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:

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!