Category Archives: My Travels

Tuscan Ragu & Polenta

It’s been a New Year’s resolution of mine for a few years to make polenta – i always enjoy it in restaurants yet have never cooked it myself. Yesterday was the day!

My dear friend Laura who lives in Florence sent me a wonderful Tuscan cookbook for my birthday and after a long 3 days completing the 3 Peaks Challenge the Tuscan Ragu recipe provided inspiration for a comforting, warming, tasty dish that kept me happy in the kitchen yesterday afternoon.

Serves 4
For the Ragu
1 Carrott – diced
2 sticks Celery – diced
1 Onion – diced
2 Cloves Garlic – finely chopped
Sprinkle dried Chilli and Oregano
20g Pancetta Cubes
300g Minced Pork
2 Sausages – remove the skin and mash the meat
Handful Chestnut Mushrooms – chopped
Handful dried Porcini Mushrooms – chopped (save the soaking liquid)
3/4 Pint Sangiovese Wine (or any Italian Red)
1 tin Chopped Tomatoes
1 tin Plum Tomatoes
3/4 Pint Beef stock
Nutmeg
Handful Basil leaves – torn
For the Polenta
5tbsp Extra Fine Polenta (Cornmeal)
2 Bay Leaves
2 handfuls Grated Parmesan
Pepper

In a large saucepan, gently fry the celery, onion and carrott in some olive oil until softened. This is a classic trilogy of ingredients called a Mirepoix or Soffritto and provides the flavour base for the dish. After 15 minutes or so, add the pancetta , garlic and the dried herbs and continue to sautee for another 10 minutes.
Add in the pork mince and sausage meat – mix thoroughly and mash together. Stir in the mushrooms and a sprinkle of ground nutmeg and leave to simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the wine in – don’t be surprised by how red the dish turns, allow the wine to reduce and once the mixture is dry, add in the stock, porcini liquid and tomatoes. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer for at least an hour – add more stock if the dish starts to dry out.
Meanwhile, make the polenta. Boil the bay leaves in a pan on a medium heat in 3/4 pint of water with some salt and olive oil. Add the polenta and whisk to avoid lumps. Turn the heat down and continue to whisk – add more water if needed. After 20-30 minutes the mixture should thicken up – you want it the consistency of a very creamy mash potato. At this point stir in the parmesan and add black pepper to taste.
To serve, scatter the basil leaves into the ragu and amend any seasoning.
Place the polenta at the base of the bowl with the ragu on top. Enjoy this warming, autumnal dish with some kale, tenderstem broccoli and sauteed sprouts.

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Bologna – La Grossa

After a lovely long weekend in Bologna with Elix, I now understand why one of Bologna’s nicknames is “La Grossa” meaning The Fat One. The food is incredible and I could not stop eating! 

Bolognese food is simple, authentic, delicious and oh so fresh. It is the home of tagliatelle, tortellini, mortadella and ragu (the Bolognese never have Spaghetti Bolognese!). On every street corner is the freshest, most colourful selection of fruit amd vegetables I have ever seen including bright purple raddichio, beautiful artichokes, juicy tomatoes and lovely pears.


Elix and I spent the weekend trying lots of new and traditional dishes and whilst I wont be sharing any recipes in this blog, I wanted to share the experience as it as so fantastic!

The first traditional Bolognese dish I ate was Tortellini in Brodo – simply – tiny tortellini in a broth. The first registration of a tortellini recipe was im Bologna – thin, light pasta encasing pork loin and prosciutto and a little cheese. A common dish in Bologna simply serves these tiny pillows of delight in a clear, rich chicken broth. Serving in such a way enhances the taste of the tortellini and is a perfect winter’s lunch. 

I also tried pumpkin tortelli with ragu. The tortellini were sweet and when paired with rich ragu sauce made for a very tasty meal at a restaurant called Al Voltone. I will definitely be trying this dish at home.

 

Now to talk about the ragu – this is as Bolognese as you will get – always served with tagliatelle (the Bolognese don’t eat spaghetti with ragu) – the silkier sheets of tagliatelli pasta provide a better vessel for the sauce to cling to ensuring you get a tasty mouthful with every bite. Whilst I need to try out my own recipes for traditional Bolognese ragu, the sauce generally uses just tomato paste (no chopped tomatoes), carrots, celery, onion, pancetta and minced beef along with wine, stock and olive oil. This is to be cooked very slowly – upto 3-4 hours until a rich, tasty sauce has developed. The sauce is less red than we get at home and tastes less sweet but really is delicious with some (proper)  Parmigiano-Reggiano scattered on top. The one below was the best, eaten at Osteria dell’Orsa – a tiny, very busy restaurant in the Jewish quarter.


A dish we tried and loved was Cotoletta alla Bolognese and is the Bolognese equivalent of a Chicken Milanese. Here in Bologna – a thin pork or veal cutlet is covered in breadcrumbs and lightly fried adding local parma ham and parmesan to melt on top and serving with a light creamy sauce.  We ate at Il Tinello – a friendly, cosy yet lively restaurant with delicious food and wine and lovely traditional decor.


As I always do on any trip abroad I tracked down a good market where we could eat a traditional lunch. Piadina it was! A piadina is a warm sandwich of thin Italian flatbread encasing the filling. We had ours with mortadella (a Bolognese staple – pork sausage flavoured with whole peppercorns, pistachios and nutmeg) and pecorino – a salty sheep’s cheese. At the stall in the Mercato di Mezzo there were dozens of flavours to choose from – all showcasing the best of Bolognese and Italian produce.

Finally, we ate the best gelato I have ever eaten at a small Gelataria, south west of the centre. One of Elix’s friends had recommended La Sorbetteria and when I heard their signature flavour was bitter dark chocolate I couldn’t be stopped from marching through the rain to get there. The place didnt disappoint and my two scoops of Bitter Chocolate and Espresso, Mascarpone and Cacao made me a very happy lady! 

A final bit of news about the trip is that I tried my first espresso! We spent our first day of the trip with my dear friend Laura and her huaband Johannes. They live in Florence and came to meet us and experience Bologna too. After a lovely lunch of antipasti, pasta and Sangiovese we stopped for a coffee and a cake. Johannes explained to me how the Italians treat the espresso as a quick social drink – always to be consumed in the cafe (never takeaway!) in the afternoons (no milk in coffee after lunchtime is the Italian rule) and with a little sweet on the side. And so i came to enjoy my first espresso with a little bombolino (fried choux pastry filled with custard) on the side. I think I’m a convert – the coffee was rich and silky, not at all bitter and a lovely pick me up on the chilly afternoon! 

I would highly recommend Bologna it really lives up to its nicknames – La Grossa – the fat one, La Rossa – the red one and La Dotta the learned one – so much to eat, see and do!

Top 2016 Recipe – Thai Yellow Curry

My last post of 2016 is going to be a homage to my favourite thing about 2016 which was travelling to, and around Thailand.

Elix and I travelled East in November embarking on a Thai journey taking us up North to Chiang Mai for cooking, culture and trekking. Then South to Railay for Coastal Rock climbing and lots of Seafood. Third stop was Koh Lanta followed by Koh Phi Phi – both beautiful, sunny, waterfall filled Islands and finally the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.

We took a fantastic cooking class in Chiang Mai trying out Thai curries, Salads, Stir Frys and a questionable Banana and Coconut dessert. I have barely scratched the surface with Thai recipes that I still want to try and cook but wanted to share my take on the Yellow Chicken curry we learnt in Chiang Mai – despite me only being back 6 weeks i’ve already cooked it three times for family and friends! It seems odd to put the relish with a curry but believe me, it elevates the taste to insane levels – something about the spicy, crunchy and fresh salsa compliments the creamy curry amazingly!

Serves 4
For the Curry Paste
2tbsp Lemongrass
1tsbp Dried Chilli
2tbsp Grated Ginger
2tbsp Grated Garlic
1tsp Shrimp Paste or Fish Sauce
1 Onion
a dash of coconut cream to help puree
Curry
250ml Thick Coconut Cream
250ml Coconut Milk
1tsp Curry Powder (i used my own one which had the best results and is simply even amounts of ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, ground ginger and chilli powder)
6 Chicken Thighs – cut into bitesize pieces
8 Mushrooms – sliced
Handful of Baby Corn – chopped
Handful of Mange Tout – chopped
Half a Courgette – sliced
2tbsp Palm Sugar
3tbsp Soy Sauce
Relish
50ml White Wine Vinegar
50g Caster Sugar
1 Red Chilli – finely diced
1/2 Cucumber – finely diced
Handful of Coriander – leaves chopped
1/2 Onion or 1 Shallot – finely diced
50g Roasted Peanuts – chopped

First thing is first, make your paste by blitzing everything together in a food processor or nutribullet. Leave to one side.
Fry the thick coconut cream in a pan and as the milk starts to seperate from the oil, add in the curry paste and curry powder to fry for a few more minutes until aromatic and sizzling. Now add the chicken, mushrooms, mangetout and baby corn and mix. Pour in the thin coconut milk and bring to a simmer. The chicken should take roughly 10 minutes to cook through, after 5 minutes, add the courgette and spinach, stir and leave to simmer.
To make the relish, bring the vinegar and the sugar to a boil and keep on the heat to allow to reduce by a third. Leave to cool and then mix together with the cucumber, chilli, coriander and onion. Just before serving scatter with the peanuts for a toasty crunch.
When the chicken and vegetables are all cooked through add the palm sugar and soy sauce and mix. At this stage check seasoning and add extra sugar if needed, extra coconut milk if you want to mellow the spice or extra soy or salt.
Serve with brown rice and the relish and some flat bread or naan bread to mop up the gravy -like sauce.

Burmese Curry

Last year i holidayed in Myanmar and it was the best couple of weeks I could have wished for. The country is beautiful both physically and culturally with so much to see and do. The cities are vibrant, beaches are idyllic and everywhere in the middle is beautiful.

The food in Myanmar is a mixture of the cuisines of all it’s neighbouring countries – thai, indian, chinese flavours and spices and curries, salads, noodle soups and stir fries.

The curry in this blog perfectly showcases the fusion in Myanmar’s cuisine with Indian turmeric and chilli spices mixed with South East Asian fish sauce and lemon juice. The curry was lightly spiced,  sweet, fresh and nutritious. It was also nice and easy to cook!

Serves 3
3 Chicken Thighs – chopped into bitesize pieces
1 Medium Potato – cubed
1 Large tomato – chopped
1 Onion
1/2 Cauliflower – chopped into florets
1tsp Ginger
1tsp Lemongrass Paste
1 Clove Garlic
1tbsp Chilli Powder
1tbsp Turmeric
1tsp Fish Sauce
1tsp Lemon Juice
Vegetable Oil

Start by making a paste of onion, garlic, ginger and lemongrass using a little vegetable oil if needed. Slowly fry the paste with some water until rich in colour which should take 10-15minutes. Meanwhile part boil the cauliflower and potato for 8 minutes. Add the chicken and coat in the paste, sprinkle in the chilli powder and turmeric, cover the pan with a lid and continue to cook for another 10 minutes until the chicken is sealed. Add the cauliflower and potato aswell as the tomato and pour in 100ml water and the fish sauce and lemon juice. Stir to combine and simmer until the sauce has reduced to a thick gravy and the vegetables are cooked.
Serve with brown rice and a little naan bread.

New York, New York

Im going to keep this one short and sweet and full of brilliant pictures of some of the fantastic food we ate at some amazing restaurants.

I went to New York with Mum and Elix and after much research and planning we shortlisted the following restaurants as our “must-try” ones – this is what we found :

eggs and beans 100 acres

100 Acres – we went for brunch and I ordered the delicious eggs and beans which was flavourful and chilli-hot cassoulet topped with two poached eggs. Cool and relaxed we all enjoyed our first NYC meal!

 

 

 

green eggs jacks wife freda

 

Another lovely brunch spot called Jack’s Wife Freda – a small but quirky menu in this little cafe – my green eggs were gooey poached eggs submerged in a tasty shakshuka – a puree of herbs with a kick of chilli.

 

 

 

 

ginger scallion noodles momofuku smoked chicken ramen momofukushrimp bun momofuku

All of the pictures above are from the sensational Momofuku Noodle Bar – I am a big fan of David Chang (the owner) he has taught me new things about Korean food and flavours and after tasting his food I want to know more – dishes which seem so simple tasted insanely good – Elix said the Shrimp bun (far right above) is the best thing she has ever eaten – I would agree but it came a close second to the Smoked Chicken Ramen (centre above). The hour long wait to sit at the noodle bar was a small price to pay for such a fantastic, warming meal on a rainy New York day – i only wish Mr Chang would open one in London.

smoked salmon the little owl  A little restaurant endearingly names The Little Owl was the venue for brunch one morning before a day of shopping in Greenwich. I elected for the smoked salmon on top of mini kale and potato frittati with a dollop of creamy creme freche – something new and different to try  – this was delicious and il definitely be trying it at home over the holiday. You can see in the background of the picture Mum’s pancakes and berries which she loved – they were soft and  light and not too sweet complemented by juicy berries and sweet syrup.

turkey club cookshop

We ended our trip at The Cookshop for lunch and what a treat – I have shown a picture of Mum’s Turkey Club Sandwich – it was humungous and super tasty, Elix had a tuna melt and I had crispy fish tacos – an excellent way to end our trip and prepare for the long journey home.

Iv just returned from a long weekend in the beautiful city of Copenhagen where as well as see the sites and potter about we ate some incredible food! Since Noma started winning the Best Restaurant in the World accolade 3 years ago, Copenhagen has become more known for its food than the Little Mermaid and is now welcomed by many into lists of must-visit foodie cities.
I naively assumed Copenhagen would be all Danish pastries and Smørrebrød (open sandwiches) with lots of cured and pickled things topped with dill – oh how i wrong i was!
You all know i love a good food market and Copenhagen’s Torvehallerne Market is now one of my favourites. Stalls selling cheeses, meats and wine nestle in between numerous butchers, fishmongers, grocers and bakers offering fresh food to locals to cook at home and ready-to-eat bites which I took full advantage of! Tasting on Danish blue and smoked cheeses, taramasalata pastes, nougat and acai juice were some highlights but the star of the show was a seafood stall offering DIY smorgasbords of raw fish and salads.

HAV copenhagen

I selected a gravadlax style salmon topped with yoghurt, dill and hazelnuts, ceviche of halibut with chilli, plum and pear and a pearl barley and roasted pepper salad. Whilst the three dishes dont work as a full meal these seemed the most far removed and interesting to try having never had halibut ceviche and fish paired with plum and pear. The lunch was full of flavour, super fresh, good value and very filling – i was contemplating asking for some bread (you can take the girl out of The North….) but the meal was good enough as it was and for any of you visiting the market id recommend seeking out this stall called HAV.
Brunch in Copenhagen was also a very pleasant surprise – cafes generally offer 2 main options – the classic and vegetarian which are essentially 3 course breakfasts on a plate. Fruit, yoghurt and granola, and pastry are served alongside eggs with either bacon and sausage or tapenade and humous. To complete the meal a few slices of cheese and charcuterie are devoured with a selection of sourdough and rye breads – needless to say such a huge brunch left little room for snacks but we still managed a couple of danish pastries from one of the many patisseries in the city and they were a delight.
Ok – so on to the main events – Dinner – our attempt at the Noma waitlist sadly failed afterall who would cancel a Noma reservation but im confident we made up for it with our meals and feasted exceptionally well both evenings.
The first night was Oliver & The Black Circus – a dark, cool and quirky venue offering fine dining in a relaxed and bustling atmosphere. Only a tasting menu either 4 or 6 courses with wine flight and a cocktail – each and every course was presented beautifully and gave us the opportunity to taste new flavours and foods. Scallops to start with a fresh salad of greens and a light oyster sauce.

scallops copenhagen

Next was cod with mussels served on a cucumber, tomato and dill salsa. My favourite course was Veal (mine was very rare but so tasty) served with sliced and cubed roasted and pickled beetroot and juicy trumpet mushrooms. Dessert was thankfully a light one – a deconstructed apple crumble if you will – soft and sweet stewed apples with a marshmallow soft meringue on top drizzled with elderberry coulis and topped with crumble. The entire meal and evening was out of this world.

apple dessert copenhagen
Dinner the second night was very different but equally as tasty. BioM Restaurant offers are more minimalist setting, neutrals and whites decorate the small restaurant with driftwood adorning the walls and little tree trunks growing mushrooms on the counter enhance the fresh and foraged, natural feel to the place. Again as we are greedy little things we opted for the 3 course menu but had 3 or 4 choices for each course. To start I elected the smoked beef salad – slithers of barbecue smoked carpaccio beef scattered the plate along with pickled cabbage, cranberries and hazelnuts – all brought together under a sticky and sweet barbecue dressing and topped with very crispy onions.

smoked beef salad copenhagen

Main course was halibut – a fish which seems to be in abundance in Copenhagen – the fish came with black tagliatelle, pea sauce, fennel and salsify. Given sometimes salsify can taste of sweaty fish i was keen to try (i had it once a few years back and it left a lot to be desired) – each and every element of this was brilliant – i didn’t want it to end and promptly cleared my plate!

halibut copenhagen

Despite being completely full, i couldn’t resist the chocolate mousse, chocolate tart and passionfruit dessert – combining rich and light chocolate elements with sweet and tangy passionfruit coulis and sorbet was the perfect end to this fantastic meal.

chocolate copenhagen

Panama

Back in November, in what already seems like an age ago I holidayed in Panama. A slightly odd choice of holiday destination but after the well trodden paths of Vietnam, Cambodia and India I was keen to try something a bit different and as my first foray into Central America Panama seemed a good place to start.
Panama is a beautiful country, typically Caribbean on the East and more diverse (a mix of colonial, European and Asian influence) and cosmopolitan on the West Pacific coast. We explored Panama City, Los Bocas and Boquete so a good mix of City and Old Town, Inland Jungle and Highlands and the chilled vibe of the Caribbean Coast.
Panamanian food is very mixed – steak features prominently, both local and South American cuts, lots of fresh seafood especially lobster which seems to be in abundance, plantain comes as the veg of choice be it fried, grilled, frittered (called patacones) or mashed and lots of arroz y frijoles (beans and rice).
Menus were very Western friendly and by that I mean they tended to err on the Mexican, Caribbean and American themes – lots of nachos, tacos, steak and chips and grills. Whilst you wont find the complexity of flavour I experienced in India, the commitment to identity of Italy or the variety of Vietnam, in Panama you can be assured of wholesome, well cooked, fresh meals.
For this blog post im going to share my tales of a few meals which i particularly enjoyed. (I wont tell you about one dish in particular which i didn’t really like – i ordered it by accident when my rusty Spanish caused me to get confused over the word rabito which means pig tail which i found very bony and fatty!).
I’m saving some stories for another blog as am keen to try some recipes myself! For instance, hojaldres which i ate with eggs for breakfast in Boquete – little savoury fried puff pastry discs, light and crisp to dip into runny egg yolk – a brilliant alternative to toast – which i would sum up with this word….yawn!
Anyway, back to my favourite Panama meals.
Firstly was our initiation into Panamanian food at The Coca Cola Cafe (see i told you it had Americanisms!) in Panama City where i ordered a house dish of Fried Fish with Rice. I was presented with tomato rice – sweet, spicy and topped with a tomato sauce packed with flavour. Next to this was a deep fried fish which is called corvina – similar in size to bass, fried whole – it was lovely and crisp on the outside with a delicate, flaky bright white flesh on the inside. Naturally this came with a side of grilled plantain and was a lovely first meal to get us going for our trip.

corvina

Iv done some research since getting back and Corvina is a typical food fish found in Central and South America. I am pretty sure that every time we ate fish out there it was corvina.
The next meal i want to tell you about isn’t Panamanian at all – we went Japanese! Los Bocas is a coastal town on the Caribbean side and is exactly what i would expect – beautiful colourful wooden buildings – each different from the next along the main street, music playing, sun shining, everyone is chilled and happy. The restaurant we went to for dinner (twice!) was called Raw and served the best ceviche i’ve ever tried! Bass topped with red onion, avocado, tomato, spring onion, chilli and black sesame seeds in a sweet and sour lemon and lime marinade accompanied by crisp tortilla chips was a bowl of delight and one which i would happily eat every day for the rest of my days!

ceviche
One of my favourite meals was in Boquete at a cafe called Big Daddy’s. Their signature dish is fish tacos which are served with either fries or good old rice and beans. The fish was grilled and served in soft tacos with avocado mayonnaise, tomato salsa, cheese and jalapeños. Again this was a meal I ate twice as it was so tasty – punchy salsa, creamy mayonnaise and perfectly grilled fish (likely corvina again) all snuggled up in a light soft tortilla – i must try something like this at home!

tacos

Im not sure how Panama’s take on it’s neighbours’ dishes ranks against authentic Mexican Tacos, regional Argentinian steak and Caribbean stews but it was thoroughly enjoyable and as the offering was so varied and produce always fresh and cooked well I would recommend Panamanian food to you all!