Pimped up Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e pepe is that now-trendy Roman pasta dish that is simply pasta, pepper and cheese. The Italians do simple dishes so well, and that is a testament to the quality of their local ingredients.

And then of course I couldn’t help tinkering around with it.

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Simply boil spaghetti in salted water until al dente. Melt some butter in a pan until it is bubbling away, add in pine nuts and black pepper and stir in the spaghetti. Add some pasta water to make loosen it a little. Squeeze in some lemon juice. Serve generously with grated Parmesan and more black pepper to taste.

Just the thing when you’re too lazy to cook anything elaborate but still want something delicious.

 

Whitby Wanderings

G decided one day that a weekend away was in order and planned a surprise trip up north. I badgered him a bit to see if he would give up the destination and bummer he gave in so easily. The man does not hold up well in interrogation.

We drove through the Yorkshire Moors on the way to Whitby. They are as wild and desolate as Charlotte Brontë would have you believe but also really beautiful in their own way. We stopped by for a quick photo op at the Hole of Horcum before carrying on our way. I hiked the area with a couple of friends last year and can honestly say it was one of the most beautiful walks I’ve done.

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The long and winding road……

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We arrived in Whitby sharpish and were immediately buffeted by winds but thankfully it was dry and sunny. The harbour stood pretty in the sunlight with the abbey keeping a watchful eye in the background.

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We made out way to the Humble Pie ‘n’ Mash Shop and fortified ourselves with good ol’ pie, mash, peas and gravy.

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Ah, it was so good getting out of the cold and settling into our chairs by the wood-burning fire. The shop is full of kitschy knicknacks that will keep you occupied during your short wait for the food to arrive.

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G had the steak and stout pie and I chose the lamb, leek and rosemary pie. Delicious comfort food!

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But be warned, they only accept cash here so bring enough for your meal lest you have to dash over to the nearest cash point to get some (as we did).

We walked along the cobblestoned pathways and explored the shops to the left and right.

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And popped behind a row of shops down an alley and found ourselves on a little beach, away from the hustle and bustle. You can just about see the lighthouse on the pier in the background. The wind huffed and puffed us away back into town.

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Leading us to the bottom of the Whitby Steps. All 199 of them. We soldiered upwards and onwards for the sake of good views from above, burning thighs cursing us along the way.

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Up and up we went…

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And were greeted with an imposing view of the Church of St Mary and the graveyard at the top.

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It’s not difficult to imagine with the storm clouds rolling in and standing in the middle of the graveyard how Bram Stoker was inspired to write his horror novel Dracula. Down again we went and towards another beach. By that time the winds got a bit nippy so we retreated to a nearby pub and had some coffee before heading to our B&B.

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But not before a few more shots of Whitby in the golden light.

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Our guesthouse was luxurious by B&B standards and the owners Kath and Peter are the warmest and friendliest of hosts. Peter cooks up a stonking good breakfast as well. Prices are reasonable and the location is within walking distance to the town so it’s a win-win situation in my book.

After a bit of a rest we headed back down into town for a slap-up dinner at the Magpie. These people do good things with their fryer.

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Our pretty table setting of fresh flowers and thistle.

For starters I had breaded whitebait with garlic mayonnaise dip. They were crispy, not at all soggy or oily. G doesn’t like whitebait very much so I had the pleasure of finishing it off by myself.

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But the winner in the starters department was definitely his special of scallops with blue cheese, bacon and a pesto sauce. Oh my, it’s making my mouth water again. Look at those plump and perfectly cooked scallops.

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G had been craving a good fish and chips for a while so plumbed for that as his main – a ‘regular’ sized haddock and chips.

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Look at that monster. Yorkshire portion sizes are no joke. The picture doesn’t do it justice. The haddock was again perfectly cooked and so sweet and juicy underneath that crisp batter coating.

My dish though was the star of the meal. I’ve always loved monkfish and I couldn’t resist ordering it when I saw it on the specials menu. It was a beautiful melange of fish, artichoke, shallots, fried parma ham, potatoes and an amazing gravy. A curious combination, but it worked and I’m sort of sad that I probably won’t have a dish like that again.

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We waddled back home against the strong winds (oh those winds!) and went into a food-induced coma for the rest of the night.

The next day we weren’t so lucky with the weather but made the best of it with a short trip over to Robin Hood’s Bay. These are actually pictures as we were leaving when the weather cleared a little but I wanted to show the view whilst walking down to the bay.

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The village is full of little walkways and nooks and crannies that you can explore

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We watched the waves crashing onto the pier and nipped into the Old Coastguard Station to get a bit of respite from the rain where I met this little nipper who started waving and dancing at me as soon as I got my camera out:

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It was slightly difficult getting a good picture, he wouldn’t stand still. A crabby crab.

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On the way back we spied this little fella through a window.

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We drove back to Whitby for a late lunch where we queued up outside Mr. Chips restaurant in the rain and hail. What a change from the weather the day before. By the time we got in we were wet and cold and starving, I forgot to take any pictures of the food. Rest assured, it was very good and I would thoroughly recommend it. G went for fish and chips again and I went for the little set of small fish and chips with tea. Dessert deserves a mention though. We shared an apple and pear crumble and it was probably the most delicious crumble I’ve had. I think the key to that was a crumble layer that was almost as thick as the single layer of fruit beneath it.

Go to Whitby, stuff yourselves silly on fish and chips, breathe in some salty sea air and leave happy.

ABC soup

I grew up with this soup back in Malaysia, as many of my other friends would have. These springtime days are rather temperamental, so when it’s wet and windy outside nothing beats sinking into a bowl of comforting hot broth. Best thing is, you can leave it on the stove simmering away for a couple of hours whilst you go do other springtime-like chores and when you come back into the kitchen you’ll have wonderful chicken-y goodness wafting your way. It’s so flavourful and sweet that you won’t even to add seasoning at the end. It’s as easy as A-B-C.

ABC soup

Ingredients

1kg chicken wings
2 to 3 other pieces of bone-in chicken e.g. drumsticks, thighs
2 large corn on the cob, cut into 4 pieces each
2 carrots, cut into 2 inch chunks
1 large white onion, quartered then cut into chunks
2 large or 3 medium tomatoes, cut into chunks
A handful of new potatoes, halved
A handful of goji berries (kei chi) or dried Chinese red dates (leave out if you don’t have any)

  1. Put all the ingredients except the potatoes and berries/dates into a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer for a total of two hours. Skim off any scum from the top periodically.
  2. With 30 minutes left to go, add in the potatoes and goji berries/red dates.
  3. Remove the chicken wings from the broth.
  4. Remove the drumsticks/thighs and shred the meat. Or do what I do and serve them whole.

Stuffed Pitta Pockets

Last night was G’s turn to make dinner, and look at the delicious spread he made for us. Plenty of flavours and textures, all customisable according to taste. So much fun layering it all up, then slathering on salsa/guacamole/sour cream before taking a big bite out of them.

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The chicken was spicy, tangy and full of flavour whilst the vegetables added fresh zing and crunch and the toasted wholemeal pitta ensconced everything in its mellow nutty warmth.

My  little pitta pocket balanced precariously on G’s slightly more generous filled pitta. I had three halves and was stuffed with stuffed pitta. G had more. A lot more.

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Looking forward to round two tonight!

Chashu

Happy Year of the Monkey everyone! Being away from home, festivities are not on the same scale but I do try to bring a similar sense of warmth and cheeriness to my little flat. Friends M and J came over for a meal and contributed fantastic fried rice and stirfried seafood udon whilst I made sweet and sour fish, oatmeal prawns, mixed vegetables and this amazing chashu. I stumbled across this website when searching for a recipe for sake beef udon and got totally lost in its pages of well-written text and descriptive photos.

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Chashu is the Japanese version of the Chinese char siu which is braised instead of roasted. This pork belly is so tender and scrumptious and moreish it’s too bad I only made this much! To improve the flavour,  cook it one or two days before and wrap it up so the flavour absorbs into the meat. Feel free to double up the recipe, any leftovers can be slipped into a soft white Taiwanese bun and eaten with the sauce with some sliced spring onions. Anyway, here’s my version of it:

Chashu

400g pork belly
Salt
1/2 tbsp oil
3 spring onions, sliced into 2 inch lengths
2 inch ginger, sliced

Seasoning
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup sake
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tbsp sugar

  1. Heat a wok over moderate high heat. Rub some salt on the pork belly. Heat the oil in the wok until it’s smoking and sear the pork belly until golden brown on all sides.
  2. Put all the seasoning ingredients into a pot and add in the ginger, spring onions and seared pork.
  3. Instead of using a normal lid, fold up some aluminium foil into a circle to fit snugly in the pot and lay it directly on the pork. This is a substitute for otoshibuta which is made out of wood – they are used in Japanese cuisine to allow even heat distribution and the steam to baste the food without stirring.
  4. Lower the heat to medium low and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, turning the pork over occasionally until the liquid has reduced to 1/4 inch depth and becomes thick and glossy. I find placing the pot cover on with the foil still inside for the last 15 minutes caramelises the sauce really well.
  5.  If not eating straightaway, cool and store the pork and sauce in a sandwich bag or do as I did and wrap it all up in cling film and then a layer of foil and refrigerate it.

I hope your New Year’s celebrations are filled with happiness and laughter and lots of good food and drink with loved ones!

Salmon Don

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Sometimes I feel like having some Japanese food without making too much of an effort and I go get myself a nice fillet of salmon and some seafood sticks to make a Japanese rice bowl. I know, there’s probably a negligible amount of actual seafood in those red and white sticks but I like the flavour they add to the dish.

I follow this failsafe recipe for sushi rice from aboutfood.com and I get beautifully sticky and flavoured rice every time. Just alter the ratios to suit the amount of rice you will be cooking. If you want to make it simpler, just use plain boiled short grain Japanese rice.

After that, it’s all a matter of assembling other bits of diced vegetables around or on top of your rice aesthetically enough to take a pic fit for a blog before tucking in. Hah. Here I’ve used some pickled daikon, cucumber and cooked beetroot and topped my rice with Nagatanien’s otanano furikake wasabi (wasabi-flavoured rice seasoning) and also later on added some torn up bits of nori sheets because I lurve my seaweed. I also had a little dish of soy sauce with wasabi to dip my salmon in and a bowl of miso soup on the side. It was such a good midweek dinner!

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Smoothie Goodness

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So in the spirit of eating healthily (or healthier!) for the new year, I’ve started making some vegetable and fruit smoothies to get my five-a-day in. BBC’s What to Buy and Why acknowledged this trend and reviewed smoothie makers from top of the range and budget options. Obviously I was more interested in the budget option models ha. The most popular model most people have is the NutriBullet which doesn’t come cheap so I was interested to see if the lower end models match up to it. The Salter NutriPro 1000 came out tops and I am now the proud owner of a shiny red one! The smoothies turn out, well, smooth with just a bit of texture still and make easy drinking so I’m happy.

I’ve made this fluorescent green delight a few times and it’s pretty delicious and doesn’t taste as vegetal as it looks because of the pineapple. I went posh with cavolo nero instead of normal kale because Lidl happened to have it in stock. The original recipe is from BBC Good Food‘s website and here’s my version of it if you like to try.

Bone builder smoothie

Serves 1

300 ml of coconut & pineapple water
Generous handful of spinach
Generous handful of kale
10cm piece of cucumber, peeled

Whizz it all up in the blender and drink it up whilst it’s still fresh. It tastes nicer and more refreshing when the ingredients are just out of the fridge.

 

 

Lobster Bisque

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Lobster bisque is a rich and decadent creamy soup and one Monday morning when both GH and I were free I decided to have a go at making this for lunch. This is one that requires a lot of love and some lobster butchery to go along with it but all lobster carvery woes will melt away when you have a first sip of the soup. I had a couple of cooked lobsters stored in the freezer from Lidl so I defrosted them and popped them into boiling water for five minutes to heat them up and make a simple base for the stock. I looked through a few recipes online and found this one from the bbcgoodfood website which had lots of good flavour in it. This is my modified version and we both loved its delicious velvety smoothness.

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Lobster Bisque

Serves 4

2 lobsters
Boiling water enough to cover the lobsters
1 tbsp salt
15g (or small bunch) of parsley
400ml white wine (chardonnay is perfect)
1/2 chicken stock cube
2 chopped shallots
4 cloves chopped garlic
1 chopped carrot
2 chopped celery sticks
75g butter
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
1 tbsp tomato puree
80ml dry sherry
150ml single cream
Juice from 1/2 lemon

  1. Boil water with salt, add in lobsters and boil for 5 minutes. Remove lobsters and let cool. Reserve the cooking liquid which will now be your stock.
  2. To get the meat out of the lobsters turn them onto their back and use a sharp heavy knife to cut them into half lengthways all the way. The green bits inside are called the tomally and I removed them but a Jamie Oliver video on youtube mentioned keeping them in, so leaving them in might give more flavour to the stock. One of my lobsters even had roe in it and I put that into my stock as well. The meat from the tail is quite easy to peel away. Then use the back of your knife and give a few heavy taps on the claw to allow you to crack it easily in half crossways and the claw meat should come away quite easily as well. Refrigerate the tail and claw meat. Chop the lobster shells up into 2 inch chunks.
  3. Heat 25g of the butter in a soup pot. Fry the lobster shells at medium high heat for 5 to 10 mins until the smell is maximised. Add in the white wine, parsley, chicken stock and lobster stock and simmer for 45 minutes. Once it is ready, drain the stock and leave aside.
  4. Chop up the shallots, garlic, carrot and celery sticks in a food processor. Melt the rest of the butter in a soup pot and sauté the vegetables, bay leaves and thyme until they’re soft. Add in the tomato puree and stir to give the vegetables a good coating. Add in the stock and sherry and simmer gently for another 45 minutes.
  5. Remove the bay leaves and thyme twigs. Blend the soup until it is smooth, add the cream and return to the hob to reheat. Add in half of the lemon juice.
  6. Melt some butter and oil in a pan and fry the lobster meat for a couple of minutes to warm up. Top with some of the lemon juice left.
  7. Scoop the rich broth into individual bowls and top with the meat. To make it easier to eat, you can chop up the meat into bite-sized chunks.

The Star Inn the City

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GH and I had a lovely weekend getaway in York recently. We were slightly worried about the state of the high street and hotel we booked at given the recent floods but all was good and back to the normal state of things when we got there. As a treat, we booked ourselves for dinner at The Star Inn the City, a casual dining place and sister restaurant to the Michelin-starred Star Inn in Harome. About the only trouble we had in York was navigating our way from the car park to the restaurant itself. Perched right on the edge of the River Ouse, the river walkways were slushy with mud and a poor old tree had also been completely uprooted and had fallen across the walkway into the river. We arrived with slightly muddied shoes but nobody was looking! Prices are not cheap here but the atmosphere was jovial and bustling and the service by our very friendly and knowledgeable waiter together with an amazing menu made it all worthwhile.

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We sat right at the table that’s second from bottom in the picture!

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Two different types of bread with butter to start off with – the bread was freshly baked, crusty on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. I avoided the pitfall on scoffing on all that lovely bread to leave space for the rest of the meal and lucky I did because the bread came in handy for my starter to come.

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This was my starter of hand-picked white whitby crab with pickled baby vegetables, seaweed and some sort of curried crisp bread. Oh my days, this was heavenly. The crab was fresh and had an amazing rich seafood flavour that fresh shellfish imparts and was offset well by the sharp, crisp baby vegetables. I rationed out the crisps to the meat and when it ran out I resorted to spreading out the crab meat onto that delicious bread.

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GH’s starter from the special menu was pretty amazing too. His ‘BLT’ consisted of locally shot wild rabbit on sourdough bread with bacon mayonnaise, chicory & sun-blushed tomatoes. Rabbit dishes I’ve tried in the past were a bit bland, so I don’t know what they did to this meat but it was incredibly flavourful and smoky and needless to say went down GH’s tummy very quickly.

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I ordered the cod and scallops from the specials menu as well. This was pan-fried fillet of Locker’s East Coast cod, seared king scallops, Lishman’s of Ilkley salami, shallot & pontefract cake puree. That cod was divine. You could tell that it was amazingly fresh, the flesh was cooked to just opaque and fell apart under the fork into smooth unctuous flakes. I wasn’t too thrilled with the scallops and thought they could do with more caramelisation and oddly didn’t taste as sweet as scallops usually do but I still enjoyed the dish as a whole.

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This meat fest was GH’s choice aptly called ‘A Celebration of Yorkshire Beef’. You’d have to really enjoy your meat to fully appreciate the whole plate. GH was in meat heaven. That middle hunk was a pan-fried fillet, bottom left is a slow braised rib with meat that just fell apart when you cut into it, as well as some ale & beef sausages and a corned beef & horseradish croquette to round it up. That little cup had the most delicious beef gravy inside. I feel that many restaurants don’t serve enough gravy on the dish and should provide some extra on the side so this was a much appreciated change from the norm.

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This was our token vegetable dish of buttered seasonal vegetables which came in a very generous portion size and actually were the same vegetables I had in my main course. I won’t say no to more greens though!

By now we were stuffed to the brim and had to wait a while before ordering dessert. What, you said? But of course you can’t pass up having a third course in a restaurant this good. We only wanted something light and our nice waiter recommended the raspberry mascarpone cheesecake from the specials menu but we decided to go for the red berry and knickerbocker glory with citrus chantilly. Boy, that was pretty rich and Mr Nice Waiter man couldn’t resist rubbing that in our faces when he came to check on us later.

The food was amazing, the service was attentive and the atmosphere was pretty special but what impressed me the most was how much beyond their call of duty the wait staff went to in order to get me enough change for the car park. They literally had a whip around to get enough coins for me, and when I spotted some macaroons on the side Mr Nice Waiter man snuck away two lovelies for us to take away. (The pay machine at the car park accepted card payments after all that trouble, but their effort was much appreciated!)

Please, go, and enjoy this place with an empty tummy and an open heart and you won’t be disappointed, I guarantee you.

 

(Top two pictures courtesy of york360.co.uk and starinnthecity.co.uk)

Avocado and Egg on Toast

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This is one breakfast that I come back to again and again. It’s comforting, so quick and easy to make and fills your tum right up for the day ahead.

Mash half a really ripe avocado up and spread thickly onto some lovely toasted seeded bread of your choice. Sprinkle the avocado spread with sea salt, black pepper, cumin seeds and chilli flakes. Top with a fried egg with a yolk that still oozes liquid gold when you bite into it and sprinkle with more of the same seasoning. Settle in with a  cuppa strong tea.

For a healthier version, of course you can top with a poached egg but I can’t poach an egg to save my life. One of those skills that I will have to master this year!