Thai Green Papaya Salad

Well here we are, waiting for arrival of baby version 2.0 and Mrs W. is now well overdue.  All credit to her though as she is bearing the strains of late pregnancy in good humour.

We made a Thai green papaya salad in the hope it might move things along. I didn’t have the hoped for effect but it did taste fantastic. The salad was adopted from a recipe in Gourmet Food For A Fiver by Jason Atherton.

The trick was to taste and balance the sweet (palm sugar), sour (lime juice), salty (fish sauce) and hot (red chilli) flavours.  Dried shrimp brings a savoury background note, tomatoes and coriander add freshness.  Topped with crushed peanuts this bowl contains an explosion of textures and tastes.

The image is from my new Olympus EP-1 camera which I am slowly getting to grips with.

So our tribe should be one person larger by the weekend… here’s hoping all goes smoothly.

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Lamb Leg a la Twitter

“I have 3kg leg of lamb (lucky me) but only 2 px to feed! suggestions?”

One of my weaknesses is a good deal so when I was passing the butchers counter at the local supermarket and saw a HUGE leg of lamb at what was frankly a giveaway price I bought it without a thought of what I was going to do with said joint of meat.

The first notion that came to mind was to roast the leg in the classical manner  (garlic, rosemary etc) and invite the in laws for a nice spring lunch but they had already made plans.  So the question remained what was I to do?  Using the magic that is Twitter I decided to pick the brains of of a few foodie talents… all of whom possess considerably greater culinary imagination, skill and knowledge than myself. My thanks to all those who replied with suggestions … they were so great that I was inspired to cook and post!

A selection of them (and links to the blogs … all of which are worth checking out) are below.

@akikamozawa (chef, food writer and blogger: Ideas in food)
Mmm lucky you, leftovers. I like mine well seasoned & simply grilled or slow roasted. Wine/herbs/soy/garlic marinade or baste

@thomasinamiers (Masterchef winner, food writer and chef/patron of Wahaca)
make a middle eastern slow braise and freeze what you dont need for a rainy day. Garlic sumac thyme lemons

@stacie_stewart (Masterchef semi-finalist, food blogger and beehive baking queen)
Bone it and divide into 4x 750g portions. Then make lamb curry, hotpot, shepherds pie and steamed lamb suet pudding … all the recipes for the lamb are on [my blog]

@justcookit (Masterchef semi-finalist, food writer and blogger)
cold lamb isn’t great so eat much as poss then make shpherds pie w the rest

@CarolBlymire (food blogger: Alinea at home, French Laundry at home)
freeze some for later.

@ruhlman (food writer, broadcaster and blogger)
separates it into its separate muscles and cook individually, or make lots of shepherds pie and lamb sandwiches tomorrow! … if you do a good job, you can cook those lamb muscles almost like loin.

@docsconz (culinary doctor and food blogger)
Cut it into smaller portions, freeze most and cook a little at a time or invite more folks for a wonderful roast!

@vindee (food blogger: Passionate about baking, co-creator of Mactweets)
Debone , mince, make different varieties of kebabs, freeze. Can marinate and freeze a leg-o-lamb too.

As a result of the great idea I decided to follow Michael Ruhlmans suggestion and debone the leg.  I liked the idea of separating each muscle by butchering along the seams. The should ensure that each portion of lamb would be free of connective tissue running thorugh it (gristle to you an me) and cook evenly as it would be composed essentially of the same meat.

I wanted to make a good job of this so to get me started I found a great video guide by The Healthy Butcher which illustrated the basic steps of removing the bone to leave a butterflied leg.

Joint opened up along the fatty seam and the bone now exposed as per the video.

I continued to cut carefully close around the bone until it could be removed. Use the bone as your guide and take you time and you won’t go far wrong …or lose much meat.

Now, to separate the meat by cutting between the muscles. If you get this right there is not actually much cutting to do as the muscles will almost peel apart like the segments of an orange. Just use the knife to ease them apart and trim the edges. The meat around the shank was left whole as the there is a lot of fine connective tissue (this cooks down when braised give you that yummy rich stickiness) .

I ended up with (from left to right) six fillet like pieces from the upper leg, two large boneless cuts for braising and the bone with some some trimmings. Don’t throw that bone away!… added to a braise it will add fantastic richness, I bagged it up with the trimmings and put it in the freezer.

I took one of the fillets and placed it in a marinade of crushed garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and Herbes de Provence for about half an hour.  I went heavy on the garlic (one of the giant cloves from the elephant garlic I grew last year).

The marinated lamb was seared on a hot grill on for a few minutes on each side and then finished in the oven.

Rested for about 10 minutes before carving, the meat was superbly tender and juicy, presumably a result of not being cut across the grain when the leg was butchered. The result of my labours was probably the best piece of meat I have cooked this year … served on ratatouille with some mixed leaves.

Plot 15 Supperclub

Supperclubs or “underground restaurants” have become one of the big fashions in food over the past couple of years. The idea is simple, some brave amateur cook (or cooks) invites a bunch of random strangers into their own home and cooks dinner. Guests pay a ‘contribution’ to cover the cost of the meal (perhaps leaving a bit extra for the toil of the hosts) and bring their own drinks. With the rise of social networking and the profusion of food blogs getting the word out about such enterprises is now relatively easy. So perhaps it was just a matter of time before two adventurous souls (the heroic Jenny and Sarah) had a go in Belfast.

It just so happens that two of my favourite things are going out to eat and meeting new people over dinner so when I heard about the Plot 15 supperclub starting in Belfast I was very keen to try it out. Mrs W. offered to make it a birthday treat and after an email or two we were booked in.  A couple of days before the event the address details were emailed out.

We arrived at a large terraced house in the university district excited but somewhat nervous. We were greeted warmly at the door and I soon had a glass of wine in my hand and got chatting to the other guests. Canapes of hard-boiled quail’s eggs with toasted cumin and salt were already on the table and along with a roaring log fire were a sign of good things to come.

A large communal table had been beautifully set for the 12 diners. dishes were plated in a small serving kitchen off the main dining are (the main cooking was done in another kitchen). The service was warm friendly and accomplished. Apparently we were the sixth supperclub that they had catered, after some exposure in the Secret Belfast facebook group and the local press they were now booked though April.

We started with spicy sweet potato soup topped with crispy Jerusalem artichoke shavings and served with warm pitta bread. The soup was rich and well seasoned, the sweetness of the potato nicely balanced against the spice.

My main course was a roasted whole mackerel in lemon and freshly ground Indian spices with dahl and basmati rice. The mackerel was beautifully moist with crisp skin. The dish was fragrant with lemon and coriander and had a subtle hint of spice.

Mrs W. doesn’t do whole fish on the bone so she opted for the vegetarian choice of saag paneer with dahl and basmati rice and said nice things about it! The combination of the fish rice and dal was well balanced and so good that not a whole lot was left once I had finished!

Dessert was a fragrant Tunisian orange & almond cake served with thick greek yoghurt. The cake was moist, sweet and fragrant and very moreish.

The real pleasure of the evening though was not the food (very good though it was) however but the warm hospitality of our hosts and the pleasure of sharing a meal with new and interesting company. We lingered over our coffees and wine and eventually headed home having had a fun and memorable night. Talking to our hostesses the motivation behind the project appeared simple: they enjoyed cooking and wanted to meet new some new people. The menu (which will change monthly) will feature local, seasonal food some of which will be sourced from their Belfast allotment

It’s probably not for everyone, which is good because only nice people should go (I like the fact it is (was) a bit of a secret). You need to leave your fussiness at the door … remember it is a supperclub not a restaurant … you are a guest not a customer. But if you like dinner parties but don’t fancy the shopping, cooking, sorting invites, washing up etc the this may well be your bag. You’ll get a good dinner and maybe end up with some new friends.

Amongst the party was another intrepid food blogger, Sarah … here is her take on the nights events. Thanks (and credit) go to Sarah for letting me use her gorgeous photographs (I took some pictures on my phone but they were rubbish)… check out her blog.

I will be back again … it was great craic! Thanks to all who were there for making it such a great evening (and to the guy who didn’t show up … shame on you!).

Maybe I’ll even have a go at doing a supperclub myself … there’s a thought …

Plot 15 Supperclub serves a 3 course set menu dinner twice a month
Suggested donation of £20
contact: plot15supperclub@gmail.com or 07780 787453
website: http://plot15supperclub.wordpress.com/

A Lemon Trilogy Part 1: Lemon and Pecorino Linguine

Mrs W. and I are expecting our second child in early August. She is about 22 weeks into the pregnancy right now and has taken a notion for lemons and all things lemony tasting. Fortunately I had somewhat of a glut of said citrus in the fridge right now so before we head off to Portugal on our hols I thought I would make best use of them.

I have been in a bit of a cooking funk of late, but with a change to the clocks (which means I can at least start cooking in daylight) and some signs of slightly better weather my enthusiasm for spending time in the kitchen is slowly returning.  Cooking with lemons  filled the house with a lovely fresh fragrance so it seems like spring may finally get here!

It is also high time for me to get some veg into the garden (somewhat late I know but the growing season starts somewhat later in Northern Ireland… we had snow this week!). I have hardly touched the plot since last autumn (apart from putting in garlic and early season broad beans and peas before winter set in) but I hope to get stuff sown before we head away and see some signs of growth when we get back.

Back to the lemon theme… I made a great supper based on a Nigel Slater recipe  of linguine with a lemon, olive oil and pecorino dressing. This really is just the easiest peasiest thing to make… so simple but so tasty.

Lemon and Pecorino Linguine

About 250 g linguine (I use De Cecco brand)

Juice from 1 large lemon

1 tsp grated lemon zest

75 ml extra virgin olive oil

75 g grated pecorino  (and a little extra to serve)

  • Put a large pan of water on to boil. When it is bubbling furiously, salt it generously then add the linguine. Let it cook at an excited boil for about 8-10 minutes.
  • Put the half the lemon juice and olive oil a bowl and beat briefly until emulsified like a vinaigrette. Beat in the grated pecorino with a grinding of black pepper. Taste and add additional lemon juice as required.
  • Drain the pasta (leaving a trace of the cooking water) and add the lemon and pecorino ‘sauce’. Toss the linguine until well coated and serve immediately with extra grated pecorino.

Copenhagen: Part One

I haven’t posted in a while… time to catch up on a few things…

I occasionally have to travel for work which I don’t really enjoy as much as I used to. I miss Mrs W. and C. terribly when I am away and I hate the BS and boredom that now comes with air travel (especially as travelling anywhere from Belfast usually requires two flights). However there are some compensations. When I have to travel it is an opportunity to indulge myself by sampling more experimental cuisine than normal as I don’t have to accommodate anyone else in my plans.

As soon as I had confirmed my travel dates to Copenhagen I put some thought into what and where I might like to eat. My schedule was an early arrival on Monday and to fly home on the Wednesday afternoon. I had been to Copenhagen previously and I had enjoyed the city which is clean, stylish and cycle friendly. I had also loved the food. From the hot dog stands which are on almost every street corner, marinated herring, smørrebrød and the ubiquitous pastries to the lovely Vietnamese meal I had in Lê Lê. Now that I was returning I was determined to make the most of the opportunity.

Noma was at the top of my list. This iconic restaurant has come to symbolise all that is exciting about Nordic cuisine. I had read and heard so much about its unique approach that if I could possibly secure a table I was going. I immediately put myself on the waiting list and was delighted when they called to offer a lunch reservation on Wednesday. So with a business dinner with my hosts scheduled on the Tuesday evening I wanted to find somewhere interesting to go for dinner on Monday. I started to research where might be a good option as I wanted to go somewhere interesting but somewhat less extravagant than Noma.

My search led me to verygoodfood. This beautifully written and illustrated blog written by Trine Lai is a love letter to gastronomy in general and the Copenhagen food scene in particular. It is a must read if you are planning a visit and having read some posts I made a reservation at Aamanns Establishment for Monday dinner.

One of the nice features of Copenhagen restaurants is that many of them offer online reservations (Noma and Aamanns Establishment included). This is a great feature for those travelling as tables can be booked at any time of the day or night without having to make expensive phone calls or worry about language (not that this is a problem in Denmark as almost everybody speaks excellent English).

Noma is world famous and booked solid months in advance (bookings are allowed three months ahead so if you can plan that far in advance simply book a table using the online system at midnight three months before you wish to eat and your chances are good….no interminable waiting on the phone required!) If you register on the waiting list there is a good chance you will get a cancellation if you can be flexible with timings.

I arrived into Copenhagen and it was COLD with lots of snow (-10°C as I got off the plane). After sorting myself out at the hotel and a meeting with my business hosts it was soon dinnertime and I walked the sort distance from my hotel (the Scandic Palace Hotel located in Rådhuspladsen which was pleasant but dull in a corporate way) to Aamanns Establishment. The restaurant is unfussy, relaxed and tastefully decorated (image from the Aamanns Establishment website).

The dinner menu offered a choice of two starters, two mains and two desserts. For me this is a good sign, I want to eat what the chef thinks is good and in season. One could also choose both starters and/or both desserts to make a 4 or 5 course meal. A nice touch was the wide selection of wine offered by the glass, with a paired choice for each course. This is great for those dining alone as a whole bottle is often too much for one and it is nice to sample a selection of wines. The service was excellent with the waitress happy to patiently translate the Danish menu (she found an English one later) and explain the dishes.

Unfortunately I did not have a camera with me so there are no photos of my dishes but Trine has posted an illustrated review which gives a flavour of the food served at Aamanns.

My starter of marinated scallops with brussels sprouts, almonds and a herb cream was a surprising, lovely start to the meal. Brussels sprouts aren’t usually my cup of tea, (the waitress translated them as greens) but in this dish the sprout leaves were charred to give a nice bitterness which contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the thinly sliced scallops and the acidity from the orange ceviche style marinade. The toasted almonds and herb cream added a lovely richness to the dish. This was paired with a nice white from Beaune (Bourgogne Aligoté 2007, Fanny Sabre).

My main course of braised ox cheek was always going to be a big hit with me and this did not disappoint. The wonderfully tender ox cheek, served with braised salsify, was melt in the mouth soft and glazed with a moreish sticky jus. However the accompaniments were even better. A savoury trio of onions comprising sticky caramelised onions, crispy onion rings and baby pickled onions gave sharp contrasts of taste. The dish was served on a bed of spelt grain which had a nutty taste and lovely toothsome texture similar to a very al dente risotto but with the bite on the outside of the grain. To compliment the rich beef I was served a pinot noir from Austria (2007, Schloss Halbturn) which had lovely soft rich flavours.

This was very accomplished cooking and I was not alone in my appreciation as I overheard gushing comments in English from two young guys at the next table. We got chatting and it transpired that they were chefs one of whom was en route to a Swedish relocation, the other was working at St John in London (another place I want to try!).

Dessert comprised pear compote with a scoop of chestnut ice cream topped with a chestnut foam which was rich and flavoursome whilst remaining light on the palate. Drinking wine by the glass allowed me to treat myself to a delicious sweet chenin blanc (2006,  Domaine Bablut).

I was full after three courses so I decided against a second desert or cheese and spent the remainder of the evening chatting to the two English chefs (one was called George and quite embarrassingly I cannot recall the name of the other) and the staff. The food was perhaps better than any meal I have eaten in London, innovative and good value at £60 for three courses with some really interesting wine choices  (Copenhagen is a very expensive city so prices should be compared to London).

My appetite had been whetted for Noma… to be continued!