Saturday, 26 April 2008

Blast from the Past

As I walked past Chinatown one evening, a greenish glow attracted my attention long enough for me to stop and stare into the shop window. Lo and behold I was staring straight at a filled chiller with these ultra gaudy babies... hehehe....and in their own very unique way were quite attractive (even more so in their eerie glow at night).

They reminded me of all those Hong Kong TVB series I used to watch as as child and how I longed to have one of these cakes for myself. It's odd how children are attracted to the gaudiest things - remember that pink satin dress with the tutu skirt that you just had to have because it reminded you of a princess? Well, these cakes were my food equivalent to the princess dress. These cakes still make me smile but I think nowadays I would rather chomp down on fudgy chocolate brownie or even just a simple lemon slice.

Onigiri Introduced

I have fallen well and truly under the spell of the onigiri rice-ball. Although I've heard of it for years as Japan's favourite snack food, I don't think I had ever seen it until a few years ago. And even then I poo-pooed it....Rice in seaweed....just like those horrid hand-rolls! I like sushi and like sashimi even more but hand-rolls I do not understand. Perhaps it stems from the soggy, over-generous seaweed in rolls I've had when I was younger at Japanese restaurants as till this day tend to stay well away from them.

Curiosity did get the better of me last year when I bought my first rice-ball. And I have never looked back. The clever plastic pakaging ever conveniently separates the rice from the seaweed but have to be prepared to wolf the rice-ball down once rice meets seaweed. No problem... it should be gone in about 5 bites :) I particularly like the salmon onigiri from Wasabi (chains all around London with a large variety of single/double packed sushi, sushi plates and hot food - tofu jahang and spicy chicken with rice is particularly good for a cheap-ish filling meal), which comes in handy for breakfast when I cannot bear another mouthful of muesli for breakfast :)

I Love My Chinese Bakeries!

Although I work a brisk 10 minute walk away from Chinatown, I'm often too lazy to venture down there. But when I do ... I go mad! The journey back to work will definately take twice as long as I curse and swear at myself for weighing myself down with goodies I never planned to buy. And a shopping trip to Chinatown is never quite complete without a visit to a Chinese bakery. Dopey as I am most of the time, I have never bothered to take down the name of these places. I will make a point of it the next time.

Tuna mayo bun is definately a favourite (seen here with lovely bits of cooked onion). I tend to look out for this whenever I venture into an oriental bakery but it's always a slight dissapointment when I find all the lovely fishy goodness centered in the middle of the oblong bun. This leaves the two ends boringly dry - good for cutting all those nasty carbs but it's white bread oriental style, which means it's always a tad sweet and perfect for eating just as it is with with a trace of mayo fishy-ness.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Tuna Salad

Still feeling slightly guilty over my burger binge (and totally lazy to cook) the next day, I raided the fridge and found ingredients for a simple tuna salad. Tomato, avocado, leftover salad leaves and some green olives stuffed with red peppers. Rather yummy I must say (totally blowing my own trumpet here! lol). The dressing was made with the oil from the tinned tuna (I cannot abide tuna in brine...all that salt water makes the tuna taste fishier than it should), soy sauce, Japanese rice vinegar and black pepper.

The sun was out and the salad just looked so pretty :)

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Luscious Burgers

My Cheeseburger

With only 2 manky carrots left in the fridge and some sad looking spring onions, I decided we needed a big food shop. Up to the big Sainsbury's Stuart and I went (alright, we're not talking major hypermart here... big...London big..heh). And what should we see as we walk in? Special offers on burger patties, which Stuart practically begged to buy (he would have sneaked it into the trolley

He chose beef and smoked paprika and rather good they were too. They weren't super meaty (c'mon...6 in a pack for about £2!) but they were good enough for me (but I am rather fond of processed food...yes, I admit I like bought frozen chicken nuggets, hash browns, SPAM ..ohhh heaven... wobbly pink frankfurters......) and very tasty. A ton of oil did come out during cooking and the patties did shrink but no problems on eating. Wonderful smoky paprika, slight char from the griddle pan eaten in little wholemeal rolls, which fit the shrunk patties just fine ;)

Stuart had fried eggs on his burgers and we shared a plate of salad. All eaten with barbeque sauce. Yummy!

Stuart's Cheeseburger topped with a fried egg

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Lunch at Young Cheng

After a hard yoga workout last weekend (my muscles are still hurting 5 days later!)I really had to eat! Really, really had to...I was starving but I couldn't decide where to go. It was one of those odd weather days.... warm(ish) with lots of sunshine but with a heavy shower every 40 minutes or so. After walking aimlessly around tourist packed Covent Garden for awhile I decided to aim for Chinatown for a huge plate of rice and roasted meat. I was slightly worried that I would walk straight into the lunch crowd since it was 12.30pm but I didn't have a problem. Young Cheng(Lisle St), my restaurant of choice for lunch, only had 3 occupied tables when I got there and since there I was there alone I got placed on the large communal table right in front (right by the roasted meats, yay!). I'm never quite sure if it's comforting to eat with other singletons or be slightly embarrassed by it. I used to be a bit embarassed to eat alone but I gradually got over it. On this occassion the restaurant was quiet and I got the 10 seater communal table all to myself.

After I was handed the menu my bowl of free soup of the day arrived (long boiled pork rib soup with peanuts, carrots and other veggies - sometimes I find other bits and bobs in there..depending on whatever leftovers they throw in I guess). Within 5 minutes of ordering, a huge plate pilled high with rice, char siu (bbq pork) and soy chicken arrived. Crowning it was a mixture of minced ginger and spring onion in oil. was really good. One thing I like about this place is the rice done just right (I'm a terrible rice thing I can never quite get right). Eaten with the meat, the sweet-ish sauce they poured over my meat, a bit of ginger mix and washed down with soup :D I left a little hill of rice on my plate but finished everything else..a happy bunny. I was, however, rather put off by the lack of tea. Usually every table gets a free pot of tea at lunch but not this time. I did think about asking but I was too happy with my food to really care.

When the bill arrived I was rather taken a back... in addition to the recent price hikes (which everyone else is doing so I can't complain) I was charged 50p more, bringing the grand total to £6! Sigh it was written in Chinese and I didn't particularly feel like arguing (which always seems to happen if you have a query about prices in Chinese restaurants). So I paid and left. I was content and it was quite worth the £6 - ahhh the good old days when I was a student and it only cost £4.50 for the same thing (plus tea!). To tell you the truth.... I'm already planning a return this weekend. It gives me something to look forward to after all that ;)

Grilled Chicken Salad

It's taking me awhile to go through my photos. I guess my stopping and salivating over the food all the time isn't helping either :)

This is my grilled chicken salad (one version, anyway) made with butterflied chicken breasts marinated in soy sauce, white pepper and a little corn flour. Grilled on a very hot griddle pan for about 5mins with no extra oil. Served on bed of mixed salad leaves (whatever I had -possibly lettuce, watercress, leaves from a bag of herb salad from Sainsbury's, cucumber and tomatoes). I usually make a very simple dressing of soy sauce, oil, Japanese rice vinegar (or lemon or lime - depending on what I have) and black pepper - shaken in a old jar (which I seem to have tons of hehe...the hoarder than I am!)

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Sunday breakfast

I was feeling generous last Sunday and decided to make breakfast for Stuart and myself. I was also starving (which probably did help the generosity along .. hehe) and made what I could find in the fridge. Buttered toast with a slice of ham (straight from the fridge non-fancy ham), fried egg (runny yoke, of course, I won't have it any other way) sprinkled with white pepper and maggie sauce, fried mushrooms and a fried whole tomato. Stuart didn't complain, so it couldn't have been too bad. As if he would dare! ;) He wasn't too keen on the mushroom.. said it tasted 'different', so I scored extra mushrooms. Yay!

Monday, 7 April 2008

Stir fried noodles with beef and kai lan

I don't usually make fried noodles because without a big fire to give it that lovely wok flavour, the dish never quite tastes right. Leave it to the professionals I say but I do make exceptions on occassion :) This is my version of fried noodles with beef and kai lan (Chinese broccoli) and if I may say so, it was rather good.
  • Marinate the beef (I sliced up some rump steak) with soy sauce, oyster sauce, white pepper and corn flour. Leave the beef for at least 20 minutes or longer
  • Clean and trim the kai lan. Set aside.
  • Slice up (or smash or grate... all depending on your own taste) some ginger and garlic. Make a mix of oyster sauce, soy, white pepper, corn flour and shaoshing wine (most recipes substitute shaoshing with cooking sherry but shaoshing wine so widely available now. It's all up to the chef) in a little bowl and set aside.
  • Bowl up some water and cook the noodles according to the directions on the packet. Add in the kai lan for the last minute and half. Drain and keep warm.
  • At the same time, heat up a pan/wok until it starts to smoke (yes, VERY hot). Throw in the beef and let it sizzle to it's heart content. There shouldn't be excess marinade as the corn flour would have soaked it up. When the beef is all cooked and slightly golden (golden beef...LOL...ok, perhaps charred... but that sounds like it burnt..), remove the meat from the wok and set aside.
  • Add a drop or two more of oil, if you need it. Add the ginger and garlic and let it cook for a few seconds (some chillis can add some nice flavour and heat too). Burning the ginger and garlic will ruin the dish! Return the beef to the wok and add the sauce mixture. Let it simmer for a minute or two.
  • Add the noodles to the pan and mix well. There shouldn't be any sauce left over as the noodles will keep absorbing liquid. If you want a wetter dish just adjust the sauces and add some water.
  • When it's all mixed and the noodles catching a little to the wok, it's time to serve it all up. Or if you're as lazy as me... just carry the wok to the table. There's something so comforting about serving yourself from a great big wok on the dining table :)
I'll leave you with some kai lan flowers...I think they're pretty in an earthy sort of way. And I actually know people who throw these away away...tsk imagine that!

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Going Spanish at La Mancha

After braving the spitting rain for the Oxford and Cambridge boat race last weekend (an Oxford victory if you didn't already know), I headed to get some food with Jo and Pali. Located along Putney High Street, La Mancha was just getting crowded when the three of us got there (about 6.30-ish) but oddly enough the waiters were still tucking into their own dinners in a corner table. Hmm? After oh-ing and ah-ing over the menu for quite a while, to the point of irritating our waiter with our 'another five minutes, please', we were ready to order. However, our waiter had by this time decided to give us a dose of our own medicine when he told us he'll be back in 5 and actually walked away! I was a little surprised and put off by his attitude but the night was young and the incident was soon forgotten.

First came the bread. Big chunks of crusty on outside and squidgy on the inside french loaf served with butter. It was a massive serving and at 95p per person I guess it wasn't a bad deal. Also, check out the MASSIVE olives! I've never seen them so big before. I call them olives on steroids .. heheh

Chorizo Rosario - slices of cured Spanish sausages flavoured with smoked paprika cooked in red wine. Oozing smokey oily goodness, this dish went beautifully with the bread.

Boquerones Fritos - deep fried whitebait. What's not to like? If you like fish, of course :)

Champinones al Ajillo - fried musrooms with garlic and a hint of chilli - mushroom yummy-ness. Mushrooms, white wine, garlic ... can't go wrong. We also had Gambas con Champinones Pil-Pil, which looked almost the same as the musroom dish with a few prawns thrown in. Tasted the same too - so let's not bother with another photo, shall we? (actually, the photo didn't come out too well.. hehe)

Tortilla Espanola - Spanish omelette. Specially requested by Pali for various special reasons ;) - one of them is of course that a good tortilla is the benchmark of a good Spanish restaurant. I rather liked this one. The chef managed to keep the potatoes and eggs fluffy and just a tad moist without being overcooked. No complains from me.

Albondigas de Ternera y Chorizo - beef and chorizo meatballs served in a tomato sauce. Not a bad meatball at all. No the best but definately no where near the worst either. Meaty enough for a meatball (I'm not overly keen on overly meaty meatballs as I think they tend to be too dry) with a good mix of seasoning.

And what would a visit be without the obligatory paella. The 'traditional' Paella Valenciana had seafood and meat. It wasn't a bad paella, just not as good as the one cooked for me by Charlene when I went to visit her and Jo in Valladolid ages and ages ago when we still at university. Ah.. that paella I still think about...... ah sweet thoughts indeed.

After all that food I won't blame you if you thought that would be it. But oh no.. these are three girls with super tummies and fill them we shall :D Dessert Time!Tarta de Santiago - described in the menu as 'a traditional Santiago de Compostela almond cake'. I wasn't sure what that meant (ok, it was an almond cake that I actually liked. Usually any baked goods with almonds in it tastes like...mothballs. To me! To me! No offence to other baked almond goods eaters out there) so I had to google it. Tarta de Santiago, also known as St James' Cake, is a traditional cake from northern Spain and is sometimes decorated with the Cross of the Order of Santiago. Santiago (St James) is the patron saint of Spain and the city of Santiago was, during the Middle Ages, one of the most important Christian pilgrimage sites in Europe. Well there you go then. You learn something new everyday.

Last but not least, Tarta de Limon. A tangy lemon tart served with a strawberry sauce. Nice tart, not so great sauce. It lacked spark... usually comes when the fruit isn't in season. Good meal overall. It must have come to about Twenty something pounds per person including a bottle of wine. Considering all the food we had, it wasn't bad at all.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Happy Birthday, Joey!!!

A few weeks ago I was invited over for a birthday sleepover - reminiscent of pajama parties in years past :) A bunch of girls in PJs gossiping, drinking, eating waaaaayyyyyyyy too much and watching cheesy movies. Perfect!

For the main evening meal (yes, there were MANY side meals too!) we went Indian emmm mmmm.... Provided by the lovely Pali and her assistant Jo. While we waited for a 10 litre pot of rice to boil (alright slight exaggeration there...) we munched through mango salsa, raita (Indian cucumber salad with yogurt) and these cute little papadums.

Although I'm not usually a fan of mangos bought from British supermarkets (only place to buy them are from Indian and Pakistani shops in summer!), the ones that went into this salad just sweet enough for a salad. Finely chopped red onion, mint and and green chilli completed the salad very nicely. I can't say exactly say what went into the raita, as I was too busy stuffing myself by this time, but can only point out the obvious - yogurt, gratted cucumber and (the slightly less obvious) mint.

For mains we had chicken curry, aloo gobi (a 'dry' vegetable curry of cauliflower and potatoes) and white rice. Oh yum ... my is watering and my tummy rumbling as I look back at my photos! As the chicken was simmering away when I arrived and the aloo gobi was provided by Pali's mum, I was not able to penetrate into the mysterious world of Indian cooking. Maybe another time, Pali? ;)

Raise a glass to the birthday girl! A glass of bubbly with a strawberry. It makes a very pretty picture:) And what would birthday bubbly be without cake? Bought from Marks and Spencer's, it was a nice sponge cake with a jam filling (respberry, perhaps?). Like so many things from Marks, the cake was good and well worth the money, but it won't blow your socks off.

Apart from the mountain (ok ok small hill, AT LEAST!) of crisps and chocolate we consumed, we also had moist chocolate cake and chocolate cheesecake brownie - provided by this author :D No photos of the chocolate cheesecake brownie, I'm afraid (forks dived straight in before I could take a shot) but here's one of the moist chocolate cake. Oh yes, it was very good indeed! I discovered this place in Clapham Common about a year ago and I still don't know the name. It's a little deli with floor to wall shelves on one side filled with 'exotic' Italian, Spanish, etc products, a deli counter where you can get meats, cheeses and made to order sandwiches. The star of the place (for me at least) is the front window where the baked goodies are placed. Cakes and tarts and puddings galore. Nothing is cheap - expect to pay about £4 a slice but it's well worth it. And if you feel like sitting in, there are a few wooden communal tables at the back where there's full service.

After a night of fooding, a few of us (minus two who had to head off) headed out in search of ... FOOD! Hahaha... we are die hard foodies! We had a few choices but agreed on a Sunday roast at a pub (again I can't remember the name). For all my best intentions (my one request was a place that had salad on the menu), I soon fell. I couldn't resist the tempation. Salad is only for the strong willed which I'm not. Oh what the heck... the roast dinner probably tasted so much yummier anyway ;) Ram's order of roast chicken.... hahahahah.........yes, 1/2 a bird that looked like a duck! That's one heck of a chicken I say. Greedy me (and Jo too ... haha) did immediately regret not going for the chicken. My (megre by comparison) portion of roast lamb with all the trimmings - roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, broccoli, yorkshire pudding and gravy - was a bit too dry and the slice of beef which I swapped with Jo was a tad dry too. Then again I like my beef nice and bloody..heh! About £10 per roast dinner...I guess it wasn't too bad. A few more drinks and a few more drinks and a few more.. we called it a day (or I called it a Monday..Jo couldn't get rid of me that night...hehe..sorry Joey!)

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Lunch in the April sunshine

March ended and April started with mild weather and lovely sunshine. So on Tuesday I decided to get myself out of the office, grab lunch and bag myself a seat on a bench somewhere. I ended up going to Pret A Manger but what shoukd I get? I wasn't in a sandwich mood, perhaps a hot wrap? The two I have tried, Swedish Meatball and Jelapeno Chicken, are very yummy. .oozing cheese and sauce. No, let's go healthy so I ended up getting the Chicken and Avocado salad. A short walk across the road and I was looking for a nice bench in Bloomsbury Square. A few people were about but I did manage to get a whole bench to myself while I had lunch.

A base of mix leaves topped with yogurt chicken (a healthy alternative to mayo I guess), sliced black olives, sundried tomatoes and thinly sliced red onion. It came with a little container of vinegratte. Pour over the dressing and tuck in.

I also bought a tin of Pure Pret Mango Mandarin juice which I saved to drink in the office. Fruit juice mixed with fizzy water, it had a nice tang and good flavour of mango.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Shanghainese Feasts - part III

The final part of all my eating in China.

I hate to say this but by the end of my 10 days I was a little tired of Chinese food *shock horror* and I was really looking forward to my big finale ... yes, a buffet lunch at the Shangri-La! Oh no, no .... this was no ordinary Mr Wu's buffet with it's greasy fried chicken wing tips, sweet and sour onions (oops..pork) and stir fried bean sprouts. This buffet lunch was an abundance of fresh seafood, sushi, Indian dishes, dim sum.....emmm........£25 a person. Alright, that is actually bloody expensive for China but hey, it's Shanghai... it's an expensive city and it was a birthday treat for my mum so it was money well spent :) Now, let's dig in!

First up, poached fresh scollops and mussels with shallots in red wine vinegar. Fresh plump and juicy.. need I say more? ;) In the little glass was a little ceviche (citrus marinated fish) with some mango salsa. Not terribly exciting taste wise but it looked very pretty in the glass.

Next (clockwise) - boiled asparagus and garlic flower (minus the flower) topped with fish roe and chopped boiled egg. In my attempt at being 'arty' I put a slice of salmon sushi at the head of the plate. To the left a slice of deep fried Indonesian beancurd - terribly unexciting and bland. At the botton I have salmon (an another fish which I do not know the name of) sushi topped with mayo and seared with a blowtorch (Crème brûlée style at the sushi counter). Next to this - salmon and tuna belly sashimi - emmm good! A pretty little dish of wasabi with soy sauce on the side rounds it off.

Anything but Chinese food at this point = goood :) So I had Indian-ish... I sneaked in some dishes from other regions too :D In the top left hand corner is a vadai, an Indian savoury snack that looks a lot like a doughnut made with, in this case, lentils. Next to it chickpea curry (sorry can't remember what it tasted like but I think it was relatively good). Moving on - the green patch next to the chick peas - tabbouleh from the Middle Eastern counter. Ergh no, no, BAD. It was made with curly parsley instead of flat leaf so the texture was wrong and taste was just not right. The fish next to it was from the Southeast Asian section. Grilled with a tamarind sauce. The fish was dry and quite boring really. The fish dish below it I did like though. It doesn't look like much in the photo (to be honest this photo is really quite bad with no practice on my almost new camera) but it was tasty, tasty, tasty. If I remember correctly, the fish was cooked on the grill on top of a banana leaf with a sauce of tomatoes, onions and other yummy things. It was moist and the sauce had a good tang from the tomatoes. Next, deep fried green beans with minced pork. I'm in China, I just can't escape it! :) Actually, despite being in China and all that, the dish was terrible. The beans were too old and thick (does that sound odd? thick beans?) and there wasn't the taste of a good, big fire needed to cook this dish. Above the beans - lamb curry. Ohh yes, *drool*. This they did well - actually the Indian chef did well (he said hello to me). A well spiced dish with tender chunks of meat. Flavoured rice above that, with what I can't remember.

I moved west for this round. Baked oysters with cream, breadcrumbs and cheese. Can't really go wrong with a dish like that. It was good but not spactacular. Next to it, fish with a tomato and basil sauce. Again good but if I can't remember it, it couldn't have been briliant. Behind this a big, big mound of mushrooms. I love mushrooms. Garlic, wine, a bit of rosemary.. can't go wrong. Well, they did when they added lemon juice to it! It was all wrong. Where you're expecting richness of flavour enhanced with some butter, you hit with sour lemon mushrooms. Thumbs down! Hiding behind the musrooms is a little dish of breaded fish and tartare sauce. An attempt at fish and chips. I thought was a cute idea but the fish was dry and the coating not nearly crunchy enough for my liking.

Andddd there's always room for dessert. The dessert counter is the first thing you see when you enter the restaurant and unless you really dislike sweets, you won't say no :) Along one glass window were 4 fountains - milk chocolate, dark chocolate, vanilla and pistachio. As soon as I entered I knew I had to try this out! I've never had this before but I had heard alot about it. Fruit and sweeties galore as dippers, of which I chose a fruit stick and a choux pastry stick. The pastry was dry even after a good douse of chocolate. No points there. The fruit stick on the other hand was very good despite previous sneers of fruit and chocolate. The one that did stand out was rock melon and dark chocolate. Very unexpected.

On the whole I was dissapointed with the dessert. Definately not the selection but with desserts itself. The 3 memorable desserts: the melon fruit stick with dark chocolate, the dark chocolate ice cream seen here with the chopped nuts and the little chocolate mousse torte (as enlarged and distorted for the main picture of this blog). Don't ask about the mother thought it was added colour to the photograph. She thought it was hilarious too.
The end of 10 days fooding in Shanghai. I didn't take pictures of all the meals I ate. Sometimes I was too hungry to wait, other times my mother and I were too engrossed in those mother-daughter discussions. I also sometimes forgot. It was a good, albeit, freezing holiday in China. It did really open my eyes to what the country is becoming and gave a little insight of what it still is. Food-wise .... it was all good. All good.