Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Thali thali thali!

I have to be honest, Indian subcontinent food is my favourite food of all.  In my family, we eat more home cooked Indian food than anything else.  I love cooking it and eating it.  Simple as that really.  My children often caused a small furore with their chilli eating while we were travelling.  People were so surprised to see such young children adore spice so much.  But if you grew up on dal and rice instead of bangers and mash, it's not that surprising really.

So we've been enjoying lots of lovely recipe testing in our house in preparation for thali night.  And here it is.  The first draft of the menu...

Cauliflower & chard pakoras
Paneer & cashew koftas in yoghurt curry
Kali daal (creamy black lentils)
Baigan ka bharta (roasted aubergine mash)
Pappu dosaki (dudhi gourd with channa :)  
Stir fried lotus root

All served on a banana leaf, with steamed rice, salad and pickles.

Well all that's certainly made me hungry! The evening is now fully booked, but if it goes well, we could be looking at v2....

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Something to spice up the New Year...

I had a little epiphany the other day whilst carefully preparing lemongrass skewers for my dining club.  I had been thinking about how the higher costs of fine dining are often in the time it takes to apply multiple (and sometimes complex) processes as well as the cost of ingredients.  I know many people, myself included, are feeling the financial squeeze these days and the post christmas excesses are more than likely going to make us all feel that even more.

So I had a think about what kind of food I could make that could be delivered in a more cost effective way.  For me this would be Indian food every time.  The ingredients are accessible and affordable, especially for vegetarian food.  The other key component is the number of guests.  My usual dining club is set in a beautiful open plan Edwardian dining room and contemporary garden room.  Expensive and complex dishes that require meticulous presentation then limits the number of guests it's feasible to cater for (not to mention sets of relatively expensive plates).

By now I had moved onto trimming banana leaves, and that's when it hit me.  Traditional thali cafes across the Indian subcontinent, and indeed in parts of SE Asia, are usually pretty cramped affairs with stools and benches around ramshackle tables, serving AMAZING food on banana leaves.  Well I could certainly do that!  I adore Indian food, both cooking and eating it, especially the more traditional regional dishes (rather than what you see in most restaurants these days).  I will cook some mouth watering delights from Punjab and Mumbai, as well as from more far away corners such as Orissa and Tamil Nadu.   

We have plenty of room to double the number of diners for one evening (I'm not sure I could cope with doing this on a regular basis in my own house).  And that's if you don't mind sitting on benches, Indian cafe style, and eating delicious thali served on banana leaves.  Thali normally consists of several curries and dals served with rice, flatbreads and pickles. Allowances would also need to be made for mismatching glasses, cutlery, chairs and the like.  But I can guarantee you an evening of exceptional traditional Indian food for this one off event, and a New Year treat at half the price of the usual dining club (so that's £15 per person).  I reckon it will be a rather fun evening.  Email to book Jackie@thehungrygecko.com

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Check out the lovely new dining club menu... yum yum!

I'm looking forward to cooking my new menu for the dining club from next weekend.  Places available for Fri 18th (2 left) and Sat 19th November.  To make a booking, send an email to: thehungrygecko@gmail.com 
Amuse bouche
Sweet & sour popcorn tofu
Buddha’s Delight, noodle soup with exotic mushrooms & bean curds, served with vegetable crackers & chilli cashews
Balinese satay sticks, lemongrass skewers of smoky tempeh, served with spicy candlenut sauce & sticky rice
Duo of jackfruit & mango sorbet and lime sorbet
Pear & frangipane tart with vanilla & star anise ice cream, served with salted almond praline & goji berry sauce

There are several highlights for me with this menu, but I am most proud of the dessert.  I think it sings and my dessert loving daughter agrees.  She says it's the best dessert I've ever made.  Slightly biased I suspect.  I'll post some photos when I get the chance.  

I made the Balinese satay sticks during the fine dining challenge week on MasterChef.  Posh Bertie said it wasn't posh enough, but JT said he 'missed a trick'.  I know who's opinion I'd trust! 

The starter is based on a rather ubiquitous noodle soup from China that uses a variety of beancurds and fungi, including lily buds, wood ears and black moss.  Some versions have over 19 ingredients.  My version has 16.  It's also delicious.  But then I would say that, wouldn't I  :0) 

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The truth about a life changing decision

I've had an odd week.  After being laid low by a severe bout of tonsilitis, I probably spent too much time in my own head, admittedly in a somewhat fever addled state at times.

Having some time to stop and think about my where I am up to now, what my next steps might be, well to be perfectly honest, it was fucking terrifying. Like staring into an abyss that I have already leapt into, and feeling most unsure about myself.  I've had so much wonderful support from friends and even strangers, telling me how great it is that I am following my dream in food.  And it is.  But for all those people who dream of making life changing decisions, there's a reason so many don't.  It's scary to think about doing it and even more so when you actually take the leap.

I've worked pretty hard since MasterChef to make this transition and find the path I want to take with food.  But it's one of the steepest I've ever tried to climb and I think it's worth a truthful blog about the experience of the journey in making such a big decision to quit everything and start a new career.  Self employment in itself is a tough place to be right now.  Add to that working in a highly competitive arena where few actually succeed in the long term, makes for quite a scary place to be.  There are moments where I wonder if I have made the right decision.
I know some of this comes from my own self doubt that I have unfortunately been plagued with since childhood.  I had a tough father.  I can write that here as I know that he would never read anything I had written.  He didn't even watch me on MasterChef.  So me being riddled with doubt and worried about the future and the pressure this all puts on my family, well it's not exactly helpful to have close family members also think you are making a terrible mistake.  The thing is, he thought it was waste of time to study social science, and yet I had a successful career as a researcher.  He thought I was crazy to take the children out of school and go travelling for a year.  So yes, he could well be wrong.  It wouldn't be the first time!

I also cannot lie and say I don't remember how much negativity I received during the airing of the programme.  People who think they know me and can define me from watching the output of smoke and mirrors.  That backlash rocked my confidence a little too.  Only because it's echoes my critics who may be closer to home.  I met a troller face to face once.  In that moment, it took all the power out of anonymous critics right there.  I will leave you to figure out why. 

And then there's me, with my fever and head full of doubt, thinking what the fuck have I done.  I have worked my backside off for the last few months and for every few steps forward, I take more than the odd one backwards, not least financially.  The impact of me quitting a full time grade 8 NHS post is huge.  The impact on my family is evident and the pressure it puts on my husband immense.  Being skint again after years of middle class comfort is no fun whatsoever I can tell you. 

I spend a day in the kitchen, and I remember why I am doing this.  That isn't in doubt.  But is it enough?  I know I have a long steep path ahead.  But I also believe that I'm going in the right direction.  It's a bit painful right now and I'm going to have to dig deeper than I probably ever have before.  For now it's about stamina, with more sweat and tears to come I suspect.  I do need to take more time to develop myself as a cook and my future business.  So I think I'm just going to have to ride this one out....

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Hungry Gecko dining club is now open!

I thought I'd have a quick blog about last night while it's still fresh in my mind.  I thoroughly enjoyed cooking for 12 guests.  Such a perfect number to make beautiful plates of food and I have to say, feedback on the service was great, so my husband seems to be a natural.  The lack of stress was a joy and I think the bliss of cooking like that showed in the food.  I was really happy with what I produced, and to be fair, it's not often I say that about my own dishes.  I've been trying to keep a quote in my mind...  it makes me feel better about my food and that can only be a good thing.

When you acknowledge as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving towards perfection becomes clear….to make people happy. That’s what cooking is all about” – Thomas Keller

The dinner guests were lovely people too and it was nice to see new friends being made.  The garden annexe room is a delightful setting for a table for four and the adjoining main dining room was kept more spacious for eight guests.  I think it worked really well.

So I didn't get the best pictures of the food - too busy cooking obviously, but we managed to get a few....

The menu included an amuse bouche I have been trying perfect the flavour in (and the construction of) soy infused tempeh with wasabi sesame seeds.

I've been working on my paneer shashlik too.  I don't have the space to make my own paneer at the moment and the packet stuff is very rubbery and lacks flavour (I'm really selling it here :)  But I managed to find an awesome supplier of fresh paneer in Rusholme, so I've very happy with this dish now.  It's a shame the nasturtium season is almost over, but I'm excited to be working on a new menu for next months dining club dates. 

I made this pudding 3 or 4 times before I perfected the recipe.  For a start, I find most recipes for Banh Gan (Vietnamese coconut creme caramel) are much too sweet.  If you're using good quality coconut milk, there's a natural sweetness that needs to come through I think.  Then there's the cooking method and times.  I found the water bath technique was too much for the custard.  A nice long steam bath is what was needed.  By now it was half one in the morning but I held my patience and was justly rewarded in the end.  I love that the dining club gives you the opportunity to strive for perfection! 

This cute little pudding is making an appearance next week, alongside some gorgeous accompaniments, for my collaboration with Tampopo at the Manchester Food & Drink Festival.  

Tickets are still available, from Tampopo Albert Square or the Triangle, or via their website http://www.tampopo.co.uk/five-course.htm

There are also still a couple of places remaining for my dining club on Friday 18th November.  New dates will go on my website soon

Monday, 3 October 2011

Cookery classes, collaborations & a lack of concentration perhaps...

I've been such a a busy bee lately.  So many irons in the fire.  Which is good, but I do think I need to focus.  Focus on what I want, the food I want to make and who I want to work with.  Unfortunately all this activity has meant a week away from home, but it makes me appreciate it all the more now I'm back (apart from armies of the teenagers that appear to have moved in).  

With the inmminent launch of my dining club (aka supperclub, underground restaurant or whatever you want to call it) we've been working hard to get the set up just right.  Lee's working on some dining music while I blog.  I'm very excited about the launch night and been working hard on perfecting dishes.  Both dates are now booked up, but I will post some new dates to the website soon.

I had an enjoyable evening last week with a Cracking Good Food cookery class, a local social enterprise company that aims to give people the skills to cook seasonal, nutritious and cost effective food from scratch.  The enthusiastic students did a fantastic job of their cauliflower stuffed parathas.  I hope to do another new class with them again early next year.

This weekend I spent a day teaching a Streetfood Masterclass at The Vegetarian Society's Cordon Vert cookery school.  Again, great fun although a long day for a Sunday and I forgot to give them a break!

I've also been busy working on the menu with Tampopo Co-founder David Fox for the Manchester Food & Drink Festival dining event, Tuesday 11th October.  More details can be found here: http://foodanddrinkfestival.com/event/festaurant-presents-mekong-beyond-an-east-asian-food-odyssey/
We've come up with a really exciting East Asian feast, in between sharing travel stories.  Not surprisingly we have a lot in common when it comes to travel and food.  The menu includes Tampopo classics and some travel inspired dishes with a fine dining twist.  I'm VERY excited.  Not least to be working with such an experienced team.  Tickets can be booked online via the MFDF website or at Tampopo Triangle, Exchange Square or Tampopo Albert Square.

Mekong & Beyond
5 Course Tasting Menu:
£39 pp (including ½ bottle wine or equivalent)

Asian Cocktail
With Thai prawn crackers

Vietnamese Lettuce Wrap
Mint, Asian basil, coriander, cucumber,
with a chilli, ginger and garlic sambal

Asian Dumplings
Trio of dumplings including gyoza stuffed with exotic mushrooms,
glassy steamed dumpling filled with fresh crab or smoky tofu,
& crispy wonton filled with chilli squid or Asian vegetables.
All served with Asian pickles & dips.

Singapore Laksa with Lobster & Clams
Yellow noodles, lobster & clams in a fiery coconut broth,
with mint, cucumber, red onion, tofu & lime
Singapore Laksa with Smoky Tofu (v)
Yellow noodles, crispy smoky tofu in a fiery coconut & macadamia broth,
with mint, cucumber, red onion & lime

Malaysian Rendang served three ways
Rich coconut curry served with beef, tempeh & jackfruit,
served with lime rice and snake bean & watercress fritters

Vietnamese Creme Caramel
Coconut caramel pudding served with caramelised pineapple & ginger wafers

Friday, 16 September 2011

Harvest Festival at Jimmy's Farm

We had the a fabulous weekend at Jimmy's Farm.  So many highlights...  an amazing array of food (the 2011 British Streetfood awards so not too surprising), Ravinder Bhogal's demo with Jay Rayner was entertaining, catching up with Tim Anderson and my new favourite sauce (miso mayonaise) and meeting Jimmy's pigs, the happiest little critters on the farm it seemed, and clearly not knowing what's in store for them... sausage anyone ;0)

My favourite dishes of the weekend, unsurprisingly, came mostly from the award winners. First, the understated but superbly scrumptious crispy artichoke dish from Street Kitchen (you can find them in their AirStream trailer at Liverpool Lime St) and the Buddha bowl from Veggie Heaven.  I also loved Jalopy's pizza and of course churros and chocolate from the Churros Bros.  The overall winner was one of the unique seashore wraps from Pembrokeshire based Cafe Mor, trading for the very first time outside of their native Wales in a shack built a couple of days before by a boat building mate.    

Harvest at Jimmy's - enjoy the photos!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Six more easy recipes... the much loved & abundant aubergine!

I used to despise aubergines as a child.  They were either dry and chewy or soggy and watery.  Never with much flavour and nearly always stuffed with something vile.  A friend at a BBQ convinced me to try her teriyaki aubergine and since then, myself and the humble aubergine started a new relationship.  Aubergines are abundant, fat & cheap at the moment, so enjoy a few of my favourite aubergine recipes. 

All the following recipes are easy and quick to make (15 to 20 mins).

Brinjal bhaji (aubergine curry)
This is the easiest curry recipe I've ever learned (The Curry Secret) and tastes amazing, even better if left to stand in fridge overnight.  Chop 2 aubergines, 1 large white onion and 1 green pepper into 1" pieces.  Add 2.5 tsp garam masala, 1.5 tsp chilli powder, 1.5 tsp salt and 1 finely chopped large red chilli.  Pour over 1.5 cups of vegetable oil and bring to boil, then simmer until the aubergine starts to breakdown.  It might seem like too much oil, but you can drain off the excess at the end.  The flavours in this dish are enhanced if you leave overnight. 

Baba ganoush
I love having a little stock of this dip in my fridge.  Stab the aubergine (so they don't explode in the oven).  Place in very hot oven until skin blackens.  Scoop out flesh, allowing excess liquid to drain away.  Blitz with blender, adding salt to taste and garlic clove. Place in bowl with sprinkle of paprika & drizzle of olive oil, and serve with flat breads.    

Aubergine with thai basil & chilli
This is another super simple dish.  Cut aubergine into 1/2 inch cubes and stir fry with 3 tbsp veg oil, 1 sliced red chilli, 4 stems of Thai basil, leaves picked and 1-2 tbsp of veggie oyster sauce (yes there is such a thing, in good Chinese grocers)

Easy peasy roasted summer veg with feta
Chop aubergine, courgette, squash, red onions & peppers into 1" cubes.  Lay in deep baking tray and drizzle generously with olive oil and black pepper (not salt at this stage or veg will lose colour and shrink too much).  Also add whole garlic cloves (unpeeled).  Roast in hot oven for about 10-15 mins, then add crumbled feta, olives and whole jalapeno chillies.  Roast again for another 10 mins.

Italian style aubergine bake
Slice aubergines lengthways and griddle with olive oil until softened.  Make a sauce by softening onions, red pepper, tomatoes and garlic (with whatever fresh herbs you have - basil and marjoram are good).  Then layer the aubergine, sauce and sliced mozzarella in a dish, repeating the layers (like a lasagna).  Top with breadcrumbs, mixed seeds and grated hard strong flavoured cheese.  Bake until golden and bubbling.

Teriyaki aubergine
Slice aubergine lengthways into 1cm slices.  Marinate in teriyaki and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.  Lay on hot griddle or BBQ.  Works great with courgettes & peppers too.

For some more veggie BBQ ideas, check out Jamie's magazine this month, which has some lovely ideas including Mexican corn 4 ways, Mexican black bean burgers (nice nutty spicy texture too) and salt & pepper tofu skewers (nom nom nom!).  Or you could also try my paneer shashlik recipe: 
http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/paneer_shashlick_with_00990 This works great on the barbeque, and dare I say, the marinade is pretty good on non veggie things too (so my sister tells me).

Now all we need is a little sunshine!  Jx

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Vegetarian Dining @ Pipedream Restaurant

I'm cooking up some vegetarian dining at Pipedream restaurant in London on Monday 19th September.  I've decided to make the paneer shashlik from my audition round, together with the best rice dish Gregg's ever tasted, my channa pilau.  I'm also making a few twists after my stints at Benares and Ottolenghi.

I've been working on an amuse bouche, based on one of my favourite snacks, aloo paratha.  This is an indian flat bread stuffed with spiced potato, and topped with aubergine and pickled radish.

I've also been making lime curd. I got the recipe from here:

This was to accompany the lime parfait, coconut sorbet and pistachio wafers I was practising for Pipedream.  But it turned into this... 

Lime meringue croustades, an Ottolenghi inspired tart if ever I saw one!

My dessert for Pipedream is a creamy lime parfait, served with a tangy coconut agave sorbet and crispy pistachio wafers.  And a little lime curd perhaps....

To book a table for my vegetarian dining at Pipedream, go to their website and follow the link.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Courgettes, courgettes everywhere...

I've always thought the courgette is an underrated vegetable.  I like the way it keeps it's firmness but can be soft in the middle.  It's also incredibly good for you and according to 'The Kitchen Shrink', makes a great component for serotonin boosting food. 

The thing I love most about it, is how easy it is to grow in your own garden.  I currently have six plants in grow bags on my patio that have so far given me a fantastic yield of both flowers and vegetables.  Having watched Thomasina Mier's making a spicy vegetable soup the other evening, I now plan to make use of some of the young leaves too.

So here are some super simple ideas for making the most of the courgette glut.  And all the dishes can be made in 20 to 30 minutes too!

Courgette & edam quesadilla
Just a simple folded corn tortilla, filled with courgettes and edam (as I couldn't get any queso fundido or indeed the suggested substitute of Monterray Jack).  Saute the sliced courgette with some seasoning and olive oil, just to cook slightly.  Place tortilla in pan and fill half with the sliced courgette and a handful of grated edam.  Fold the tortilla over, and cook both sides until lightly browned and cheese is melting.  I served this with a simmered spicy tomato salsa (grill 1lb whole tomatoes, 8 jalapeno chillies and 4 cloves of garlic, until blackened, remove tomato and garlic skins - then blitz and simmer until reduced)  but I think any chilli sauce accompaniment will lift this dish nicely, and a sprinkle of fresh coriander.

Courgette pasta sauce
Saute some finely chopped shallots (1 per person) or small white onion in olive oil, until soft.  Add crushed garlic clove and season with salt and pepper.  Add big splash of white wine and simmer vigorously.  Turn down heat.  Add grated courgette (about 2 per person), heat until slightly softened.  Add creme fraiche, sprinkle of fresh lemon thyme (optional) & serve over freshly cooked pasta.

Courgette fritters
Grate courgettes (about 1/2 lb) and squeeze out excess water. Whisk egg & add finely sliced spring onions or shallots, a little flour (use gram flour if you are gluten intolerant), salt, pepper and if to your taste, a little spice such as chopped fresh chilli, a teaspoon of cumin and fresh coriander.   I also like adding crumbled feta to the mix if I fancy a chilli free dish (a rare but occasional event). The batter should be fairly loose.  Shallow fry in batches until golden brown and serve with dollop of greek yoghurt. 

Simple courgette salad
Slice courgette lengthways using potato peeler to get thin strips.  Saute courgette strips in little olive oil until slightly softened, season.  Leave to cool.  Mix the courgettes with chopped flat leaf parsley and toasted sliced almonds.

Spicy corn and courgette soup
A lovely looking spicy soup made with sweetcorn, courgettes, flowers & leaves.  Again, served with a spicy simmered tomato salsa.  Yum!
Mexican Food Made Simple Ch5 - episode 4

Courgette & Taleggio frittata
The August edition of Olive magazine has a tasty little recipe for courgette and taleggio frittata, which went down very well in our house.  Simply saute the onion and garlic until softened, add the grated courgette, then the beaten and seasoned eggs, and the cheese.  Serve with a big fresh salad.

Another recipe from a previous edition of Olive, John Torode suggested stuffing the flowers with crab (if that's your bag) and or perhaps use goats cheese (if it's not).

Courgettes are also one of my favourite ingredients to use in my Thai style noodle soup.

Hope you enjoy! x

Friday, 29 July 2011

Cookery classes coming soon...

I have some cookery classes coming soon, which is a very exciting development.  I am talking to several people about running a range of classes through the coming year.  

To begin with, I'm working the social enterprise company Cracking Good Food, a cooking network based in South Manchester. They aim to bring together passionate food lovers to share their knowledge with people who want to experience the joy of locally sourced, affordable and seasonal food.  With a belief that cooking great food is a life skill everyone should have access to, they run affordable cooking classes and foraging sessions, as well as free community events. 

I'm pleased to be involved and will be running a session for them on the evening of Tuesday 8th November.  We'll be cooking butter dal with spiced aubergine and some cauliflower stuffed parathas.  Followed by chai spiced rice pudding with mango coulis and ginger biscuits.

If you fancy taking part, you can get in touch with Cracking Good Food via their website: http://www.crackinggoodfood.org/

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Finally some more recipes...

I have just realised I haven't posted the full recipes from the Westfield demo.  So here you go, my recipes for vegetarian egg fried noodles (phat thai jay) and a light thai style noodle soup with some gorgeous crispy chilli fritters.


Phat Thai Jay (vegetarian thai egg fried noodles)

Ingredients: (to serve 2)
  • ½ pack of rice noodles – dried flat variety, 0.5 to 1cm wide
  • ½ block of firm tofu – drained & washed
  • 6 mange tout (finely sliced lengthways)
  • 2 shallots – finely sliced
  • 50g fresh beansprouts
  • 50g unsalted peanuts (roasted & chopped)
  • 3 organic free range eggs
  • 1 tbsp groundnut oil
  • 2 tbsp of tamarind paste
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 4 tbsp vegetarian Worcester sauce*
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • small handful of fresh coriander leaves (roughly chopped)
  • 1 lime quartered
  • 2 large red chillies – finely chopped
  • Maldon sea salt
  • Vegetable oil for deep fat fryer or medium pan

  1. Ensure fryer is heating, ready for tofu – OR tofu can already be deep fried
  2. Soak rice noodles in hand hot water – need to be v firm/lots of bite.
  3. While noodles are soaking, cut tofu into large triangle pieces.  Deep fry until golden.
  4. Prep shallots & mange tout – slice at acute angle
  5. Refresh noodles if needed, by pouring boiled water through the sieve.
  6. Heat wok/pan on high, add a little groundnut oil, add veg and then noodles.
  7. Mix together in jug, veggie Worcester, soy, salt, sugar, tamarind & vinegar.
  8. Add liquid mixture to noodles and heat on high.
  9. Then add tofu & half of the beansprouts.  Toss.
  10. Move noodles to one side of pan, and then add two beaten eggs & scramble.
  11. Mix everything together, and if a little dry add some more of the tamarind liquid
  12. Serve in large bowl, top with fresh beansprouts, fresh chopped coriander & chopped nuts, & sprinkle of finely chopped red chillies.  Finish with squeeze of fresh lime.
*Vegetarian Worcester Sauce is made by a company called Life Free From and it is widely available in most highstreet supermarkets in the special section that stocks gluten free and other food intolerance items.

Thai Style Noodle Soup with Crispy Chilli fritters

  • ½ pack of rice noodles – dried flat variety, 0.5 to 1cm wide
  • ½ block of firm tofu – drained & washed
  • 1 small carrot – peeled & to be sliced at acute angle
  • 2 baby courgettes – washed, to be sliced at acute angle
  • 50g small cauliflower florets
  • 50g fine green beans – 1” pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic – finely sliced
  • 3” piece of root ginger - -finely sliced into 1cm julienne strips
  • 1 block of creamed coconut (roughly chopped)
  • 1 stick of lemongrass – crushed and finely sliced
  • 2 limes
  • (If possible) 3 Kaffir lime leaves
  • 6 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp vegetarian Worcester sauce
  • 2 tbsp groundnut oil
  • 1pt vegetable stock
  • 1 small handful of fresh coriander
  • 25g beansprouts
  • 1 large red chilli – finely sliced at acute angle
  • 3 large red chillies – halved down middle & deseeded
  • finely chopped 1 large red chilli (served on side)
  • 3oz rice flour
  • 3 tbsp coconut cream (keep aside from creamed coconut block)
  • 1 can organic coconut milk
  • Maldon salt
  1. Ensure noodles are set aside & fried tofu is also ready.
  2. Ensure fryer is hot
  3. Heat a little groundnut oil in large saucepan, add garlic and then ginger. 
  4. Prep veg and add carrot, courgette, cauliflower & green beans to pan.  Fry a little then add ¾ pint of hot vegetable stock.
  5. Crush lemongrass stick & finely slice and then add to pan.
  6. Add coconut cream (leave some aside for batter), soy & veggie Worcester sauce & season to taste.
  7. Add fried tofu & sliced chillies.  If not enough liquid, add more coconut milk.  Simmer gently then set aside
  8. Make batter whisking rice flour, lime juice & coconut cream.  Season well with salt – fairly thick batter like consistency.  Dip halved red chillies in batter mix, and lay in hot fryer/pan until crispy.
  9. Add handful of noodles to serving bowl (large pasta bowl), then ladle over soup mixture, ensuring even mix of veg and tofu in bowl & ensure liquid covers almost all the noodles.
  10. Sprinkle beansprouts & coriander over top of soup. Top with chilli fritter. 
  11. Serve on side, wedge of lime & fresh chopped red chillies.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Next stop... Benares!

Not Varanasi the holiest place in India, but still, pretty damn exciting to be going to Benares restaurant in Mayfair.  My bag is packed already, but I don't need much given I'll be working 14 hour shifts, 6 days straight!  Apparently we get two hours off in the afternoon, at which point I was planning to collapse on the grass in Berkeley Square.  But then some other chef friends snorted with laughter, saying that rarely happens and to prepare myself for a non stop day.  Do you think they'll let me have a stool?

Having this opportunity to learn how to make really beautiful Indian food is just mind blowing.  It's one of my all time favourite cuisines, and I think some of my best moments on MasterChef probably involved my favourite Punjabi delights.  Although thinking about it, so did some of my worst!

I probably won't be able to blog about it until I get home, but I will try and take lots of photos of gorgeous looking scrumptious food.  Wish me luck! 

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Open a restaurant? You must be mad!

I have been thinking long and hard about the next steps on my food journey.  I still have the restaurant dream.  It doesn't matter how many times people tell me it's a terrible idea and that it'll ruin my life and my finances, I still want to open The Hungry Gecko somewhere in Manchester.  Then Liverpool, then Leeds...

But let's be realistic about these things.  I have neither the money nor the experience (yet) to pull that off successfully.  I also feel that those friends who tell me the timing's not right just now, and I should be cautious in this climate, are probably right.  It takes a mighty amount of money to back a restaurant and they have a tendency to haemorrhage any profits.  Rent, staffing costs, insurance... and hanging over all that, the fear of financial uncertainty and risking my own home, as that's the only place I could raise the kind of money that would encourage the bank to listen.

I also have other doubts.  I'm starting to learn that the restaurant business is very competitive, and so are many of the people who work in it.  Not all places are like that, and I have been privileged to work in some amazing kitchens amongst what seem like 'zen' chefs by comparison to some of my previous experiences a waitressing student.  But the fact is, there is a lot of jockeying for position amongst chefs and many want to reach the top.  The problem for me is that it then stops being about the food.  Well that, and the fact that I'm a forty year old woman who's too old and has worked too hard to go back to playing those games.

A friend at work, when I told her my feelings about this, reckoned it was just like the erotic triangle in English literature (stay with me here guys - it will make sense eventually).  In literature, there's the girl, and then the guy who really loves the girl and the other guy, who also really loves the girl.  Except the story is never about the guy's total love and adoration for the girl - it's about the competition between them to win the girl.  My friend reckons the girl is like the food - it stops being about the food and it's all about competition.

So feeling like this, I arrive at Sara's last week to help prepare a few gorgeous little puddings for the charity dinner to raise money for York ICU.  107 mango parfait with a passionfruit glaze, and a cute little edible viola.  I had so much fun and it was just great to spend some time together after so many months.

Sara's dining club is just wonderful and growing nicely.  And most important of all, Sara is making her beautiful and delicious food, on her terms and without having to compromise on the things that are important to her.  She then spent the next 12 hours convincing me that a vegetarian dining club would be a great way to move forward with my food, without turning my life upside down - well anymore than it already has been anyway.  Seeing her at home, doing what's she's doing, made me ask myself, why not?  And the answer is, no reason not to try... 

A dining club would give me the chance to create great vegetarian dining, on a scale that means it is fresh, beautiful and a standard worthy of MasterChef.  It would also make it affordable dining to others - more egalitarian even.  The idea greatly appeals to me.  I still want to do pop up and other dining events, and open that restaurant one day, but plans are now afoot for Manchester's first vegetarian dining club...

Friday 21st October - hold that date!

Friday, 15 July 2011

GoodFood Show Live Demo at Westfield, London

Of course I was sh*!ting myself about my first live demo, but I had so much fun.  As ever, wonderful to catch up with Sara and David.  Met the Caldesi's too.  Our kids are similar ages, so they all bonded over frozen yoghurt and shopping!

I think the demo went ok.  Watching it back, I am a little hyper and slightly bouncy, but if the purpose of a demo is to teach the dish, I think the objective was achieved.  I honestly never realised how overly expressive I am until I started watching all this stuff back.  Do I want to curb my enthusiasm, probably not :) 

I made two dishes, vegetarian pad thai (phat thai jay) and my thai style noodle soup with chilli fritters.  Both are quick, healthy and easy dishes to make.  Enjoy!

Here's the demo... in 3 parts because I'm new to You Tube

Part 1 (2/3 of the pad thai recipe)

Part 2 (rest of the pad thai, start of thai noodle soup)

Part 3 (noodle soup)

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Streetfood dining event @ Teacup

After an intense few days of preparation, I think me and the Teacup team rocked the streetfood dining event, even if I do say so myself.  Some of JF's little twists on the food were just lovely.  Paco Rancero may have introduced me to gastro tricks, but JF has shown me how to use some of these techniques with my own food. 

In all honesty, I was a little put off my introduction to the sous vide technique while in Madrid after a rather unpleasant encounter with a clam (not that the clam had been sous vide(d), but the two events coincided).  In my defence, I was not being a squeamish vegetarian, as I actually pride myself on very much not being like that.  Hence how a half cooked clam ended up in my mouth.  It had been cooked for 7 seconds.  In my world, that sounds a bit like a hot wash as opposed to being cooked.  I didn't think it was dead at the time or maybe it was some muscle reflex - either way it was quite unpleasant, and both Sara and I had to restrain our responses (much to our amusement later on obviously). 

So back to the dining.... 

(and I apologise for the poor quality photography but it was so busy & I was seriously tired.  So mobile pictures it is!)

First course
Spicy thai green papaya salad wrapped in rice paper,
dressed with toasted rice

Second course
Ginger baked tofu & mamak peanut sauce, served on lumpung rice sticks

Main course
Indian cheese & spinach masala served on a squash & potato rosti,
with tamarind glaze & coconut cream

Crispy rhubarb samosas served with a ginger creme brulee,
and rose & agave glaze

So we had to use the afternoon tea & scone plates, but people raved about the tastes on this dessert plate.  I really think my puddings are improving now.  Sous vide rhubarb resulted in much less pastry explosion, plus the reduced rhubarby syrup booted up the flavour. With the gingery brulee & JF's perfect caramel technique...  yum! Just need to change the crockery perhaps?

I got so many compliments from diners, it was really lovely to hear and has made me more determined to make this food dream a reality.  My favourites were the meat lovers who raved about not missing meat or fish on their plate.  For me, that's a great plate of food right there!  The other great compliment of the evening was about out how each course improved on the previous, even when they thought it couldn't.  I can't tell you how good it feels to hear a stranger say that about your food.  I was buzzing!

Obviously, there's stuff I'd do differently next time.  It's also challenging doing restaurant service in a cafe.  But I have learned so much, every high and low of this last week has been worth it.

I am massively grateful to the team at Teacup too, and especially JF, for taking time to teach me stuff and most importantly, I've had a really amazing time.  It feels just great doing what you love.  Although my feet do still hurt a bit! 

Monday, 27 June 2011

Busy, busy, busy... & some summer berries

Last week was intense.  A bit too much perhaps? I had such a busy week in my job, trying to think through large scale research programmes for the next year.  Then running out one meeting to go into another to talk about food and where I see my future and so on.  It's exhausting!  My head cannot be in two places like this.  I'm pretty sure it can't be good for me.  So it's probably a good thing I have handed in my notice!

I now have unpaid leave to focus on foodie business this week.  Today I have been trying to sort out the website, which as anyone who has ever had anything to do with website design and development will tell you, is no mean feat.  It's also an expensive one.

I'm working on another dining event menu, so will hopefully get down to some recipe testing mid week.  I forgot to photograph my lovely wontons last week, so I will definitely make sure that doesn't happen this week.  I filled them with enoki mushrooms and smoky tofu, which worked really well.  Especially with the chilli jam!

I also made a contribution to an article in The Ecologist, but I'm afraid it's a recipe that some of you guys have seen before for the posh Manchester tarts.  'Make the most of the summer berry glut' in The Ecologist

The only bit they didn't publish was my suggestion for using the excess of raspberries for making your own chambord.  Only as an ingredient for the Manchester tarts of course!

Make your own raspberry liqueur (a la chambord):
3 cups of vodka, 1 ½ cups of sugar & 1lb fruit & then leave for 6 months to mellow  ;0)

Or for a more short term reward with summer berries, try a sorbet....

Just make a fruit puree, with or without a little alcohol (but not too much or it won’t freeze).  I like tequila or white rum.  Using any soft berries such as raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries or you may prefer a combination.  You will need about 1kg of fruit to make puree.  Put fresh fruit and 2 tbsp of caster sugar in small pan, and heat gently until fruit breaks down and you reach jammy consistency, then add more sugar to taste.  Whisk and then freeze.  I also like using agave instead of sugar for a more mellow sweetness.   

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Pop up dining event at Teacup on Thomas St

I'm working on my first dining event, which is taking place at Mr Scruff's Teacup and Cakes on Thomas St in  Manchester's Northern Quarter, on Saturday 2nd July.

Bookings can be made by calling Teacup on 0161 832 3233.  Four courses of streetfood inspired dining, £35, with a glass of bubbly on arrival.  Bookings can be made between 7pm and 8.30pm.  The menu is all vegetarian, although I hope it's simply some really great food for everyone to enjoy, regardless of whether it's vegetarian. 

I'm working with a great team, and head chef John, aka The Gingerbread Kid, has been helping me work on the menu, so we deliver an amazing dining experience on the night.  I've very excited and very nervous, all at the same time! 

We practiced all the dishes on Friday, so John could see the full menu and he can now apply his organisational skills to the job in hand, so everything runs smoothly.  We also tamed the chillies in my infamous som tam! 

We decided the sticky glazed samosas should definitely be filled with rhubarb rather than gooseberries.  Also John has come up with a much better pastry alternative to filo, that doesn't keep exploding!  Plus the brulee is now a mulee - like a brulee without the pot.  Which is much better as the pot was getting in the way of the consumption experience.  I think my addition of stem ginger works quite well too!

Let them eat cake...

I learnt quite a bit at Ottolenghi this last week...

Firstly, that this little tart is just sublime... 

And if I knew how to make the passion fruit curd, I would have to start running quite a few more kilometres every week.  It has also re-ignited my love of meringue.... 

....as have these bad boys!
The novelty of being surrounded by gorgeous cakes and pastries may have worn off for the regular staff, but not for this visitor I can tell you.  I felt obligated to sample any broken cakes of course, and took home enough to distract the children from my absence.  I may also have gained a few pounds in the process!

So apart from some cake induced weight gain, what else did I learn? 

How to fold a perfect little wonton.  How to check the seasoning in uncooked meat fillings (cook a little first - doh!).  How to perfectly cook salmon (sorry it took me so many attempts chef).  How to make quinoa taste really really good. 

And last but by no means least, more lovely salads....