Monday, 27 June 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Pop up dining event at Teacup on Thomas St

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

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

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

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

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

Let them eat cake...

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

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

And if I knew how to make the passion fruit curd, I would have to start running quite a few more kilometres every week.  It has also re-ignited my love of meringue.... have these bad boys!
The novelty of being surrounded by gorgeous cakes and pastries may have worn off for the regular staff, but not for this visitor I can tell you.  I felt obligated to sample any broken cakes of course, and took home enough to distract the children from my absence.  I may also have gained a few pounds in the process!

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

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

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

Sunday, 12 June 2011

More than just egg fried noodles

I've received alot of comments about my pad thai.  Mostly good I think.  So thought I'd have a little blog about one of the greatest streetfoods ever (in my humble opinion of course).  It's funny, because it's actually a relatively new dish in Thai food culture and yet it's become one of the most popular.  Perhaps even to the detriment of  vendors bringing other regional dishes to the cities' streets, especially tourist areas. 

That aside, it is a fantastic dish and my children both fell in love with it on their first trip to Thailand when they were four.  My son has never overcome his love affair with this dish, and considers himself a pad thai connoisseur, having sampled it pretty much everywhere he goes.  His opinion is that no-one makes pad thai like they do on the streets of Bangkok.  Except maybe his mum (or perhaps he's just being nice). 

I've watched this dish being made so many times, and eaten it as many, so I like to think I've learnt it well over the years.  I think some people think we have just been on the odd family trip to Thailand.  As a family, we've probably spent 7 or 8 months there in total.  That's a mighty lot of pad thai we've consumed!

Personally I find most pad thai in the UK to lack the true balance of flavours, that elevates it from just being stir fried noodles.  There are the odd exceptions of course, and I would say that Rice in Manchester is one of them.

The dish does vary regionally in Thailand, but never too far from the balancing of sweet and salty (palm or brown sugar, and fish or soy sauce), and hot and sour (chillies and tamarind or/and lime).  The UK stuff is often sickly sweet, and rarely holds any sour or hot notes.  And while soy sauce is not a total failure as a substitute for fish sauce, I highly recommend using veggie worcester sauce mixed with soy sauce and a little salt.  The other bug bear I have with UK pad thai are egg and wheat noodles.  It's not meant to be pasta!  Rice noodles work so better, and should always have plenty of bite after blanching.  They always cook a bit more in the liquid mixture.  

So there you go, that's my advice for a great pad thai.  Sorry no recipe this time but there are so many for this dish.  The key is the balancing of the flavours.  It's as simple or as difficult as that.