Dim sum masterclass at Ping Pong

Ping Pong Dum Sum

Last week Ping Pong invited me to take a dim sum masterclass at their Westfield Stratford restaurant. The restaurant only opened there last month, and I’m glad to have one close to home as I love their food. So I was excited to go and learn how to make their tasty dumplings myself…

Ping Pong Dum Sum

Armed with a delicious – and rather potent – cocktail (which may or may not have hampered our dim sum success) we first got an introduction to the art of dumpling from Ping Pong’s head chef, before being let loose on the ingredients. The dough for these steamed dumplings is made from fine wheat flour, potato starch and water, which gives it the characteristic chewiness. You can also add colouring from natural vegetable sources (spinach for green, beetroot for pink, carrot for orange etc) and they are then stuffed with a meat, seafood or vegetable filling before being steamed to plump deliciousness.

Ping Pong Dum Sum

There’s a technique to getting the perfect little scalloped shape: tuck, fold, press. Naturally the chefs who make up to 3,000 dumplings a day are pro at rolling out perfect ones each time, but us mortals struggled a bit to get the hang of it. With their encouragement, I got a few looking quite neat.

Ping Pong Dum Sum

Some of us took it more seriously than others…

Ping Pong Dum Sum

There was a friendly competition for the best dim sum roller amongst our group. I won, and got a bottle of bubbly for my efforts! I have to confess, I probably had a head start as I learned a similar technique on the Japanese cooking class I did a while ago.

Ping Pong Dum Sum

After our handmade efforts came back from being steamed, we got to enjoy them, then we were treated to several more classic Ping Pong dishes too. We all went home pretty stuffed and merry from the cocktails. If you fancy taking a class yourself, they can be privately booked for a group at a cost of £40 per head, which includes the masterclass and meal afterwards. Check Ping Pong’s site for details.

Recipe: Quinoa, avocado and roasted pepper salad

Quinoa salad

I’ve been trying to cut down on wheat lately: I don’t think gluten agrees with me very well, especially in the quantities I tended to eat it. As a veggie, it’s all too easy to make it the staple of every meal: toast for breakfast, pitta for lunch, pasta for dinner… which led to me feeling pretty bloated and sluggish a lot of the time and wondering if it was down to diet. I haven’t gone completely cold turkey on wheat but I have been making some switches which aren’t too painful and do seem to be making a difference. In fact when I had a fairly wheaty binge at the weekend I felt awful on Monday, which is good encouragement to keep at it.

Quinoa salad

So I’ve been enjoying porridge for breakfast (and not even missing my beloved toast!), lots of Mexican and Indian inspired dinners (corn, bean and rice-based meals are my new friends) and making lunches from scratch when I have the time on work at home days. My favourite easy lunch fallbacks are things like soup, avocado on GF toast or a hummus wrap in a corn tortilla, but when I have a bit more time I’ve been raiding the veg drawer and putting something more interesting together.

Quinoa salad

This is actually the first time I’ve ever cooked with quinoa – it’s a grainlike little seed that resembles bulgur or cous cous, but it’s actually gluten-free and high in protein rather than starchy carb. I never bought it before because it’s quite expensive and I thought it’d be fiddly to prepare, but I do think it’s worth the price as it’s so healthy and very quick and easy to make up.

Quinoa salad
Quinoa salad

I put together this dish based on most of my favourite flavours: avocado, tomato, pine nut, sweet romano pepper – charred to give a bit of smokiness – and plenty of lemon juice and hot sauce. Delicious as well as vegan and GF, oh so saintly! You could add all sorts of other things depending on what you have: blanched green beans, feta cheese or sweetcorn would all be tasty additions.

[amd-zlrecipe-recipe:14]

I’ve been saving more GF (and non-GF) veggie food ideas on my Pinterest board. Do you have any favourites to share?

Foxlow, EC1

Foxlow

It was my birthday this week, and rarely for me I was paralysed by indecision on where to go have dinner on the day. I’d nearly resorted to an old favourite (Polpo, Dishoom or Yautacha) before booking Foxlow, the newish place in Clerkenwell from the guys behind Hawksmoor. Yes, the meaty, steak-y Hawksmoor that I could never go near with a barge pole. Luckily Foxlow is not all about the meat, though it still features fairly heavily on the menu, but there were enough veggie options to keep me and my veggie-for-January boyfriend happy. The cocktails, vino and service – and mighty desserts – made me even more happy.

Foxlow

Win the first: our booked table wasn’t quite ready when we arrived, so were treated to a complimentary drink in the bar area while we waited. I went for a St John; I don’t remember what exactly was in it (we’d been to three cocktail bars prior to dinner) but it was delicious. Josh was happy as the beer list is strong, with local London breweries Partizan, Beavertown and The Kernel amongst the offerings.

Foxlow

Once seated, we went for every veggie thing on the menu to share. The waiter helpfully guided us, even pointing out that the parmesan on one of the salads was not veggie. I was delighted to find that they even have my favourite wine, Le Petiot, which we first had at the Corner Room and is offered by the glass or carafe here.

Foxlow

We started with a butternut and ricotta toast. Unusually served at room temperature, the perfectly caramelised onions amongst the sweet squash meant this was destroyed pretty quickly.

Foxlow

The mains were imaginative and skilfully executed. A dish of roasted vegetables and grains was more tasty than it sounds, with a mix of seasonal beetroot, artichoke and carrot amongst nutty and toasty grains. The Imam Bayildi was a superb example of the dish, the aubergine smoky and super soft, stuffed with a spiced tomatoey mixture with a dab of yogurt on the side.

Foxlow

We also got two of the salads from the salad bar (which colourfully greets you as you enter the dining room) including a zingy sour slaw, and uh, chips. Really good crispy, salty chips. With kimchi ketchup. oooof.

Foxlow

Somehow we still has room for dessert, especially after looking at the menu. It reads like a pornography of comfort foods: apple crumble, cherry pie, salted caramel, nutella, chocolate popcorn…

Foxlow

We went for the Peanutella, served in a jar with a layer of salt caramel and served with filthily buttery brioche soldiers. I can famously usually only manage a mouthful of sweet things, but I would happily have licked this jar clean.

Foxlow

And a chocolate-popcorn soft-serve sundae. A superluxe McFlurry basically. Yeah. No words.

Foxlow

They even have good coffee. I’m glad that’s becoming a thing now. Everything as Foxlow is just done very well, but it never feels stuffy or pretentious. I can completely understand why it’s tricky to get a table at the moment. I hope they change up the veggie menu regularly so I can go back and try more soon. Though I’d be fine with just the chips and a sundae really, thanks.

Foxlow on Urbanspoon

Recipe: Kale, tomato and egg tart

Kale tart

Would you believe this week is the first time I’ve ever bought kale? And I call myself a vegetarian, tsk. Anyway I’m pleased I picked it up on my last visit to the greengrocer as the big bag happily lasted a week in the fridge and made its way into three meals.

Kale tart

My favourite way to use so far is boiled to remove toughness then baked to crisp it up a bit, and it’s best buds with egg and tangy cheese, so I made it into a meal with the addition of a bit of pastry from the freezer.

Kale tart

[amd-zlrecipe-recipe:13]

Kale tart

Nb. It’s also superb reheated the next day, with beans, yogurt and hot sauce. Mmmm.

Any more ideas for kale recipes?

Makin’ cider

Cider making

Ugh, autumn is truly here isn’t it? I swear it got dark at 3pm yesterday, so miserable. In my mind the only good things about the gloomy seasons are of the edible and quaffable varieties: a few months of soups, stews and mulled things make it all bearable. So I was happy to get an email from Garden Trading asking if I’d like to try out an apple press from their range of harvest season products. If you haven’t heard of Garden Trading yet, they make timeless and practical homewares that look equally at home in a country cottage or a more modern setting: I’ve got their enamelled metal lightshades in both my bedroom and kitchen.

Cider making

Here’s the sweet little apple press they sent me. Crafted from solid wood and pretty sage green painted cast iron, it feels solid and well made. It’s nice and petite so fits onto the kitchen worktop easily.

Cider making

It comes ready to roll, complete with a mesh pulping bag, pressing blocks and simple instructions.

Cider making
Cider making

To give it a whirl, I bought a lovely range of apples from my local greengrocer: a mix of eating apples like Granny Smith and Gala for sweetness mixed with cooking varieties like Bramley for sharpness. Don’t they look pretty? The 9kg I bought yielded about 6 litres of juice.

Cider making
Cider making

The process is pretty simple, though you need a bit of elbow grease and be prepared to get pulpy and sticky! First wash and roughly chop the apples: I did this by hand but for a larger batch you’d probably want to use something more mechanised. Then you need to roughen/pulp them up a bit: we used a stick blender but a bowl food processor would have been quicker and cleaner. Give them a good whiz so they’re broken down but not entirely mush.

Cider making

Load the mesh bag into the barrel and fill with the pulpy apple goop. (This photo shows our first try where we hadn’t whizzed them up enough and they would not press: the right consistency looks more pulpy than this.)

Cider making

Pop the pressing blocks on top and start turning. Ta-da, out pours lovely apple juice! Of course you can just drink it right away, but I really fancied trying to make cider from it, with a little help from the live-in brewer boyfriend. It just requires a couple of extra supplies and ingredients – cider yeast, Campden tablets and PET bottles, all which I got from Brew UK – as well as the fermentation bottle and airlock which Josh already had from beer brewing.

Cider making

The Campden tablet stops any wild yeasts or bacteria from mucking up the fermentation, as well as lightening the colour. After 24-48 hours the cider yeast is added, then it needs to be tucked away away under the stairs for a couple of months, so it should be ready just in time for Christmas. Can’t wait to try it!

Cider making

We also had a bit leftover to drink straight away, to which I added some of this Morris Kitchen ginger syrup I got in Brooklyn. Delicious. The juice can be frozen too, which would be handy if you’re lucky enough to have a glut of apples to use up. All in all, top autumnal fun.

Apple press supplied for review by Garden Trading – thank you!

Kings County Distillery

Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn

One of the more unusual things we did in Brooklyn was a visit to New York’s first new whiskey distillery since the Prohibition era, Kings County. Tucked away in the paymasters’ building at DUMBO’s Navy Yard, the distillery has only been open since 2010. It’s starting to get a reputation for small-batch quality and the product is now stocked in many of Brooklyn’s bars and restaurants.

Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn
Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn

The tour began at the imposing entrance to their premises. Cofounder of the business, Colin Spoelman, started by giving us a fascinating potted history of distilling in the USA and explained how he came to set up the business. He was essentially a home-moonshiner from Kentucky who was moved to set up officially when state laws dropped the previously huge taxes and setup fees for a new distillery.

Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn
Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn

We wandered to the tiny ‘corn field’ to the side of their building. This corn isn’t really used for their everyday production: there’s nowhere near enough space to grow what they need, but they just requested to use the land for fun. They may brew a special edition whiskey with this year’s harvest.

Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn
Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn
Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn
Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn

Our next stop was the distillery itself. Here the corn (several tons a month come from an upstate farm) is cooked up with barley and yeast, then left a little while so the yeast can eat up the natural sugars in the corn, creating alcohol. Then it’s distilled twice in the ‘stills': they are currently in the process of upgrading their production from the smaller metal tanks to the much larger copper kettles in the middle of the space.

Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn

Helper kitty keeps the mice away.

Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn
Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn
Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn
Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn
Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn

Colin then led us upstairs to the barrel room, which drew collective oohs from the small tour group. Ageing in oak barrels is what gives the clear alcohol its amber colour and depth of flavour. Colin explained that a longer ageing doesn’t necessarily result in a better whiskey and that the temperature fluctuations in the barn mean the liquid can absorb better from the wood. They constantly taste from the barrels until the required flavour profile – a balance of spice and caramel tones – has been reached.

Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn
Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn
Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn

At the end back in the tasting room, there’s a small exhibit of the history of the area and whiskey in NYC – hilariously dubbed the Boozeum – and shelves of the lingering remains of experimental batches. The hand-typed labels and small-batch approach remind me of London’s very own Kernel brewery. We also got to sample the final product in its unaged (moonshine) and aged forms. Now I’m not a whiskey fan but I really did like the ‘chocolate’ version, with Mast Brothers cocoa nibs thrown into the barrel. They imparted just a hint of sweetness and warmth. Josh bought a couple of bottles to bring home. It was a great tour and fascinating to learn the history and processes of distilling. Tours run informally every Saturday afternoon and are well worth a visit.

Brooklyn & NYC Eats & drinks

Brooklyn

This was always going to be an indulgent foody holiday. I’d saved about 200 places to my Foursquare list and Google map and was determined to plough through as many as possible, waistline be damned. I think we did pretty well! I don’t know if it was the exchange rate or being in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan, but prices everywhere seemed really reasonable, and it was a delight to have so many places on our doorstep in Williamsburg.

Continue reading “Brooklyn & NYC Eats & drinks”

Mushroom Bao

Mushroom Bao

I got the idea to make these watching Jamie Oliver’s new series on TV. I was amazed to see him make bao – pillowy steamed Chinese buns with a spicy filling tucked inside – with a dough of just flour and milk, and had to give it a go with a veggie filling. I had everything I needed to hand in the kitchen – don’t you love when that happens – so they made for a good impromptu Friday night dinner after the rain put paid to any other plans.

Mushroom Bao
Mushroom Bao
Mushroom Bao

You can find Jamie’s bao recipe and method here. It was so quick to make the dough and fill the buns – the dough is soft and stretchy so it’s easy to pull it over the filling and seal. No resting or kneading required either!

Mushroom Bao

For my spicy mushroom filling I just fried together:
· 8 chestnut mushrooms, finely diced
· 1 diced red chilli
· 2 crushed cloves of garlic
· 1 tablespoon of Szechaun chilli bean paste
· A shake of hickory liquid smoke (my current favourite ingredient ever)

Mushroom Bao

One 10-minute steam later…

Mushroom Bao

… perfectly soft and fluffy little buns pop out. Served with quick pickled veg slivers and all the chilli sauces, they made for a tasty, filling dinner – definitely one to add to my regular roster.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard

Street Feast, Dalston Yard

I’m pretty late to the blogging party with this one, because Street Fast is now nicely settled into its newest temporary home in Dalston Yard – just up the road from the last incarnation in Merchants Yard. In all honesty I’ve visited three times already in as many weeks, but like a bad blogger I never took my camera until this time. Here’s a peek at why you should definitely visit before it pops down again.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard

Street food markets are still a bit hit and miss in London: at one end you have the woefully disorganised ones with massive queues, vendors running out of food early and no toilets; then you have the fancier ones like We Feast which attract high end restaurants and are superbly organised in lovely venues – but charge a hefty fee just to get in before you’ve even bought your food and obligatory cocktail.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard

Brilliantly, Street Feast seems to have nailed an ideal middle ground: it’s free, capacity is limited to 500 at a time, the venue is an old car park but well equipped with rustic decor touches, large bars and loads of seating… good vibes all round. The vendors vary from week to week: in past weeks I’ve had Japanese egg curry from Nanban (Tim from Masterchef’s new venture), fried Mauritian fritters, and delicious gelato from Sorbitum.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard

This week I was delighted to find Horn OK Please which offers veggie Indian street snacks – I went for a samosa chat, topped with chickpea curry and some fabulous chutneys.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard

Josh had tacos from Street Feast stalwarts Breddos (you can find them at Netil Market in London Fields too) followed by salted caramel and pecan bites from the excellently-named You Doughnut.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard

There’s really someone for everyone, from jerk chicken to handmade gnocchi, to an old fashioned burger and chips (albeit poshed up with rosemary salt). There could be more choice for veggies but I can generally find something new to try each time.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard

The crowd’s a variety of all ages, with little kids having as much fun at the adults.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard

For the gin fans, there’s even a separate little bar dedicated to the good stuff including a very passable Negroni.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard

Vibes are high, in other words. Make sure to check it out before it moves on again.

Brewbacca beer labels

Here’s a fun little project I did recently – my old employer Sidekick Studios brewed an in-house beer, and I designed the label for it.

Brewbacca beer label

We called it Brewbacca because he’s a famous sidekick, and kind of nerdy…. geddit? It’s a light, hoppy IPA, perfect for summer drinking.


Brewbacca beer label
bbsketch

I hand sketched the design then finished it up in Illustrator, and had them printed by Diginate, like my Garden Party labels. This time I went for a vinyl sticker with spot varnish, and I think the end result is super nice. Plus the beer tastes good, which is a bonus!