Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Pimp my ramen

 Different kinds of ramen.
 Different kinds of ramen
 Ramen +: A selection of fresh ingredients from my fridge including butter.
 Ramen +: A selection of fresh ingredients from my fridge including butter
 Close up of dry ramen with their respective fresh ingredients
 Dry ramen with their respective fresh ingredients
 Dry ramen with their respective fresh ingredients
ramen bowls

Ramen hacks

I think it was Gwyneth Paltrow who said something like 'I'd rather kill myself than feed my kids Pot Noodle'. Sorry Gwynie, but I beg to differ - noodles are one of the greatest modern food inventions.

Recently in the news, according to a new book Prison Ramen, the most valuable thing you can trade in prison these days is not cigarettes but ramen. This is understandable. Boring food and no access to a kitchen must be one of the most frustrating things about being in prison. Ramen is the simplest no cook meal you can make, all you need is a boiling water. Ramen is so easy to pimp. Kylie Jenner shared her ramen tricks recently by snapchatting how she pimps ramen with butter, garlic and egg. I tried it and it was pretty good.
I tried a few different brands of ramen from cheapo to posh. I've been told by Asian friends that Korean ramen is the best because it's 'bouncier'. Ramen can be improved with fresh ingredients to take away from that slight cardboardy feel.
Pimping ramen is a 6 stage process, taking only 10 minutes.
1) Place the ramen in a bowl.
2) Open the sachets that come with it; usually you have a powdered soup, sometimes a packet of oil and rarely a sachet of chilli. I open the powdered soup if it is vegetarian flavour but you could dispense with that and use a stock cube.
3) Boil a kettle and pour it into the bowl of ramen.
4) In the meantime prep the vegetables.
I use tofu cubes, carrot strips, spring onion, red pepper, mushrooms - anything you find in your fridge.
5) Improve the flavour by adding a grating of ginger or fresh turmeric or garlic. Add some fresh herbs like coriander or lime leaves and a squeeze of lemon or lime.
6) Finally a dash of soy sauce, sesame oil or ponzu, a delicious citrussy soy sauce. You can buy it cheaply  in supermarkets now. These really makes ramen sing!

Here are four ideas for ramen bowls.

Kylie Jenner adds a big knob of butter, some garlic and a raw egg to her ramen. 
You can add carrot, spring onion, lime leaf, chilli. 
Or red peppers, tofu, coriander, ginger and avocado on top. 
Or coriander, broccoli, seaweed, turmeric.
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Thursday, 9 March 2017

Poutine cheese curds, the search and the recipe for Canada's comfort food

A year ago I visited Canada, discovered how maple syrup was extracted from trees and ate poutine, a messy but comforting national dish, consisting of chips, gravy and squeaky cheese curds.
Inspired I've just hosted a Canadian-themed Sugar Shack Supper Club. I had one difficulty: obtaining the cheese curds for poutine. I discovered that the only place in the UK that made authentic cheese curds was Goulds in Glastonbury. Dedicated chef that I am, I made the 7 hour drive.  On my arrival, head cheesemaker Dan Poole explained:
"Canada is a cheddar producing country and essentially cheese curds are unpressed cheddar cheese. You split the curds from the whey. It's how you treat the curd that makes it cheddar. It's stacking it up and flipping it to build the acidity, this is what is known as cheddaring. Canadians flock to buy our cheese curds, they love it. "
The cheese curds are a first step in the cheddar making process prior to pressing the 27 kilo cylinder moulds into a traditional truckle.
Gould's are one of the original Cheddar making families along with the Keens and the Godminsters. 
"The Gould style of cheddar is buttery smooth with nice caramel tones. Even when it's extra mature, the smoothness remains. The older cheddar attains a nutty flavour." says Dan as we sample the different flavours and strengths of their cheese.
Jean Gould Turner inherited the cheese making part of the farm, named Batch farm, after her father's death while her brother Fred took over the herd.
Now 62 years old, Jean is the longest standing female cheddar maker, rising at 5 am every morning, able to lift a 27 kilo truckle with one hand. Dan is full of admiration for Jean:
"Jean is hard as nails, she knows everything there is to know about cheddar."
I see large brass instruments in Jean's house across the road, the old school house, where we eat a 'poutine' lunch. Jean Gould Turner plays in a brass band in her spare time.
Dan laughs:
"We are all musicians here. I'm a drummer. My assistant is a guitarist. We do a stall at Glastonbury festival every year selling curds and cheese toasties. Later we'll get up and do a gig on one of the stages."
So where can Londoners get cheese curds to make their own poutine? Every week Gould's drive up to North London, to the farmer's markets at Parliament Hill, Islington and Queen's Park. To pre-order the curds email Cheese curds have a shelf life of five days but can be frozen (but they may lose some of their squeakiness).

Poutine recipe


Deep fat fryer or deep frying pan with chip basket.
Kitchen towel.

Serves 4


For the chips:

1.5 kilos of frying potatoes such as Maris Piper, peeled and cut into thick chips
3 litres of vegetable oil
Sea salt
500g cheese curds

For the gravy:

2 tbsp of olive oil or 30g of butter
4 shallots, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 fresh bay leaf
2 tbsp of plain flour
2 tbsp of soy sauce
250g of fresh mushrooms of your choice, sliced thinly
a glass of red wine or half a glass of sherry
500ml of good quality vegetable stock (Marigold is good)
A few drops of truffle oil (optional)

400g cheese curds

The ideal chips are twice cooked. Here is the method:

Bring your oil up to 145Cº. Have a wide tray or plate covered with kitchen towel next to your fryer.
Fry your chips for around five minutes until they turn slightly translucent. Drain the chips and lay them out in one layer on the kitchen paper. Sprinkle with good sea salt.
Leave to rest for 15 minutes.
In the meantime make the gravy.
Add the oil or butter to a medium saucepan on a medium heat.
Soften the shallots until golden then add the garlic and bay leaf.
Sprinkle the flour into the mixture, stirring rapidly, then add the soy sauce and mushrooms.
Add the red wine then the stock, stirring.
Cook until thickened, add the truffle oil if you want a touch of luxury. Set aside.

Raise the temperature of the fryer to 180cº. Put the chips back in the fryer and fry until golden. Replace the kitchen paper on the tray and when the chips are cooked, tip them onto the fresh kitchen paper. Blot them and plate them.
Pour the gravy on top ( you won't use all of it).
Add the cheese curds and serve hot.

This dish can be reheated in the microwave.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

An artist's hotel in Valladolid, Yucatan and a recipe for pumpkin seed dip (green recado)

Valladolid is a small quiet colonial town in the interior of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. which is very pleasant and manageable to wander around and pass away the hours people watching while sipping a cooling jugo de Jamaica (hibiscus tea). Also known as the 'sultan of the east', Valladolid is one of those places where you just feel good. There aren't too many tourists, the people are nice and you feel safe. I often find I have my most authentically 'real' experiences in small towns, after the hustle and hoopla of the hot spots. It's a chance to see the natural daily rhythms of the locals where foreigners do not distort the perspective. There are tourists in Valladolid, but people tend to pass through quickly. 

Things to see and do in Valladolid:

  • The main cathedral San Gervasio in the main town square is worth a visit.
  • Cenotes, such as Cenote Zaki, which are natural pools, some underground. There are cenotes in town and in the surrounding areas. 
  • Ruins such as Chichen Itza, Ek Balam and Coba.  

An artist's hotel

I stayed at a wonderful hotel Project Zentik, a ten minute walk from the centre of Valladolid. Each room and the public areas were decorated by a different artist. In fact if you are an artist, they will offer a stay in exchange for a mural. Get in touch with them here:
This hotel offers a welcome bowl of tequila and as part of the delicious breakfast, tequila coffee and pumpkin jam on toast.  As they were building the hotel they discovered an underground cenote beneath, which guests can use as well as the swimming pools. The staff are particularly helpful and friendly. 

What to buy in the market:

The central market in Valladolid sells cheap and instagram swoon-worthy white stone molcajetes, the traditional heavy-weight Mexican pestle and mortar. (I bought one and because I couldn't fit it in my check-in luggage it was confiscated as a dangerous weapon, so make sure you wrap it and check it in). 
Other market treasures include various pastes which they call 'recado'. Bought by weight, recados come in green, red or black and keep for a long time. The red is made with achiote, the black with roasted chillies and the green from pumpkin seeds (recipe below). 
Buy jicama (again check it in), poblano mild chillies and entire pumpkins infused with syrup. 
I also bought seeds for growing Mexican vegetables and home-made chilli sauces.
I saw several whole agave or honey candied pumpkins with holes drilled in the bottom. These are October/November seasonal treats made for the Day of the Dead. Various gossiping Mayan grandmas gave me instructions on how to make this.
There is also a craft market near the main town square where you can buy light-weight colourful hammacks, Mayan style dresses and artisanal wares.

Pictures at the Market at Valladolid

valladolid market, mexico
chillies, valladolid market, mexico
selling recado valladolid market, mexico
jicama, valladolid market, mexico

Calabaza en tacha, candied whole pumpkin. Another recipe I must try. 

Recipe for Mayan pumpkin seed dip 'Sikil pak'or green recado

Mayan pumpkin seed dip or Sibil pak

A recado has several uses: 
  • can be used as a dip
  • watered down and used as a sauce 
  • blended with oil to make a marinade
  • added to stews such as pipian (recipe soon). 

Everyone makes a different recado, every cook has a different spin. This is one option.

150g pumpkin seeds, toasted if you wish (I don't wish)
2tbsp sesame seeds
2tbsp groundnut oil
1tbsp pumpkin seed oil
1 jalapeno, toasted, deseeded
2 tomatillos (optional), dehusked, roasted lightly
3 cloves garlic
1tsp Mexican oregano
1tsp cumin, ground
1tsp white pepper, ground
1 clove
1/4tsp cinnamon, ground
1tsp sea salt
Handful coriander leaves

Blend all ingredients together and salt to taste.