Sunday, 27 July 2014

Big in China.

Koreans are laughing at my food.

Did you know? I'm big in China. Last year I noticed my stats were doubling, tripling. I followed the trail, via the analytics on my blog, back to Weibo, which is the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. A famous Chinese food blogger had discovered my blog and spread the word. 
Now I'm at the forefront of a trend in China 'dark cooking' or 'twisted cookery' as it's referred to in this article in the China Times. According to journalist Yin Lu, the term 'dark cooking' originated in a '90s manga Chka Ichiban! ('China's Number One!' or Cooking Master Boy). "In this fictional universe, the evil Dark Cooking Society's goal of controlling the country is foiled by a young boy with prodigious cooking talent." Another translation of Dark Cooking Society is The Underground Cooking Society (reminiscent of the name of my supper club The Underground Restaurant). In the manga, the highly trained chefs that are members of the society have to find eight Legendary Cooking Tools. They need to master these in order to gain absolute power. 
I'm not sure what to make of this development. Often with themed supper clubs, I'm trying to be playful, make 'foodie' jokes. Looking at the pictures of my food on the forums, the food on sticks, the stuffed banana for comedy night, the overblown meringues, the Spitting Image Thatcher-pops, the stargazy pie, it did strike me that some of my food, selected here for outrage, is quite ridiculous.  Perhaps it's a good thing that I can't read Chinese. Presentation is important, ideas are important, but I can assure my Chinese readers that I always cook for flavour. 
Some comments on the blogs from Chinese people on my/English food:

Sylvia_ Lin
Dangerous Game 9
Go to England, when that special delicious hotel breakfast, buffet, traditional meals, toast bread Sausage bacon mushroom omelette or something. There are a variety of cereal and a variety of fruit jam yogurt from ride. Obviously have to eat very little motion sickness only epoch every morning to eat a lot and then got started playing dead people. . .

Egg Fu chinchillas
Chamber of Secrets reasoning 8
Suddenly understand, Mo Niang son would rather eat guns are reluctant to eat the food the mother country

Now my reputation for twisted cookery has spread to Korea. I'm getting views from this page, photos at the top. I think I've even been mentioned on Korean telly (above). Running it through Google Translate I'm referred to as 'Angry British girl'.  How did they know?

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Hungry like a student

A guest post by Sienna Rodgers at York University.

"You don't make your own chips?!"
My mother looks at me wide-eyed, horrified at the thought of oven chips. No, surprisingly I do not peel potatoes, cut them into slices and hover over a frying pan that is spitting oil, while the rest of my housemates try to cook their food around me in our cramped kitchen. I am a 20 year old Politics student living at the opposite end of the country from home, ergo my diet can at best be described as 'simple'. Some people, the harsher type, would even say it has no nutritional value whatsoever.

In first year, my flatmates were... eccentric. They were very weird but there was never a dull moment. We'd decided at the start of freshers' week to cook group meals so we could get to know each other better and save money. We each took our turn to make dinner for everyone. This resulted in some strange concoctions in the kitchen and the arrangement fell down after a few days after a particularly awful dinner of burnt vegetable risotto. The highlight of this experiment is when my dear friend Lizzie, a talented baker and now housewife, turned my world upside down. She emptied some dry pasta into a baking tray, filled it with water and readymade pasta bake sauce, placed it in the oven and topped it with cheese a few minutes before taking it out. I was scared. The sauce was remarkably orange and I didn't see how this could ever work. Je suis snob. But I was proved utterly wrong. With some added salt (nobody at uni uses salt, what the hell is that about?), I would happily eat this again. I'm not joking. Ok, it's not better than a homemade tomato sauce with bronze-die pasta, but it's fairly tasty and definitely easier.

easy tomato cheese pasta bake
Lizzie's easy tomato and cheese pasta bake
Lizzie soon became the matriarch of the flat and fed two of us regularly. She is the kind of person who makes weekly meal plans, so we always knew what was for dinner. Our classics were pasta, nachos, pizza, chips and sausages and veggie roast. Looking back now, it seems quite weird to have Doritos for dinner but I didn't question it at the time. My diet then was certainly more varied; now that I cook for myself every day it's just pasta or rice with tuna. The food I eat is more boring than weird - a previous flatmate stunned my mother by having a packet of Angel Delight as a dessert. She said she hadn't seen this since the 70s.

vegetarian roast dinner burgers mash vegetables yorkshire pudding
Veggie burgers, roast carrots and broccoli, mash, gravy and Yorskshire puds
vegetarian mince cheese nachos
Doritos with Quorn mince in Lloyd Grossman chilli tomato sauce and cheese

I will begin my third year of uni in September and have just moved into a new house with my second year halls flatmates. (I stayed in halls on campus for two years.) Most of the students in my house live on pasta, pizza and chips. Other carbs are occasionally introduced when an adventurous mood takes us, but dinner is largely just penne covered in a shop-bought tomato sauce. Or should I say 'tea', as the Yorkshire natives do. (Confusion arises when someone says they're going to make dinner, meaning the evening meal in the South and lunch in the North, or tea, meaning a cup of tea in the South and the evening meal in the North.) There are six of us in our new house - there were eight in halls but the married middle-aged man from Hong Kong didn't speak to us and another was a 33 year old Manc who was too busy writing his dissertation or chatting up women to socialise with us. Out of these six students, three are vegetarians and the other three tend to stick to ham and chicken for their meat fix. I think it is quite common for students to become more veggie at uni due to the price of meat.

I personally tend to spend around £10-15 a week on food shopping, which isn't much. I always order my food online, usually with Tesco, but I've started to just add my measly requests onto everyone else's orders due to the minimum basket charge. My housemates use Asda thanks to its abundance of deals. My shopping list will typically consist of: 
  • longlife milk (I don't use milk every day as I don't bother drinking tea at uni, much to my family's horror) - 56p
  • easy cook brown rice - £1.75
  • potatoes - 34p each
  • whole wheat penne - £1
  • pesto - £1.20
  • chopped tomatoes - £1.50
  • Warburtons seeded bread - £1
  • peanut butter - 62p
  • cans of tuna - normally £6 but I only buy this when on offer, so around £3.50
  • garlic baguette - 32p
(This comes up to £11.79 and I don't even have to buy all these things every week. The prices quoted are those currently on Tesco online.)
I will buy avocados as a treat, but rarely. Other items I do not have to buy regularly: olive oil, tahini, garlic granules (*hides*). I try not to buy any chocolate because if it's not there, I can't eat it! Great dieting method. There are some luxuries in my cupboard, namely balsamic vinegar and Maldon salt, which I nick from home. I am the daughter of a foodie, after all. My biggest indulgence is dining out, although none of these excursions ever costs me over £15. To explore York, I used to eat at a new restaurant every 1-2 weeks, but now I just go to YO! Sushi every so often.

The chef of our house fills up the kitchen every evening with mouth-watering aromas and my pale and comparatively tasteless dinner simply cannot compete. He spends approximately £50 a week on his food shop. This extravagance makes Dom skint but he cannot bear living off non-perishables as I do, preferring to spend his money on fish, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables. He also has the most fancy pants equipment, boasting a large, heavy coffee machine that would look overly-professional even in Starbucks. My only appliance is a rice steamer (it cost £8) that I use far too often because it's totally brilliant. I stick rice in with some water, watch an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and come back to a bowl of perfectly cooked rice. What more could a lazy student want?

I think what we buy depends largely on our family backgrounds, maybe even more so than our budgets. A friend says she has "low expectations" when it comes to food, so she finds everything she cooks for herself (and this is mostly pasta, without salt!) delicious. I have been brought up with high expectations for food. If I'm lucky, when I visit home I'm greeted by home-smoked salmon on homemade sourdough toast or some other deliciousness I cannot afford at uni. Upon asking others what their parents cooked for them as children, I found out that baked beans with chips and a fried egg was normal. Apparently that's an actual thing, not just a joke in The Royle Family. Naturally, I come across as an utter wanker when I look shocked at these replies. I must admit to being absolutely outraged when I discover they have never tried sushi. Trying to imagine a life without sushi or pesto or gnocchi (because all of these things have reportedly never been eaten by some of my Northern friends) brings on an empty dreadful feeling that pours over me, which I suppose is how my mother feels when she hears tales of oven chips. Fortunately, Monique, my favourite housemate, has now experienced the wonder of avocado maki and I have never seen her happier than when she tucks into a green plate at YO! Sushi. (Disclaimer: YO! Sushi is the only Japanese(ish) restaurant in York, if we'd been in London I would obviously have taken her to somewhere proper like Asakusa.)

While I scoff at their use of table salt rather than sea salt flakes and patronise them in my middle class London way because they've never tried an avocado (come on though, really), at university our cooking pretty much levels out. We are all equally as lazy, apart from Dom who is a Proper Adult with spices and everything, so our food is equally basic. 

What did you eat as a student? Did you find culinary communism or were there tense class divisions in the kitchen?

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Recipe: seared sesame seed tuna with strawberry bruschetta

Seared sesame tuna and strawberry bruschetta

A simple summertime recipe, seared sesame tuna with strawberry bruschetta, is just what you need in this muggy weather. I used a Japanese seed mix called Furikake, full of black and white sesame seeds with fragments of nori seaweed and dried bonito flakes. This adds a delicious texture and flavour to tuna, but you can use just white or black sesame seeds if that's what you've got in your pantry. Furikake is also an excellent umami booster on plain rice.
I briefly seared the tuna filets indoors on my griddle pan but you can also do it outside on a barbeque. If you prefer your tuna cooked through, just leave it a little longer on the grill. To be sure, your seared tuna must be spanking fresh if you are going to cook it rare.
I'm loving how strawberries and tomatoes are eating right now; this is their moment, perfectly seasonal. I never put tomatoes in the fridge, it will make their flesh taste mealy. I keep tomatoes in the  fruit bowl. As for strawberries and berries in general, give them a quick rinse with a diluted vinegar and water mixture and they won't go mouldy so quickly. You know that disappointment when you bought say, raspberries only yesterday and already there are a few greenish ones. Seriously, make yourself rinse them as soon as you are packing away your shopping and you'll be astounded as to how long they last.

Seared sesame tuna with strawberry bruschetta

Serves 4 

Equipment:


heavy frying pan or grill pan

Ingredients:


For the strawberry bruschetta:


8 slices of sourdough bread

50ml olive oil

16 strawberries, sliced thinly

Small fresh basil leaves

Sea salt

Black pepper

For the seared sesame tuna:


4 x 250g ahi tuna steaks (I used yellow tail)

50ml olive oil

50ml toasted sesame oil

Sea salt

Wasabi paste (optional)

200g of sesame seeds both black and white

Salad greens


The full recipe is in my July column for Winetrust100 along with some wine matches.
seared sesame tuna salad

strawberry and basil bruschetta

Monday, 14 July 2014

Recipe: blue cheese and green olive frittata

Blue cheese and green olive frittata

What is a frittata? It’s a posh word for omelette. The only real difference is that an omelette is cooked, then the filling added and the cooked egg folded over. Whereas an Italian frittata, like a Spanish tortilla, has the filling ingredients mixed in with the egg. An omelette is cooked just on the hob, but a frittata is baked in the oven. The great thing about eggs is that you can mix virtually anything with them, a great user of leftovers.

Blue cheese and green olive frittata

Serves 4
You will a good quality non-stick frying pan such as a Greenpan which is non stick but the lining doesn’t peel off or a seasoned black and shiny cast iron skillet.

Ingredients:

Olive oil
1 clove of garlic, cut in half for rubbing
6 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tbsps of creme fraiche
Pepper
150g blue cheese
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 small tin of green olives, stuffed with red peppers or anchovies.

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 200c. Prepare your oven proof frying pan or skillet, rubbing it with olive oil and a clove of garlic. Beat the eggs, adding the creme fraiche and pepper. Pour a little more olive oil into the pan. Pour the beaten eggs into the pan and then crumble in the blue cheese and the garlic. Then dot the stuffed olives all over. Put the pan in the oven and ‘bake’ for five minutes or until golden and cooked through if that’s how you like your eggs.
If you are having this for lunch rather than breakfast, serve with a glass of tawny port, a glass of champagne or a glass of slightly oaky chardonnay such as Chamonix Chardonnay.

Postscript: reader and fellow blogger Rachel Eats, who lives in Rome (lucky thing) says the word  'frittata' comes from 'Friggere' to fry. She says that in Italian recipes, a frittata is made on the stove top, and is a "fat open omelette cooked slowly on a low flame". MFK Fisher however suggests "Pour the whole back into the skillet, cover the pan tightly, and cook over a slow fire until the edges of the frittata pull away from the pan. If the middle puffs up, prick it with a long sharp knife". 
Uncooked blue cheese and green olive frittata

Saturday, 5 July 2014

June Bites Roundup

I've been busy this month, too much work. But I love it. As Joan Rivers says "What fun is this, to wake up and say, “I don’t have a minute free today?” It’s fabulous." Cos I've been that person who has no work. In the two decades that I've been a single parent, I spent approximately one decade of it unemployed (in as much as a single parent can be unemployed), frustrated, silenced, wanting to be a part of the conversation and having no voice. This is why blogging is important, especially for women. To this end, for the last three years I've talked at the Britmumslive conference, an annual parent blogging event. In the last talk I got a bit heated because of the emphasis on 'monetising' your blog. I think it's vital that blogging is not entirely taken over by PRs and brands. It's essential that we make the most of this opportunity to have our voices heard and not just be chasing the freebies. Blogging is revolutionary, access to mass communication. It changes lives. Food writing has always been the preserve of connected upper middle-class women and men. And now it isn't.
The food styling workshop, my award for Outstanding blog, Emma Freud the keynote speaker and her husband, writer and film director Richard Curtis.I've enjoyed an unexpected burst of publicity, owing to the Marmite cupcakes plagiarism post, which led to articles in the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail.
BBC Good Food magazine ran a three page spread on me and my kitchen. I'm obsessed with homeware and crockery, and appreciate any opportunity to talk about it.
I did a camping food video for South Africa fruit. We filmed it at safari park Africa Alive in Norfolk. 
Top left and clockwise: Head chef of the Dairy Clapham, Robin Gill; Restaurant magazine editor Stefan Chomka (one of the funniest men in food) and Ferran Adria giving the award for the best UK restaurant; the audience, almost exclusively male; Giles Clark, the winner of the Young British Foodie chef awards, for which I was a judge. He's is now working at Koya and hoping to win a scholarship to Japan. 
I attended the National Restaurant awards at the Hurlingham Club. Notice anything about the pictures above? Virtually everybody has only one 'X' chromosome. The women that attend? Mostly front of house, WAGS (wives and girlfriends) or PRs. It was a good event, rubber-necking at famous chefs, however. I had a chat with Robin Gill of the Dairy Clapham. Last year Marina O'Loughlin wrote a very positive review of this restaurant in the Guardian. But it was the comments that provided the most entertainment, specifically the complaint by Angeliqiue(sic) Murphy, which went viral. Robin Gill told me that the restaurant was accused of writing the comment themselves, which, while untrue, is not a bad idea for the creative restaurant PR.

Viv Albertine and Thurston Moore talking at the Stoke Newington literary festival
I found my copy of ZigZag mag, the cover featuring The Slits. It was first edited by Pete Frame who made wonderful Rock Family Trees. He should do one for chefs.
I went to the annual Stoke Newington Literary Festival to attend a talk with Viv Albertine of The Slits who has written an autobiography 'Clothes, clothes, clothes. Music, music, music. Boys, boys, boys.' I'm reading it at the moment, it's almost like reading my own autobiography, except for the part where she joins the groundbreaking female punk band. Being a punk in Muswell Hill, you really felt like the only punk in the village. I remember arriving at Creighton school at break with spiky blue hair and having 2000 kids scream and laugh at me. I remember walking down the street and a red bus would pass by and every head would turn and stare at me, mouths open, in unison. I remember seeing The Slits play at the Vortex and Palmolive thumping the drums and thinking 'girls can be this too'.