Posts Tagged ‘travel’

The recent Horsemeat scandal has left farmers incensed as meat sales have plummeted, supermarkets have lost billions in profits and governments struggle in vain to draw a line under the scandal over horsemeat being sold as beef.

horsemeat

So with consumers ditching beef for veggie ready meals it makes me question why people feel that creating vegetarian dishes can be difficult. ¬†Wouldn’t it be just as easy to buy ingredients to create a vegetarian dish than buying a microwave pre-packed one?

By creating your own dish, you control the quantities, the amount of salt, volume… So why don’t some people cook their own vegetarian dishes? ¬†Simple:

 Vegetarian = Boring!

If you try to convince a non-vegetarian that a meat free meal is delicious and exciting then you’ll just be faced with the deadpan certainty that they are awaiting the punchline in your joke. ¬†Either that or they think you’re going to resurrect the vegetable stir-fry. ¬†It is just a case of changing a mindset. ¬†Question: how can culinary giants such as Italy and Spain create amazing vegetable dishes without the ridicule of their respective nations? ¬†Answer: by never compromising on flavour.

The key to a great vegetable dish is to keep it simple.  Let the product speak for itself such as aubergines and honey; a simple Starter to any meal:

IMG_2337

Aubergine and honey

1st: Heat a griddle pan for approximately 8mins before you start cooking.

2nd: Slice the aubergine however you wish; I tend to favour cutting them in half along their length and then slicing into thin strips along the length of each half.

3rd: Pour olive oil into a dish and soak both sides of the aubergine slices in the oil.  Aubergines are like sponges and will soak up a lot of oil so try not to leave them dunked in the oil for too long.

4th: Griddle until scorch marked and softened from the griddle.

5th: Drizzle honey over just before serving.

Use ingredients to compliment your vegetable:

Mushrooms with garlic, chillies and butter IMG_23271

1st: Make the Garlic, Chillies and Parsley butter found on the recipes page.

2nd: Share between the mushrooms.

3rd:¬†Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and bake at 180¬įC for 20mins.

Disclaimer: ¬†The butter retains a lot of heat so take care when eating as you don’t want to end up with your palette blistered to shreds!

For the more adventurous cook why not try a Roast Vegetable Lasagne or an impressive melanzane alla parmigiana where instead of using lasagne sheets you use slices of aubergine with plenty of parmesan.  

Toptip:¬†When roasting vegetables don’t add salt until the end otherwise they braise in their own cooking liquid.

Or if you want to impress:

Aubergine rolls filled with spinach, ricotta and pine nuts: 

aubergine rolls

Photo taken from bbcgoodfood.com

1st: Soften the aubergine slices by either griddling or cooking them in the oven.

2nd: Mix the wilted spinach leaves with the ricotta cheese and add a good shaving of parmesan.  Season to taste.

3rd: Either use tomato passata from a jar or create your own.

Start to assemble the dish:

4th: Place a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce into the bottom of the oven dish.

5th: Add a teaspoonful of the mixture to one end of the aubergine slice and roll it.  Repeat this for the remaining aubergine slices.  Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.  To make this a dinner party indulgence why not cover in bechamel sauce before sprinkling with parmesan cheese.

Most of these vegetable dishes make a great accompaniment to any meal.  For example both the mushrooms and the aubergine rolls can be a side dish to meat or chicken if you so wish.  But celebrating them as a main course with some crusty bread is just as rewarding.  Remember, there are plenty of health benefits from eating more vegetables, they are tasty and good on the budget.

Buy vegetables at the height of their season as this will mean you’ll get the best quality product at the best price. ¬†Buy what you need as they have a limited longevity; buy small but buy often.

No, I am not a vegetarian, but I hope through this blog entry I may have given you some ideas as to how to take the jump and cook up simple meat-free dishes that you won’t find boring or predictable.

Give them a try!

What possessed me to wake up at silly o’clock on a Saturday morning, I do not know. Not even young children wake their parents up as early as 5am (I presume).

Alarm bellowing at me indiscriminately of the hour of morning nor knowing how little sleep I’d actually had, I was cajoled out of bed with the promise of wine at the end of my day.

After picking up the gang, we made our way to the train station and boarded the 6:50am to Ronda, where we were heading to help celebrate “La Fiesta de la Vindimia” a grape harvesting festival.

We arrived at Bodega Morosanto, Ronda around 9am where the first part of the tour was to go grape picking. Armed with secateurs we busied ourselves by harvesting the Petit Verdot grapes.

Other groups of people gave it a go but I have to say, TeamGIB would have won gold as we harvested several full crates between us.

Between picking we sampled some of the grapes which were smaller than I imagined the grapes to be but nonetheless they were sweet and delicious as if they had done their best to soak up every last bit of Summer sunshine into their blue-black coats.

Since we’d been up since 5am with a snatch of coffee/breakfast before we left and it already being 11am we were starving.

The advert for the event promised a “desayuno campero”. ¬†We were all really looking forward to a coffee with some spanish toast with olive oil & tomato or zurrapa.
But alas at this vineyard there was no toast, no coffee.  Instead several bottles of wine were opened and plates of Spanish charcuterie and chunky bread were placed abundantly along the table.  Looking at eachother as if to seek approval that we could be drinking the old vino before midday, Miguel, the vineyard owner stared at us and said;

“Cafe y tostada es para maricones – esto es un desayuno de campeones!”

And indeed it truly was a breakfast of champions!  Several glasses of wine later we made our way to continue the tour of the Bodega.

Our second stage in the wine making process was to select the best grapes from our crop and pull out any poor quality/unripened grapes.  After this the grapes are removed from their stalks and pressed to extract all of their sweet juice.  They are then put into vats to ferment.  And then put into barrels to age.  The final colour and flavour of the wine is largely dependent on how toasted the inside of the barrel is.  Different grape varieties are then combined to produce the final product.

The whole day was full of good food and wine, informative and an absolute pleasure to be part of but I have to admit, other than drinking lots of wine, grape-stomping was the highlight for me!

Not only was the day a great day but we then stocked up on several bottles of Morosanto’s Lucio (2010) 75cl bottles as well as their 150cl Magnum.

The train ride back was a clonkingly good one!

When I was in Hong Kong back in 2005, one of my first meals was a Dim Sum lunch washed down with warm jasmine tea (check my “Oriental” post).

Eating dim sum is known in Cantonese as “yum cha” (drinking tea ÁĺéŚĎ≥)¬†as jasmine tea is traditionally drunk with this snack.

Able (Rick’s fianc√©e) ordered dim sum for us. She chose those which were sure to cater to our Western palates.

7 years later and my chance to experience dim sum returned whilst on holiday in Malaysia. We went to Pappa Rich for “Malaysian Treats” and lo and behold there was dim sum on the menu!!

Back at home – holidays over – I rediscovered my Asian Kitchen.

How difficult could it really be to create dim sum? A pastry case filled with a small amount of filling; steamed.

Admittedly the only reason why I was able to create these at home was thanks to the Mecca for Asian ingredients that is Ramsons!! I hit the jackpot when I found packets of frozen wonton wrappers in their freezer section.

Pork and Prawn Dim Sum

1st: Add the minced pork, shelled and uncooked prawns, spring onions, garlic, ginger, flour and soy sauce into a food processor and blitz until you form a smooth paste.

2nd: Line up the wonton squares on your work surface and using a pastry brush (my fingers did the job fine!) moisten the edges.

3rd: Place a teaspoonful of the pork and prawn mixture onto the centre of the square. Do not try and overfill as this will cause your dim sum to spill over in cooking.

4th: Pick all four corners of the wonton square and gently squeeze out any air still in the dim sum. The shape you choose to create is totally up to you.  I read somewhere that in Asian culture each shape has a different meaning or is created for a particular filling or occasion. I however am neither Asian nor deft at creating pastry shapes, hence my army of pork-prawn hobo sacks!

5th: Place the dim sum into a bamboo steamer for a few minutes.  I however, did not have a bamboo steamer so therefore chose to cook my dim sum gyoza-style.  I placed the dim sum into a frying pan with a little oil and fried the gyoza until the base was browned.  Then poured a glass of water into the pan to create steam and covered the pan for 3 mins.

I served my dim sum with sesame prawn toast and washed it down with warm, fragrant jasmine tea.

Delicious¬†ÁĺéŚĎ≥

I now understand why everyone, and I literally mean everyone, mentions food as one of the top 10 tourist attractions to see and do in Malaysia! The Lonely Planet guide ranks Malaysia’s food culture as 9th in its list of things to do and see. To quote The Lonely Planet website:

“The atmosphere is electric and the many types of food available will leave the first-time visitor in a daze!”

This enthusiastically caught my attention but dare I say it, 9th is pathetically low Рit should be ranked much higher.  There is plenty of touristy stuff to do but apart from the eclectic mix of cultures, it was the food that really stood out for me.  From the street food in Jalan Alor to the exquisite cakes at the KL Tower, everything was delicious (except the evil durian fruit that should not be considered a food!)

When I originally thought about Malaysian food, I immediately assumed Asian cuisine; veering towards Chinese, who wouldn’t? But this was an ignorant assumption! Malaysian cuisine is spicier and hotter than I thought it was going to be. I was also unaware of the strong Muslim influence in everything Malaysian. As our taxi driver jovially told us,

“50% of Malaysia is Muslim, the other 50% is made up of the rest of us!”

Culinarily though, this meant that the vast spread of cultures and subsequently dietary requirements has impacted on the variety of foods at stalls and restaurants throughout KL (I’ll tell you about the Arabic restaurant I went into on another occasion). ¬†There was always a vast selection of foods to choose from: Malaysian,¬†Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, Australian, Italian, Mediterranean, Iranian, Moroccan, etc. ¬†Sadly there ¬†was also a KFC and the omnipresent McDonalds.

Jalan Alor

We asked the concierge at our hotel, The Royale Bintang, where they could recommend for us to go for dinner. ¬†They were very quick to mention several western style restaurants but on exclaiming the words, “We want to eat local.” ¬†They chorused, “Jalan Alor!”
On a parallel street to us was the infamous Jalan Alor. A cacophony of scent and sound, where plastic furniture is laid out in a continuous line on either side of a busy street.  Pedestrian and vehicle weave their way through a throng of diners out for delicious food at ridiculous prices!

As total first-timers in KL and more specifically, Jalan Alor, we decided to play it safe and opted for a Chinese-Malaysian eatery.

Here we dined on soy marinated peanuts, mouthwatering squid rings, buttered prawns, aromatic pork ribs and sweet and sour pork.

Everything was delicious! ¬†The soy marinated peanuts were slightly slimy at first but once the initial hesitation subsides they were actually very moreish. ¬†I’ve tried to recreate these at home; unsuccessfully.

However, the pi√®ce de r√©sistance was the relatively modern malaysian dish: buttered prawns. ¬†This dish combines Malay, Chinese, Indian and western ingredients. ¬†A knockout dish which¬†revealed layer upon layer of complex flavours‚Äďbuttery, salty, sweet, spicy, and garlicky working off one another seamlessly and perfectly. ¬†It was packed with such amazing flavour that you were not even bothered about peeling the prawns at times so that you could suck the tantalising coating covering them!!

Throughout KL, different restaurants claim to serve the best buttered prawns!

Sadly, as simple as recipes suggest their re-creation ability is, the quality of the ingredients we can buy here is not the same.  Oh well, another trip to Malaysia is going to have to be a must to satisfy my buttered prawns cravings.  

The original finger licking good!

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This Easter I am very fortunate to be travelling to Malaysia. ¬†I have never been there but looking through travel guides and online comments it seems to be one of those places that involves a lot of pounding the streets and fueling that energy demand by stopping regularly for street food. ¬†There are many Asian food influences on display to tempt the pallet. ¬†From the traditional Malaysian cuisine to those of other Asian nations; Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, Thai, Korean and Japanese – Malaysia is apparently a melting pot of flavours and cuisines and I for one can’t wait!

Realising that my enthusiasm for all things Asian needs to be somewhat abated as there are still a few weeks before I travel and I might spontaneously combust from the excitement, I decided to cook my version of a Thai Green Chicken Curry.

See Recipe Page

Red chopsticks in hand and smelling this fragrant bowl of Thai Curry took me back to December 2005, where I visited Hong Kong for a Christmas/New Year break, and stayed with a friend from University who had invited me over.

Sipping my after-dinner jasmine tea, I reminisce about that trip; about how excited I was about travelling to Asia.

However, looking through my Hong Kong photo album recently I was expecting to see photos of temples and buddahs, but noticed that many photos were of food or of me eating!  And it is only now, in 2012, that I realise how much of a culinary journey it was.  

“From the Chinese dim sum and jasmine tea that I had on my first few days there to the Japanese Teppanyaki Grill theatrics I shared with my hosts, food was central to my holiday.”

With that same initial excitement from way back in December 2005, I cannot wait to walk through the streets of Kuala Lumpur with a sweet potato ball snack in hand, smelling the intoxicating aroma of spices wafting from food stall and street cafe that caress your face and hug the soul.

Lei Ho!!

Of all the places I have travelled to, New York aka New Yoik, is still one of my favourite destinations.  Having been there on three seperate occasions with three different groups of people, I can encouragingly recommend this place to everyone.  Other than the typical tourist attractions statue of liberty, times square, central park, etc which I will gladly visit again, it is the food that stays with me the most!

But what actually is American food?  Historically, as Europeans gradually colonised the Americas they took with them ingredients and cooking styles from their native lands.  These influences continued expanding proportionally with the influx of immigrants from many foreign nations.  It is this influx that has developed a rich diversity in food preparation throughout the country.

As these immigrants passed through Ellis Island, many of them settled in New York City.  Creating a melting pot of cultures, race and food.

On my second visit to NYC we stayed at¬†the Beekman Tower Hotel, near the United Nations building.¬†¬†Opposite our hotel there was a cafe – I think it was¬†called Union Cafe – which severed food all day from 6am to 11pm (I may be exaggerating).¬† My NY breakfast of choice¬†was french toast with¬†maple¬†syrup¬†fried bacon and eggs, sunny side up ūüôā

What can I say?¬† If you don’t want to have to keep stopping for mid-morning snacks delaying your itinerary to your next tourist queue this is the sort of breakfast you are going to¬†want, no, correction, need!

But this food obsession does not just stop at breakfast.  From a city that boasts ~23, 500 active restaurants (figure taken from nycgo.com) there is food for all pockets and tastes.

This figure also incorporates food stands selling the quintessential hot dog with relish, burger stands and the other New York City staple, the pretzel.

When you first buy a pretzel you welcome its warmth and bready smell.¬† Holding it in your hands you feel victorious that you have found the answer to keeping warm in¬†New York in Winter –¬†but when you take your first bite you realise you should have asked the guy for relish!¬† It is too dry therefore hard.¬† However, for me, it is the rock salt that covers it that makes it an unpleasant experience.¬† Each bite you take makes you wonder whether your fillings are being hacked out of your teeth!¬† Not content with this the first time (or wondering whether I was sold a dodgy pretzel), I have then¬†bought pretzels on my other two visits to NYC and found the same unpleasant, salty experience.

Actually make a point of adding relish to anything you buy from a food stand/hot dog cart/burger stand/pretzel stand as generally the sweet relish masks the taste of what you are consuming!

NYC does sweet very well.  Not only is it a mecca for cupcakes and muffins which are amazing.  Stop in any deli and get a coffee (cu-o-ffy) and a slice of cheesecake that lifts you spiritually as well as providing much needed respite from walking the streets of Manhattan.  And it was with this uplifting memory of NYC and those indulgent if not calorific breakfasts that I made American Style Pancackes for my Saturday breakfast!

American Style Pancakes

1st: Mix plain flour, milk, melted butter, eggs, bicarbonate of soda, sugar and salt in an electric foodmixer until everything is mixed well.

2nd: Pour the mixture into a jug as they are easier to pour onto the pan than spooning them out.

3rd: Cook on both sides.

4th: Serve with maple syrup like a waterfall, cascading over its sides!!

YUMMERS!!