Saturday, 25 July 2015

Abeno Okonomi-yaki restaurant, Museum Street in London

One of the perks of living in London is all the free museums and exhibitions. My favourite has to be the British Museum with it's futuristic ceiling juxtaposing the Greek revivalist facade and artifacts from all over the world. I spent a lot of time here when I was studying for my Masters' at SOAS, so it feels almost homely to me. If you are visiting the British Museum, then I have to recommend Abeno Okonomi-yaki, a Japanese restaurant close by, on Museum Street, for it's delicious Okonomi-yaki of course (a Japanese pimped-up omelette), cooked right there on your table by the friendly waitresses.
And if you fancy trying something quite strange and full of goodness, then natto might just be your thing. It's sticky texture puts some people off but I couldn't get enough of the stuff. When I crave something like that, I always conclude that my body must be needing it, especially when it's something that's usually absent from my diet. Natto is full of probiotics, something that I've found to cure most things in my life (this is just my opinion). Some say it's the secret of longevity in Japan, but above all it's a great little side dish to your Okonomi-yaki, complementing it perfectly!

Monday, 20 July 2015

Cardamon flan aka A happy accident

From avoiding sugar (with varying degrees of success) to full blown sugarholic. This is my journey. While everyone is on a healthy eating tip these days, with Helmsley&Helmsley and Deliciously Ella,  I appear to have gone the other way entirely in the last couple of months, whilst experimenting with cake and dessert recipes. Writing a cookbook and being  pregnant has given me the perfect reason (excuse?) to fall off the sugar-free wagon and on to a soft cloud of cream cakes and delicate meringue; bouncy doughnuts (I made these twice in the last fortnight) and an unexpected cardamon flan. The flan was a cream-cake-gone-wrong, a very happy accident indeed. Just like my pregnancy come to think of it. It was a taste I'd had before, somewhere in Spain - was it Andalucia or Barcelcona? I can't put my finger on it.  I've visited both numerous times and I wish I'd recorded more of the meals I'd eaten there, because they were some of the best I've ever had. So in summary, a flan similar to this was once eaten by yours truly sometime in the past in Spain. It was not cardamon though, and this ancient, aromatic spice is what makes my flan really special.
Can you see how soft and squigy it is inside? This is because it's based on a cardamon custard: heat 400ml of the milk, cream and cardamon pods slowly in a saucepan. Whisk the sugar and egg yolks together. Blend the cornflour with the remaining 100ml of milk and add to the eggs and carry on whisking. When the milk has come to the boil, take it off the heat for about 10min. Remove the pods and heat once again. Stir continuously until this mixture thickens, then place the pan in a sink of cold water to cool. Stir occasionally. Once the mixture is completely cold blend it with an electric blender or whisk while adding the butter and flour. Bake at 180 degrees C for about 50min.

Ingredients

500ml milk 
50ml single cream 
5 cardamon pods 
3 tablespoons cornflour 
4 egg yolks 
100g light cane sugar 
200ml butter 
150g flour

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Red amaranth, enoki mushrooms, cashewnuts and black quinoa on a hot hotday

London is sizzling. No, I don't mean 23 degrees C going down to 10 at night, I mean a proper heatwave. Though they do say we'll be going back down to our usual, civilized 23-with-showers in the coming week. Thank god. That's not an ironic "thank god" either - the pregnancy means I'm really sensitive to everything and massively overheating. It took three tries to get into my lido. I'd trundle up there like a man in a desert only to find my cool oasis swarming with hipsters, forming an unmanageable queue. I finally managed to get in yesterday after getting up early, but it was still much busier than usual, even at 9.15am, a lot of idiots, a lot of road rage. Not your usual, calming "isn't this nice?" atmosphere at all. Luckily, in this weather I am not craving sausage sandwiches but things like this...
This was a particularly attractive and successful version of the kind of dish I usually throw together; a combination of whatever I have lying about my kitchen cupboards and whatever I pick on my way home. I stopped off at my favourite Vietnamese supermarket on this occasion and bought fresh red amaranth and enoki mushrooms. I cooked the black quinoa separately and used a wok to toast the cashewnuts slightly before adding the amaranth, enoki mushrooms, light soya sauce, a little bit of oyster sauce and Ghanian shito paste (basically a chilli oil).
After all my moaning about the heat, I leave you with what I love about London in the summertime. The luscious, wild nature all around. Now, if I could just get wild flowers to grow in my garden...

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Hackney Mess - the coolest summer dessert

I have spent the last two months playing with my food and writing. I've been taking forgotten Polish recipes and reworking them into a modern context; researching the origins of dishes that I've known since childhood but never thought twice about; and tweaking old family recipes. It's a dream come to true to be able to do this, and yet even living my dream has its difficult moments. This is absolutely OK,  because even though somehow society conditions us to think there will be a happy-ever-after, this is not life. Life is supposed to be challenging and as long as each difficult moment is taken as an opportunity to learn something then we're in a good place. Some days the writing doesn't flow for me and if I force it I risk putting myself off for the next day, so I'm learning to treat myself gently. Guilt trips do not work, what I need to do in this situation is find my inspiration. Other days, I've found it hard to cook, because I can't find ingredients I thought would be easy to come by or I don't feel like eating what I've planned to cook - through this, I'm learning to be flexible and adaptable. I have the added complication of having fallen pregnant at exactly the same time as my book deal happened. This was not ideal timing, but I definitely want this baby, so my partner and I are working it out. Through this added complication (blessing though it is) I'm learning to be more open minded. Perhaps I do not want to shoe-horn myself into someone else's home that isn't suited to me or have someone squeeze themselves in on top of me in order to have the traditional set up in time for the baby... I'm also learning that sometimes the best action is no action at all. Every day I am grateful for my beautiful, cosy flat, which gives me a feeling of much-needed security; the amazing opportunity to write the book of my dreams; my supportive family; a partner that is prepared to work on our relationship and wants this baby as much as I do; the little string bean that is growing into a human being inside me; and a host of other things. I'm also enjoying eating whatever I want: some of it is healthy and some of it, not so much. For the first time since childhood, it really doesn't matter. I am allowed to get fat. How liberating. I've been meaning to make this Hackney Mess for a long time -  a dessert idea that's been floating about my head, based on the traditional Eton Mess but a more colourful and flavour packed version.
The meringue is chocolate - whip up some egg whites with a pinch of salt. When they have formed peaks, start adding the sugar until the mixture thickens, finally add the cacao powder. Bake in a pre-heated over at 200 degrees C for 10min, then turn the oven off and leave them in there to cool. The fruit I used were juicy cherries - so of course you need to take the stones out first. Whip the whipping cream until fluffy then add the icing sugar and matcha powder, bit by bit, until you achieve the desired, light green colour and sweet flavour. You put the three components together in layers. And yes, Hackney Mess must be served in a jar.

Ingredients

2-3 egg whites
150g sugar
2 tablespoon raw cacao powder

150ml whipping cream
50g sugar
1 teaspoon matcha powder

Lots of cherries