Half Scottish, Half Japanese. Tempura Mars bar?

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I began writing this blog in October 2010 as a new father documenting food in his family. Before I knew it, I was in the final of MasterChef 2012. Now cooking is no longer just a hobby.

Friday, 29 October 2010

More crumble, please

The photo below of Hector sleeping with his arms in the air was taken at our friend Neil's house. He cooked a fantastic roast lamb, followed by crumble. As you may have realised, I love crumble.

There is a great recipe for pear and chocolate crumble on the Waitrose website. I have made it for several dinner parties and even Jemma, who generally doesn't like the combination of chocolate and fruit, likes this one. The chopped hazelnuts that go into the crumble mix complement both the pears and the chocolate. I cheat and use a ready made crumble mix. Lurpak would ask me whether I have any pride but it is convenient, especially for a weeknight dinner party when you have limited preparation time. You can peel and chop the pears the night before and leave them mascerating in the fridge overnight.

In my opinion, the only option is to serve it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Jemma doesn't like the combination of hot and cold, so prefers it with cream. Some people think that crumbles should be served with custard. Which do you prefer? Ice cream, cream, or custard? You can vote on the poll to the right.

Monday, 25 October 2010

A cooking mishap

On Friday afternoon, I received a very welcome phone call. My friends Tom and Tash had booked themselves a butchery class at The Ginger Pig. Unfortunately, Tash couldn't make it because of work and Tom asked if I would like to go with him. I had long earmarked butchery skills as something I would like to learn, so I jumped at the opportunity. In the days before Hector, I might have had plans for Friday night, but as all I had planned was trying to figure what to make with some pork tenderloin and a couple of leeks, I set off towards Marylebone on a Boris bike.

It was every bit as good as its reputation. For the first half of the evening, the two butchers, Perry and Borut, taught eleven of us about beef by demonstration and hands on experience, where we learned about dry ageing, different cuts and how to cook them. For the second half, we used saws and knives to prepare our own fore rib roast. We learned how to chine a rib roast so that you can carve it easily, how to tie it with string so that it doesn't fall apart and how to French trim the rib bones so that they don't burn. We left with vastly improved knowledge of beef, a fore rib roast that will easily feed six and a belly full of roast beef and merlot.

On Sunday, the pork tenderloin and leeks were still in the fridge approaching their use by date. I decided to use cling film and a rolling pin to flatten the loin so that I could stuff it and practise my tying technique. I gently fried some sliced leeks in a little butter. Once they were softened, I took them off the heat and added half a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard, half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a couple of tablespoons of Philadelphia and some grated cheddar cheese. I rolled the stuffing inside the pork loin with the help of some cling film and tried to remember how to tie the knots. The technique is difficult enough to teach in person, let alone describe in words. You place a ball of string in your pocket and tease the other end through a series of over and under manoeuvres to produce a slip knot that you can tighten around the meat. After a couple of attempts, I remembered the sequence and grinned with smug satisfaction as the first string tightened around the pork.

At this point, Jemma called me to see something Hector was doing but as I left the kitchen, I heard the rustling of carrier bags. Thinking it was a mouse, I stopped in my tracks and tried to pinpoint the noise. Each time I inched forward, the rustling continued, as though the mouse were daring me to find him. Jemma called out again so I decided to leave the mouse to his rummaging. About half way to the sitting room, I heard a thwack and ran back to try and catch him in the act. I returned to find my carefully rolled pork loin on the kitchen tiles, cheese and leek stuffing oozing through the seams. My "mouse" was attached to the pork at one end by a carefully tied slip knot. He left a trail running across the kitchen floor, behind the bin, down the corridor and into the ball of string in my pocket. If only I'd pinpointed the rustling sound, I would have seen the pork in its cling film, inching its way from the countertop to the floor, as I crept around the kitchen in search of the mouse. Next time I'll cut the string as soon as I've tied the knot.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Friday, 22 October 2010

Do not confuse a strumble

My earlier post on strumble proved popular, but most memorably because one reader confused a strumble with a strumpet.

A "strumble" is my combination of strudel and crumble.

A "strumpet" is an old fashioned word for a promiscuous lady.

"Stroppy" is a colloquial abbreviation of "obstreperous".

"Pram" is a colloquial abbreviation of "perambulator".

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Hector, 3 weeks old


Macerating the strawberries and rhubarb

With the remaining over-ripe bananas, I made a banana, honey and walnut loaf. It was okay, but I preferred the Banana and Chocolate loaf below and in any case you can find versions of both recipes elsewhere on the internet.

This dessert recipe, on the other hand, is one that I claim as my own. I couldn't find any recipe resembling it on the internet, nor had anyone come up with the name. A "strumble" is a cross between strudel and crumble.

Strudel consists of filo pastry layers with a sweet or savoury filling, most commonly apple, cinnamon and raisins. It is popular in Austria but filo goes back to the Byzantine Empire and is found in Middle Eastern pastries such as baklava.

Crumble is endeared by many Britons. It is a hearty and warming pudding to end a pub lunch, after a long walk in November or December, as autumn hands over to winter. Crumble exemplifies necessity as the mother of invention. During the war, when rationing meant that shortcrust pastry was out of the question, people improvised by rubbing a little margarine through flour and sugar to make a crumble topping. Unfortunately, I'm sure many of you will have had a stodgy crumble, probably at school, where the water in the fruit has mixed with the flour.

The inspiration for strumble came from a cooking lesson, where I learnt to cook the fruit and crumble separately. You pan fry the fruit and toast the crumble in the oven and only combine the two on the plate, moments before serving. The advantage is that it will never be stodgy: the fruit remains 'al dente' and the crumble remains light and crunchy. The smell of the flour and sugar gently caramelising will remind your guests of digestive biscuits.

The strudel bit takes a bit of preparation. Take 3 sheets of filo pastry and glue them together with a pastry brush and some melted butter. Cut the sheets into discs that are about the size of your palm. If you don't have a pastry cutter, use a knife to make squares. Take one of the discs and put a mixture of chopped or powdered nuts in the middle (such as almonds, hazelnuts, pistachio or walnuts). Brush the outside of the disc with butter and sandwich the filling with another filo disc. Make the sandwiches into little baskets using a cupped hand, or even better, a muffin tray. Bake in the oven for 5-10 minutes until they are crispy and golden brown. Don't worry if the layers come apart - it will keep the dessert light. Set  the baskets or discs aside and warm them later when you toast the crumble.

In a pan, melt some butter and sugar until it begins to caramelise. Add some chopped fruit. My favourite combination is apples and strawberries but remember that the apples will need a little longer than the strawberries. If you like to add some drama to your dinner parties, throw in some kirsch at the end and flambé the fruit just before serving. Spoon the fruit into the strudel baskets, and sprinkle the toasted crumble on top.

Normally, I would advocate serving crumble with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream because I like the combination of hot and cold. But in this case, I think a dollop of thick double cream, or clotted cream, works best.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Banana and chocolate loaf

Banana and chocolate loaf

For various reasons, mostly Hector-related, we didn't make it to the supermarket this week. So by the weekend, I faced a Shrove Sunday situation. I had some over-ripe bananas, some flour and some eggs which our friend Chompo had brought us from his hens at home, so I decided to make a chocolate and banana loaf. It took about 10 minutes to prepare and 45 minutes to bake.

Over-ripe bananas

1. Preheat the oven to 180 celsius.

2. In one bowl, mix the following dry ingredients together:

300g flour, sieved
75g caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt

3. In the other bowl, mix the wet ingredients together:

3-4 ripe bananas, mashed with a potato masher
2 eggs
50g butter melted in the microwave
50g melted white chocolate

The wet ingredients

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine thoroughly. It should remain pourable, like cake mix, rather than stiff like dough.

5. Butter the inside of a smallish (15-20cm) loaf tin and fill it about 2 cm deep with the mixture.

6. Divide the rest of the mixture between the two bowls. Add 50g of melted dark chocolate to one of them and combine well. You should now have one 'white' mixture and one 'brown' mixture.

7. Add the 'brown' mixture on top of the base layer in the loaf tin and throw in some chocolate chunks which will reset as nuggets once the loaf has cooled. Next, use the remaining 'white' mix to sandwich the dark chocolate layer in the middle. Don't fill the loaf tin right to the top, as it will need room to rise.

Leave some room at the top because it will rise.

8. Put it in the oven. Take it out after 30 minutes and test it by putting a skewer into the centre. If it comes out with mix still on, bake for a further 5-10 minutes.

9.  If the skewer comes out clean, remove the loaf from the tin and put it on a cooling rack.

10. Enjoy a slice at breakfast, with afternoon tea, or at 3am while feeding the baby. 

I didn't leave enough mix for the top sandwich layer!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Comfort Food

Earlier this year, Heston Blumenthal created his version of Pot Noodles. Like any convenience food worth its salt, Pot Noodles are packed with umami. Umami was identified as a separate taste over 100 years ago in Japan and means "good flavour". It is a rich savoury flavour that is more than just salty. As well as Pot Noodles, you find umami in Marmite and many Asian foods.

Jemma and I have recently rediscovered Old El Paso fajitas. They are not only packed with umami but very simple to prepare, making a convenient mid-week meal for new parents. Fast and efficient food preparation is especially important this week. Hector is hungrier this week and we suspect it is because babies often have a growth spurt after 2-3 weeks. Also, we wanted to catch the second episode of The Apprentice.

The umami of the Smoky BBQ flavour pack, combined with the tang of the salsa, a soothing smear of guacamole and a cooling dollop of soured cream. For me, there is also the satisfying teeth-feel as you bite into the tortilla. It gets messy though, because although I can roll, I haven't mastered closing the end.

I would like to take tortilla folding lessons at Benito's Hat, where they manage to fit an unfeasible amount of ingredients into their burritos. Both of their outlets (Goodge Street and Covent Garden) are a short walk from SOAS, where I am taking Japanese lessons. I recommend the pork, it is super-slow braised with lime juice, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, cumin and oregano. Umami.

Canapés and snacks

I warn you now that the title of this blog is misleading. I had wanted to tell you about the canapés at the wedding of our friends Lydia and Timmy.

We took Hector to his first wedding on Saturday. As any new parents know, adapting to life with a new dependent requires advanced logistics. We are roughly following a Gina Ford routine of feeding him every three hours. This meant that by the time we'd fed him at lunchtime, driven to the wedding and had the service, it was time to feed him again. Although he slept through four hymns and Widor's Toccata, by the time we got to the reception after feeding him, we'd missed the canapés and could grab only a few minutes with the bride and groom before the guests were ushered to sit down.

So we set off back to London, ruing the missed canapés. Fellow guests assured me that they were delicious. Instead, Jemma and I stopped at the Sainsbury's by Junction 12 on the M4 and had a meal deal. After much deliberation, Jemma chose a Cheese Ploughmans and a Roast Chicken with Stuffing. Fortunately she also chose my favourite Monster Munch: I find Pickled Onion too eye-wateringly acerbic, Roast Beef too salty but, as Goldilocks might say, Flamin' Hot is just right.

Which are your favourite crisps? Vote in the poll, above on the right.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Hector, 6 days old

Dairy products

You learn a lot in a very short space of time when you become a parent. I had never heard of colostrum, fore milk or hind milk until last week.

When a baby is born, the mother produces colostrum, which is full of antibodies to help the baby's immune system. It is thicker and yellower than milk. I didn't take any photos of it but sure enough if you google it and click on images, you'll see that it is the clotted cream of the breast.

For the first few days of life, newborns sleep a lot and the colostrum is enough for their tiny stomachs. After a few days they develop a thirst and if the mother's milk hasn't "come in", the baby will certainly let you know that he is hungry.

Fore milk is thinner, like skimmed milk, and thirst quenching. The baby will gulp it down quickly, with no concern for the inevitable belching that will follow. Then comes the hind milk, which is thicker, like full fat milk and hopefully leaves the baby feeling full and ready for a sleep!

Hector, 2 days old

Sporting scratch mitts

Beetroot bhaji and flat champagne

It can be quite surreal becoming a father for the first time, especially if you have to leave your wife and new child on the maternity ward later that night. When I got home, I didn't know whether to cry with joy or put the telly on. So I ate a celebratory meal of beetroot bhaji and flat champagne.

We had a glass of champagne each before we went to Cafe 209 on Friday. I tried to save the rest of the bottle by using a vacuvin, but I must have vacuumed the bubbles out because when I came home on Sunday night, the champagne was almost flat. I ate it with beetroot bhaji. I gently fried small cubes of beetroot in cumin and mustard seeds and added it to a batter flavoured with garam masala. The beetroot's rich burgundy looked nice against the yellow of the turmeric but by the time I got home on Sunday, the beetroot had fully infused its regal colour into the batter.

Flat champagne and beetroot bhaji. Surreal.

Hector, 1 hour old

Foods that make you have a baby

Curry. Pineapple. Raspberry Leaf Tea. All are supposed to induce labour in a pregnant woman. Jemma loves pineapple but she wasn't prepared to pay £3.50 for one at Union Market, which has replaced TGI Friday in Fulham Broadway. Who are they kidding? The same people that are prepared to pay £8 for a rabbit, presumably.

A pineapple and a rabbit buys you two main courses at Cafe 209 on Munster Road. We went to this local institution last Friday night. Jemma had a Thai green curry (as she always does) and I had a beef stir fry (I normally have the lamb massaman).

By the same time the following night, we were in the labour ward of Chelsea and Westminster hospital. In fact, the last meal to pass Jemma's lips before Hector was born was sausage roll, chips and beans on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately it passed her lips again in the early hours of Sunday morning when she felt nauseous during labour. The midwife offered her an anti-emetic, but the horse had bolted.

At 8.45am on Sunday 26 September 2010, Hector Aubrey Kojima arrived. We'll never know whether it was the curry, the raspberry leaf tea before bed, or the sausage roll, but my suspicion lies with the fact that Hector was already at 41 weeks' gestation.