Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rosemary & Sea Salt Focaccia: a la Lorraine Pascale

I bet there are a fair few who have been ogling pretty Lorraine Pascale on a new UK food programme, Baking Made Easy. After modelling and a few other non-related professions later (including being a car mechanic!) she finally settled on life as a chef, especially in the art of pastry and baking. Now, there are food shows that have titles with large claims (has anyone really made a full Jamie meal under 30 minutes?!), but folks, I believe this one is bona fide. At least in my very first attempt at making bread, and one of my all time favourites, focaccia.

So here is Lorraine's super-easy recipe, and it really does produce nice results.

Suffered a slight red alert moment when I thought my dough was NOT rising. Was it from using Very Strong Flour instead of Strong? Had I kneaded it for long enough? Was it warm enough?! I know now it was due to my own impatience. In time it did double in size and feel marvellously pillowy.

I adore those sprigs peeping out of their little holes. Drizzling over some extra virgin olive oil whilst still hot from the oven adds fragrance and flavour.

Texture wise, it was crisp on the outside, and suitably crumbly on the inside. I suspect the uneven crust was from stretching the dough rather than pressing out evenly it into it's flat shape. Regardless, flavour-wise it was rather decent given a first effort.

You're not just a pretty face, are you Lorraine? I commend this easy and stylish bake and support your campaign in oven usage. Myself and lovely friend J enjoyed our focaccia with mortadella, salami milano, tomatoes and lots more lashings of olive oil. 

Hummus Bros

I'm starting an obsession with pestos, sauces and generally anything great for bread dipping and splashing over pasta. It may have to do with finally getting a food processor after all this time. Another blog post methinks, to expand upon the subject of all things dip-worthy, as in the mean time...

It was very timely to be invited to my first bloggers event (coinciding with Hungry Female's one year anniversary of blogging!), a tasting evening at Hummus Bros. A recipient of high praise at the time of their Soho opening in 2005, I had sheepishly never been before then.

The concept is simple, and effective. Take hummus as a base, whack on a topping of your choice, choose a side if you wish, and voila. A tasty, healthy and good alternative to the ubiquitous sandwich.

Chunky beef was an instant hit with me. Slow-cooked with a small hint of spice, I piled this high on my pitta.

Their special that occasion was Chicken Tikka Masala, which I had my reservations about. More like a paste, than chunks of chicken in a curry sauce, it lacked any spice or heat. Rather like Indian baby food.

Christian, one of the founding Hummus Bros, was however brilliant at taking feedback and actively suggested trying the beef with guacamole if that was more to our liking. Excellent suggestion as that ended up being my favourite combination, leaning more towards a Mexican palate.

Sides at Hummus Bros are almost as big as the main courses, and we're not complaining! We tried the smoky aubergine, which may have had a tad much of tahini drizzled on top. Erm, it's not like that wasn't in the hummus already...

Falafels are always a crowd pleaser and done nicely with chunky tzatziki and fresh salad.

Me being a chilli fan, very much welcomed the tangy green chilli sauce which is an optional accompaniment, which went perfectly with my beef and guacamole combo.

Sweet caramelised mushrooms was a good pairing to the rich hummus, though could have been charred more. Then again I am a smoky-tasting, barbeque lover.

My only real sticking point were the desserts. Malabi, which I interpret as a Middle Eastern pannacotta, was too set, too sweet from the date honey sauce and with no real balance of flavour. Baklava, which I usually adore, was again too sweet and stodgy instead of being fluffy and light.

The hummus itself is rather creamy and rich, it's more like a sesame butter! Really full in flavour, it's a cracking idea to place toppings to offset it's velvety texture. Interestingly, it's not made with garlic or lemon, like how it's done traditionally, in case customers are allergic to garlic.

Christian and Ronen were professional, cheerful, open about receiving constructive criticism and mingling with their customers. I fully support their manifesto in offering a fresh twist to lunch time nibbles, wanting to cater to numerous "-free" diets and having a fun time in getting the word out there. At an average of £4-8 for a main dish, which includes your pitta, and circa £3.50 for a side, I think it's definitely worth a try. And a try again.

Hummus Bros on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Spinach & Feta Pie a la Jamie Oliver

 Spinach, Feta and Filo Pastry. I knew one day my pie would come.

Yup, Jamie has done it again and created yet another miraculous recipe that is relatively foolproof, allows you to do 10 kitchen tasks, walk the dog and gossip with your best friend. All under 30 minutes and all at once.

Aside from having to multi-task like an immortal, this recipe does work, and very well. OK, so I didn't create all his side dishes from the whole 30 Minute Meal ensemble, I was only cooking for 2. I am, however, pleased to report adequately crackly filo with a voluptuous, squishy centre...

It's a super easy and clever technique in creating a pie base. Place 4 squares of filo pastry side-by-side and overlapping on their edges to create a large rectangle, then layer again to make 3 layers, swishing around lots of olive oil in between. Having the baking parchment overhang means you can easily lift pie out of pan when ready.

I was impressed that the filo base actually held up with just 3 sheets, but our Jamie's a smart lad. If you do get confused with how to create the base, here's a helpful video from a glamourous Jamie minion:

I'm already concocting some variations in my head. Bacon and red onion? Mushroom, thyme and garlic? Maybe even mini versions for a cocktail party. Fly, my imagination, fly!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tom Aikens: Art on (many) a Plate

As much as I love food photo taking, I needed a night off from surreptitious snapping at the dinner table. It didn't quite work. Especially when plate after plate of exquisitely arranged morsels arrive and you're at a restaurant no lesser than Tom Aikens. I had been gifted a cheese and wine pairing at the restaurant as a present last year, but as the restaurant could not guarantee when the next class would be at the time I rang, they offered to convert it into "spend" at the restaurant. Good move.

Whilst the Big Boy camera stayed at home, I was grateful that my baby compact (always at handbag reach away) captured these highlights...

From the word go, beautiful little things were presented for our delectation. The cep bread reminded me of a French fleur-delys, and the buttermilk roll had delicate olive oil and sea salt flavour.

Who would have expected a trio of amuse bouches? An olive "sphere" was pure olive essence, with tiny bits of crunchy olive on top, and burst in the mouth with salty aplomb. Ferran Adria anyone? The duck liver sabayon was deep, smoky and full of body given that it was basically a foam. My favourite was the parmesan beignet. A savoury doughnut in bite-size form! Genius!

Sometimes I think these fancy chefs deliberately give simple names to dishes, to amaze you when it turns out to be far from simple. My "Crab and Avocado Salad" was more like the Garden of Eden. Sweet crab, creamy avocado and slight bitter crunch from the endives. All punctuated with herbs and micro-veg. Gotta throw a cheffy phrase in there.

For the fashionistas in the crowd, doesn't this stunning composition invoke a dreamy Erdem dress, oh so Spring 2010?

Images from

I was still in Eden with the red mullet and pistachio risotto for my main. I'm a sucker for beautiful fish and this was no disappointment. I was taken by the silky fish, earthy pistachios and extremely decadent piles of greenery. Can greens be decadent? They can be at Tom Aikens. 

If there was a prize for a dish inspired by a Christmas carol, the partridge with pear and a truffle mash could have taken number one. Rich and superbly cooked game.

By the time these gorgeous petit fours came along, I was ready to get liposuction. We tried the Earl Grey, Jasmine and Armagnac truffles from the chocolate selection and the Lemon & Thyme financier and doughnut from the cakes. Doooughhhhhnuutttttt, Homer Simpson style, is all I can say. 

Probably one of the most decadent meals I've ever had, with finesse at every step. It's a slick operation with your-wish-is-my-command type service. You can't have this every day, but you can certainly have it once in a while. And definitely when you need to feel special. 

Tom Aikens on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I now see what all the fuss is about with Gelupo. Sister outlet of Bocca di Lupo, this gelataria was yet another darling of the foodiesphere. Being skeptical to whether this ice cream/frozen trend would persist in the middle of a London winter, I was proven veeeerrryy wrong.

You may not get entirely traditional flavours, but you will get "Banana, Caramel, Pecan" or "Banana Stracciatella" which is enough to push most marketing buttons. Customers are encouraged to try any flavour before committing.

Move over Ben & Jerry's. The "Pear, Cinnamon, Ricotta" gelato put me in seventh heaven. It was as if someone had baked a spectacular Pear Crumble, crushed it and made it into ice cream. I could almost taste shortcrust pastry in there. Forgive me for not exactly remembering the name, the "Amaretti & Rum" was exactly that. Creamy, rich and decadent.

And don't these beauties look divine...

A gelato cake. Oh me, oh my!

One does pay a slight premium for this artisanal stuff, but dammit', it's a whole new level of frozen desserts. We're looking at £2-3 per serving, and its deli is also fairly high-end. However, judging from the ongoing line of custom and animated Italian chatter, perhaps Gelupo has managed to create some kinda small sunshine feeling in Soho.

Gelupo on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I'm worried that really enjoying the first Season Two episode of Glee this week makes me seriously teenage and cheesy. Nah, not really. I hate teenage cheesiness but totally loved Sunshine Corazon's tremendous belt-out of Listen. I can't have been the only one mesmerized by this tiny person with a huge voice, expressing every anguish in love like she was old enough to experience it. Am sure there were Gleeks aplenty singing back (or trying to) at screens on Monday.

But it was this discovery that made me want to sing with the in-my-head-I'm-Whitney-before-Bobby voice, from every rooftop. For our dear West Hampstead high street is soon to be graced with a new and exciting Vietnamese restaurant, called Ladudu.

Let me paint the picture behind this feverish excitement. We in cosy NW6 have a number of cute and welcoming bistros and casual eateries. Mostly Italian oriented, gastropubby and coffee shops. What we don't have, are good Asian places. Locals will name Banana Tree as the long-standing staple Pan-Asian, but after that we're trotting over to Swiss Cottage for Singapore Garden and sprinkling of good Japanese spots (Atari-ya, Taro etc). Let's face it, there isn't much in this category to rave about.

This will all change soon. I met Teresa Le, the cheerful owner and chef at Ladudu...

Where it all began: Teresa was born in Vietnam, leaving for Sydney at the young age of 7. Learning to cook from generations within her family, she was a very competent home cook by the time she reached high school.

When she came to London Teresa hankered for home cooking and authentic Vietnamese cooking, like most of us hungry Asians. Even the famed eateries on Kingsland Road in Shoreditch could not meet her cravings for The Real Thing. She had high restaurant standards instated from the large Vietnamese community in Sydney. Finding authentic ingredients, such as Vietnamese Mint in London was her other nightmare. She soon found her window-sill was large enough for a few homegrown sprigs. Experimentation and creativity led her to new techniques which meant she was able to achieve the flavours she wanted with limited resources.

Ladudu was born when after nearly 10 years of working in that familiar ol' rat race, she decided it was time to live her love for food and passion to teach others about Vietnamese cuisine. Starting out with private cooking classes and corporate team building activities, the opportunity to open her own restaurant came along somewhat unexpectedly. And luckily for her (and for us here in NW), so did a restaurant space.

Ladudu is Vietnamese for "papaya leaf". The restaurant will offer Teresa's signature dishes, focusing on authentic and "this-reminds-me-of-my-Vietnamese-grandma's" favourites. For those unfamiliar with cuisine from this part of the world, all Ladudu staff will leap to answer questions and provide suggestions. There will be a lounging area for casual cups of Vietnamese coffee (I'm told this stuff is strong!), and a map of Vietnam showing origin of Vietnamese ingredients. There are also plans to open a small shop selling these elusive foodstuffs should you want to try your own hand at say, a Summer Roll.

Sign me up to this great crusade to instill the Vietnamese palate onto North West London and beyond! In Teresa's words, it's not just food it's an experience. I'll be singing it loud and proud Sunshine-style till those new flavours and aromas arrive. Ladudu aims to open on February 18th 2011 on West End Lane, West Hampstead. For more updates, you can find Ladudu on Twitter @ladudufood and Facebook. And of course on Hungry Female. 

Image from

Friday, January 7, 2011

Fusion Dining in Goa: Part 2

Lila's Cafe

Still on my adventure to find interesting eats in Goa, we found ourselves once again fortuitously placed with Lila's Cafe near our resort. Behind Lila's is a German expat who decided that the tranquil Baga River was the perfect spot to export German breads and brunches. Bread is cooked fresh on the premises, and whilst the food isn't always strictly German, they knocked up some pretty fine brunch and lunch bits:

Its spacious and breezy area was ideal to escape the midday heat.

And being German, I expect some commendable bakes. The mango cheesecake was as light as a feather and so full of mango goodness. This had been crafted by someone who knows cake construction and how to bring out the best of the mango in one. I washed this down with a grainy and sweet chikoo smoothie. A chikoo? My parents used to have a tree in our garden in KL. Looks like a kiwi fruit, has brown flesh akin to a kiwi fruit and a sandy texture. Delish.

Oh yes. That burger tasted as good as it looks. Taking advantage of Lila's close proximity to our base, this juicy temptress was my indulgence on our second visit. Made out of mutton mince (eating beef in India just seemed wrong!), it was full on succulence on every naughty level.

Cafe Choccolatti

More lush and green courtyards at Cafe Chocolatti. And it would be wrong if a cafe like this, with a name like this, didn't have a sinful chocolate cake like this...

Rich, velvety and moist without being sickly. I had suddenly acquired a sweet tooth from being a savoury lover!

The Plantain Leaf

It may seem like I'd gone all the way to Goa to eat lots of non-Indian food, which was not the case. South Indian is one of my favourite foods and we ate it every day till even for a hungry foodie, it was overdoing a good thing. One must-mention though was the Special Thali at The Plantain Leaf in downtown Calangute. For an affordable 90 rupees (£1.28 at the time of writing!) this is a hefty feed for two included excellent curries, puris so puffy you think they would float and pile of rice.

Before I thought it would just be curry heaven in Goa, but we have colonisation to thank for this coast's culinary melange. Like most places in Asia, food is generally very cheap and the locals fall over themselves with service. Where have you been on holiday recently where you thought the food was true fusion?