Saturday, August 22, 2009

It was a steak as big as my head

No lie. I sat and stared at it. It stared right back at me. Immediately, I knew this steak meant business. Meaty, bloody, tasty business that would leave me disdainful of all other steaks I’ve had in my life....

Well you’ll probably want a bit of background and who am I to deny? Let’s set the scene, I am sitting in La Cabrera - often referred to as Argentina’s best steakhouse, or parilla (no easy task as there’s one everywhere you turn). There are ten of us at the table – and though the buzzing sound of chit chat and laughter had been quite prominent a few seconds before, the silence hung over each and every person. The kind of silence that comes about because you have so much to say that it’s not even worth saying anything, that saying nothing is actually the nearest thing you can get to coming close to expressing what you are feeling. Scene set? Moving on.



“That’s the biggest steak I’ve ever seen in my life”. The silence was broken by Mike, and everyone quickly chimed in with some form of agreement. But then it was quiet again, the only noise the sloshing of the wine into the equally gluttinous-sized glasses as the waiter worked his way down the table and as people divvied the steaks in two and began to take in the true meaning of an Argentinean asado. I almost didn’t want to eat it in case it turned out to be a disappointment – no chance. The first taste was exquisite, the second taste was sublime. The third, fourth and fifth disappeared in a haze of steak-infused haze that I can only vaguely recall with a shiver down my spine and a smile on my face.


It's a rubbish picture but you get the point when that's HALF the steak...


Although there were sauces and chips and pumpkin and many, many accompaniments, all I was concerned about was the steak. Screw papas fritas, how good can chips be? And sauces? Who needs sauce? I grudgingly conceded to some pumpkin as an effort at a balanced meal (a poor one you needn’t point out) but, really, it was like having one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters on stage at the same time as Marilyn Monroe – the contrast is so great that the ugly sister suddenly appears to be a sub-human ork-like animal when really she is just an unfortunate looking lass with a few warts. In fact, if you’d seen her on her own, you wouldn’t have thought she was that bad at all.

The only other thing I was really paying attention to was the glass of Argentinean Malbec gracing my hand in between each steakfested mouthful. Whoever first decided that red wine and a good (great!) steak went hand in hand really deserves a page in history.



Rewind a few hours. I’d been told that there was a steakhouse so good that people queued for hours outside to get a seat and a bite and I’d laughed. How good could one steak be? It’s the middle of Argentinean winter and therefore fairly nippy outside. I’d obviously be game, because I’m a curious soul who’s always wanting to put these things to the test but the rest of the city? Especially when you can walk right into any steakhouse and pretty much guarantee a decent if not mindblowing feed?

Well if I hadn’t been so busy eating my steak, I’d have been eating my words. In the end ten of us went to the restaurant, which meant a very long wait outside, in the cold. But you know what, it wasn’t so bad. We had heaters (good), free slices of chorizo (good good), champagne (err excellent) and a whole lot of conversation.



By the time they found us a table someone slyly suggested that we stay for one more on the house, but we figured we might as well see what the fuss was about. And now I know, and now you know and I will never laugh at the idea of waiting outside a restaurant again.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Aussie Rules



It has been a long time (when hasn’t it) since the last blog. Bad blogger blah blah,won’t happen next time (probably will), let’s get over the excuses and get down to business. Business being Australia.

Now I must admit I was a little bit perplexed when it came to the Australia blog post. I know that Aussie food is delicious and healthy and has a whole range of influences from all over Asia, but on the whole, you know (don’t shoot me), I was beginning to think “It’s nothing we’ve not seen in England....” In fact. I was thinking of not doing an Aussie blog post so I could hide my mixed feelings from you all and pretend that I didn’t go at all and therefore didn’t need to write a blog post on it.

When I arrived, I saw how wrong and snooty I’d been. Anyone who’s watched an episode of Masterchef Down Under or whatever they’ve called it (curiously addictive) will see that Australia has a lot to teach the world about food . But I was still a little baffled about what to do for the blog. Until Tijana, saviour that she is, came up with the world’s most fantastic idea. I should go and test my skills in a commercial kitchen, namely the one at Lurleen’s – one of Brisbane’s top restaurants. She knew a friend of a friend who could get me a work experience day there...

Of course, I said yes without a moment’s thought, me! Working in a kitchen! With real chefs, in fact someone who has been named one of Australia’s top chefs (Andrew Mirosch). Get out of here. I hero-worship chefs in a way that most teenagers look up to high-pitched squeaky-clean pop stars, that is to say unashamedly and wholeheartedly.

But, as the day drew closer, I began to get a bit nervous. It was all very well and good saying I wanted to work in the country’s top kitchens, but why on earth would they want me? My talents in the kitchen so far haven’t extended to catering for over 200 at breakfast, and 400 for lunch and dinner. And I was going in on a Sunday! One of their busiest days! Truth be told, I was rather cacking it. They have ridiculously sharp knives, what if in my state of nerves I chopped a finger off? Or screwed up an important dish.

Finally, it was time to put my worries aside and do the deed. Although the restaurant is in Brisbane, it’s a good half an hour outside of the city, based on the Sirromet Winery estate. Brisbane’s not quite Australia’s Hunter Valley, but if you are looking to try something different, Sirromet is turning out some pretty impressive and tasty tipples – and the grounds are filled with wallabies hopping around and a few koalas thrown in for extra measure – perfect for a Sunday afternoon’s meandering after a wine tasting session and lunch in the restaurant.

By the time I stepped into the kitchen, I was pretty calm. Dressed up in my chef whites (if I’m honest, not the best look I’ve ever sported. I bore a disheartening resemblance to a kitchen roll), I’d barely got through the introductions before I was put through my paces. I’d worried about Mirosch being some kind of shouty tyrant who would chew me up and spit me out in pieces but he was friendly, albeit a bit distracted by the ever increasing numbers of patrons sitting at the tables (who goes for Sunday breakfast at 9am out of the city? People’s dedication to the food cause never ceases to amaze me).

After establishing that this was my first time in a commercial kitchen, Mirosch put me under the capable hands of his sous chef who set me to work..... plucking herbs.Even my enthusiasm wilted when I was faced with what I can only describe as a mountain of parsley which would require my deft fingers and undivided attention for the near future. Soon enough though, I was caught in the rhythm of the work and chatting to the other chefs about working at Lurleen’s – surprised at how all of them seem to remain calm under the constant pressure and orders flying around the kitchen.


Hanging around the dessert section...

For the next few hours, I watched as they served up breakfast after breakfast, chopping, chatting, arranging and occasionally swearing if it went a little awry, without even batting an eyelid. It was impressive. More impressive was the huge pile presented to me at the end of the rush “here’s some breakfast for you” Mirosch smiled. I’ve always been a lover of the full English fry up but delicious as it was, this one defeated me. It might have been the best English breakfast I’ve tasted though, which was very disconcerting as I’d always thought it was one of the (many) things we did rather well.

Soon after, I’d finished picking the mountain of parsley and set to work on making a salsa verde under the eagle eye of the chef next to me. It was depressing how quickly the parsley I’d spent ages preparing was gobbled up by the food processor, but the final product was well worth it – tangy and with just the right amount of kick to it.

“So, how do you feel about doing something with fire?” Err, bloody amazing. Turns out it was frying the straw potatoes for lunch until they were just the right colour but I was proud when they were declared perfect, and sent out to the diners who had ordered them. Yay.

The rest of the day passed like that; odd jobs here and there – nothing too hard. I chopped stuff and didn’t chop my finger off, made guacamole (very naaaayce), washed veg, and took some pictures when I could.



By the time it was over I was knackered, the heat was incredible and I was sweaty, dishevelled and my feet ached, but it was definitely worth it. Especially when I got out just in time for a sparkling wine on the grass, a walk around the grounds and a bit of sunbaking in the afternoon sun...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pretty pictures, bad chat

Why is it that bad food and bad dates seem to go hand in hand? I know I’ve talked about this in the Hot n’ Cold entry but it’s a genuine philosophical question that I demand to know the answer to.

It’s like the chefs can sniff a date of plague-like pestilence coming down the road for miles and think to themselves “Ha! I know what can really put the icing on the cake. I shall create a dish of such terribleness, such repulsiveness that whatever small shard of enjoyment these two people might possibly have got from this evening shall be completely obliterated into infinity and beyond”.

That’s how it felt last night anyway when quite frankly I was on the worst date I’ve ever been on in my life. No joke. It was bad. The food wasn’t far behind either. The culprits? Date-wise a German in a sulk, food wise fish and chips. Now the latter might be my fault. Yes I’m in Bali and I ordered fish and chips but I was driven to it by the bad date, it just made me a little, little crazy. But what I got I in no way deserved.

I got little bits of battered dark burnt fish and fried crisps. Yes, chips in the American manner i.e potato chips that had been fried until they too were burnt to a crisp. I only wish I had a photo to show you but I was so horrified that all rational thought went out of the window.

If it wasn’t for the fact that Aussie Rules was on the TV blaring right in front of us, I’d probably have burst into tears, but it’s just not dignified to be crying when there are so many cute guys in front of you, even on TV. As for the German, he barely roused himself to say a word throughout the whole meal (safe to say there won’t be a repeat). Except to laugh at my crisps, which was just too much. It made me feel a little like this.



This was going to be the beginning of my Phuket Thai food entry, but as you can see, I digressed. So that can wait until another day. And instead, here are some pictures from the last couple of weeks on the road. Just to remind me that along with the bad food and dates, there are some really not so bad things to balance it out...


Railay, Krabi Province, Thailand


Beach nearish Kuta, Bali

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I heart Jack Johnson because we love the same stuff yeah

I lost an entry. I really don’t know how I did it but I wrote it up in one of the three books I’m travelling with (one for me, one for other people to write in and one for article stuff) and now it has disappeared.

It was probably the best blog entry that I’ve ever written. I can tell you it was witty, fascinating and would make your stomach rumble ominously, but now it’s gone and I have to replace it with this (probably substandard) blog post. It’s like Tenacious D’s Tribute to the Best Song in the World, this one will be nothing like the original, if only because I wasn’t wittering on about how I lost a blog post because at that point I hadn’t.

Now you know that you’ve been in my thoughts, lets move on. Banana Pancakes in Laos. I really don’t think you understand. Banana Pancakes in Laos.



I hope it is beginning to sink in. Because they are truly amazing. I’m getting ahead of myself, I’ll go through the steps that helped me come to this conclusion.

In South-East Asia, it seems you can never escape the one dollar syndrome. Tramping around the temples of Angkor and trying to soak up the atmosphere ‘Lady you want postcards? Waaaaan daller only’. Your reply ‘No, no postcards for me thanks.’ Theirs ‘but it’s only waaaannnn daaaaallllller’ (This can go on indefinitely until you get frustrated and walk away). Tuk tuks – one dollar, large bottle of water – you guessed it. Wan daller. But the most useful and enjoyable way I’ve found to spend my dollar is in Vientiane, the undisputed kind of banana pancakes.

If Jack Johnson hadn’t pipped me to the post, I’d be tempted to write a song about these gloriously sticky confections. Made from a super thin dough (my Laos doesn’t stretch to ingredients, but as far as me and my hand gestures could tell it was a flour, water and egg mix), thinly-sliced banana and lashings of condensed milk topped with a bit of sugar.

In theory it should be easy to replicate at home, just make sure you get the dough really thin, add the sliced banana to the top, fold the four corners into the middle, put it into the pan with some oil and fry on both sides. Once this is done, drizzle condensed milk (lots of) over the pancake, fold again, put back on the fire and serve immediately after, steaming hot and ready to go.

Waaan daller pancake. Million dollar taste. Now it’s time to write your crappy postcards that you couldn’t help but buy.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hot 'n' Cold

Oh Cambodia. If I wrote an ode to Cambodia it would probably start off by praising the joys of Siem Riep and the Angkor Wat, then the joys of Sihanoukville and some heavenly beaches (albeit with some dodgy dogs), and a more reserved line about Phnom Penh. The real lowpoints though would be the roads and the food. I tried, I really did. I ate quite a few Khmer dishes (read lots of) and I got excited about one. And it was a salad.

There’s nothing wrong with the food, it just doesn’t really do it for me. When a burger is the food highlight of your week, you know there is something not quite right. It was a heavyweight burger though, even by international standards. Extra bonus points came in the form of blue cheese. My dining partner was a little freaked out by the amount of enthusiasm I had for that blue cheese, I still maintain it was within the normal limits. Whatever.

And when your food doesn’t excite you, all kinds of bad things start to happen. I went on a date with a guy I’d met in a bar the night before in Siem Riep. The conversation had been amazing – zip, zap, boom – we never stopped talking all night. We talked about everything, I’m sure in our partially ginned minds we had put the world to rights, no subject was too large or too small for our beady-eyed attention.

I was so excited when I woke up, convinced this was going to be the date of a lifetime. But then, when the time actually came, with a plate of bland food in front of us, the conversation and our interest in one another died such a sad little death I was tempted to have a funeral for it. My seafood was rubbery and in a sauce that was a cross between a curry and a sweet and sour, but strangely lacking the merits of either. His was some kind of instant noodle confection, peppered with a few vegetables here and there for authenticity.

On a good note though, the salad incident took place in Phnom Penh and though it still sported instant noodles as one of the main ingredients, somehow it worked. It was a simple combination of shredded red cabbage (I TOLD you it was all about the cabbage, see previous post), white onions, instant noodles, lettuce leaves and chicken broiled and served with dried garlic and sweet chilli sauce. I think the chef probably just made it up, though it bore the name of Spicy Khmer Chicken Salad. Sounds rather dodgy but it was actually heaven. I’m looking forward to the day when we can be reunited in my kitchen.

Plus, what Cambodia lacked in food for the stomach, it more than made up for in food for the soul (retch but I had to use that phrase, just once). Here’s a selection of the shots I got while I was there... There are more on the camera that I haven’t uploaded yet so these will have to do.



Shamefaced

There is no denying it. I have been a BAD blogger. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been so caught up in trying the food as I move from place to place that I’ve forgotten to actually write about it. I am suitably chastised and promise it will not happen again.

After Hanoi, we got on a train to Hoi An where we had another cooking class at the Nam Hai, this time learning how to make fresh spring rolls (i.e uncooked ones). As with most fresh spring rolls, the secret lies in the dipping sauce. Which, for me, is a little bit pointless. Surely anything can taste pretty nice if you have it with a nice dip?? I’ll eat practically anything with guacamole but I wouldn’t claim that my breadstick was a work of art because it tasted good with the guac. Know what I mean?

So yes, the rolls were tasty, but on their own, they are just carrots, cabbage, mint, coriander and other herbs rolled up with a piece of fish or prawn for a touch of flavour. The photograph makes the recipe pretty self explanatory.



Take a handful of each ingredient, mix it up with a bit of sesame oil, wet the rice paper, put the filling on a third and roll it up. The dipping sauce was the same as the one we made in Hanoi for the Nem rolls with a little bit more chilli.

We did get to go to the market though, that was pretty fun – the rain meant that everything had turned into a bit of a mudfight and people were scrabbling to get their food and go in the shortest time possible. There were several factors against them – one that the walkways had all turned into muddy deathtraps ready to catch anyone who didn’t walk with the most tentative of steps and two that there were so many people and the place was so packed you couldn’t get anywhere in a hurry anyway. I did love this woman blithely smoking her fag in the midst of the hustle, a perfectly unflappable oasis of calm.




Much more exciting culinary fare was found on the corner of the Perfume River (before you get carried away with thoughts of Chanel no.5 or Jo Malone, I should mention that the only perfume I could smell was eau de dog waste). Paul and I hunkered down after a hard day’s sightseeing at Mr Linh’s food stall. I had sweet and sour pork (not remotely Vietnamese but I live on the edge like that) with rice. It was good – huge chunks of pork married with plump tomatoes pineapples and peppers in a flavoursome sauce.



Though those women might not look so cheerful, they serve up some more than decent grub. Who needs to look happy when you are feeding the world’s hungry, your actions speak for themselves, your face doesn’t have to.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Fast and the Furious – Hong Kong

If The Fast and the Furious wasnt a terrible film in which a beefed up Vin Diesel (admittedly, he was the object of my affections when I was 15) revs his way into the bad boy books of America, it would have been the perfect moniker for Hong Kong. Sexy street stalls full of spicy, flavoursome dishes, Michelin-starred gastronomic heavyweights with breathtaking views, we were literally spoilt for choice when it came to picking treats to indulge in during our two day trip (I know, two days, it’s a crime).

Food was everywhere, in the shopping malls, lining the sides of the streets, wafting out aromatic fragrances that put your stomach onto red alert. So finally we succumbed – wandering down the Night Market on Temple street, our eyes alighted on this sign and we both knew this was where we belonged.



In an ideal world, we’d have walked over to this restaurant, sat down and eaten the most wonderful meal we’d ever tasted in our life. Our tongues would have sang the praises of this heavenly mead. We’d have raved about it to all our friends around the world, telling them they simply had to go to this little market restaurant we found in Hong Kong, but to hurry up before The Times ruins it with a review.
Unfortunately this was not the case. We ordered razor clams and vegetables in black bean sauce and chilli crab. I’ve no complaints about the razor clams – they were perfectly adequate, in a slightly salty but bland sauce.



But the chilli crab, even I couldnt muster that much enthusiasm for it, for the simple fact that there was hardly any there. I’m all for the cracking and scooping and picking that comes hand in hand with getting to crabmeat, but anyone’s going to be a little put out to go through the whole rigmarole to find it’s all been a case of all talk and no action. I mean nada.



Doesn’t it look appetizing? Mounds of garlic and chilli promising potently flavoured crab that will rip your mouth out and get it dancing the salsa? All lies. Which is a shame, because when Paul and I did get our spoonful each of crab, it tasted good.

If we’d have been there for longer, I’d have made it my mission to leave you with a street restaurant you could believe it, but we didn’t have time. So it was on to Spoon by Alain Ducaisse at the InterContinental. Nothing disappointing there. Coming from Dubai, a place in which there are more celebrity chefs and their wannabes milling around than in Michel Roux’s kitchens over the years, I’m somewhat unfazed by this celebrity chef thing but had yet to encounter Alain’s particular brand of cooking, which is well, impressive. A brilliantly-executed and adventurous menu expertly paired with matching wines, a stunning setting on the banks of Victoria Harbour – all big brownie points in my book.

It’s always a sign of a good restaurant when everyone on the table loves their own food but also has food envy of the person next to them. It was like a Jackie Collins book – I was eyeing up Paul’s starter, he was quietly coveting Carole’s main and when it came to desserts, we gave up the fight and dipped our spoons into each other’s dishes with glorious abandon. Something like that anyway.

The highlight for me was the wagyu beef cheek, which was a melt in your mouth affair to remember. An affair I do remember, with a slightly growling stomach and a wistful look in my eyes. No matter, I’m in Vietnam now and there’s some hot stuff that’s about to hit these pages. Watch this space. And when it comes to the rest of South East Asia, Oz and South America – as old Blue Eyes said, the best is yet to come...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mange le cabbage

Cabbage isn't sexy. It's used for terrible sadistic diets. Lent its name to an interesting children's programme in the 80s with very ugly characters. If I called you a cabbage, it wouldn't be a compliment. Even the word is a bit ugly, like it could be an inventive swear word. You cabbage.

It's thoughts like that that make this a bit of an underchampioned vegetable. But things can change - look at broccoli - ten years ago it was an ugly sprouty veg that was often chopped up, boiled to death and served limply with a few token carrots next to your meat. And now? It's a veritable va va voom of vegginess - soupy, quiched, steamed and served with soy, it's everywhere. I predict the same fate for cabbages. You heard it here first.

Moving swiftly on, cabbage was the basis of my very filling and tasty lunch. If this doesn't have you grubbing around the back of the fridge looking for the one you bought at Christmas with a vague intention of making a coleslaw, well, you're a right cabbage. Beware though, it does take patience. Once that caramelizing smell gets into your nostrils, you're going to have a battle on your hands not bashing it all onto a plate and gobbling it right there, but persevere, it's worth it.

Caramelized cabbage and onion with creme fraiche



1 small red cabbage
1/2 savoy cabbage
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tsp sugar
Sprig rosemary
Italian seasoning herbs
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar.

Chop up the cabbage and onion into medium slices. Put into a pan with the rosemary sprig, Italian herbs, butter and olive oil and place on a low fire. Leave for 40-45 minutes, stirring occassionally to stop from sticking.




When the cabbage and onion are 'lifeless' i.e. very soft, add the balsamic vinegar, Maple syrup and sugar. Stir well. Leave for another 20-25 minutes while stirring until the sauce has reduced to a thick, sticky coating. Take off the fire and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche on top.

Cream tea and cocktails in the shire

It's been a while since I've written a post - things have been manic recently. For one, I've moved away from Dubai and am just about to go on a round the world trip, which means one thing. Crumbs and Dirty Dishes is going international! I intend to learn at least one dish in each country I visit and I intend to visit quite a few countries so watch out.

But for now, I'm back in England, well until Monday at least. My god, how I've missed it. Public transport, proper pubs, walking from A to B - it has been quite an experience. But no trip back home is complete without a jaunt down to Oxford. Not only did I spend three amazing years there, I think it's such a beautiful and fun place when the sun is shining. Want to read more? Here's my travel guide to 24 hours in Oxford.

And, perhaps more importantly, it is home to the best cream tea and cocktails this side of, well anywhere. Screw The Ritz with its stalish scones and slightly crusty fingerless sandwiches (not to mention the tacky decor), The Rose could blow it out of the water on a bad day. On a good day, I wont even insult The Rose with a comparison to such an inferior establishment.

Unfortunately, this not being the land where people are paid ridiculously low amounts to slave away all day (yes that's a Panorama reference), the owner of The Rose was taking a hard earned break on her bank holiday and it was closed. Saddening yes but not the end of the world. There's always Browns to back it up.

Luckily, that was open. I know its a chain, but Browns in Oxford must be doing something right. Especially when it comes to the cream tea. Huge scones that are light and moist are served straight up with lashings of clotted cream and strawberry jam. For two pounds ninety five. Tasty and credit crunch friendly it's indulgence on a budget so all those thrifty types needn't feel at all guilty.



I could barely wait to take a picture before I tucked in. Furthermore, what is it about cream tea that is so conducive to gossip? We'd barely poured our first cup when the tongues were wagging and the juices flowing. No matter that I'd been out the country for the past two years, one hour of cream tea and I was fully updated on all the scurrilous goings on of our group of friends. So good was the chit chat session that the only male party soon made his excuses and left, running away to the land of real ale and pork scratchings as fast as his legs could take him.

Once sated with scones and scandal, we made our way over to Keble to say hello, take advantage of the bizarrely hot weather and lie on the quad whilst spying out the lie of the land.



But no trip to Oxford is complete without an appearance at The Duke of Cambridge, my second home and place of work for many a cute guy over the past five years. Their happy hour certainly makes me happy, especially when paired with their vast and expertly mixed menu. Whats not to like? Bottoms up...

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Saturday Afternoon Soundtrack



Photos courtesy of Antonie Robertson

I’ve lived in Dubai for almost two years and it’s taken me a long time to sort out the soundtrack to my Saturdays. At home in London it would have run a little like this:

Wake up Boo – Getting up full of beans for the weekend ahead. If I’m hungover from a bit of an excessive Friday night, this could be modified to Get Off by the Dandy Warhols.

This World – Zero 7 – Relaxed Saturday morning things – reading a book, watching the TV, whipping up a tasty breakfast rather than the cereal mush I eat every other day.

Lively Up Yourself – Bob Marley – On the go – whatever takes my afternoon fancy – new art gallery preview, Portobello Road market, p’raps an afternoon bevvy in a nice pub.

This Room – Fat Freddy’s Drop – Going to see some live music or gossip time with the girls in a nice cocktail bar early in the evening.

Divine – Sebastien Teller – The bar gets a little busier and we get a little more gossipy. Or we go off on a mini adventure.

But when I moved to Dubai it was all very muddled. My Saturday soundtrack died, and if it had of existed, it would have been full of terrible squawky and discordant music that wouldn’t have made sense to anyone, not even me.

Fridays were great – brunches, parties, art gallery hopping, camping, trips to little-heard of destinations across the UAE but Saturdays were terrible. Saturdays were spent nursing gargantuan hangovers of the kind you shouldn’t encounter after university or lying in bed watching one of the mega-blockbuster films I’d buy from my local dvd peddler. I’d waste away the day, pretending I was resting in anticipation of another working week (Muslim week Sunday to Thursdays). In even desperate times I’d run out of books to read.

Over the last couple of months I began to hear strains of the music again – whether it was hanging out on the beach at Desert Islands or sitting by the pool and reading Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy, or planning the shopping list for the week ahead in the brand new Waitrose (only those in Dubai can understand how exciting that is).

All of a sudden, last Saturday, it was back. In full force. I won’t reveal what it was, but I’ll give you a hint of what brought it about:



Last Saturday I woke up and instead of wanting to curl up and die I realised that I felt great. In fact, I felt like doing stuff – namely cooking and chatting and lounging on the terrace in the sun.

So I rounded up the motley crew above and we sat down for a civilized Saturday afternoon that was the most fun I’ve had in ages. Tonie kindly volunteered to bring his gear and take some pics and we were off.

The menu was simple – although I was feeling adventurous, the weather was perfect for some lighter salads and then a wickedly delicious dessert. Once I’d had a brief flick through the cookbooks and conjured a few ideas of my own, it read: starter – spinach and goat’s cheese salad with caramelized onion, sushi, stir-fried marinated tofu with broccoli, sugar snap peas and baby sweetcorn and fudge cheesecake with a blackberry sauce.

I was most excited about the fudge cheesecake – the day before I’d wanted to try something completely diffefrent so I’d made some fudge and put it in the fridge to set. Now was the perfect chance to put it into play…

Because I hadn’t quite been organised enough to do the cheesecake first thing in the morning, I decided that it was going to be what some people call a cheat’s cheescake I.e. one that uses mascarpone or mascarporn-y as we named it at uni because it tastes so damned good.

While the cheescake was going, I got started on caramelizing the onions for the salad. Thus done I tossed it into the salad leaves with the goats cheese and pine nuts and put it out to play…



Next up was the tofu stir fry. I’m a big fan of tofu even though I’m a dedicated meat muncher - no it doesn’t taste like chicken, but if you want it to taste like tofu, well then, it’s not going to disappoint you. Make sure you buy the firm rather than the silken type for a dish like this. I’d marinated mine overnight with teriyaki, soy and oyster sauce, then it was a simple matter of tossing it in the pan with the broccoli, baby sweet corn, sugar snap peas and more teriyaki sauce on a very high heat for less than 5 mins.



Sushi quickly followed - I’m not the most dextrous of people so it’s always a proud achievement when my sushi doesn’t disintegrate… The wasabi was incredibly potent - all of us at one point sprung up holding our nose with tears running down our faces - we must have looked a rather odd sight.

By this time rumours of the fudge cheesecake had rippled to the table outside and people were popping in to help I.e try and steal bits of fudge, some of which I’d rippled through the mascarpone cream cheese topping, and the rest of which was smeared in a thick layer over the biscuit base. Blackberries make a great sauce for this - they can be quite sharp which contrasts nicely with the dense sweetness of the cheesecake itself. Passion fruit would be great too. I know it sounds odd, but it’s much better than a chocolate sauce which would just be too much.



So there we were, munching away on the cheesecake, so engrossed in what we were eating that silence had descended on all of us - no mean feat - in general we’re talkers not haters. One lone slice had been saved for my housemate and I had a hard job ensuring it made it to the fridge unsullied by spoon or finger. Even Gaby, who until 2 months ago hadn’t eaten any dairy for several years and who hadn’t been overly enthused about the idea of cheesecake had to admit she’d been won over as she finished the last bite. And then we sat, contented - quiet murmurings of our stomachs matched by trivial observations and dozy chatter.

By the way, after all that the soundtrack to the afternoon wasn’t really that important. Off the top of my head I’d pick The Eagles, Take it Easy. Or even I am the Black Gold of the Sun by NuYorican Soul. I was just happy to get back into the groove again.

Fudge Cheesecake with blackberry sauce
300g fudge
200g low fat cream cheese (or full fat, with all that mascarpone it doesn’t matter much)
200 g Mascarpone
250g Hobnobs
80g butter
100g blackberries
30g sugar
¼ cup water

Melt the butter, bash the biscuits into small crumbs and add melted butter. Add to the base of your pre-greased cheesecake dish. Pat until you have an even layer of biscuit base, put into the fridge for two hours or more.
Mix the cream cheese and mascarpone. Cut 100g of the fudge into small pieces, put in a pan to melt a little and stir into the cream cheese mascarpone mix.
Remove the dish with the biscuit base from the fridge. Take the rest of the fudge and spread into an even layer over the biscuit base.
Spoon the mascarpone, fudge, cream cheese mixture over the top, spread evenly and put in the fridge for one hour.
When almost ready to serve the cheesecake. Take the sugar, water and blackberries and add to a pan on a medium heat. Crush a few of the blackberries to colour and flavour the sauce. The others I prefer to stew whole. When the sauce starts to thicken take off the heat and leave to cool. Transfer to a small jug for pouring and serve along with the cheesecake.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Nota Bene

For those of you that haven't found the joys of AA Gill, rectify this immediately.

Dubai's restaurants could do with listening up to his advice too - before I read another extortionate dining promotion that will cost me half my life's savings, will you wake up and smell the coffee...

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/eating_out/a_a_gill/article5880725.ece

Taste of Dubai

At the end of the last post I said that I was going to have something special for you. Never one to fail my readers, I’ve quested in the search for the most exciting, splendiferous entry possible and I found it at….. Taste of Dubai.

The finest restaurants from around the city gathered together for a foodie mélange in the Media City Ampitheatre. It was heaven – not least because one of my favourite (and arguably the cutest) chef was in town – James Martin.

Word on the street was that James was going to be doing cookery classes in the cookery school area on the Wednesday and Thursday nights. I won’t expose myself by telling you how excited I was about the prospect of one on one contact with Mr. Martin but suffice to say, 6pm had myself and Monica hurrying out of work and over to Taste of Dubai.

The first thing we did when we got there was sign our names on the list for the class – that in hand we set off to discover the treats in store in the rest of the festival.
We’d walked about three seconds when we were confronted by this beautiful vision:



You’d have to be blind not to have noticed the artily-designed, larger than life cupcake revolution that’s been taking the cities of the world one by one. First I heard tell of a coup in New York, then murmurings of a fully-fledged takeover in London and now finally, it’s made it to Dubai. The ones above are from Sprinklez – a one-woman show working from home baking little bites of happiness to spread over the emirate.(www.sprinklez.ae)

Round the corner Sugar Daddy’s was courting storm of popularity with it’s gargantuan creations – no wonder why, these Oreo cupcakes are good enough to, well, eat…..



And then it was on to the hot stuff. For those of you that are in the know, Zuma, Victoria Beckham’s London eatery of choice (she eats?!) has recently opened doors in the maze of DIFC. I heard that Beckham deigned to go and sniff edamame (sniffing is as good as eating I’m told) in the Dubai restaurant on her trip over a few months ago.

As I’m fairly skeptical about the sniffing school of thought, I tucked into a dish of Chilli Fried Squid with Lime while Monica tried their Barley miso marinated chicken lets on cedar wood. The squid was superb – crunchy, spicy and tender – the chef, Colin Clague, obviously knows a thing or two about Japanese food.



So engrossed were we in our plates, that we missed the beginning of the James Martin class. I still maintain that we got there at 7.30 on the dot but alas, it was no cooking for us. Still, we got to stand in on the class and watch as he whipped up Balsamic strawberry cheesecake, whilst cracking jokes and making fun of some of the less successful attempts by some of his pupils. I was still a little sulky, but got some nice pictures to make up for it.



Then, it was our turn – the next class was making Tom Yam Goong soup with chef Naruemol Poolkan of Benjarong in the Dusit Dubai. It was a revelation how simple it is to make this deliciously piquant, hot and sour soup –

We boiled…


photo courtesy of Antonie Robertson

Chopped…

photo courtesy of Antonie Robertson

Added…


photo courtesy of Antonie Robertson

Then consumed…

photo courtesy of Antonie Robertson
And it was worth every second of it I’m glad to say.

Here’s the recipe – whip some up for a quick treat for the tastebuds. Go easy on the chilli if you’re not a fan of the hot stuff and keep some tissues on hand to mop up the chilli nose runs.

Tom Yam Goong Soup

8 oz (250 g) shrimp/prawns, shelled and deveined
3 cups (24 fl oz/750 ml) fish stock
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 kaffir lime leaves
3 thin slices fresh or dried galangal
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) fish sauce
2 stalks lemongrass
2 shallots, sliced
1/2 cup sliced straw mushrooms
5 green Thai chili peppers optional
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro/coriander leaves

Bring the fish stock to the boil. Turn down the heat to simmer gently, add the kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, galangal, fish sauce, garlic, lemongrass, shallots and cook gently for a minute.
Add the mushrooms and chillies and cook for a further minute
Add the prawns. Cook for one minute, remove from the heat, garnish with coriander and serve.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

True love

I should let you in on a secret. Although I witter on about fantastic things like carrot cakes, butterscotch cakes, pumpkin scones and other things of that ilk, they are not my true passion. Give me the choice between a whole Victoria sandwich or a small plate of delicious seafood, seafood will win out every time.

I love it. Can never get enough of it. Like Barry White and that random girl’s love he croons about but better. A trip to the fish market in Deira is my own personal smelly paradise, complete with gunk that sticks to the bottom of your trousers has the neighbourhood strays (cats, dogs, sometimes people) following you round the block. It’s the only attention I get these days anyway.

So yesterday, when I found myself at a loose end in the evening and faced with an empty but full cupboard (full of useful things like nori seaweed, corned beef and baked beans yet curiously devoid of anything to make a meal you’re willing to eat), I knew what I had to do. I had to take a trip to the supermarket and stock the cupboard with beautiful things that work better than corned beef and treat myself to a decent home-cooked dinner.

From the outset, I had my mind on the prize, I’d pick up some cockles, squid, mussels and other piscine delights and make my favourite Thai-styled seafood broth, hot, steamy and bursting with delicate flavours.

When I got home, laden with products however, my sense of adventure kicked in. “What’s the point in eating the same old thing every day,” it taunted me. “Pooh pooh to your boring old seafood broth. Next thing it will be Ovaltine at 9.01pm every night after which you’ll have allotted reading time of 10 minutes followed by a prompt lights off at 9.15.”

In defiance of this dreary vision, I decided that I, Julianna Barnaby, would refuse to be tarred by the boring brush. Though reluctant to give up on the seafood idea, I would improvise – something off the cuff. Eyes alighting on the bottle of red wine by the cooker (handy in all kinds of food emergencies and life crises) it dawned on me that there was only one dish I should be making – a hearty seafood stew.

Think of this as your winter comfort food – rich and packed with chutzpah that makes your tongue tingle and your stomach purr in content but a lot lighter – it’s hot and filling but doesn’t drop to the bottom of your stomach like a brick. Best of all, it can be whipped up in half an hour.



Bourbon drinking squid, courtesy of www.indiesquidkid.com


NB: I hate to preach but this I have to say. Overcooked squid rings are like control pants that are too tight – they could have been fantastic, but instead, they push your fat up to a disgusting roll which springs out under your boobs and you’d have been a lot better off going without them. Sound revolting and disappointing? Think of that the next time you contemplate leaving your squid in the pan for too long. For this recipe, one or two minutes will suffice.

Moans aside, here’s the recipe: I served it with some short-grain brown rice and salad on the side.

Seafood stew (serves 2)
500g mixed seafood of your choice – can be cockles, scallops, mussels, prawns (peeled), squid – anything
Olive oil infused with chilli (or normal olive oil)
Dried chilli flakes
1 glass of red wine
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin tuna in water (drained)
A few basil leaves torn
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Onion, finely chopped
½ clove garlic, minced

On a low heat, sautee the onions in the chilli oil after 10 minutes, add the minced garlic, basil leaves and tinned tuna – stir for a few minutes.
Add chopped tomatoes, red wine, chilli flakes and oregano and leave to simmer for 15 minutes.
Add mussels/ cockles/ clams/ scallops and simmer until they’re fully open. Discard any that do not open.
Turn heat up, when bubbling, add squid. Cook for a further minute or two. Remove from heat. Serve immediately.

This is also pretty tasty as a chilled leftover the next day. Think the cold cutting refreshment of a gazpacho but with a lot more substance.

Look out for the next post. If all goes to plan, it will be pretty exciting. If it doesn’t, there’ll be an amusing story in it I’m sure.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Humming of garlic




photo courtesy of garlicbreakthrough.com

I’m currently sitting at my desk – eyes searching frantically for chewing gum because my breath hums of garlic. I’ve already enlisted the help of a couple of Wrigley’s sticks but to no avail, the situation is serious.

I knew, I knew the moment I piled the garlic and ginger sauce all over that first prawn cracker at lunch that things weren’t going to be too pretty in the afternoon, but had I known just how bad it was going to be, I’m not sure I would have even touched them. Ok, well I’d have savoured each garlicky, spicy, bud-blowing bite a lot more than I did.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the Arabic world, the Islamic holy day is
Fridays (as opposed to the Western world’s Sundays), so we have Friday and Saturday weekends. This means that today, Thursday, is a time to kick back and start gearing yourself into weekend mode. It’s also traditionally the day that I treat myself to lunch out with a friend rather than munching on some home-made concoction whilst poring over a book (Middlemarch currently).

So today, after an interview with the executive chef at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel in which I talked about food with one of the city’s experts and watched in envy as Tonie shot dish after glorious dish of gastronomic achievement, we were fairly famished by the time it came to lunchtime.

To sate our appetite, we needed something quick, tasty and inexpensive (it’s the credit crunch daaaarling) so we ventured to The Noodle House in the Madinat Jumeirah next door. Every city these days has its functional food Asian restaurant – one of those ones where you all cram seven to a table or sit on one of those long diners that seat fifty hungry bellies and their attached bottoms. Some are good, some are not so good.

The Noodle Room is one of the better incarnations however, and, with fantastic views and super-efficient service, it’s one of the better cheaper options in the Madinat.

I digress. The whiffy breath is down to the prawn crackers and accompanying sauces that were served before the meal. Light puffs of crispy cracker were brought to life by four concotions of varying spiciness. Garlic and ginger, green chilli in vinegar, red chilli sauce and I forget the fourth, the trip was justified by these alone. Before long, we were giggling over the increasing frequency that both of us were reaching for the tissue box and anticipating the arrival of the mains.

If it wasn’t for the fact that it was completely unmemorable, I’d be more inclined to give the sweet and sour chicken a good write up. As it is, I suppose if you order processed meat and red sauce, you can’t act all surprised when it’s completely artificial and doesn’t particularly taste of anything, but even so, I shall.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t disgusting, it just wasn’t as good as it could have been. In fact, my local Chinese takeaway in Woodside, London, could have shown them a thing or two about sweet and sour. The name for starter indicates the crucial characteristics – sweet, sour = flavours. Sadly lacking in this case.

Still, if you are in a hurry and looking for a quick meal – The Noodle House is not a bad option. Tonie’s Pad Thai was apparently delicious and I’ve eaten there many times without encountering the disappointment I did today. Just avoid the Sweet and Sour. Or bland and bland as I’ve renamed it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dickensian life - A tale of two days



That's me! (Courtesy of Antonie Robertson)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Never has a saying been truer than at this current moment in time. Yesterday was literally amazing – I was researching a feature for the magazine on rock climbing so spent a full day out in the open air, perched atop a big pile of rock testing my strength against its will.

The result? Probably about 7:3 to me – the seven because I kicked that mountain’s ass like you wouldn’t believe. The three to the mountain mainly because of the big bruise it left on my ass when I slipped and fell and collided with the rock, butt first. You win some, you lose some (I’m beginning to feel a cliché theme for this entry. How many more proverbs can I get in? Wait and see).

The remaining factor detracting from my 100 percent scorecard is the fact that after blithely climbing up and abseiling down the rockface a few times, I still whined like a baby as we set off the steep and very rocky descent back to terra firma. Surprising what the comfort of a rope will do to your mental state of mind no?



For those of you that think of Dubai solely in terms of a playboy’s fairground, filled with obscenely expensive hotels, restaurants and bars, I suggest you make the effort to get out of the city and head off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Well, maybe a slight exaggeration but there are things to do that don’t involve drinking or eating (though I’m loathe to count these out completely, this being a food blog n’ all). Scrambling up some mountains for example.

Anyway, as you can imagine, after a day’s worth of baking in the sun, clinging to a rock like a limpet, not forgetting posing for the photographer like a very sweaty and grumpy supermodel and using muscles I never even knew I had (ok ok, but that was a cliché too good to miss), I was fairly famished by the time we got back into the car. The prospect of the hour-long drive back to the city with my stomach growling, murmuring, bubbling and sometimes shouting with hunger was not very appealing, so Tonie and I decided to stop off along the way and pick up some chow.

The chosen place – a little road-side drive-by eatery in Al Madam (I kid you not, that’s the town’s name). Considering that I’ve been turning down invitations to the top restaurants in the city in an effort to stop eating out, I wasn’t overly enthused about the idea of a greasy spoon. Even less so a drive-by one, which is only marginally less offensive than a drive-by shooting, that other reviled practice.

What a mistake. The friendly guy spooning the grease showed me what a snob I’ve been. He greeted us with a welcome that would have put most other restaurants to shame. In less than five minutes after we’d rolled up, he’d whipped up a burger of chicken coated in delicately-spiced breadcrumbs and topped with some kind of spicy mayo and encased in soft, steaming bread. It was like how KFC should be, the KFC of the adverts, juicy chicken, crisp coating and mounds of crunchy lettuce. I’m not a fast food person, but Al Madam burger joint has been jotted down on the list of exceptions.

The burger of magnificence was washed down by a vat of mango juice. It. Tasted. Of. Real. Mango. This is something you don’t take for granted. A juice actually tasting of the fruit is supposedly came from? Revolutionary. It was slightly sweet, thick enough that you’ll keep your facial muscles in good shape sucking it up a straw but not so much so that there were huge chunks of mango in it (this happened to me the other day, I had to throw it away, it reminded me of vomit).

The only failing was the chips, which were crunchy but cold (unforgiveable) and so stiff they’d show rigor mortis a thing or two. I chucked them in the bin and blithely forgot about them while chowing down on my burger.

Over all too soon, we were soon winding our way back to Dubai where I saw Spyro Gyra play as part of the jazz festival. After thirty years, those guys still know how to put on a show and jam the house to its feet.

And then it was today. I woke up and had been bitten all over my face. My taxi didn’t turn up. I missed a John Legend press conference that I’d been looking forward to for months. I’ve got articles to write and no time to write them. Life’s busily trying to restore the equilibrium of yesterday’s high with a new low. But you know what? I’ll always have Al Madam’s greasy spoon. And that’s something.

Monday, February 23, 2009

So veggy-sweet


Following the lines of the squash muffin, courgette cake etc train of thought from the last blog, a good friend of mine suggested that I should have a go at Lady Florence's pumpkin scones. See below for the recipe...

A good dish is nothing without a little history - here's a bit that will entertain your dining coterie as you serve them their lovely fresh and moist (shudder - disgusting word) scones.


"Pumpkin scones are a Queensland icon. Lady Flo was married to Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who was one of the better known Queensland premiers. He died about five years ago. He was well-known for manipulating the media – he called it “feeding the chooks”.

Lady Flo was almost as much of a society figure as he was."


So says Amanda, she of Queensland origin and our local Lady Flo expert in Dubaaaai. Give them a try and let me know what you think - Lady Flo: senile scone creator or gastronomic genius. I'm reserving judgement - I say eat then evaluate. I plan on doing just that.

Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen's Famous Pumpkin Scones

Chef: Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen

This recipe is courtesy of the website www.southburnett.net

Degree of difficulty: Low

You need:
1 Tblsp butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup mashed pumpkin (cold)
2 cups Self raising flour

Method:
Beat together butter, sugar and salt with electric mixer.
Add egg, then pumpkin and stir in the flour.
Turn on to floured board and cut.
Place in tray on top shelf of very hot oven 225-250c for 15-20 minutes.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Great Expectations


On Friday, goaded along by the presence of the blog and the general need for some therapeutic food-making, I turned into a cooking monster. It was like Frankenstein – I started out with good intentions, namely to make a few nibbles for friends coming over later in the day, but these quickly passed as I got caught up in a frenzy of whisking, boiling, bubbling...And with the same ambivalent results. (OK, maybe Frankenstein was a murderer, that’s pretty clear cut. The ambivalence refers solely to my cooking).

By the time my friends turned up to watch the Oscar-nominee films, they were confronted by an unholy mess – me up to my elbows in Blackberry cake batter, pulping some squash for muffins, basting a lamb and roasting some vegetables, all at the same time. I’d have kept on going, but there’s only so much space in the oven, plus the look of worry on Kate’s face suggested that I had gone far enough already.
Tearing myself away from the kitchen, we put on the first film of the day – The Changeling. It was good – very different from what I was expecting and a little bit off the mark towards the end, but well worth watching. A bit like the blackberry cake that came out of the oven halfway through the movie.

I’d taken a sponge cake recipe and given it a twist – by adding blackberries and vanilla. I’m still not sure if I’d say it was a success. The cake tasted delicious, especially once it was iced, but it was a little too heavy – more like a pudding than a cake. It’ll be fantastic heated and served with a dollop of cream, but as a teatime break, it wasn’t quite what I wanted.

Next up was Vicky, Cristy, Barcelona with the utterly delectable Javier Bardem (he of No Country for Old Men fame). As with all Woody Allen films, there’s a lot of talk about emotions, complicated relationships and meaningful moments in which people’s lives are changed. You never quite know how it’s going to turn out, and with this film, I thought the combination worked.

Now the squash muffins probably aren’t going to change your life but I definitely didn’t know how they were going to turn out and the combination worked. Think carrot cake but a little sweeter and moister.



Kate cheekily commented it would be a good way to get children to eat vegetables – we could start a production line in sneaky vegetable treats – courgette cake (Nigella has an excellent recipe for this), swede cupcakes, turnip muffins. Am not sure about the last one, but it might be worth a try. Anyone who does, give me feedback and let me know.

But for now, I’ll leave you with the recipe for the squash muffins – I’m going to work on that blackberry cake and when it finally graces these pages it will be light, fluffy and fit for high tea with the queen.

Squash muffins
300g soft brown sugar
½ medium butternut squash, skin removed and grated
4 large eggs
300g plain flour
100g chopped walnuts
150ml sunflower oil
2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Mix the sugar, squash, eggs and oil together.
Sift the flour and baking powder onto the liquid mixture, add the chopped walnuts and fold until just mixed (do not overmix).
Place the muffin mixture in muffin cases and put into oven for 20 minutes. Makes 12.

You can ice these with the Philadelphia/icing sugar combo used for carrot cake, I think they taste great without though.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Locavore Dubai style

I know that food blogs traditionally start with a recipe but I’ve been run off my feet over the last couple of days and, shock horror, have had no time to cook anything. Unless cups of tea count. However, I was browsing the internet yesterday and found something that made me chuckle:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/jan/25/lucy-cavendish-obesity

Lucy’s account of her absolute misery while trying to lose weight is hilarious and so true to form. I’ve always envied those girls able to munch on celery and savour it like it’s a big fat slice of Lime Tree Carrot Cake (there’ll be a separate post on this another day). The only thing I savour like carrot cake, is umm, carrot cake..



And a few other things like flatbreads with goat’s cheese and caramelized onions, oven-baked camembert fresh out the oven runny, goeey, messy and delicious – perfect for dipping big hulks of fresh French bread in. You get the point.

One thing that has caught my attention is the locavore phenomenon. I know this is nothing new – but it suddenly struck me that this could have hilarious consequences in Dubai. If you only ate what had grown in a 100 kilometre radius, you’d be looking forward to a wholesome diet of fat locals and expats (everyone grows in size when they get here), thorny and sparse gorse-like bushes and not much else.

Well that’s a lie – you can get some pretty decent fish here – a few months ago myself and some friends went deep-sea fishing and came back with the most glorious catch of fish. 2 barracudas and 1 kingfish (which is very similar to mackerel). We caught more but we released them back into the ocean.

If you live near a good fishing spot, it’s worth the time, effort and money – lying in the sun, waiting for the whirring of the reel, looking out at the azure blue ocean would be worth it alone. But then the action when you get a bite, reel and heave, reel and heave – arms straining and body braced against the boat – think of it like adrenalin shopping. With the ocean as your supermarket and a hell of a lot more fun involved. You don’t catch them all, but even the ones that get away are worth the effort.

The gutting and cleaning wasn’t particularly messy – but it was my friends’ first time in such close contact with the innards of fish and I think it made them just a little bit queasy. Still, the job was done pretty quickly, and when it was, we had three fish dying for the barbeque. Barracuda’s not a great fish to eat, but it’s decent enough when you spruce it up with this gorgeous fish marinade with preserved lemons (below), pair it with a glass of wine and some fresh salad leaves.

The kingfish however, ruled supreme, even though we merely gutted it and drizzled it with a little lime, flat leaf parsley and chilli marinade. The meatiness of the flesh is marvelous – juicy but firm – like mackerel it’s able to take pretty much anything you throw at it, so it’s a good fish for experimenting with.

So there we were, we’d cruised for our catch, come up trumps and were eating the fruits of our labour and they tasted pretty damned good. Although I was in favour of the kingfish, both my friends said that the barracuda pipped it to the post for them – of course I was right but looks like it was pretty close.

Cheeky quick preserved lemons
10 lemons, scrubbed, quartered, pith in the middle and pips removed
3 cups water
½ cup sugar
¼ cup salt

Take the lemons and put into the water, along with the sugar and the salt. Bring to the boil and simmer until the rind of the lemons is soft and pulpy. At this stage, remove the lemons from the syrup, and place aside to cool. Continue to simmer the syrup until it is of a thick consistency, similar to honey. Once this is done, turn off the fire and let it cool. Place the lemons in an airtight container and cover with the syrup. Seal and place in the fridge and use when necessary. To marinate the fish, score the sides, place a wedge of lemon and some syrup in each score and place the remainder inside the fish. Wrap in foil and cook on barbecue or in the oven.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Beginnings

Today, I’ve been inspired to begin something. I’m a great believer that the best ideas and resolutions never come on the 1st January when they’re supposed to – ready to be implemented bang on the dot of the new year and true to form, this one hasn’t. It’s simple – a blog, about food. Is it new? Perhaps not. Novel? Not exactly. Mine – yes. From one foodie to another – with a mishmash of commentary, fun, dates and probably the occasional diet to keep things in check. Enjoy…