Venice – a love letter

La Serenissima is as enchanting and alluring as any guidebook or travel magazine could tell you. We recently spent a few days exploring, and subsequently getting lost in her network of alleyways, canals and bridges which really is as fine a way as any of getting to know the city. We walked through lanes that you could hardly believe led to a turning so suddenly small they were, or ones that crossed yet another bridge, or even sometimes dead-ended into a canal. I was charmed by the terracotta-hued buildings with paint gently peeling off the walls as they succumb to the saltwater and humidity, giving an air of graceful ageing to the grand palaces and humble homes.


Yes, there is a concern that the sea will finally consume it, with the annual floods and most recent aqua alta besieging the city. Or that the influx of mass tourism will squeeze the life out of real Venice with ever rising property prices and locals selling out. Or the effect of cruise ships on the sea beds around the island. But go a little deeper and true Venice is still there, especially in Cannaregio and Castello where life goes on as usual and you get to experience the true charm of the place.

Life on an island as unique as this does take some getting used to. I read Nicoletta Fornaro’s blog Naturally Epicurean before going and basically immersed myself in a local Venetian’s view of life and her beautiful photography. In one article she mentions how grocery shopping requires one to visit several different places or markets to get everything you need, which requires planning as you will be lugging home lots of heavy bags on foot.

G and I also remarked how different it must be to have to transport equipment to a work site, having seen construction workers with trolleys waiting for the vaporetto (water buses) in the morning. And how most residents probably wouldn’t require a standard driving licence, as you wouldn’t have a need for cars. The vaporetto are the work horses of the canals and they ply them all day long transporting people to and fro like clockwork. The traghetto cross the Grand Canal from one side to another, cutting short what would otherwise be a significant walk. And the skilful gondoliers take willing tourists for a short tour round the waterways.

But island living has its particular benefits – fish and seafood as fresh as you can get it being a particular highlight of our trip. A quick stroll through Mercato Rialto revealed fish so fresh it was stiff with rigor mortis still, scallops in their beautiful fanned shells, mantis shrimp, sweet local clams, goby fish, squid and octopus. Some of these we enjoyed in their many incarnations through the local cuisine.

Our stay also coincided with Carnival, and although it was cut short with recent health concerns there was enough spectacle on the street to enjoy gazing at. Locals really went all out in dressing up, parading around the streets and posturing for photographs. Masks galore and bouffant ballgowns recalled a masquerade of days gone by.

If you hear the siren call of this wonderful city, heed it. She has a way of getting under your skin and staying there. I for one will definitely return.

 

Lemon and blueberry bundt cake

I meant to bake this cake last weekend to bring in to work, then totally forgot whilst mooching about the house all day and only remembering the night before. So poor co-workers had to do without that time. Tomorrow we are going back to work a session with previous co-workers, so what better to celebrate with than with a gloriously buttery, lemony, fruity cake.

The cake before the glaze anointing. Look at how beautiful it already looks. It’s really a simple pound cake recipe (equal parts butter, sugar and flour) from here but I reduced the amount of sugar in the cake and in the glaze, and increased the amount of blueberries a little. You could bake it in a standard cake tin but a bundt tin just makes it look so impressive. Just make sure you prep your bundt tin well and the cake will turn out intact every time.

The cake post-glaze in all its glory. It’s got a beautiful soft crumb, offset by the tangy bursts of blueberries and sharp lemony glaze.

The perfect antidote to this blustery stormy weather we’ve been having!

Lemon and blueberry bundt cake

Ingredients

225g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
4 large eggs
225g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
150g blueberries
Zest of 2 lemons

For the glaze

120g icing sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
Zest of 1 lemon

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/gas mark 3.
  2. Prepare your bundt tin. See how to do it here.
  3. Sieve the flour and baking powder together. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the mixture.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar together with either a handheld electric mixer or a stand mixer until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time, and whisk until incorporated after each time. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled.
  6. Add the flour and baking powder mixture a few tablespoons at a time and whisk each time until a smooth batter forms.
  7. Toss the blueberries in 2 tbsps of flour/baking powder which you set aside, then fold them into the batter along with the lemon zest.
  8. Transfer the cake batter to the prepared bundt tin and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Check with a skewer, it should come out clean when the cake is done.
  9. Let the cake cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then invert it onto a wire rack.
  10. Mix the icing sugar into the lemon juice until dissolved. You may need to zap the mixture in the microwave for a minute or so to help with this.
  11. Generously drizzle the glaze over the cake, and sprinkle the lemon zest on top.

Kari Kapitan (Captain’s Curry)

Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine is the food of the Peranakan or Baba Nyonya people, a culture descended from Chinese people marrying Malay people, thus producing a unique cuisine most beloved in Malaysia. The culture is most prominent in Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Flavours are complex and reflect the work that goes into creating the dish. Ingredients often used include tamarind, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, candlenuts and belacan (fermented shrimp paste).

I made this for a pre-Christmas meal with friends but was in such a rush I didn’t get any good photos of it, but it was enjoyed by all. Then I also made roti jala, which are savoury net pancakes flavoured with coconut milk and turmeric. This was my second time cooking it in a month, so good was it the first time round but I left out the roti jala this time as they were hard work to make. The curry goes great with any plain carb such as boiled rice, any flatbread, chapati or roti paratha. You want plenty of carbs to soak up that addictive sauce!

I’ve used the recipe from a Singaporean website called The Meatmen. They feature lots of Nyonya recipes, and also generally Malaysian/Singaporean recipes. I’ve found their recipes to be reliable in terms of ratios and instructions. The flavours are always spot on. With my version of the curry, I liked it to have more sauce so used some water as well as coconut milk and less oil so used way less oil than the actual recipe.

Kari Kapitan

Serves 4 to 5

1kg chicken drumsticks
1 tbsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt
2 onions (halved and sliced)
200ml coconut milk
1 tbsp finely sliced kaffir lime leaves
1 tbsp gula melaka (palm sugar) or caster sugar
2 tbsp tamarind juice or paste
8 tbsp vegetable oil (4 tbsp for frying chicken, and 4 tbsp for frying spice paste)

Spice paste
350g shallots
10g garlic
20g ginger
20g galangal
10g fresh turmeric
10g candlenuts (use macadamia nuts or cashew nuts if not available)
200g red chillies
20g belacan, toasted in a pan
50g lemongrass

  1. Marinate the chicken with turmeric powder and salt for 4 hours. The longer you can leave it the better, but even an hour is good.
  2. Add all ingredients for the spice paste into a food processor and blend until fine.
  3. Heat a wok to medium high heat with 4 tbsp oil and fry the chicken on all sides until brown.
  4. Using the same uncleaned wok, add a further 4 tbsp oil and fry the spice paste until fragrant. This will take about 10 minutes, and the paste will get slightly darker in colour. Keep stirring the paste so it doesn’t burn on the bottom.
  5. Add the sliced onions and stir until translucent. Add the chicken and stir for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves, sugar and tamarind juice/paste and top with enough water to just cover the chicken.
  7. Simmer for 1 hour when the chicken will be tender. I didn’t have to use any extra salt, but taste and add more salt if you wish.

Coffee and cardamom pound cake

I made this cake to bring in for the night shift one day. I don’t know what came over me, making that broccoli and stilton soup for lunch and then making this cake before starting nights. I must have had a particularly restful weekend. Also, doing this satisfies my craving for having sweets but allows me to distribute the rest of the calories to other people. And boy does this cake need calorie distribution, what with having over a block of butter in it. Gareth doesn’t like cake see (except cheesecake), so I have to find people to gift the cakes to lest I eat it all myself. Lucky them!

This recipe in Ottolenghi’s Sweet cookbook appealed because the flavours seemed really interesting. Sometimes interesting can be ‘interesting’, but I trust Ottolenghi’s palate and was sure it would turn out delicious. And it did!

Just a few notes on the recipe, and things I might change myself when I bake this again. The recipe calls for 1 1/2 tbsp of instant coffee granules but the coffee taste wasn’t too evident in the cake so feel free to increase it by another 1/2 or 1 tbsp to see if that would taste stronger. I also decreased the sugar in the cake slightly. The actual icing tasted fabulously coffeeish so I would coat the cake completely with it, rather than drip down the sides. I weighed out the actual amount of icing sugar required and it seemed a huge amount. I must have spooned out about 150g or so to mix it in and it was very sweet already. So you probably won’t need the full 240g of sugar, add and taste as you go along.

The notes in the book are very useful on making ground cardamom. For the amount required in the recipe, use 40 cardamom pods. Crush them lightly with the flat edge of a knife and remove the seeds. Ground them down with a coffee or spice grinder. Much better than using store-bought cardamom, which can be quite difficult to find anyway.

It is a proper pound cake and will have quite a dense texture, but it doesn’t sit heavy at all. The recipe might seem a bit involved, but it wasn’t really and I quite enjoyed making it, and eating it. The night shift seemed to like it too!

Coffee and cardamom pound cake

Serves 10-12

90ml full fat milk, plus 20ml more for the coffee
6 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g self-raising flour, sifted
100g plain flour, sifted
1/2 tsp table salt
250g caster sugar
300g salted butter, soft and diced
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground cardamom
1 1/2 to 2 1/2 tbsp instant coffee granules
2 tsp good quality cocoa powder
1 tbsp extra butter, melted and extra flour for dusting

Icing
1 1/2 tbsp instant coffee granules
45 ml full fat milk, warmed
Up to 240g icing sugar, sifted (probably will require less)
30g salted butter, softened

  1. Grease a 23cm bundt tin with the melted butter using a pastry brush. Pour in some flour into the bundt tin, and tilting it on its side keep tapping and turning it around to ensure all the inside surfaces are coated with a thin layer of flour. Tip out the excess flour. Crucial step this, to ensure your cake tips out beautifully at the end.
  2. Preheat the oven to 195 degrees Celcius/175 degrees Celsius Fan/Gas Mark 5.
  3. Place the milk, eggs and vanilla extract into a bowl and lightly whisk to combine.
  4. Into a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer stir the flours, salt and caster sugar together. Then add the butter and half of the egg mixture and mix with a hand mixer or the stand mixer until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 minute. Then gradually add the remaining egg mixture and continue beating until incorporated. (Don’t worry if the batter looks split).
  5. Pour out half of the batter into another bowl.
  6. Add the ground cardamom into one batter half, and fold to combine with a spatula.
  7. Warm the extra 20ml milk and dissolve the coffee granules and cocoa powder in it. Add to the other batter half and fold to combine.
  8. Spoon the mixtures into the bundt tin in four alternate blobs, building up the layers until the batters run out. Then use a skewer or small knife to swirl through the mix to create a marble effect. Don’t overdo the swirling or you will lose the effect.
  9. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and set aside the whole tin for 10 minutes. Then turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool.
  10. To make the icing, combine the warmed milk and coffee in a bowl. Add the butter, then the icing sugar gradually, tasting as you go along. You will probably not need all of the 240g, I used about 150g. Whisk until smooth and thick, then spoon all over the cooled cake.

Broccoli and Stilton soup

I consumed epic amounts of cheese this Christmas. Cheese with crackers, cheese with fruit, cheese on its own. And we still had some leftover! Faced with either freezing it then forgetting it altogether or watching it go mouldy in the fridge, I decided to make this broccoli and Stilton soup. The soup must be such a popular way to use up extra Stilton, and it’s so easy to make. So fitting as well with this horrible grey wet weather we’ve been having this winter.

I used to find Stilton too strong and wouldn’t go near it. Then I tried a broccoli and Stilton quiche which changed my mind forever. Now my favourite blue is Blacksticks Blue which was one of the cheeses in our wedding cheese cake, but Stilton is a close second.

This is from the BBC Good Food website and makes four generous bowls of soup. Feel free to double up and freeze portions if you want to save some soup for another rainy day.

Broccoli and Stilton soup

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, sliced
1 leek, sliced
1 medium potato, diced
1 knob butter
1 litre low salt vegetable or chicken stock
1 head broccoli including stalk, roughly chopped
140g stilton or other blue cheese, crumbled
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or wok to medium high heat. Cook the chopped onion until soft.
  2. Add the celery, leek, potato and butter. Stir until the butter has melted, then cover with a lid. Sweat the vegetables for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the vegetable or chicken stock and chunks of broccoli stalk and boil for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the rest of the broccoli and boil for another 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer to a blender and blitz until smooth. Or use a stick blender and blitz it in the saucepan itself.
  6. Transfer back to the saucepan and stir in the crumbled Stilton.
  7. Add a little salt and plenty of cracked black pepper to taste.

Eggs Benedict with avocado

How did everyone’s Christmas go? We had a lovely day at my sister-in-law’s house with the family, then a little party in the evening at Gareth’s best friend’s place. We even managed to squeeze a nap between the two events to recharge our batteries. I can safely say I haven’t eaten so much cheese in such a short period of time ever. I’ve been very lucky and thoroughly spoiled by friends and family in the presents department this year as well. In fact, we got so carried away with opening our presents after breakfast that we were late in leaving for lunch.

An eggs Benedict breakfast on Christmas day was what Gareth requested and it was the start of our food festivities that day. Actually, the food fest started the weekend before Christmas when we had an Asian-themed meal with friends, and on Christmas Eve night we had a bit of a ploughman’s dinner with homemade ham, cheeses (see), crackers, and a prawn appetisers platter. Whew. I used the same ham for breakfast, and we’ve been having plenty of ham sandwiches with the leftovers since.

Of course, a dish involving poached eggs and a hollandaise sauce would make the most sense when I haven’t tried to make either before. I looked up several recipes and videos online and decided to keep it as simple as possible. The BBC Good Food website was as reliable as ever and I settled on using this recipe for the sauce and this video for the eggs. The sauce recipe actually makes enough for three people, not two.

The most important thing about poaching eggs is to use the freshest eggs possible. The whites are thicker and less runny and the egg will hold its shape better in the water. I actually forgot to add a splash of vinegar into the water – this is to ensure the white coagulates around the yolk better and prevents it from spreading out. Sort of like double insurance, together with swirling the water first. So some of my egg whites did spread out a little but it really wasn’t disastrous. Adding the vinegar is probably more essential if your eggs are less fresh.

I absolutely loved how it turned out in the end, and it may well be the start of a new tradition for us. Gareth’s verdict? Delicious, but no avocados next time!

Eggs Benedict with Avocado

Serves 2

2 English muffins, halved
Slices of ham
One avocado, halved and sliced
4 large fresh eggs

Hollandaise sauce

125g salted butter
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
Lemon juice (optional)
Cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt to taste

  1. Make the sauce. Melt the butter in 30 second bursts in a microwave.
  2. Put the egg yolks, vinegar, a splash of cold water and a small pinch of salt in a metal or glass bowl, of a size that can fit over a small pan. Hand whisk to mix it up for a few minutes.
  3. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, and continue to whisk for 3 to 5 minutes until the mixture becomes thick and creamy.
  4. Remove the bowl from the heat and add the melted butter a few drops at a time, continuing to whisk. Like making mayonnaise, add the butter a few drops at time initially but once the sauce becomes thicker you can be more generous with adding the butter. Add a splash of water if the sauce is too thick.
  5. Taste and add more salt, lemon juice and cayenne pepper if wishing.
  6. Keep warm in a low temperature oven.
  7. Make the poached eggs. Bring a pan of water to a fast simmer, with at least 5 cm depth of water in it. Add a splash of vinegar. Make sure the water is not at a rolling boil as the large bubbles will break up the eggs.
  8. Crack the eggs separately into little bowls or ramekins. This makes dropping them into the water easier and gentler.
  9. With a ladle, stir the water so it forms a little whirlpool in the middle.
  10. Gently pour an egg into the middle of the whirlpool and cook for 2 minutes.
  11. Transfer out with a slotted ladle onto a plate lined with kitchen towels.
  12. Repeat with the remaining eggs.
  13. To assemble, toast the sliced muffins. Layer the avocado, ham and poached egg on top of each half and spoon over the hollandaise sauce.

Black Forest gateau

I wanted to make a chocolate cake for a little pre-Christmas get together with friends, but was struggling to decide on a recipe that I was happy with. I didn’t want anything too dense as I knew we’d be feasting on savoury food and would probably be a little too full to eat anything rich. But I also knew I wanted to make some sort of a chocolatey cake as it’s M’s favourite flavour and when I found this recipe on the BBC Good Food’s website, it seemed entirely too providential as it’s her very favourite type of chocolate cake! Had to be done. The cream and the slightly tart cherry compote helped offset the chocolate cake itself so it made a delicious dessert for our little party.

It debuted to rave reviews, which of course made me so pleased.

Do read the comments on the website, they turned out to be very helpful for me in making modifications to the recipe. Read the recipe through to the end including my own tips, and it will turn out wonderful.

Have a lovely Christmas!

Black Forest gateau

For the cake
175g salted butter, plus extra for greasing
75g dark chocolate, broken into large chunks
300g plain flour
300g golden caster sugar
25g cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 medium eggs
200g buttermilk
100ml boiling water

For the ganache
100ml double cream
75g dark chocolate, broken into large chunks

To assemble
350g frozen dark cherries, defrosted
100g morello cherry compote
4 tbsp kirsch (leave out if you prefer non-alcoholic)
300ml double cream
2 tbsp icing sugar
Fresh cherries

  1. Make the cakes. Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Grease and line the base of 3 x 20cm cake tins. Put the butter and 75g dark chocolate into a bowl and heat for 30 seconds at a time in a microwave. Stir after each time until completely dissolved.
  2. Mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda with a pinch of salt in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Whisk the eggs and buttermilk really well for a few minutes until thick and creamy .
  4. Stir in the egg mixture and the chocolate mixture into the flour mixture, then add 100ml of boiling water and whisk briefly with an electric whisk until the batter is smooth.
  5. Divide the mixture into three baking tins and bake for 25 minutes, swapping them around after 20 minutes (to ensure they have risen adequately first) if your oven’s heat distribution is a little uneven or if the tins are on different shelves. I cooked 2 tins first, then the last one separately. A skewer should come out clean when they’re done, and they will start to shrink away a little from the sides of the tins.
  6. Let the cakes cool completely on a rack before transferring them out of the tins.
  7. Level the cakes off using whichever method works best for you (see below). I levelled two off and used the last one as the top layer.
  8. Make the ganache. Heat up 100ml double cream until just below simmering point. Put 75g dark chocolate into a heatproof bowl and pour the double cream in, stirring until all the chocolate has melted.
  9. Make the whipped cream. Add the icing sugar to 300ml double cream, and whisk for a few minutes  until soft peaks form.
  10. Mix the defrosted frozen cherries with the cherry compote and kirsch, if using.
  11. Assemble the cake. Spread a thin layer of ganache on the two levelled cakes to prevent the whipped cream making the cakes soggy. Spread the whipped cream over, then spoon over the cherry mixture. Repeat with the middle layer. Top with the last cake and spread the remaining ganache over the top. Don’t worry about the cherry mixture puddling at the bottom, adds more flavour! Decorate with some fresh cherries, if wishing.

Tips:

  1. Whisk the eggs and buttermilk mixture really well. I only gave mine a perfunctory mix and I think my cakes would have risen more if I’d whisked more.
  2. Cool the cakes completely in their tins. Absolutely completely until they are room temperature. This will take an hour or two. If you try and transfer them out too soon, they will crumble into one big mess. You could, like me, make the cakes the night before and assemble the next day.
  3. There are lots of instructions and videos online on how to level cakes off. I tried the dental floss and skewer method – it didn’t really work for me. So I stuck in wooden skewers all the way across and out the other side of the cake at a level I wanted. I used 3 in total which divided the cake into six segments, then carefully lobbed off the domed cake tops using a bread knife. Keep it as parallel to the countertop as possible and it should work well.
  4. Don’t overwhisk the double cream. I kept on going with mine because I thought it wasn’t quite there yet but on spooning out realised that it had gone over.
  5. Morello cherry jam/conserve/compote is much tastier than the standard cherry flavour, so do use that if you can find some. I used Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference morello cherry compote.

Kanazawa

Our next stop on our honeymoon was to Kanazawa, a lovely city with beautiful old streets, gardens and a castle to boot. More popular with local Japanese tourists than with foreigners, we really enjoyed the wide open spaces offered by the gardens, well-laid out roads and lack of crowds.

To get there from Hakone, we journeyed back by bus to Odawara then took the train to Tokyo. We had an unfussy lunch at Eataly in Tokyo station, fancying a break from Japanese food. Meat and veg-topped focaccia filled our tummies whilst sfogliatella filled my gastronomic soul. I gave in to the temptation at the dessert counter. My, it was the most delicate pastry filled with heavenly orange-scented cream which shattered in my mouth and coated my lips with icing sugar.

Because our journey to Kanazawa was going to take most of the day, we got some takeaway bento boxes from Ekibenya Matsuri for dinner. The crowds in the shop were unbelievable. I grabbed a beef bento box for Gareth and a seafood one for myself and hurried right out.

The bullet trains travel so quickly that you can actually feel the G-force pushing against you in the train. And I’ve said this before already but I couldn’t get over how punctual the trains were. Like clockwork.

From Kanazawa station we took a taxi to our hotel, The Square Hotel, and had a very chilled rest of the evening. Our hotel was functional and clean with a bonus view of the mountains from our window. There was also an onsen available to use with robes provided in the room but I didn’t check it out that time.

The next day, we had a very nice breakfast at Curio Espresso and Vintage Design Cafe, a place serving excellent coffee and breakfast sandwiches. I had the bacon and egg sandwich and Gareth had the pulled pork sandwich, both of which came in freshly baked rolls, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. We had an extremely pleasant meal there before taking a leisure stroll to Kanazawa Castle.

Just outside the cafe there were interesting little shops with cool street artwork to admire.

On our way to the castle we walked through Oyama Shrine, a quiet peaceful shrine with a beautiful compact garden surrounding it.

Within the grounds of the castle and park itself is Gyokusen’inmaru Park, a beautiful park stunning in its simplicity and botanical architecture. This was the first time I had seen pine tree branches being supported by tentlike frames of ropes. The way the branches had been shaped in tiers was quite a triumph in gardening. Japanese garden styles are so interesting and different to the English gardens I’ve been used to seeing. Whilst English gardens have a wilder, freer style to them Japanese gardens are much more structured and  disciplined, both beautiful in their own right.

Kanazawa castle was the seat of the feudal lords from the Maeda clan who ruled the Kaga region. Much of the castle has been rebuilt, with the oldest structures of some storehouses and the Ishikawa-mon Gate being the only ones remaining from the 18th century. The castle and grounds are well worth a visit. You can explore the insides of a gate itself, walk around the gardens, climb up a small hill to look at the view over Kenrokuen and generally have a pretty chilled couple of hours there. You can buy a separate ticket to have a look inside the castle but we chose to just explore the grounds instead.

Across the road from Kanazawa Castle is Kenroku-en Gardens, one of the most beautiful gardens in all of Japan. They were designed and developed by the same Maeda clan and used to form the outer gardens of the castle itself. The gardens were quite a bit busier than the castle but again worth a visit to enjoy Japanese garden design in splendid form.

The cherry blossoms were only just coming out but were clearly very popular with lots of people (us included!) flocking there to take photos of them. 
These beautiful and clearly very old pine trees were supported by solid wooden poles, in themselves creating beautiful shapes against the spread of the branches and pine needles. They are intended to protect the branches from sagging and breaking under heavy snow in winter. We then doubled back on ourselves (there was a lot of walking that day!) to head to Omicho Market, where our lunch destination was. Quite a lot of the stalls had closed for the day by the time we got there, but there were still a few selling fresh seafood, including massive crabs with the longest legs I’ve seen.

Iki-iki Tei is a small stall tucked away in a corner of the market selling kaisen don, fresh sashimi on a bed of rice. The set is served with green tea and a fish broth made presumably from the bones of the fish they serve.

If I remember correctly, the system is you write your name or give your name to be added to a list, then wait until you’re called in.

Although working in a cramped and clearly very busy place, the lady behind the counter was so friendly and even offered to take a photo of us. I liked how they served the sashimi separately on a plate perched on the bowl of rice. The fish was incredibly fresh and delicious. The fish broth came served with bones and all. No pandering to tourist palates here!

After lunch we walked to the Kazuemachi Chayagai and Higashi Chaya districts, atmospheric old buildings and streets built in the Edo period when they used to be teahouse districts. Today amongst these old wooden buildings there are not only teahouses, but shops and restaurants to enjoy. Gareth bought a bottle of sake from a specialty shop in Higashi Chaya. We much preferred walking around Kazuemachi Chayagai – as far as I could see, the buildings were mainly private residences with fewer shops and consequently fewer tourists around.

There were lots of tourists dressed up in traditional clothing walking around. You can rent them from specialty kimono shops, mainly geared towards tourists. At first it was quite exciting as we thought they could be maiko or geiko (geishas) but after seeing a real geiko on the street in Kyoto later on, I could really tell the difference in the quality of the costume, the hair and the make-up.


After all that walking, we had a good old rest back at the hotel before going out again for dinner. This time we went to The Godburger which is situated along a street by a canal. That street had lots of other places to eat as well, and made a pleasant walk in the evening. Our burgers were really tasty, and although they left out the avocado in my burger we still had a very enjoyable meal there. 

Look at my more conventionally sized meal against Gareth’s behemoth of a burger!

After another night at the hotel we headed to Kyoto the next day, our last leg of the honeymoon. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Kanazawa, and would love to head back one day.

Roast pork belly with apple, soy and ginger

I came across this recipe via Ottolenghi’s Instagram account, and the entire recipe is helpfully on The Guardian’s website. The prospect of juicy pork belly with crispy crackling always entices me, but that sauce reminiscent of a Filipino pork adobo was what clinched it for me. It was salty, sweet, tangy and had a wonderful umami richness all in one go. Those apples cut through the sauce and worked so well with the meat. Have it with plain boiled rice as Ottolenghi recommended, and drench the carbs with that beautiful sauce.

Here’s the link, but also below is what I did to change it up a bit (both on purpose and by accident!).

As per my usual, I made some changes to the recipe. I used 550g of pork belly joint instead of 800-900g, simply because it was all the supermarket had, but cooked it for the same amount of time. That amount fed both of us very well for a meal. Before cooking, I dabbed the skin dry, cut crisscross marks in the skin and salted it before letting it air dry for an hour. I used two apples instead of three, and cut them into eight chunks each. I made the same amount of sauce and I’ll be using the leftover sauce to stir-fry some noodles with. After roasting the pork I grilled it under medium high heat for about 20 minutes to crisp up the skin as well.

Alas, I made a huge mistake of using 250ml of apple cider vinegar instead of 70ml (having misread the recipe), and had to then salvage it with 4 tbsps of sugar and a few dashes more of soy sauce than the 90ml in the recipe. It still turned out well luckily, albeit a little tangier than intended but still delicious!

Roast pork belly with apple, soy and ginger

1 whole pork belly joint (800-900g), boneless
Fine sea salt
1½ tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, peeled, halved and cut into 12 half-wedges
12 garlic cloves, peeled
40g fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
4 whole star anise
3 bay leaves
90ml soy sauce
250ml chicken stock
250ml unsweetened apple juice
70ml apple cider vinegar (try 100-140 ml, or even 250ml if feeling brave!)
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp black peppercorns, crushed
2 medium Pink Lady apples, peeled, cored and cut into eight chunks each
2 spring onions, thinly sliced

  1. Prepare the pork. Using a kitchen towel, dab dry the skin. Use a sharp knife to score the skin of the pork in a crisscross pattern, then rub a teaspoon of fine sea salt into the skin. Leave to air dry for an hour.
  2. Prepare the sauce. Preheat the oven to 185 degrees Celsius/165 degrees Celsius fan. Heat a wok over medium high heat with the oil. Stir fry the onion for about three minutes to soften. Then add the garlic, ginger, star anise and bay leaves and stir again for another three minutes. Add the soy sauce, chicken stock, apple juice, vinegar, sugar and peppercorns and bring to a boil. If you’ve used extra vinegar, taste it and add more sugar if needed.
  3. Roast the pork. Transfer the sauce to a roasting dish and place the pork on it, taking care not to submerge the skin. If the sauce is coming up too high, then use a small metal wire stand so the pork rests on it. Keep the skin dry at all times. Roast for 90 minutes. You can now remove the wire stand and place the apples under the pork to support it. Roast for another 30 minutes.
  4. Make the crackling. Heat a grill to medium high heat. Place the entire dish with the pork and sauce under the grill. Keep moving the pork around and adjust the position every few minutes to ensure the skin is evenly crisp. This will take about 20 minutes.
  5. Remove the pork and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice the pork and place it in a bowl of the sauce. Sprinkle over sliced spring onions and serve.

Pear and frangipane tart

It’s officially autumn. If the cold mornings and chilly nights don’t announce that clearly enough, then the persistent rain definitely does. How about a cosy, comforting tart to counteract all the dreariness? Pears are in season now, and pair up beautifully with the gentle orange-scented frangipane in this classic tart.

My cherished Sainsbury’s blender developed a great big crack in its glass jug when I absentmindedly rinsed it with cold water after blending hot carrot soup in it. There was no saving it so it had to be binned. I bought a new food processor (a Kenwood FPM810 Multipro Sense) but hadn’t christened it with a first use yet, so this recipe was perfect to try it out. I used to make pastry by hand, rubbing the cold butter into the flour, getting sticky and messy, but no more! The food processor made it so easy, with hardly any mess and in barely five minutes I had perfectly made pastry done. It was the same with the frangipane filling, easy peasy. You could just as well use a handheld mixer or a stand mixer for the filling, and mix the pastry by hand if you want to go old school.

I used Mary Berry’s recipe for the tart, and then to ‘tart’ it up (ha) further, Angela Hartnett’s recipe for the poached pears. Use semi-ripe pears, as they will soften further after poaching and baking, and try and get similar sized ones so they look as even as possible on the tart. I reduced the sugar content in the frangipane and poaching liquid and the tart was still plenty sweet for me. Mary Berry’s recipe uses a 28cm diameter, 2.5cm deep flan tin, but I only had a 24cm loose-bottomed one so used that instead. Any pastry and filling leftover I made into a roughly-shaped galette and baked that as well. The chilling steps are important as they help firm up the butter to prevent a greasy tart and relax the gluten, preventing it from becoming tough.

Pear and frangipane tart

Pastry

100g fridge-cold butter, cubed
225g plain flour
25g icing sugar, sieved
1 egg, beaten

Frangipane filling

175g soft butter
125g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
175g ground almonds
40g plain flour
Zest from one orange, finely grated (minus 3 strips)

Poached pears

3 pears, peeled
175g caster sugar
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
3 thick strips of orange zest
1/2 vanilla pod

  1. Make the pastry
    If using a food processor, add the cubed butter, flour and icing sugar into the bowl and process until the mixture resembles ground almonds. Pour in the beaten egg and pulse until the dough starts forming a ball.
    If making by hand, rub the butter into the flour and icing sugar with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Then add in the egg in a well in the centre and gradually draw in the flour and mix until a dough forms.
    Bring it all together into a circular disc shape and wrap in clingfilm. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Make the filling
    In the unwashed food processor, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Gradually add in the beaten eggs. It will look curdled, don’t worry. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to bring in any unbeaten butter and sugar mixture. Add in the ground almonds, flour and orange zest, and mix together for a few seconds until well incorporated.
  3. Roll out the chilled pastry onto a lightly floured surface to about 3mm thickness. Start by flattening it out all over by tapping it with the rolling pin, turning it 90 degrees at a time until it has about doubled in size. Then roll out the pastry sheet, turning it 90 degrees every few rolls until it has reached the desired thickness. To transfer onto the flan tin, roll the pastry up onto the rolling pin, then gently unroll over the tin. Press the pastry right into the edges of the tin and the sides so it will form the fluted edge. Trim the edges and chill in the fridge for another 30 minutes.
  4. Make the poached pears
    In a small saucepan, dissolve the sugar with 500ml of water. Add in everything else, and top up with some water if required to cover the pears. Cover the surface with some baking parchment and weigh down with a small lid or dish to keep the pears submerged. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, depending on initial ripeness. Check they’re done with a small knife – it should pierce the pear easily to the middle. Remove from the liquid and cool.
  5. Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C and place a baking tray in it.
  6. Spoon the frangipane filling into the pastry case until a few millimetres to the top, and smooth out the surface.
  7. Slice each pear into half lengthwise. Remove the core with a teaspoon. Slice each halved pear finely horizontally. Slide your knife under and push down on the pear slices slightly to fan them out. Lift them and place on the frangipane filling. Repeat with the remaining pears, and arrange the slices in a circle to form a six-petal flower.
  8. Place the tin on the baking tray in the oven. Bake for 50 minutes until the almond filling and pastry are golden brown.
  9. Cool in the tin for a few minutes, then remove and cool further on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with crème fraiche, or have it on its own like I did.