Saturday, 31 December 2011

Japanese carrots with black sesame and spinach with white sesame

Since the excesses of Christmas, it's been all about Japanese food for me. So it was fitting that my friend Mariana invited me over to hers to make sushi on Friday night. It was loads of fun, and apparently I'm an extremely gifted roller. It must be a skill I acquired in my wilder days. Yet despite my natural talents in the sushi making department, I want to do it a couple more times before I tell you about it. Besides, we didn't have any fresh fish so it was mainly vegetarian sushi. That's some of it down there, that we had left over from last night. As I'm not one of those girls who is satisfied with a few bits of sushi for lunch, I also made carrots in black sesame, spinach in white sesame (both from Simply Japanese), and grilled some smoked mackerel which I served on a bed of brown rice. Well, its New Year's Eve, I have to get my strength up!


Carrots, peeled and chopped into little strips
White sesame seeds
Black sesame seeds
Maple syrup
Soya sauce

Blanche the vegetable for a few minutes, then cool. The carrots go with the black sesame - the seeds I bought were already in powder form, if yours are whole then blitz them in the food processor with equal amounts of maple syrup and soya sauce - for 2 carrots use 2 Tblsp of each. Squeeze the water out of the spinach and chop it up. Combine with the white sesame seeds which have been blended with soya sauce and maple syrup - for a whole bag of spinach I used 2 Tblsp of each. My white sesame seeds were whole so I ground them with a pestle and mortar. I think it looks prettier when there are still some whole ones about, like minature petals decorating the food. And since Japanese is supposed to be a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds, I would go with them in the future. Miso soup would have completed this meal, but I forgot to buy it :(

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Taro root with maple dipping sauce

Although reading cookbooks is one of my favourite things in this world, I normally struggle to find even a handful of recipes that I really want to try out. Yet there is one book that I have renewed three times already and never, ever want to return to the library - 'Simply Japanese" by Yoko Arimoto. I love the way it's all so simple, just like it says on the tin, yet each recipe is fascinating to me
Today, I found some taro root in the Japanese Centre. I've never cooked taro root before. Yoko suggests microwaving or steaming for 20min, but I just boiled them for about 15min instead. She said that if you score them, then then you can squeeze them out of their skins easily when cooked. This was not the case. I was scraping the skin off with my nails and shoveling them into my mouth, after dipping them messily (read dropping) in the sauce. Slippery little blighters, those taro. If you imagine a woodland creature gnawing on some tricky piece of bark, trying desperately to get inside and eat the contents (perhaps some bugs, I'm not sure what woodland creatures eat exactly) then you won't be far off. I was ever so hungry, you see, after my hardcore Kundalini class. Finally, on the last one I got it - their slipperiness can work to your advantage - if you rub and squeeze them hard enough, their skin really does slip off! Hallelujah! My dipping sauce was a mixture of soya sauce and maple syrup, a variation on Yoko's yellow miso and maple syrup one, and they tasted like a welcome cross between a chestnut and a potato

Sunday, 25 December 2011

A few fishy things aka A Polish Christmas

We are not a religious family. And yet around Christmas my mum likes to pretend we are, and we all like to go along with it, even though it makes no sense at all. So on Friday, were fasted. Traditionally, you fast on Christmas Eve, and the main meal, which consists of 12 dishes, includes no meat. But my mum got all mixed up and thought that it was Good Friday, so we fasted for 2 days. By fasted, I mean we ate no meat but huge amounts of everything else. By the time I realized that this year Christmas made even less sense than before, because mum had it mixed up with Easter, it was too late to stop. And I prefer fish to meat on the whole anyway, so it didn't matter. We made this delicious fish soup, and also fish is aspic (jelly), as it's one of the traditional dishes for Christmas Eve. The fishy jelly thing was something I always avoided until I had a delicious version a few years back at the "Palac Ujazdowski" in Warsaw, next to the Centre of Modern Art. The difference was that it had three types of fish in it, instead of one, and the jelly had a lot of flavour, which sometimes it doesn't. Then it just tastes gross, as you'd imagine with a mildly fishy jelly. The one we made had 2 types of fish in it, and turned out really well. Though it's definitely not for the unadventurous out there...
Fish Soup 

A whole white fish
Juice of half a lemon
Bay leaf
Juniper berries
Salt and pepper
Single cream
Bit of flour for thickening

You make a fish and vegetable stock from the carrot, parsnip, leek, celery, bay leaf, juniper berries and the head and tail of the fish - it takes about half an hour to an hour. We used the stock to cook the fish for the recipe below, then separated the stock into two bits - one for the jelly, one for the soup. Into the soup one, we added the white fish and cooked it for about 10min. Then, you need to remove the fish and the vegetables. With the fish - take out the bones, chop it into small bits and put back into the bowl. With the carrot - chop it up and stick it back in the soup, but make sure you keep some for decorating the jellied fish if you are making both recipes! Chop up the leek too and stick it back in. You can chuck the other veg.  Add the single cream. Mix about a tablespoon of flour with some water and add that while the soup is coolish, then bring back to the boil while stirring constantly. Season to taste. Add the lemon juice and dill, and serve with crusty bread
Jellied fish

Vegetable and fish stock (described above)
Bit of trout
Bit of carp
Cooked carrot
Bit of lemon
Salt and pepper
Mayo or lemon wedge to serve

 We cooked the fish in the stock  - the carp first for 8 minutes, then the trout for about 7 minutes, then removed them and tried to take out as many bones we could. If you can get fillets, then spare yourself the hassle of doing this, it's no fun. Then cut the fish into little bits and place on a serving bowl in a way that looks attractive - I did little diagonal patterns as you can see up there. Add the bits of cooked carrot, parsley and lemon. Take the stock and add a squeeze of lemon. Now, stir in the gelatine. Season to taste and make sure it tastes good to you at this point. Cover everything on the serving plate in the stock/jelly-to-be, and allow to cool at room temperature before chilling in the fridge. Serve with a lemon wedge or mayo

Friday, 23 December 2011

My birthday cake

I've had a lot of crap birthdays. It may be something to do with my birthday being so close to Christmas (21st December)... But this year I decided to have a fabulous one instead. I started celebrating on Friday 16th and felt like it was my birthday until Thursday 22nd. I celebrated across three countries and with about 50 different people in total. This is the cake I had for breakfast in a small castle near Poznan
It was light and fluffy with dark chocolate topping and a blueberry filling - beautiful. And this is the delicious venison I ate while celebrating in a restaurant in Holland - "De Woord" near Wintersveik (I recommend highly at this time of year, when they have the "Wild" menu i.e. game season)
And that's me, my mum and my favourite auntie up there, in her converted farmhouse in The Netherlands. She's just beaten breast cancer and is looking fabulous!

I've had a lot of time to think in the last few days, travelling across Europe. While reading my present from Ruby - "Icons of Fashion: 20th Century" - one thing in particular has stood out and inspired me, which I promised myself that I'd keep in mind while writing my cookbook, although I think you can apply it to anything creative:

"It is very important to preserve traditions and culture. The idea is not... to make sweeping changes, but to be careful not to do things in the same way"

.("Comme de Garcons" founder Rei Kawakubo)

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Astrid's German and Finnish Christmas Cookies

My no-sugar resolution has gone to the dogs. Or perhaps the reindeers, since it's all the fault of Christmas. It's difficult to work out exactly where this slippery slope began, but if I absolutely had to point my finger somewhere, I would point it in the direction of Astrid and her Christmas cookies
So at least I can say I went down with style and good taste, rather than with a king sized tin of Quality Street
My favourite ones were the cinnamon stars, and so in the spirit of festive sharing, I now offer them to you, my friends...


3 egg-whites
250 gr icing sugar
300 gr ground almonds
50-100 gr ground hazelnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp rum
freshly grated lemon zest 

Look no flour! So in fact they are just pure goodness. Ahem. Beat the egg whites until stiff, then slowly start adding the icing sugar. Put 4 heaped tbsp of the stiff mix into a separate bowl for the icing. Mix the almonds, spices and egg-mix. Slowly add hazelnuts until the dough isn’t too moist to roll. Roll dough to about 5mm thickness between layers of cling-film. Using a star shaped cookie cutter make individual cookies and put on baking paper on a baking tray. Mix the egg-whites you’ve put aside with the rum and cover the top of the cookies with a thin layer. Put the baking tray into the middle layer of the oven and bake for 10-20 min at about 150°C. Best made with friends and washed down with a light German red such as the Trollinger up there

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Gwyneth Paltrow's Kale Crisps

Without actively disliking her, I've never been a massive fan of Gwyneth Paltrow. Probably completely unfairly, I found her vaguely annoying. I think she reminded me of someone at school or something, one of those competitive, over-achieving types of girls... But all is forgiven now Gwynnie, because your kale crisps are a revelation! We were munching on these last night at our girlie Christmas get-together and we must have eaten a couple of bags of kale between us at least. They are so easy to make, and almost impossible to stop eating. And in my humble opinion, they're much tastier than crisps anyway

Take some kale, don't wash it, but do add sea salt
And olive oil according to Gwinnie, or hemp oil according to us
Place on a baking tray and stick in the oven for 12-15min at 200 degrees
Or until crispy
Pour into a bowl and munch happily while chatting and drinking mango bellinis/mulled wine/baileys on ice (or a combination of all three) with your girlfriends

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Buen Ayre on Broadway Market

I can be such a bad friend sometimes. When I have a guest visiting me, I use it as an excuse to do stuff that I really want to do. Instead of trying to find out where my friend wants to go for dinner, what they really feel like eating on their rare trip to London, I give the impression that I'm asking, whilst making sure that the place I want to go seems by far the best option. And after a few months living with the resolution to limit my meat intake, I was dying to go to Buen Ayre on Broadway Market. I've never been here, you see, because you can rarely get a table if you pop in - it's very popular. And now I know why. The meat. And the wine
I completely forgot about this beauty from the Gougenheim Winery. A couple of years ago this was my favourite wine - all the memories came flooding back as if I'd just sat down to a meal with someone who had once meant everything to me but I hadn't thought of for a long time. Which actually happened later on this weekend, but that's another story. However, while revisiting old relationships isn't usually the cleverest idea (I should know, I've done it enough times), going back to old wines is precisely the opposite
We shared the marinated ox tongue to start, with a side salad, and we both followed it by the smaller of the sirloin steaks. There's not much to say about that, because it was perfect. And we all know exactly what that tastes like. If you don't, then you'd better get yourself to Buen Ayre pronto! The staff are really friendly too, flirty without being obnoxious or sleazy. It was weirdly smoky when we went in, due to the indoor grill but they managed to sort that out pretty quickly. Pricewise, I'd say it's kind of average, £35 per head including wine

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Pomegranate porridge

This is possibly the messiest breakfast I have ever made
It's also one of the most delicious. I cook the oats with either goat's milk or soya milk, a pinch of salt, a large teaspoon of honey and pomegranate seeds. If you get the seeds from a fresh pomegranate, you may want to make sure your pjs are covered up, because it's a bloodbath
And this is porridge with banana, honey and almonds. Also tasty (though I prefer the pomegranate), but nowhere near as messy. Not messy at all in fact, unless you drop and spill things because you're still half asleep

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Mum's "kotlet" on rye bread with pickled mushrooms for lunch

I loved having my mum come to stay last week, even though my flat is so tidy now, that I can't find a thing. Not that it's usually massively messy, I'm just quite laissez-faire while my mum's standards are very, very high. It caused a lot of stress between us when we lived together, with my mum always striving for perfection and young me striving for freedom, but I like to think that now we've learnt to love certain differences between us, and accept the other ones
A "kotlet" is something between a burger and a meatball, and my mum's ones are fantastic. It's great with mash, gravy and gherkins for dinner, but I've always prefererd them cold, cut into slices and served in an open sandwich with mustard, just like that up there. Here's the recipe for about 12 of these babies:


500g minced pork
500g minced beef
2 eggs
2 toast - soaked in milk for 10min then squeezed
Onion - chopped finely and fried gently until soft
1 tsp paprika (or any other spice that you like)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

You mix all the ingredients with your hands, squeezing and mashing for about 5min. Then rinse your hands in cold water, so you can form the cutlets. You want them to have a flat shape, then you cover them with breadcrumbs and fry for 3min each side. Finally, put them all in a baking dish, cover in the oil they've been fried in and give them another 15min in the oven. Apparently, some people feel this dries them out and use the method of pouring stock over the whole lot and finishing them off on the stove, but I prefer them a bit drier myself. Probably because that's the way my mum makes them, and that always tastes the best, right?