Sunday, November 29, 2009

Moutarde à la figue et romarin: fig and rosemary mustard

Frenchies seem to know no limits to their gastronomic decadence. Just when you thought you knew of all their latest fads, there crops up something new again.

Unlike some other nations who attempt ill-conceived culinary innovations for all kinds of wrong reasons, Frenchies always get it right.

I discovered this unusual mustard last year but there still seems no mention of it in English anywhere. It has a delicate extra flavour and an intense light magenta colour but I still prefer the unripe black pepper one from the same producer.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Finocchio alla griglia: roasted Florence fennel

Florence fennel's lovely anisey flavour goes perfect with fish but it is great in its own right just as well.

I pre-marinate it in an all-purpose mix I use for all vegetables that are going to get grilled or roasted. You will need to mix well:
  • a tablespoonful of olive oil;
  • a tablespoonful of aceto balsamico bianco;
  • a pinch of unrefined sea salt;
  • a pinch garlic powder;
  • a pinch freshly ground black pepper.
Slice fennel, soak it in the marinade for a few minutes and roast on white-hot charcoals or griddle pan. Do not overcook, it should stay crunchy on the inside. Serve as a main or side dish or on top of mixed green salad.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Kürtőskalács: Transylvanian stove cake

English jokes about Eastern European cuisines are pretty rich coming from the people whose national dish is vinegar-drenched deep-fried potatoes eaten out of a newspaper cone. But then again the English never seem weary of taking the piss out of French cuisine so it is really a local issue.

Kürtőskalács (pronounced more or less like 'kewrtersh-kalartch') is said to be
Hungary's oldest pastry. It hails from Transylvania, which, despite being populated mostly by ethnic Hungarians, was awarded to Romania after WWI. So, although it is de jure Romanian, de facto it is Hungarian (I'm talking about pastry, not territory here).

Essentially, it is a ribbon of sweet leavened dough wound around a cylinder,
heavily sprinkled with sugar and baked over fire. In the olden days it was turned by hand but these days it is all automatic. When ready it can be sprinkled with caster sugar, cinnamon or chopped nuts. Thanks to it peculiar shape it is also known as chimney cake in English. That is what kürtőskalács actually means in Hungarian too.

In London, I found it in the New Covent Garden market where a very friendly Hungarian lady (on the picture above) plies them for one quid fifty pense a pop.  A veritable yum-orama with a cup of freshly brewed coffee.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Les saveurs de l'automne: autumn root stew

This is a simple recipe that will allow you combine the lovely earthy flavours of autumn vegetables in one powerful stew.

Wash, peel and dice approximately equal amounts of:
  • carrots
  • potatoes
  • parsnips
  • root celeriac
  • pumpkin
  • yams
  • swede
  • buttersquash
Add 2-3 stalks of chopped leeks and stew on medium fire with butter, black pepper, unrefined sea salt, a glass of cream, a glass of water, a dash of dry white wine and a wee pinch of nutmeg until soft. Mind and stir regularly. Serve as a main or side dish.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Cadeaux de l'automne: the gifts of autumn

To escape the drudgery of job search last autumn, I would go walking around the parks. London's parks are gorgeous in autumn hues on a sunny day. Sunshine adds vigour and vitality to the leaves' colours, bizarrely glorifying what is essentially a state of decay and dying. Ranelagh Gardens, a hidden gem near Sloane Square, are my favourite.

I also like all the gifts of nature that come in the fall: pumpkins, chestnuts, game, all root veggies with their earthy flavours. I just went shopping yesterday and bought 3 bags of those. The colours, the sense of abundance somehow links in my brain with the human middle age, when wisdom (with some luck) finally triumphs.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Paprikakrém: shortcut to goulash and not only

I don't always mind shortcuts in cooking. The traditional goulash recipe takes up to two hours of boiling down paprika into gravy. You can bypass that by using a ready-made gulyaskrém, paprika paste for goulash.

Hungarians don't expect foreigners to be interested in this product, so you can only get hold of it in Hungary, nor is there any information on the tubes in any language besides Hungarian. However, you only need to know two words: csípős (hot) and félédes (mild). My preference goes for the
félédes version for making actual goulash or pörkölt - it does not overwhelm the rest of the stew's flavours. The csípős version is fab as a spicy spread for sandwiches, it has the kind of kick and favour quite unlike anything else spicy. My favourite combination is tomato slices topped with bresaola, fresh basil leaves and paprikakrém.

Now scan the net for cheap ticks to Hungary and off you go! I once flew to Budapest for 48 Euros, return all included. I wish you the same luck!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hwe moochim: Korean fish carpaccio (회무침 )

Hwe MoochimThis is perhaps the best way to describe this dish: Korean fish carpaccio. Unlike the typical miserly platters of 3 paper-thin sheets of meat you get in Italian restos, hwe moochim (회무침 ) is a main in its own right so servings are rather large. It always takes me a while to tuck it in, coupled with a bowl of rice,

So what exactly is hwe moochim (sometimes also spelt hwe muchim)? Multiple slivers of raw fish on a generous mound of shredded raw vegetables doused in liberal quantities of gochujang-based sauce, whereto it owes its Technicolor hues. It is not as spicy as it looks though: it even has a touch sweetness that only underlines the pleasant texture of the raw fish.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Malako: Thai papaya

ack in my vegan days (can't believe it actually happened to me!) I had periods when I would go fruitarian. That is, sustaining mostly on fruit. As I lived in Bangkok there was no lack of variety nor a burden on my budget.

The large and oblong squash-shaped variety of papaya that is common in Thailand is my favourite. Besides it is dirt cheap in that neck of the woods, in the ballpark of 20-40 Euro cent a pop.

When not yet ripe papaya is shredded to make the main ingredient for Thailand's national salad som tam. The authentic Thai way of eating ripe papaya requires sprinkling it with fresh lime juice.


Thai language school and translation agency in Bangkok, Thailand offering Thai, Chinese, English, Japanese, Russian and Laotian (Lao, Isarn, Isaan) language courses.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Bavarian käsespätzle

aving spent half my adult life in Asia, I love street food. In Bavaria they seem to know food but this one turned out a bit of disappointment.

Käsespätzle are a sort of oblong gnocchi smothered in cheese and toasted onions. Although the concept is good, ours were really salty. A nice gimmick concept, the waffle bowl that you can eat alongside with the dish, tasted like cardboard. Other people we asked who also bought from the same stall concurred. Four euros fifty well wasted.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Schnitzeltag im München: poor traveller's Thursday

Every Thursday is a Schnitzeltag in Munich. A Gargantuesque breaded veal steak with a generous side costs you under a tenner. Mine was at least a pound weight, horseradish-flavoured, came with a side of stir-fried veggies and set me back 8 Euros, dirt-cheap for Munich.

The homey eatery on Sendlingenthorplatz (quite a mouthful even before you get around to eating!), right on the edge of the Altstadt (Old City) felt like somebody's oversized dining-room.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Gros Sel de Guérande: the pure pelagic essence

Great food takes great ingredients. You can't expect to build a splendid palace using dung-bricks, can you?

Gros Sel de Guérande, is unrefined hand-raked sea salt from Brittany.Nothing added, nothing removed, it is pure essence of the ocean and all the extra minerals give my cooking that extra edge.

Hand-raked, by the way, does not mean that hapless Breton peasants rake it with their bare hands. In fact, it is women with their light touch, who are trusted to scratch off the upper layer of
crystallised salt with rakes.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hofbräuhaus @ München

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ch'ti ambrée: French beer

rance may not be world-famous for beer but those guys are good with any kind of food and drink. In the North, where wine can't be made, they make excellent beer, perry and cider