Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Hearty dishes for Valentines Day

If you are alone this Valentine's Day, as I will be (sob), February 14th can feel like a sick joke to make all of us feel bad. More and more of us are living alone: 41% of Camden households (where I live) in the last census were single householders (the 4th highest in England and Wales). 

Valentine's Day creates such pressure and is often the crunch point for a relationship. If you are going to break it off, you will be weighing up whether to do it beforehand or afterwards. 

I once hosted an Anti-Valentine's crepe party supper club. I put 30 tickets on sale, split evenly between the sexes. Only three men booked, and one of them had a girlfriend already. I couldn't understand it: 18 gorgeous, young, slim, intelligent, funny, glamorous women- single! 

To hell with it all: make a romantic meal for yourself, or share one with a friend.

Here are a few ideas for easy V-Day recipes. This four-course dinner should take you at most a couple of hours to make. Start with the possets and, while they are chilling, steam the artichokes, then make the sauce for the gratin and the mayonnaise. 

Buying heart-shaped dishes isn't necessary, but when they cost only a couple of quid from Tiger or a local pound shop, you may as well indulge. 

All of these recipes serve two

Steamed artichoke heart with mustard mayonnaise


2 fresh artichokes (available at Waitrose and corner shops)
1tsp sea salt
1/2 lemon

For the mustard mayonnaise:
1 egg yolk
1tbsp dijon mustard
150ml rapeseed or olive oil
1/2tsp sea salt


Boil a large pot of water with lid, enough to cover the artichokes. Cut off the stems and also, if you wish, the top inch from the artichoke so that there are no spikes. Place the artichokes in the boiling water with the salt and lemon, put on the lid and boil until a leaf out pulls easily (about 20 minutes).
Put the egg yolk and mustard in a bowl and whisk. Slowly add the oil little by little, whisking all the time then add the salt. 
Heart shaped oven dish by Sophie Conran for Portmeirion

Hearts of Palm gratin

I love these delicate ivory tubes which you can only buy tinned in this country. If you don't like hearts of palm, you can replace them with potato gnocchi. 

3tbsp olive oil
30g butter
1 tin crushed tomatoes
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
1tsp sea salt
50ml cream, single or double

2 tins hearts of palm, drained, cut lengthways in half
100g cheese either ricotta salata, gruyere or cheddar

Preheat the oven to 200C. Put the olive oil and butter in a thick-bottomed saucepan and heat slowly. Add the tin of tomatoes, garlic, bay leaves and sea salt. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add the cream. Stir and remove the bay leaves.
Pour a little of the sauce into the chosen oven dish (I've used an oven-safe ceramic heart by Sophie Conran) and place the hearts of palm all over the dish in one layer. Pour the rest of the sauce over the hearts of palm. 
Finely grate the cheese over the top and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove and serve.

Bergamot posset with violet sugar

This is about as easy a dessert as it's possible to make. Literally a child could make it. The bergamot citrus gives it an exotic Earl Grey flavour, but you can also use ordinary lemons. The violet sugar is available from souschef.co.uk, one of my favourite online ingredient emporiums.

200ml double cream
50g caster sugar
1 bergamot lemon, zest and juice
2tbsp violet sugar

Pour the cream and the sugar into a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar is melted. 
Remove from the heat and let it cool. Add the zest and juice from the bergamot or other citrus fruit, stirring it in.
Pour it into a ramekin or heart-shaped dish. Chill in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Sprinkle the violet sugar over the top. Serve.

Cheese Heart

To add to the Valentine's atmosphere, there are several cheeses that come in the shape of a heart, most famously the camembert-like Neufchatel. I used an ash-covered goats' cheese heart. Serve with biscuits and quince jelly.
Come to MsMarmitelover's next supperclub on February 18th, which will be a recreation of a typically Canadian sugar shack meal with jugs full of maple syrup. Tickets are £40 available at edibleexperiences.co.uk 
Dress code: checked lumberjack shirts, furry trappers hats.
Blogger Widgets

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Tulum and Hartwood

Tulum beach


There was a part of me that, despite its blinding beauty, hated Tulum. Everybody there was ridiculously gorgeous, slim, honey-skinned, young, lithe... and rich. Especially rich.

Who are these millennials who can afford $250 a night accommodation? Who ARE they? How did they get to this place in their lives? I don't get it.

Coco Tulum

I stayed at Coco Tulum, a stylish beachfront hotel on the white sand, the most bleached beach I've ever seen. The bar was white, the driftwood furnishings were painted white, the mosquito nets were white, the taps were hidden in enormous pink shells, the drinks were fluo, the bodies were brown, the sky was a totalitarian turquoise.
Coco Tulum
This place didn't have rooms but individual huts. I begged for a press discount. For $100 a night I got the worst hut, near the road and the restaurant, far from the loo, without a view. So I felt like the poor relation. The huts near to the beach were beautiful but around 350 bucks a night. 

Tulum used to be the hippy cheap part of the Yucatan coast. Gradually it became chicer, more expensive, more mainsteam touristy. The restaurant 'Hartwood' was part of this developing trend.


To read 'Hartwood' the book, and virtually every piece written on it, you'd think the restaurant was in the middle of the jungle, far from civilisation. In reality it faces the main drag, which stretches from the town via the 'hotel zone' all along the coast. Every evening there is a traffic jam outside, bringing well-heeled tourists to the restaurant. Wild it isn't.

While Hartwood has been lauded by chef Rene Redzepi as 'the place I dream about' on the cover of the eponymous cookbook and described as 'unforgettable' by the Guardian, it's certainly not the only (or even the best) restaurant in the region. It doesn't do to focus on this trendy eatery run by two New Yorkers (sickeningly described by Condé Nast Traveller as 'sun-kissed and loose') and neglect the fantastically vibrant neighbouring food businesses run by locals, where you find truly authentic fare. Beautiful food by beautiful people? Nah. Give me a squat Mayan grandma any day. She knows what's up.

I booked for the restaurant at 8pm on a Friday night. Earlier that day I walked there to check out its whereabouts and hopefully take a few pictures before nightfall. The executive chef Eric Werner was there in a business meeting. I pleaded with staff for a meeting with him to take pictures, 'I've come all the way from London' and ask a couple of questions. Chef Werner is a big shot nowadays - 'Vice have just been and done a thing on me' - but he kindly gave me a few minutes of his time.

Hartwood, Tulum
Hartwood, Tulum
Hartwood, Tulum
The food that evening: fudgy golden turds of wood-baked sweet potatoes, glistening slices of ivory jicama radish with a scarlet hibiscus dressing, citrus-flecked ceviche Yucatan-style, all while watching the no-nonsense female head chef briskly organise her fire-roasted staff. Hartwood uses local ingredients with American styling and cheffy know-how.

The low note were the cocktails. Despite sending them back once, the tamarind margarita was unprepossessing and, even though we didn't drink them, they charged us. A high note was the corn flavoured ice cream. I felt rather sorry for a group of girls who'd booked months ago but were still waiting for a table 90 minutes later. The executive chef might be American, but the time-keeping was strictly Mexican.

Charly's Vegan Tacos

Charly's a chef, not a vegan, but he and his business partner have started a really good casual dining restaurant at the beginning of the hotel zone on Carreterra Tulum. There are a huge selection of pickles and salsas to jazz up your chosen vegan tacos. Prices are reasonable. 

La Eufemia

eufemia, tulum
My favourite place to eat was Taqueria La Eufemia, at the end of the beach past Hartwood, where I waited all afternoon until my dinner appointment. I mentioned to locals that I was going to Hartwood and they shrugged. 
We can't afford it said one hotel worker.
The chef is connected said a barman.
Yeah I think his amigo is from the New York Times.
He's got good marketing said another.
La Eufemia, on the other hand is friendly, cheap as chips, with a satisfyingly long counter of choose-yer-own-rainbow-shade of salsa, stoned customers, beach bums, hippies, backpackers, sun-grizzled old gals holding up the bar. There are a few smug skinny minnie yoga bunnies draped over the sun beds but nothing overwhelming. It's actually on the beach. This is where the locals go. They can afford it. So could I.
Next door to this is probably the cheapest place to stay in Tulum, the campsite. I didn't check it out though.

Piedra Escondida hotel and restaurant

guacamole, tulum
chilaquiles, tulum
There are dozens of good restaurants and hotels along the Caratera Tulum strip. At this one, Piedra Escondida, the food was tasty, there was a private beach and the drinks pitched just at the right strength between pissed and sun-kissed and the waiters helpful(and willing to charge up my iPhone.) Again it's not cheap to stay, around $250 a night. 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Parsley Power 2: Tabbouleh



When I was asked to write recipes featuring flat leaf parsley, I thought of the most parsleyish dish of all: tabbouleh.

Tabbouleh is often thought of as a bulgur wheat salad, but it's more properly a parsley salad. There should be just a few specks of bulgar wheat, to give it body, while the overriding taste and texture ought to be of fresh herbs, finely chopped. Middle Eastern cuisine celebrates fresh herbs, both for nutritional value and flavour. A meal can simply be a plate of various herbs ready to be wrapped in thin flatbread, the green crunchiness and intense vegetal flavour imparting vitality and vitamins.

In Turkey, they have a similar mezze called 'kisir'. It is the inverse ratio of tabbouleh, whereby the golden colour of bulgar wheat is flecked with green parsley and mint.


Tabbouleh Recipe

Bulgar wheat comes in different grades: coarse, medium, fine and extra fine. We aren't using water to cook the bulgar wheat, which I find makes the salad soggy and heavy. The juices of the tomato, vegetables and herbs will plump up the wheat, so no cooking is required. For this method, the bulgar must be fine. Tabbouleh is traditionally served on lettuce or cabbage leaves, and these are used as scoops. When picking the leaves from the parsley, finer stems can be included while thick stems should be discarded.

Serves 2 to 4

30g (2 tbsps) bulgar wheat, fine or extra fine, washed
10 cherry tomatoes, diced
3 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
60g (2 packets or pots) flat leaf parsley, picked, finely chopped
30g (1 pack or pots) mint leaves, picked, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
50ml olive oil
1/4 tsp cinnamon, ground
1/4 tsp all spice, ground
1/4 tsp sweet paprika, ground
1/4 tsp of black pepper, ground
1 tsp sea salt

The bulgar can be washed in a sieve where it will soak up the water. Chopping by hand very finely is key to this salad; take your time preparing it. Put the tomatoes, spring onions, parsley and mint into a large bowl. Mix the lemon with the olive oil, salt and spices in another small bowl. Add the bulgar wheat to the bowl of vegetables, then pour over the dressing. Leave in the fridge for at least half an hour so that the flavours can be absorbed. Fluff with a fork before serving.