Well, the coffee could have been quicker and the music could have been softer but otherwise it was perfect!  And to paraphrase the film “When you grow up, your heart dies …..  but not thankfully at the Breakfast Café when we will all continue to be the jock, the brain ….”

Lxx


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Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Cap Vermell Beach Hotel - A hidden Gem in Majorca

Majorca!  In the UK, it conjures up images of riotous parties, all day breakfasts and people who should really know better.  However, if you escape from Magaluf, Palma and the surrounds to head to the North East of the Island you find a very different vibe – one that I rather like.

Canyamel is an unspoilt bay with only about 5 or 6 hotels and a lovely golden beach.  Popular with Spanish and German tourists, major tour operators have yet to find it and it benefits from this relative in attention.

With thanks to Tripadviser
One of my favourite is the Cap Vermell Beach Hotel Most recently, I ventured in with my parents who are in their 60s and a friend of mine who was visiting the area.  Having enjoyed a couple of Mojitos on at the Bar on the far end of the hotel, we weaved our way to our table which overlooked the bay which was just starting to get dark – truly magnificent.

The food at Vintage 1934 is modern European but pays homage to Majorca – its ingredients and heritage.    As we perused the menu, the amuse bouches arrived – butternut squash soup with a quail egg balanced on top.  It was thoroughly refreshing and reminded us not only that we were hungry but that my friend was a vegetarian (a preference the menu did not seem to cater for).

However, on ordering, the staff could not have been more accommodating and we were soon dipping into a glorious selection of starters.  I chose Anchovies and trampo (Majorcan fresh salad) which was a little salty (yes, I know they are anchovies) but otherwise very tasty.

Other starters included Cod Carpaccio with rocket salad and roe (slightly odd consistency) as well as mango gazpacho.  The food served at Vintage 1934 nudges haute cuisine and is utterly beautiful with good portions.

For mains we chose Beef fillet with balsamic onions and foie, risotto with asparagus and tender beans, Turbot on mushrooms, artichokes and beet puree.  Seabass at low temperature on venere rice and leeks foam was the final choice.

I had the Beef fillet which was cooked to perfection with the excellent quality meat complemented by the generous slice of foie.  Despite being fairly certain by dinner companions liked me, I was not allowed to try their main dishes – a testimony I suppose to their tasty nature.

Desert was coffee and liquors as we gazed over the bay in a fully food sated coma!  So would I return?  I love this hotel and the Maitre’d deserves a special mention for simply being so very lovely and friendly but I do wonder if perhaps the food needs a review to ensure that rather than resting on its laurels, it measures up to the setting.

Lxx


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Friday, 15 August 2014

Top 10 Tips to Make a Meal Sexy (or at least how to avoid tears)

Having visited www.match.com aphrodisiac café in Soho square, I started thinking about what makes a meal sexy!   Sadly I’ve come to the conclusion it isn’t all about the food, it is about the experience.  So herewith the collective wisdom of my friends and I:

  • Bear in mind the reason for the meal – Ultimately, this is not an opportunity for you to challenge Marco Pierre White but to show the person you love that you care about them so think modest and tasty! Someone huddled in the corner of a kitchen sobbing over choux pastry is rarely sexy.
  • Think about allergies and dislikes – Nothing kills a mood faster than anaphylactic shock or hives, it just isn’t very conducive so think about what they generally won’t eat and look out for hidden nasties. Having attempted to kill one of my friend’s girlfriends (now wife) by feeding her pesto bread (forgot about the pine nuts), I can testify that it is not great for the love life.
  • A little planning goes a long way – While spontaneity is obviously great, a little planning (even if you don’t tell her/him) means you have what you need in the kitchen and you have the time to make it.
  • Clean up as you go – When my ex used all the pans in the kitchen to cook spaghetti and even managed to cover the cat in pomodoro, my libido was not increased by having to clear up the mess and the moggy.  We are no longer together but I blame his desire to be a samurai knight rather than his cooking ….. probably best to leave it at that.
  • Set the scene – For some this may be candles, chocolates and fancy wine!  But for others – and I’m thinking of those who are married with lots of hyperactive little people – it might be something as simple as getting the grandparents to baby sit or tidying up the lounge so your beloved can enjoy a guilt-free pre-dinner drink.
  • Portion Size – Faced with a man-sized portion of pasta, my friend picked around the edges only to be asked if everything was okay.  The food was lovely, the portion which was roughly enough to feed a small family was not.   Also, too much heavy food tends to make me sleepy which again is a turn-off to most normal people.
  • Drink in moderation – A little alcohol to loosen yourself up can be great for a fun night but falling asleep in your soup, being sick or declaring your undying love through choked sobs is unlikely to get you the end result you wanted.
  • Make it your own – Some couples love a night with moonlight, candles and bubbles but to others a good movie, homemade pizza and beer is just as much fun.  Don’t force it – just because you haven’t superheated your upstairs neighbours flat with the sheer power of the candles you are using – doesn’t mean that it won’t float your boats so to speak.
  • It you can’ make it – fake it – While, everyone would love to be able to produce glorious crispy duck and pancakes, the run up to a romantic meal is not the moment to learn!  So good cheats from M&S, Sainsbury’s or Waitrose are the way forward – you can hid the dishes if you want to as well!
  • Be yourself but better – A seduction meal is not the time to discuss political differences, interrogate your date about their love life or tell them that you’ve always thought they had a fat bottom!   The nice man who shared his thoughts on my derriere did qualify the statement by saying ‘but I like fat bottoms’ but sadly this did not result in what he was hoping for.


With this knowledge under your belt, go forth and seduce your other half
Lx

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Thursday, 14 August 2014

So what does an Aphrodisiac Cafe look like?

When Match invited me to join them at their Aphrodisiac Café in Soho Square, I could not resist and trotted across town to see what it was all about!  A little pop up restaurant selling combinations of food that they - with the help of Michelin-starred chef, Pascal Aussignac - had identified as being good for the libido.



The menu swerved from asparagus to duck egg (with frosted beer) to Flamed Oysters and Chocolate Truffle and Armagnac.   I started with black crisp and aioli which was dried tapioca with squid ink aioli.  Now I don’t eat tapioca – lets just say I don’t like the look of it – but dried and crispy it was like rather weird crisp bread.  Not something, I would sign up for again but the aioli was a revelation – something about the squid ink made it just so very morish.



Then my Cured beef onglet, mulled wine and pomegranate arrive with my pomegranate appletiser (very nice btw) appeared.  What a revelation, the cured onglet was soft and meaty with a hint of Christmas due to the mulled wine drizzle and the pomegranate seeds gave it that crunch.  Glorious and about to be recreated in a house near me.



I skipped dessert and wandered back to the office – if not in a haze of desire, at least having enjoyed a tasty meal!

Yum – and Match does a regular aphrodisiac events so I may well check one of these out - www.match.com/events

L xx


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Friday, 1 August 2014

Galvin La Chapelle - why I need to marry the chef!

It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you sit on when it comes to the validity of the awards, if you get the opportunity to visit a Michelin starred restaurant, you get that little frizz of excitement. So when I booked a table at Galvin La Chapelle for lunch, I was rather enthusiastic to say the least.

The restaurant is at the edge of the achingly-cool Spitalfields market and situated in an old Chapel which gives this – the third restaurant opened by the Brothers Galvin – a soaring roof and touches of sheer elegance.   On arrival (having gotten a little lost as they also have a Brassiere attached), I was greeted warmly and then escorted to my table by the delightful servicing staff – really friendly but professional.

With thanks to www.cwconsult.co.uk
The table was arguably one of the best in the house – against the wall in a little protected cocoon of soft seating.  So glorious was the view and atmosphere in fact, that when my lunch guest was 10 minutes late, I simply ordered a G&T and enjoyed being in the moment (as those nice psychologists say).

When he arrived – having learnt not to be libellous or to be libellous depending on how you thought about the training – we perused the menu and I realise I had made an error.  I had tried to do Michelin star on the cheap – yes, we had vouchers for the Prix Fixe which was £24 per person including a glass of champagne.

Now the champagne was buttery, light and gorgeous but the choices were a little limited (3 per course) and as they were tacked on to the main menu, I rather felt like a child outside a sweetshop peering in at all the goodies I couldn’t have.  We chose veloute of English peas and truffle cream as well as grilled mackerel, fennel, grapefruit and cucumber to start.

Both were pretty as a picture when they arrived but I did find the veloute a little confusing as I had through it was a sauce but it had far more in common with a light pea soup.  The mackerel was good, it was nice and it was sadly just mackerel done well.  Now I know that I am being picky but I had rather hoped for more.

For mains, I went for the Grilled tranche of calves liver, pomme purée, Alsace bacon and girolles while my dining companion when for Pavé of  Icelandic cod, Puy lentils, carrot and cumin purée.  As we enjoyed a glass of white wine we discussed our choices and furiously googled Pave only to find this referred to any rectangular or square food – less exciting than we had imagined.

The liver arrived and I immediately resolved to marry Eric Jolibois.  I don’t know the man and he may have many bad habits but if he can prepare liver like this, I am prepared to overlook almost anything – potentially everything.  The liver was cooked to perfection with that almost slightly might be a little under done texture and the pomme puree was like very very good sex.   In fact, my dining companion did look a little worried as I was making happy noises as I ate it.

The Pave of cod also looked good and apparently the carrot and cumin puree was spectacular but I think that I got the better deal [that marriage offer still stands].   We finished with tea, coffee and little French truffles, macrons and cakelets.

So, would I go back?  Most definitely but I would probably order from the wider menu, potentially order the liver for starter, main and desert before wandering into the kitchen to enquire about Eric Jolibois marital status.

L xx


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Square Meal