Thursday, 19 November 2009

brassica heaven (with anchovies!)

Oh my word. We made a version of baked cauliflower and broccoli cannelloni last night, from a recipe by Jamie Oliver. OK, so we didn't use cannelloni tubes and made it like a lasagne instead, and I didn't use nearly as much crème fraîche, nor any mozzarella (we used a tiny sprinkle of grated half fat cheddar instead), just to keep the fat levels down! But it was amazing. Like it-might-kill-you-with-the-salt-content amazing, but wonderful nonetheless, especially if you like your brassicas. I guess you could leave out the anchovies (with which no extra salt is required in my opinion!) and just season with a bit of salt for a veggie version. Not as fussy looking as the length of the recipe makes it look - I'd definitely make it again. Takes 1 hour 10 mins including about 35 minutes in the oven.

Again I took no photos because I'm greedy and useless, but the one above is one from Food Network.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

a time for everything

It's never too late to try something new, right? Well, the other night I had my first experience of blancmange. Yup, that weirdy, wibbly, pastel-coloured stuff that most other people who grew up in the 80s or earlier have experience of, but I haven't, or at least not until Sunday night. Did I like it? Yeah, I guess so - I have a weird fondness for fake strawberry flavouring (used to HATE it as a kid, but it's grown on me), but I dislike milk (although I like ice-cream, cream and yoghurt), so it was a fine balance of good and bad. Thanks to the husband for this, uh, introduction! Best thing about it was that I got to use my vintage pressed glass jelly mould - bring on more blancmange!

What it made me think of was that there were plenty of things that I never ate as a Chinese child growing up in England, and things that I tried only at other people's houses and birthday parties. I remember my first taste of proper English (ha!) spaghetti bolognese at my friend Susan's house. I liked the 1980s dried Parmesan cheese - it was feety and different. I thought Angel's Delight was disgusting (still find it a bit of a retro oddity if faced with it). I hated cheese and pineapple at parties.

But mostly English food was almost a treat, a luxury. I remember sharing special roast dinners with my sister on Sunday trips to Makro and thinking how great it was, even though it was canteen food. We grew up with a very different slant on food, where cheapo chicken and mushroom pies from the bakery five doors down were magical rather than humdrum, but steamed whole fish with ginger and spring onions was gaggingly boring.

On the other hand I didn't know that a lot of English people don't like and can't deal with bones in their food - we grew up de-boning fish and chicken in our mouths from toddlerhood and learned the anatomy of a duck not through a book but by looking at it on the plate.

Most of all, I remember the cringingly odd lunches we would sometimes take to school. Usually lunch was boring ham sandwiches, but sometimes my Dad would make the lunch and we would get crimson-edged Chinese roast pork and lettuce in our bread, which would bring choruses of 'urgh! what's that?' at the lunch table. I would love sandwiches like that now, but at the time I wanted to disappear into the floor. Not great for a shy little girl. I looked at my friend's pâtė sandwiches and wondered what they tasted like. No-one picked on her. Susan's daily Marmite sandwiches didn't appeal so much, and I don't think I tried the wonderful stuff until I was about eleven years old. It's amazing how much I missed out on, good and bad.

Monday, 2 November 2009

the things we ate...

You know how I waffled on for days about the things we ate in New York? Now, it's not like there's nowhere good in London, only we don't go there very often since I moved away and had kind of forgotten how great it can be. We went there on an indulgent shopping trip yesterday and discovered a few things that I'd never gotten round to doing whilst there, or had not come across in my limited explorations. It's a common affliction of the London-dweller - this blindness that keeps you going to the places that are most familiar, whilst making you forget to go out and have a good rummage somewhere else.

Now, I'd been down Brick Lane and environs before, but never on the best day - Sunday. Luck had it that just as lunchtime arrived, we passed by the legendary Beigel Bake at the top of Brick Lane, where they serve the most incredible salt beef in sweet home-made bagels with a slick of mustard for added punch. I swear I nearly died, it was so good. (Image from

Onwards down Brick Lane, we stopped to look at shops, we spent money down Cheshire Street, but as we drew towards the Sunday UpMarket at the Old Truman Brewery, we were ambushed by the smells of cooking. Inside the market there were dozens of stalls selling wonderful-looking food - mostly not the trashy, sweet-and-sour stuff that is pervasive in such markets, but instead lots of home-style, honest food cooked by people with an obvious passion for their cuisine. There were (praise the lord!) bánh mì, dumplings, Moroccan, Sri Lankan, you name it. The choice was so huge I nearly wept with excitement. Yeah, that's how sad I am. No photos, I'm afraid - I never remember to bring the camera with me.

So of course we had to have a second lunch. What did we go for? A vegetarian 'three-sauces wrap' from the Ethiopian stall. I don't quite know what was in it - green lentils, some familiar curry-like flavours, plenty of heat, a great cabbage salad, a pillowy, thin pancake... it was spectacular, like oh-my-god-why-can't-we-eat-this-all-the-time? We couldn't SPEAK, it was so bloody good.

We proceeded, via a juice bar, into central London for shopping. And when that was over, we headed over to a Chinese supermarket in Chinatown where I bought salt-laden, MSG-pumped instant noodles that are my secret indulgence, and buns to steam for breakfast. Then I led the husband into a tea shop where I had iced Hong-Kong style coffee with tea which is much like Hong Kong milk tea, but with coffee in it too. Had we not been heading straight for dinner afterwards, I definitely would have had tapioca 'bubbles' in it for fun. I used to love the milk tea when I first tasted it as a seven-year-old in HK - it's probably a bit sweet for my taste these days, but it was an amazingly nostalgic experience yesterday and quite a treat.

And could we fit in dinner after all that? Of course we could! At Busaba on Wardour Street, where the food is to die for, especially the violently garlicky goong tohd prawns. Needless to say I'd eaten too much by the time we went to bed and spent the night having weird itchy episodes intermingled with peculiar dreams about pink, man-eating cockatoos and a bear that ate my finger. No, I'm not lying about the dreams - that's what a surfeit of sugar and shellfish can do to you!