Wild Garlic Pesto

I love this time of year, when the rain stops, the sun comes out and if you head into the woods you are likely to be rewarded by a bountiful supply of wild garlic. When I was down at my parents recently I went to my usual secluded wood to gather up some bags  of the stuff. The photo below is of my father looking rather fetching in his country garb standing amongst the wild garlic.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here as I did a couple of blog posts a a few years ago about how to actually make wild garlic pesto – you can read the post here. It is SO good to freeze that I make enough to carry us through the whole year. I only finished last year’s batch about a month ago.  My family are all slightly addicted by it and one of my daughters even pops it on her toast.

 

If you want an alternative to pesto and wild garlic linguine with sausage crumb then I have a rather delicious soup – wild garlic, courgette and lemon soup with poached egg with crispy panko breadcrumbs which you can see here.

I still have two whole bags to use up so may make some more pesto today and then maybe some wild garlic scones – as they’ll be good to freeze too. Check out instastories to see what I get up to.

 

Have you been gathering wild garlic yet this year? What are you going to do it. Would love to hear so leave a comment below.

 

 

 

 

SaveSave


Rhubarb and Custard Slice – Competition to win ‘Afternoon Tea at Bramble Cafe’ cookbook by Mat Follas

Spring is in the air, well at least for the moment it is. Sunny skies make all the difference and you can notably see everyone feeling that extra bit cheery. Polo-neck jumpers can be cast aside and thick winter coats can be put away, for a while at least. With longer days and flowers beginning to make an appearance, the thought of doing some spring baking is rather attractive.

‘Images from Afternoon Tea at Bramble Cafe by Mat Follas. Photographs by Steve Painter. Published by Ryland Peters & Small.’

Enter Mat Follas – masterchef UK winner way back in 2009 – new book ‘Afternoon Tea at Bramble Cafe’. I can almost smell the delicate scents from the sweetpeas on the front cover and that cheesecake screams ‘summer’ to me. Mat, his wife Amanda and their business partner Kate, opened Bramble Cafe & Deli in Poundbury in Dorset in 2016 and this book is a collection of all the lovely recipes that they showcase in the cafe.

‘Images from Afternoon Tea at Bramble Cafe by Mat Follas. Photographs by Steve Painter. Published by Ryland Peters & Small.’

Sweet and savoury are both included ranging from the classics, such as the ‘Victoria Sandwich Cake’, to fancy dainties and patisseries, such as the ‘Salted Caramel Tartlets’. He includes some wonderful sounding jams, jellies and marmalades – strawberry and elderflower jam, as well as some alcoholic and non-alcoholic tipples.

‘Images from Afternoon Tea at Bramble Cafe by Mat Follas. Photographs by Steve Painter. Published by Ryland Peters & Small.’

I decided to make the ‘Rhubarb and Custard Slice’, which is a take on a classic custard slice or mille-feuille. It also reminded me of my ultimate favourite cake ‘Pasteis de Nata’ also known as ‘Portguese custard tart’. It was super easy to prepare and makes a great dessert or tea-time fancy. The only slight alternation I’ll make next time is that I will oven bake the puff pastry for a little longer and lightly brush whisked egg allowing it to bronze more. Other than that it tasted great and the custard was very similar tasting to the Portuguese custard tart. Rhubarb is so pretty, and tastes fabulous that the combination of the custard and rhubarb brought back many childhood memories for me.

If you would like to win a copy of this book head on over to my instagram page and look for this photo above which will provide all the details. It’s very straightforward so have a go at winning a copy.  UK residents only I’m afraid. For those asking, the beautiful plates above I have collected over the last few years from Anthropologie, which always stock such gorgeous things.

Rhubarb & Custard Slice

recipe from ‘Afternoon Tea at Bramble Cafe’ by Mat Follas

150g puff pastry (bought)

1 egg, whisked

300g fresh rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 2cm length pieces

vegetable oil, to coat,

50g Demerara sugar

200ml milk

100ml double/heavy cream

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

50g plain/all-purpose flour

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

100g caster sugar

non-stick 30x20cm/12×8 inch brownie pan, light oil and lined with baking parchment

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade (35o Fahrenheit) Gas 4.
  2. Roll out the pastry to 3mm thickness and trim to fit the base of the brownie pan.
  3. Using a fork prick holes over the base to stop the pastry rising too much. Use the whisked egg to brush the pastry to help it get a beautiful bronzed colour.
  4. Bake in a preheated oven for 12 minutes or until it is golden brown. If it has puffed up it will shrink when you allow it to cool out of the oven.
  5. Meanwhile trim and cut the rhubarb into evenly-sized pieces, about 2cm/2/4 inch in length. Toss them with a little vegetable oil and then the Demerara sugar. Spread them out on a lined baking sheet and bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until they are just softened and cooked through.
  6. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the milk and cream on a low heat, stirring gently until simmering, then immediately take off the heat.
  7. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, flour, vanilla and caster sugar to form a paste.
  8. Pour the hot milk and cream mixture into the mixing bowl, whisking constantly to combine into a think custard.
  9. Now return the custard to the saucepan and on a low heat whisk the custard over the heat until it has thickened and holding soft peaks. It is really important to have it on a low heat so it does not burn!
  10. Pour the thick custard over the pastry base and smooth it to make level.
  11. Place the rhubarb pieces on top of the custard – they should be half submerged.
  12. Refrigerate for at least and hour before cutting into 10 with a bread knife.
I was very kindly sent a copy of this beautiful cookbook. All views and opinions are my own.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave


Roasted Sweet Potato, Garlic and Smoked Paprika Soup

So hands up if you are as addicted to soup as me? I could, and almost do, have a bowl most days. Indian dal is very like soup and I often make one up for lunch – my red split lentil dal is a fav – see here.

Today however I wanted to show you my roasted sweet potato, garlic and smoked paprika soup. Anything roasted has that wonderful smokey flavour that is so addictively satisfying. This soup will warm the belly and soul with one spoonful (or preferably a whole bowl). The snow provided such a good backdrop the other day that I ran outside to take this shot. When I came to eating the soup later in the day I realised it was far too thick so I added more liquid. How thick or soupy you like your soup is up to you but just add the stock a little at a time until you have reached your desired consistency.

The whole family will love it and it involves minimum fuss so win win.

 

 

Roasted Sweet Potato, Garlic and Smoked Paprika Soup

5 sweet potatoes, cleaned and chopped into cubes (skin on)

1 whole garlic bulb

1 heaped tsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, roughly chopped

1 tbsp butter

2 stalks of rosemary, leaves only, stalk removed

1 tsp salt, to taste

pepper, to taste

1- 1.5 pint of vegetable stock, add more if you refer a less thick soup

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees.
  2. On a baking tray place the cubed sweet potatoes and add the olive oil and smoked paprika and mix together so that the sweet potatoes are nicely covered. Add the whole garlic. Place in the oven for 40 minutes or until the sweet potato has softened.
  3. Meanwhile in a large casserole pan add the butter and a splash of olive oil and gently fry the red onion and rosemary for 7 minutes so that it has nicely softened.
  4. Remove the garlic cloves from the bulb, which will be all soft and gooey at this stage. Add them and the sweet potato to the main casserole pan and add seasoning and the vegetable stock.
  5. Using a hand whisk, blend until smooth. Add more boiling water/stock depending on how you like your soup consistency. I actually added a lot more water after this photo (above) was taken as it was too thick initially.
  6. Serve piping hot with some crunchy bread on the side. If you want to add a topping you could add a dollop of creme fraiche with a sprinkling of smoked paprika on top,  a little extra virgin olive oil or perhaps some roasted pine nuts.

If you try making this soup please post a photo on instagram and use the #soupmeuptoday so that I can see it.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave


Thai Jungle Curry and Review of “Mae’s Ancient Thai Food” by Carole Mason and Ning Najpinij

I bought a new exciting cookbook recently all about Thai heritage cooking called “Mae’s Ancient Thai Food” by Carole Mason and Ning Najpint. Bold, bright and bursting with a wonderful range of recipes that you actually want to cook straight away.  The book is an ode to Ning’s mother – Kobkaew – who sadly passed away, but was a known figure in the culinary world both in Thailand, and more globally. Her recipes and articles appeared in a number of magazines including: Vogue USA, Australian Gourmet, Tatler, as well as David Thompson’s books, “Thai Food” and “Thai Street Food”. It seemed a fitting tribute therefore for Carole, her protege and friend, and daughter – Ning, to create a beautiful cookbook dedicated to Kobkaew – known affectionately as ‘Mae’ (mother) to both her daughter and her beloved students.

Thai cooking does require a little forward thinking to get the fresh ingredients. One ingredient that is as ubiquitous in Thailand and Thai cooking as onions are to British fare, is coriander root. The bad news folks is that hard to track down, although not impossible in the UK.  Carole is trying to spread the word that this needs to change so that second and third generation Thais living in the UK, and those who are passionate about Thai cooking, don’t lose touch and knowledge of heritage Thai cuisine. She has even placed “we love coriander root” on the front of the book itself to signal its importance in Thai cooking. If larger supermarkets could start stocking it, and we all start using it, her campaign will be achieved. In the meantime if you can’t track it down  you could use a good handful of coriander stalks and leaves to create the colour and then add a teaspoon of coriander root powder, which is easier to source in the UK.

Other than the obvious ingredients, who will have to go to an Oriental supermarket to source some things or go online to the suppliers that Carole outlines in her book. She clearly explains techniques and explanation of the various Thai ingredients you may not be familiar with. The chapters are then split into: curries,  soups (including hangover cures), salads, seafood, dips, nibbles and canapés, vegetables, noodles and stir frys and desserts.

Jumping out at me is: Muu Parlow – Pork and Egg Soup, Gaeng Som – Prawn and Papaya curry, Gaenglean – Good Old Fashioned Soup, Nahm Prik Pao – Thai Chilli Jam (HELLO yes please), Yam Plate Too – Mackerel Salad, I could go on as they all sound so good.

 

So what type of person would this book suit?

Personally, I think anyone who loves cooking and trying out new recipes and does not flinch at the thought of sourcing a few ingredients will LOVE it. Those who want their meal on a plate with minimum effort and the thought of searching for a particular ingredient causes them to break out in a sweat, then perhaps this isn’t for them. I only own one other Thai cookbook so for me this book was screaming out at me to be bought. Oh yes, and you need to like chilli as chilli is definitely a cornerstone in Thai cooking.

Publishing a cookbook is never easy, especially when you self-publish, which is the route that Carole and Ning went down. It is an incredible achievement but now comes the equally hard work of spreading the word. So folks feel free to retweeted and forwarded this post (or photo on instagram) as much as possible. Blogging is an amazing community of wonderful folk,  so lets help ‘Mae’s Ancient Thai Food’ gets the notice it deserves. I bought the book myself and all my views are my own (as they always are) in case you are wondering.

So are you intrigued by what I cooked? ……

I went for “Gaeng Pah – Jungle Curry”. Packed full of flavour and zing, but no coconut milk. Now I will be honest that I did change some of the ingredients because if you can’t get hold of a particular ingredient then replace it with something similar, its not worth getting too stressed about.

So these are the changes I made:

I converted everything from cups to grams, cause that’s how I roll.

coriander root – I replaced with coriander stalks and a few leaves and coriander root powder

small green apple aubergine – I used one courgette, peeled in striped and cut at angles

snake beans – I used regular beans and also added sugar snaps (cause I love my green veg)

holy basil – I could not source it so used Thai basil

I added 1 tsp of caster sugar – you could also add palm sugar. Carole does not add either.

The recipe was a triumph and I think I went back for thirds. It feeds around 4 people.

First I made some fresh chicken stock – which is super straightforward:

Fresh Chicken Stock

4 chicken wings on the bone

10 white peppercorns

3 garlic cloves,

half an onion, peeled

a lump of ginger

if you live in a country that you can get hold of coriander root or Chinese celery pop them in

bay leaf

  1. Simply cover the wings with water and an extra 3 inches of water on top and bring to the boil and simmer for 30 mins.
  2. Strain the stock and remove the flesh from the chicken wings and keep for another time. I also keep the garlic too. Discard the rest.
  3. Either use of freeze the stock.

 

Gaeng Pah – Jungle Curry

Serves 4

Jungle Curry Paste

10 small green Thai chillies

a pinch of salt

1 coriander root OR a handful of coriander root and leaves and 1 tsp of coriander root powder

2 whole lemongrass, finely chopped

1 shallot, finely sliced

1 tbsp galangal, sliced

3 garlic cloves, sliced

1 tsp coriander seeds dry roasted and ground

10 white peppercorns

1 tsp of shrimp paste

  1. To save time, although not authentic (sorry Carole) I popped all the ingredients into my little mini blender, added a couple of tablespoons of water and blended together. If you have time however using a pestle and mortar will give you a better, more authentic paste. Carole has laid out the steps to do this properly – in short – hardest ingredients first one at a time until they make a paste before moving onto the next. Add the dried ingredients last and the shrimp paste. Pound until smooth.

Other Ingredients

1 batch of jungle curry paste (as above)

3 tbsp of vegetable/rapeseed oil

300g chicken sliced diagonally (I used thigh, but use breast if you prefer or you could use white fish)

1 tbsp fish sauce

750ml chicken stock (or fish stock if you are going down the fish route)

1 courgette, peeled to create stripes and cut into diagonally strips

100g green beans, cut in half

100g sugar snap peas

1x227g tin of bamboo shoots (drained weight 140g)

1 tbsp grachai, peeled and shredded (I had never used this but my local Thai grocer had it so was able to use it. Finger shape and size but with a similar skin to ginger or turmeric.

5 young green peppercorn strips, washed and left whole

5 kaffir lime leaves, de-veined and torn

 

a handful of thai basil leaves, washed and stalked removed

1 lime, quartered to serve

2 red chillies, cut into fine strips to decorate to serve

 

  1. First make the paste above.
  2. Next heat the oil in a pan and add the curry paste, stirring gently to let the aromas develop.
  3. Add the chicken (or fish) and stir into the paste.
  4. Heat the stock and add it to the pan and bring to a rolling boil for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the courgettes, beans, sugar snaps, bamboo shoots and after a couple of minutes add the grachai, green peppercorns, kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil.
  6. Taste and add more fish sauce. I added a little caster sugar, but you may find you don’t need to.
  7. Serve with a quarter of fresh lime per serving and some fresh red chilli strips.

I ate mine with a bowl of rice.

You can buy Carole and Ning’s book  here or if you are based in London it is now stocked at the heavenly bookshop “Books For Cooks” in Notting Hill.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave


Cambodian Nut Mix

I wanted to introduce you all to my favourite snackage at the moment. I only came across it recently when I was staying in Kep-sur-Mer in the south of Cambodia – you can read about my stay in Kep here. Most evenings we would head to the sailing club (below – the pool table was a perfect activity during cocktails hour) next to our hotel – Knai Bang Chatt – which I really recommend if you are thinking about a trip – and when you order your drink they give you a bowl of this delicious nut mix.

They are so simple to make and yet completely addictive and because they are a little salty you naturally want more to drink. Clever hey.

Anyway I thought it would be perfect to show you how to make your own nut mix at home. It makes sense to make a decent amount and then store it in an airtight container. There seems a bit of a theme with airtight containers – I blame it on the snow and being stuck inside few weeks back. There is literally 5 ingredients: peanuts – with their red skins on- fresh curry leaves, dried red chillies, garlic and salt. That said I think there may have been some lemongrass mixed in with the nuts, but I can’t be sure, so if you have any by all means finely slice it lengthways and fry it with the sliced garlic.

Cambodian Nut Mix

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 whole garlic, pealed and thinly sliced

2 steams of fresh curry leaves (approx 20 leaves)

5 dried red chillies

1kg of red peanuts

rock salt to taste

optional: lemongrass, thinly sliced lengthways and fried with the garlic

 

  1. In a large pan gently heat the oil and then fry the garlic so it turns a light brown. If you are also going to use lemongrass, add it at this stage.  Remove and place on kitchen paper.
  2. Using the same pan gently fry the fresh curry leaves and add the dried red chillies. I tend to split some of them so as to release some of the seeds to give heat.
  3. Add the nuts and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle with salt.
  4. Take off the heat and add the garlic (and lemongrass if using) thoroughly.
  5. Once cooled store in an airtight container. They will last for ages and are good to bring out with drinks in the evening.

 

 

 

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave


Homemade Spiced Granola

With all the snow we have been having recently (it’s since melted sadly) I’ve been doing some serious hibernating indoors, which ultimately means a lot of cooking and baking. When it’s cold and snowing outside, I find that there is nothing better than cooking inside in the warm, something delicious to warm the belly.

I’ve been making a range of new exciting curries, soups (my roasted sweet potato and garlic is a winner so will post it up in another post!) and then I decided to make a large batch of homemade granola. You can get as creative as you wish, it really comes down to how you like to eat granola.  My husband dislikes coconut flakes (I rather like them) so I purposely omitted them here. That’s love.  My sis is not particularly into dried fruit so if I were to make her some I would omit them. I am a nut and seed fiend so have included quite a few but you can choose just one or two varieties that you like or need using up.

I also rather like to add a little spice so I have added some turmeric, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg powder. It’s not overpowering but just gives the granola that extra boost of deliciousness. I have also used maple syrup and this brand I particularly LOVE (Holland & Barrett have a deal on at the moment: buy 2 and get one half price), but you can use honey or agave if that’s what you have to hand.

Personally I don’t drown my granola in maple syrup. By all means you can and it will become more crunchy but I find the amount below works well and the granola is crisp without all being stuck together. (The photos above are pre-baking) 1kg is a lot but I thought that it made sense to do a large batch and then store it in sealed jars. They work really well as gifts – just tie a wooden spoon to your kilner jar and it makes a very thoughtful gift and everyone loves granola after all.

 

Homemade Spiced Granola

Makes 1kg which will last a while

200ml maple syrup

1 tsp cinnamon powder

1/4 (quarter) tsp turmeric powder

1tsp ginger powder

1 tsp nutmeg powder

2 tbsp coconut oil

1kg jumbo oats

170g hazelnuts

100g brazil nuts

100g pecan

20g sunflower and/or pumpkin seeds

200g berry mix (dried cranberries, blueberries, golden berries, raisins)

 

  1. Preheat a fan oven to 150 degrees.
  2. In a small bowl mix the maple syrup, cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg and ginger powders with the coconut oil. Place to one side.
  3. Line a large baking tray with parchment.
  4. In a large bowl place the jumbo oats, nuts and seeds NOT THE DRIED BERRIES and stir so that they are well mixed in.
  5. Add the maple syrup mix to the oats and stir together. If you find they need a bit more maple syrup then by all means add a little more but I find this is enough for mine.
  6. Place evenly on your large baking tray and oven bake for 1 hour. Every 15 minutes you need to turn them around so that they are baked on all sides.
  7. Once they are baked mix in the berry mix and you’re done.

 

 

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave


Travels in Cambodia (Phnom Penh and Kep-sur-Mer)- Part 2

A short plane ride – under an hour – from Siem Reap and you arrive in the capital, Phnom Penh, which is a buzzing metropolis. We were only there for two days but managed to see a huge amount. As a family we visited the splendid Royal Palace, which is still lived in by the ruling King of Cambodia. He lives in one part of it – which is closed off to visitors – but the rest of the palace is there for tourists and locals to visit and enjoy.

I adored the stunning yellow – possibly gold leaf –  roofing and the mellow yellow paintwork. With the bright blue skies as a backdrop and the fuchsia pink flowers, the whole place looked really magical.

The other place of interest nearby is the National Museum, housed in an equally impressive building – this time a distinctive rust-red colour.

There are over 5000 objects on display – many Angkorian era statues including the legendary statue of the ‘Leper King’. After our mornings culture we decided that my husband and elder daughter would visit the ‘Killing Fields’ and ‘Toul Sleng Genocide Museum’, whilst my younger daughter and I would check out the two key markets in Phnom Penh known as ‘Central Market’ (Psai Thmei) and ‘Russian Market’ (Psah Toul Tom Poung).

We headed to Central Market to begin with, which is housed in a beautiful historic building with an impressive yellow dome.

In the main hall jewels of every shape and colour were being sold and leading off this central area where a labyrinth of passages selling a wide range of goods from clothing to manicures.  Naturally the food area is what attracted me the most.

Every possible form of dried fish was on offer, but I particularly liked the demure and stylish lady below selling honeycomb.

We picked up some donut looking snacks to graze upon whilst we surveyed all the wonderful food on offer, although we were tempted to have some Banh Xeo.

They are the yellow rice pancakes above and the large photo below. They are absolutely delicious and you can stuff them with whatever you fancy, although typically they are filled with slices of pork belly, prawns, beansprouts and herbs. I often tend to leave out the pork belly and just have prawns. My recipe for them are here. so take a look and give them a whirl. Let me know how you get on !! They are far easier to make than you think and my whole family adore them. You can easily pick up rice flour now at all the large supermarkets. The summer rolls below look tempting don’t you think?

We then headed over to the Russian market, which is fairly similar to central market in as far as goods are concerned, although I did see more stalls selling some beautiful looking crockery, which I was tempted to buy. Russian market is darker and a little more claustrophobic and I imagine on a hot day with lots of people it could be rather sweltering inside. For both markets we had a guide, but in all honesty this is unnecessary as you can easily wander around at your own speed and feel quite safe. Getting a tuk tuk is easy so moving around the city is pretty straightforward.

We stayed in the old US Embassy, which is now called the White Mansion. It was in a great location to everything we wanted to see, the rooms were large and spacious, there was a pool and the cafe attached to the hotel- Eric Kayser – offered incredible pastries and breakfasts. It is for the public as well as hotel guests, so worth a visit even if you are not staying here. They do offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, although we only ate breakfast there.

On the first evening we dined at a fabulous restaurant that we booked again the following night. It’s called ‘Khmer Surin’ and it is the perfect place to savour real Khmer cuisine in a cosy atmosphere with local musicians playing traditional Cambodian music.  There is an English menu and such a range of dishes that over the two evenings we worked our way through a number of memorable Khmer dishes. They also served great fresh juices and cocktails. We also discovered that they operated as a guest house. The rooms look characterful – with Khmer furniture and decor and are very reasonably priced indeed, so I would definitely consider staying here if I were to return to the city.

Our final destination was in the very south of the country in a place called Kep-sur-Mer, which, as the name suggests, is by the sea. We were heading there for two main reasons – to relax and to eat crab, as the town is famous for it’s ‘crab market’.

The drive took a few hours from Phnom Penh but once we reached this sleepy backwater (it used to be THE place to hang out Cambodian high society and French colonials and now is making a bit of a revival) we checked into our hotel – Knai Bang Chatt – a beautifully stylish boutique hotel – only 18 rooms, set in lush tropical gardens overlooking the Gulf of Thailand.

Before we even explored the hotel, we left our bags in our room and headed off for lunch in the local crab market. It was a lot smaller than I had imagined, but nonetheless it was exciting to see our lunch being prepared so freshly. The fisherman would bring in the crabs, then the amount of crabs was agreed – we went for 1kg of crab and 500g prawns. You need to pay the fisherman separately from the cooks.

Watching the preparation is not for the faint hearted. The crabs were severed and cut into four pieces, their  lungs – the feathery cones lining the side of the body – were removed. Within minutes they were tossed into the pan. Cambodia is famous for its pepper – particularly its Kampot pepper – and many dishes are heavily peppered. We decided that for the crab dish we would include pepper but the prawns we would keep it simpler so that my youngest daughter could dive in.

Minutes later we were walking away with what looked, and tasted, spectacular. From a separate stall we bought rice, some chilli sauce and water. We found a pew and joined others by diving into our lunch. There is no polite way to eat this so use your hands and get involved.

Back at the hotel we discovered a beautiful space with manicured lawns, a gorgeous pool, a library and lots of day beds, swinging baskets to lounge upon. Next to the hotel (and owned by the hotel), we discovered a rather stylish sailing club, with a great bar and restaurant, pool table, table tennis and volleyball courts. It was a little enclave of cool, which would not have looked out of place in the Hamptons or the South of France. Hotel guests mingled with other tourists and Cambodian families, down from Phnom Penh for the weekend. Happy hour was particularly popular as the bar was particular good at creating fabulously tasty cocktails accompanied by the tasted spiced nuts I have ever eaten. I am going to do a blog post on how to make them as they are seriously addictive and perfect with a good beer, cocktail or glass of wine. One evening we ate in town, which is a short 5 minutes walk from the hotel. There are a handful of restaurants overlooking the sea by the crab market and we were recommended to Kimly, which was good, although our crab lunch will always remain the more memorable.

As far as trips from Kep, one day we ventured over to ‘Rabbit Island’. Go with low expectations and then you won’t be too disappointed. It certainly doesn’t have same turquoise waters that surround the Thai islands such as Phi Phi as I guess it is literally a stones throw from the mainland. I was saddened to see quite a lot of discarded rubbish and bottles as we walked over to the other side of the island to find a place to snorkel. The rubbish is apparently taken off the island every day, but with fairly basic accommodation on offer and no fresh running water, I guess it is hard to keep the place spotless of rubbish. Apparently the islands that are further from the mainland are more inline with our idea of a white sand, crystal clear waters desert island. Islands like Koh Rong Sanloem may be worth checking out if you are keen to find this kind of escape, although I reckon it would be worth staying a few nights as some of the more remote islands take up to 3 hours to reach. Needless to say on ‘Rabbit Island’ our hotel had organised a lovely lunch for us and we had some incredible massages on the beach.

If you are planning a trip and there is something I have not covered here, then write a comment in the comments box below and I will get back to you. Cambodia has a lot to offer whether you are travelling on your own, with friends or family.

Phnom Penh

White Mansion

Khmer Surin Guest House

Khmer Surin Restaurant

Eric Kayser Bakery and Cafe

Kep-sur-Mer

Knai Bang Chatt

Kimly restaurant

Kep Sailing Club

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave


Travels in Cambodia – Siem Reap (part 1)

Cambodia is a wonderful country that is most definitely worth visiting, but you need to be aware that it is still trying to find its way in the world after the horrific genocide that was carried out by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime between 1976-1979 killing up to 3 million Cambodians. There is clearly a huge amount of wealth in the country, if the number of Lexus, Porche and Range Rover cars on the roads is anything to go by, but this wealth is clearly not trickling down to the average Cambodian. Corruption is evident and the coffers tourists give to see the Angkor Archaeological Park are not all going into the restoration of other ruins as this seems to be done by overseas organisation and UNESCO.

Also as there are still a huge amount of unexploded landmines around the country that will take years to uncover, so wandering off on hikes in jungles is best avoided unless you are with a guide who knows where is safe to walk.

Our trip was split into three sections:

Siem Reap – to visit many of the temples and see the floating villages on Tonle Sap – the largest fresh water late in South East Asia.

Phnom Penh – to visit the Royal Palace and temples, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the Killing Fields, the markets

Kep – in the south to relax and visit the crab market

Siem Reap

We stayed at the beautiful Heritage Suites Hotel nestled in a quiet location in Siem Reap, near Wat Polanka. Guests are often collected from the airport in one of their old classic Mercedes, very Agatha Christie don’t you think? The hotel is at the edge of town giving really easy access to the Angkor temple complex, which is around 15 minutes drive away. The day we arrived our guide arranged for us to collect our 3 day temple passes – worth doing to avoid crowds queuing to get theirs the next morning. There seems to be a wide range of places to stay in Siem Reap for all budgets. We ate at great place called ‘Chanrey Tree‘ which I would recommend and they also offer boutique accommodation which may well be worth checking out.

Angkor Wat is probably the most well known of all temples in Cambodia and whilst it is incredibly impressive there were heaps of tourists, which is a shame (although expected/pre-warned). We went mid morning and others at our hotel went before dawn  and said even then there were still huge amounts of tourists waiting for the sun to rise. So my advice is to definitely go and visit but make sure you spend time also seeing some of the others, which we found less crowded and in some cases there were only a few others wandering around the ruins. Ta Prohm and Bayon temple were our favourites. Both are featured in the “Tomb Raider” movie staring Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft.

Ta Prohm looks as if it is almost being eaten up by either the silk-cotton, thitpok, gold apple and strangler fig trees.

Tree and brick entwine and almost hold each other up. Ta Prohm is an ancient Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university built between the 12th and 13th centuries by the Khmer king Jayavarman VII. The walls are decorated with deep bas relief of female divinities, devatas or apsaras. It’s pretty impressive.

Health and safety doesn’t really operate in Cambodia so you can scramble around as much of it as you want, just be vigilant that there aren’t any snakes hiding! You’ll certainly see bats.

At Bayon Temple (below) built at a similar time, it was the official state temple and its most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene smiling stone faces on the towers and upper terraces. Apparently there once 54 towers each with four gigantic faces so making a total of 216 faces. Now however, there are 37 stone towers in ruins.

As to who the faces are remains a debate. Many think that it is king Jayavarman VII who built the temple. He apparently created these faces as a dedication to Buddha.  Others believe it to belong to Bodhisattva (Buddhist enlightened being) of compassion known as Avalokiteśvara. As King Jayavarman identified himself with Buddha and Bodhisattva it makes sense that the faces are a combination of both.

Back in Siem Reap it is really easy to get around. All tuk tuk rides seem to cost $3 and it was a fun way to whizz around town. Siem Reap river runs through town and it was certainly easy to walk from our hotel to see some of the temples and markets.

Being on foot you often get to see Cambodians going about their daily chores up close. The one below we found rather fascinating.

We visited the Old Market, known as Psar Chaa which is a good place to pick up some kampot pepper and a host of other interesting spices. The food hall was interesting with beautiful produce on display, although the meat and fish section is probably not for the faint hearted.

It’s sells a lot of trinkets and tat but there is always the odd unique gift.  For scarfs and blankets head to ……..

As far as eating out is concerned “social enterprise eating” is very in vogue and should be supported. The restaurants provide a training for vulnerable young adults from poor rural areas, orphanages or safe shelters, which can then help them in the real world, giving them a chance to end the circle of poverty they are trapped in.

A couple to recommend (although there are many more) are:

Haven it took us about 10 minutes by tuk tuk from Heritage Suite Hotel

Marum Restaurant It is literally 2 minutes walk from Heritage Suite Hotel.

There is one street to avoid or head to, depending on your idea of a good time, called ‘Pub Street’. We did venture there one evening and had a great and very reasonable meal at Khmer Kitchen which served up all the Cambodian classics.

After a days touring you may want to rest up or visit a spa (there are so many in Siem Reap), but if you want to be entertained I can highly recommend a visit to Phare – which is Cambodias answer to Cirque de Soleil. They were really impressive and fun to watch. You can book tickets here.

The other trip we went on from Siem Reap was to the visit the floating villages on the freshwater lake (which looks rather brown!), known as  Tonle Sap.

Around 90% of those living on Tonle Sap are Cambodia’s ethnic Vietnamese (circa 700k) who are forced to dwell on the water in really poor conditions and with very little opportunities.  Apparently law restricts land to Cambodian citizens only, but this does not apply to the water – hence the ethnic Vietnamese populations move onto the water.  Many are living mere metres from land.

Fishing provides them with a small income, although they have to pay arbitrary taxes as they can’t prove they are in Cambodia legally. It all seems unjust and unfair and they are caught in a limbo situation.

The lake does provide food to eat, but the lack of basic sanitation is apparent and disease is rife. There were a few tourists at the part of the lake we went to, which brings some extra income for them, taking tourist on their boats out onto the lake. With little opportunity or investment one wonders how the cycle of poverty will ever end.

If you do make a trip please be sympathetic to the communities who live on the lake. Whilst I enjoyed this trip, I do have mixed feelings about the predicament they find themselves in.

My next post will be on  the capital – Phnom Penh and Kep in the south, so be sure to check back in next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave


Home cooked Chinese Food and Hot Pot Dining on Cold Blustery Days

 

January is a month for nesting. The weather tends to be so cold and blustery, with the odd rain or snow shower, that I like to hibernate, wear thick wooly jumpers and keep warm. It’s the perfect time to cook hearty food, bake and make those chutneys, marmalades and pickles (I made a batch of my carrot and daikon pickle) that you’ve been meaning to do. I did venture out earlier this week however to try my first hot pot at a restaurant that opened last year by the same name. They have over 150 restaurants in Asia but this is their first foray on British shores. It’s at the gate of China town, near Soho, so is very easy to find. Hot pots are in many respects the Chinese version of fondu, although with fondu of course there is no broth to eat with your meat or cheese. They are a great social way to dine with family and friends as a great big pot of steaming broth is the centrepiece of the whole table. I guess they would also be a great date idea, as it’s a fun way to eat and there would always be something to talk about! From a health perspective, broths are a perfect way to strengthen your immune system, which often tends to be quite low at this time of year.

We were welcomed by friendly staff who were on hand to talk us through the menu. Now the menu can be a little daunting at first glance folks, but do not be phased by this hurdle. First you need to decide on which broth you want to go for. You can chose one or  two, the latter coming in one giant bowl with a clever partition in the middle (see photo below). We obviously went for the two option. There are 8 choices and they all sounded delicious.

They ranged from the non-spicy to the kickass spicy. We decided to opt for two non-spicy ones – the vegan “longevity mushroom broth” – made up of a host of mushrooms and cordyceps flowers. It has a high content of antioxidants, minerals and vitamin D. Our other choice was the “herbal drunken chicken”. With a name like that how could we resist? It’s made from British free-range chicken that has been cooked in a broth for 4.5 hours with a range of herbs and tonics.

Next you need to choose what to put into the broth. There are a number of platter options, as well as individual plate options, which come in half plate or full plate sizes. We chose everything in half plate, which was more than enough for two people. We went for the sea bass fillets, the spicy marinaded pork, some king prawns, winter melon, Chinese cabbage, emerald spinach noodles and some fried tofu puffs. Whilst our order was being prepared we went over the self serving sauce station (now say that quickly 4 times ;o) where you can get as creative as you wish. The floors over in this section of the restaurant where rather instragramable don’t you think?

There were so many choices that we took a couple of little plates back to the table: soy sauce, chilli sauce, peanut sauce, garlic, spring onions, chillies, sesame seeds to name a few.

This was my favourite that I ‘created’ (see photo above). The waiting staff will turn on your hob on the table and then let the stock bubble away gently for a few minutes. You then start by adding your vegetables and some of your noodles and leaving them for a very short while before fishing them out and placing them in a small bowl to then dunk in your sauce and eat. Delicious. If you order the winter melon, don’t leave them in there for too long or they will begin to disintegrate, a mistake we made.  You can take a little broth as you go to slurp away, it really does warm you to your inner core. The longer the broth cooked, the more the flavours intensified. We then added the sea bass and prawns for a couple of minutes max before dunking in the pork  (which in fact didn’t taste spicy) for around 4-5 minutes cooking.

Both broths tasted really good and distinct from one another. I would happily choose both again. If I had to choose one over the other I think the herbal drunken chicken had the edge, but it really was a hard call. We ordered the right amount and couldn’t quite finish all of the broth. My dining companion lived in Hong Kong for many years and is in fact half Chinese and she was pleasantly surprised by how delicious both broths were. A real accolade if ever there was one.  The restaurant is over two floors (and sits up to 150 apparently), although only the downstairs tends to be open in the day time, largely owing the the footfall. The clientele ranged from families, couples, friends and Chinese business man, so I think it would appeal to anyone of any age. There is also a number of Thai food options as well as the hotpots, if someone in your party would rather eat Thai. I think my children would love it and perhaps it would make an ideal lunch spot after a morning at the British Museum.

Hot Pot Restaurant, 17 Wardour Street, London W1D 6PJ 

Tel: 020 7287 8881 (open facility from noon-12.30am)

http://www.hotpotrestaurants.co.uk / @hotpotlondon_

Thank you to Hot Pot Restaurant for my complimentary lunch. All opinions are my own and I would happily return again.

Back at home I have been working on my Chinese braised oxtails, which I cooked over Christmas for the whole family and wanted to improve upon. Now don’t get put off by the word “oxtails” folks. Ok, perhaps if you are vegan or vegetarian you can stop reading from now on, but for everyone else, they taste really good but there are a few tricks you need to know about when cooking them. The secret is to cook/braise them for a long time in a low oven – 5h30 mins at 150 degrees centigrade. You need to have it so that the meat is literally falling off the bone.

 

I served it with some brown rice, cavolo nero/pea/garlic medley and some roasted butternut squash, which I had coated with some freshly ground Sichuan peppercorns. It’s a complete crowd pleaser with all the family really enjoying it. I am sure it would work equally well in a slow cooker, but I don’t have one so cooked it in the oven in my trusted Le Creuset pot.

It literally cooks itself so you can get on with other things whilst it slowly cooks away. Easy cooking, albeit one that takes time.

 

Chinese Braised Oxtails

Serves 6

2 tbsp of oil

2.6 kilos oxtails, cleaned and dried

45g ginger, chopped into thin batons

12 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

10 cloves

5 star anise

4 bay leaves

240ml Shaohsing rice wine (you can pick this up in large supermarkets and small Asian grocers)

6 tbsp light soy sauce

4 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp jaggery or brown sugar

700ml water

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees centigrade.
  2. On your hob, add oil to a large ovenproof pot and then add some of the oxtails and brown all sides before removing and placing on a plate whilst you do the next batch.
  3. In the same pan, keeping the heat low, add the ginger, garlic, cloves, bay leaves and star anise and move around the pan for about a minute before adding the soy sauce, Shaohsing, sugar and water. I do not add any salt as I feel that enough comes from the soy sauces.
  4. Add the oxtails to the pan and coat in the sauce. Add a little more water if necessary and transfer to the oven.
  5. Cook for 5hours 30 minutes, by which time the meat will be falling off the bone. Over the course of the five hours move the oxtails around a few times. If it is looking dry simply add a little more water.
  6. Once it has cooked. Allow to cool before removing the oxtails – keep all the juice – and then using your hands allow the meat to fall off the bones. When all the meat has been removed return it to the pan and then rewarm before cooking and serve with brown rice, roasted butternut squash with some ground Sichuan peppercorns and some greens. Warming food for this cold weather.

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave


Cambodia, VB6 and a review of “My Vegan Travels” by Jackie Kearney

Sunset in Kep, Cambodia

Happy New Year everyone. As you’ve probably gathered from my lack of posts I have been off the grid for a few weeks, which has been bliss – although I was still posting on instagram so do check out my feed if you are interested. My family decided to cheat winter for a few weeks and headed off to Cambodia to see the ancient ruins, visit the capital and then head south to laidback Kep – which was once where the Cambodian royals and wealthy would head to relax and enjoy themselves; before the Khmer Rouge destroyed much of the town.

Angkor Wat Temple complex

Back in London and it has all been a bit of a shock with the cold, blistery weather and getting dark so early in the day. I reluctantly packed away my flip flops and got out my winter boots. January is a funny old month. We all start with such good intentions.

Most friends seem to be attempting a “dry January” and “veganuary” has now been thrown into the mix. Read more about it here if the term is new to you.

Sacred prays in Angkor Wat complex

I can get my head around being more vegetarian, or at least a diet which has a heavy vegetable focus, but vegan……now that involves a lot of thought and planning. Whilst I was pondering veganuary, I read about a rather interesting “diet” or let’s just say “way of life” which, in my view, seemed more attainable and realistic. There is a lot of chat about it in the media at the moment. It is called the VB6 diet. Now don’t get me wrong I do not follow diets and have never been on one, but this VB6 caught my attention.

Lotus flower arrangement in Siem Reap

The diet was given life by New York Times’ lead food writer Mark Bittman and literally means “Vegan Before 6pm”. I am increasingly convinced we all need to eat more vegetables and fruit and less meat and fish. Like Mark however, I am not going to become vegan anytime soon, but a swing of the pendulum towards more of a plant based diet is definitely attractive on many levels. I would prefer to eat meat and fish less often but the quality of what I eat to be high and ultimately know exactly where the produce has come from. By eating it less frequently does allow us to buy better quality meat and fish when we do actually buy it.

Drying out fish on the shores of Tonle Sap – the 4th largest freshwater source of fish in the world

The VB6 diet came about when Mark was told by his doctor that he was overweight, his cholesterol and blood sugar were too high and that intervention by surgery was one possible option. He discussed these findings with another doctor who suggested that becoming vegan was another way that could help him. Knowing that becoming a true vegan was out of the question he decided to adapt and become vegan throughout the day but in the evening from 6pm he could eat what he wanted. It made a lot of sense as he could be sociable in the evening with friends and eat how he always has done. He is also really realistic that sometimes he may deviates from the plan and he readily admits he has milk in his coffee in the morning, but for the most part he continues to be vegan in the day time.

A shrine in Phnom Penh

So has it worked?

Absolutely. He has lost a good amount of weight – 36 pounds then gained a little to plateau to around losing 26 pounds. The diet seems sensible and also not really very restrictive in the grand scheme of things. He talks to the Huffington Post here about the diet. Have a read, it’s really interesting. I definitely plan to pick up a copy of his book and see what he has to say in more detail. You can order it here if you are interested.

Buddhist shrine in Angkor Wat

Which brings me to a rather lovely book that was recently sent to me, called “My Vegan Travels – Comfort Food Inspired by Adventure” by Jackie Kearney. I don’t own a vegan cookery book so was not too sure on what to expect. What I discovered is a hugely informative book with recipes that actually sound and look (if the five photos below are anything to go by) delicious.

Photography credit above: Clare Winfield, published by Ryland Peters & Small

At first glance there did seem to be quite a number of ingredients in each recipe but that has never phased me. If you are someone who likes 5 ingredients, then this book is probably not for you. For anyone who has a keen interest in cooking and a willingness to try something new then you will love it. The chapters are slit into “No Place Like Home”, “European Summers”, “Asian Comfort” and “Americana”. I obviously gravitated to the “Asian Comfort”.

I think that to become full-time vegan does involve a commitment to actually stock your pantry/cupboard/fridge very differently. Leafing though the pages I found a couple of Cambodian recipes. Again I never come across Cambodian recipes so both of them really appealed to me. I opted on one though which I think is a real January mood-pick-me-up. It’s called “Num Banh Chok” – a Cambodian yellow curry with rice noodles and I cannot tell you how AWESOME this recipe is. I gave it to my father-in-law who has been recovering from a bout of flue and he couldn’t stop saying how delicious it was. It is now firmly part of my culinary arsenal and I will be cooking it again and again hence forth. I LOVED it.

I thought that the recipe tied in so well with this post and me having just come back from beautiful Cambodia, as well as the VB6 article, which I had been mulling over.

Now a couple of things to note. I made one change –  I added fried tofu instead of banana flower. I do love banana flower but it is tricky to find, certainly if you live outside London or not near any Vietnamese grocers. I thought it wasn’t very realistic for others to find if I found it tricky. Secondly, the vegetable with holes in it is called “lotus root”. I admit lotus root is also not that easy to find. My usual Asian grocers did not have it so they sent me off to a Chinese grocers that did. So folks aim for Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese/Japanese grocers near you. It is not stocked in your local supermarket. You can buy it online at places like Amazon and Fresh Oriental – here. You can also buy it frozen, but fresh is best if you can locate it. Galangal is not as hard to find, but again you may need to head to your South East Asian grocer.

Once you have the ingredients the recipe is a piece of cake to make. Do try it and let me know. If this recipe is anything to go by I can’t wait to try making the other Cambodian recipe “Khmer croquettes” (photo below) very soon. Don’t they look temptingly moreish.

Photography credit above: Clare Winfield, published by Ryland Peters & Small

Cambodian Yellow Curry with Rice Noodles

adapted from “My Vegan Travels” by Jackie Kearney, published by Ryland, Peters & Small

Serves 4

(1/2= half)

To make the Spice Paste

2 6cm/2 inch thumbs of fresh turmeric (or 1 1/2 tsp powdered)

1/2 tsp paprika

4 garlic cloves

5cm/2 inch thumb of ginger

5cm/2 inch thumb of galangal

4-6 dried red chillies, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes

1 small red onion

2 lemongrass stalks, ends trimmed and outer layer removed

10 kaffir lime leaves

 

To make the curry

2 tbs coconut/vegetable oil

900ml/4 cups vegetable stock or water, plus extra if needed

2-3 tbs vegan fish sauce or light soy sauce

1 tbs agave syrup or brown sugar

200g/7oz lotus root, peeled and cut into thick slices (or use cauliflower florets(

1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cubed

150g green or runner beans, trimmed

400ml/14 oz can of coconut milk

1-2 rock salt, to taste

100g/3 1/2oz Chinese leaf, roughly torn ( I used choi sum, but chard, beet leaves also works)

100g fried tofu cubes (I picked this up at Hoo Hing)

 

To serve

1 packet of thin rice thread noodles, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes

drizzle of chilli oil/chilli (optional)

50g/1/2 cup of roasted peanuts, roughly chopped (optional)

 

  1. First place your rice noodles in a bowl and cover with hot water and leave whilst you get on with making the dish.
  2. New place all the spice paste ingredients in a blender/food processor and blitz until smooth. Easy hey.
  3. In a large non stick pan/wok, heat the oil and fry the curry paste.
  4. Add the stock/water, vegan fish sauce/light soy sauce and agave nectar/brown sugar and bring to the boil then add the lotus root and squash and simmer for around 8 minutes.
  5. Then add the green/runner beans and simmer for another couple of minutes before adding the coconut milk and more stock if needed; it should be a soupy consistency.
  6. Salt to taste and bring back to the boil. Make sure the butternut squash is soft. The lotus root will not be as soft!
  7. Stir in the choi sum and then remove from the heat, allowing it to wilt completely.
  8. Drain the rice noodles from the water. They should be soft and ready to eat.
  9. Place in a bowl and ladle the curry broth on top. Sprinkle with peanuts and chilli oil if necessary.

More instalments from Cambodia next week.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave