Bloggers whose opinions I trust have been recommending Pearl Liang for some years now, but its Paddington location has put me off. It’s not that Paddington is all that hard to get to but it just feels so out of the way to me; it’s probably a mental block…

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But it popped into my mind again when searching for a nice restaurant within walking distance of Clifton Nurseries. My sister and I had originally planned to take mum to Chelsea Physic Gardens for Mothering Sunday, but when we had to reschedule to the day before, I discovered the gardens are not open on a Saturday. Cue some panicked Googling for some alternate garden-based attractions we could explore. In the end, we settled upon Little Venice and Clifton Nurseries.

Mum is pescetarian, so Pearl Liang fit the bill very well, offering plenty of seafood and vegetarian options.

Pete joined us, and we ordered a selection of dim sum and main dishes to share between the four of us.

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King’s Crabmeat With Egg White Dumplings (£3.20) were fragile but absolutely delicious, generously filled with flavoursome crab meat.

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Spinach Vegetable Dumplings (£2.70) tasted wonderfully vegetal, fresh and minerally. With bright yellow kernels of sweetcorn alongside the spinach, they were beautiful to look at too.

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I didn’t know siu long bao are also known as Shanghai dumplings but I asked a waitress and, despite my no-doubt awful pronunciation, she quickly pointed out Shanghai Dumplings With Pork (£2.80) on the menu. The wrappers were much thicker than those I’ve now had a few times at Leong’s Legend, but the broth and meat inside were really tasty, and the thicker skin made them less fragile, so less chance of losing the soup!

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I think these were Prawn & Chive Dumplings (£2.80). Like everything else, fresh and tasty.

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I love Paper Wrap Sesame Prawn Rolls (£3) and order them wherever and whenever I have dim sum. These were absolutely wonderful – light and crispy, without being at all greasy, and with really great freshness of flavours in the filling. Really, really good!

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The Shredded Taro Crispy Prawn Rolls (£2.80) had some different flavours to the ubiquitous spring rolls I’ve had elsewhere (though I can’t say I order them often as I’m not usually a fan). These ones I rather liked though, something within gave a fabulous hit of umami flavour.

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Last in the dim sum orders was Cheung Fun With Fried Dough (£3.00), another staple order of mine. The flavours were great, but I found the cheung fun wrapper a little too thick. I love the glutinous texture of cheung fun but find that thinner versions allow it to balance better against the contents. Just a personal preference.

As always, I ordered far too many dim sum items given what was still to come, but we continued gamely on…

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My sister put in a request for Seafood Lettuce Wrap (£8.80) and I’m so glad she did. The seafood filling came served in an omelette lace (that’s the only way I can describe it) and was just fantastic. The ingredients were the familiar mix but somehow fresher and with more flavour, and generous amounts of prawn and scallop. I know I’ll return to Pearl Liang again and I suspect this dish will be ordered on every single visit!

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We dithered between a fish dish and some tofu. The sea bass seemed incredibly expensive, with turbot even more so (at over £40) so we plumped for tofu, especially as we already had the seafood lettuce wrap. The Braised Crispy Bean Curd in Brown Sauce (£8.80) was my joint favourite dish of the day, it really was fabulous. Each morsel of tofu was silky soft within and yet fried to a perfect crispiness outside. The sticky brown sauce bound everything together and gave a great savoury flavour. This dish really was far better than my words can convey.

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We did consider ordering the infamous lobster noodles (market price on the day) but decided instead on the far more reasonably priced Assorted Vegetable Fried Crispy Noodle (£6.80). Decent and tasty.

We also ordered a dish of Gai Lan (£8) in garlic, which was very good.

Drinks wise, we stuck to tea – I went for ti kwan yin and the others for jasmine.

Stuffed to bursting point, we were surprised by how low our bill was; £60-70 between four of us, service included. For the quality and volume of food we enjoyed, I think that’s very good value indeed.

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Pearl Liang on Urbanspoon
 

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Today, I get to continue my mission to sample all the beer brewed in London, this time with Sambrook’s Brewery. Based in Battersea, they’ve been brewing since 2008 in both draft and bottled form and, as we shall see, they certainly know a thing or two about great beer!

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We start with Wandle, a 4.2% golden ale (3.8% on draft) named after one of the many tributaries to the Thames. There are some pretty big bubbles lurking (you can see them all clinging to the side of the glass, above) and the head is very open, and short lived too. It has an impressively malty nose for such a light coloured beer, and there’s some fairly light, fruity hop notes too. On tasting, there’s more of those gentle malt flavours, with a subtle but distinct undercurrent of hops right the way through and a distinct sweetness there too. Despite a slight exuberance of bubbles, it has a pleasant enough mouthfeel, and goes down very easily. It’s a nice session beer, if a little on the gassy side.

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Next up is Junction, at 4.5%. This is a darker golden beer, with finer bubbles and a more lingering head. It’s another beer with a tempting malty nose, with a woody hoppiness present too. It’s a better balanced beer than Wandle, the sweetness is – not less pronounced, it’s almost stickily sweet, but it’s somehow not so “in your face” – and works better with the bitterness of the hops towards the end. The finer bubbles lead to a finer, more satisfying body, and there’s a some dark fruit flavours there too. Again, goes down very easily and quickly (and it’s more than half gone before I’ve even finished this paragraph).

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Lastly, Powerhouse Porter is a dark, rich looking 5% porter; deep, deep brown with an open, fairly short lived head. Not big on the nose, but in the mouth there’s a rich, sweet dark malt – almost that black treacle bitterness, sweet but without being sticky. There’s some other sweet notes – the best I can do is milk chocolate toffee – after the burst of bubbles in your mouth fade and before the lingering bitterness clears away the sweetness. It’s a nice, medium body – lighter than you might expect from the colour. It’s delicious; not hugely complex but just very, very nice.

Overall, I’m a big fan of Sambrook’s. My tasting notes for all three bottles say basically the same thing – delicious, easy drinking, where’s my beer gone? They’re a worthy addition to my list of London breweries whose bottles I want to be keeping in permanent stock!

They’re a brewery that I’ve managed to find several times on tap (primarily Wandle) and that’s the best way to sample their beers. If you don’t get lucky and find them in your local, I got this collection from one of my usual online beer suppliers, Ales By Mail.

 

Jesse Dunford Wood is a nutter genius.

Nutter, meant in the most affectionate way – charming, daft, surprising, friendly, eccentric, lovely…

Genius, as in an exceptionally fine cooking talent.

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Jesse posing in front of a 1952 photo of his grandfather Tom Stacey, author, publisher, chef at The Savoy and Notting Hill local.

Currently the lead chef at The Mall Tavern in Notting Hill, Dunford Wood has an illustrious CV.

He started his training in Scotland’s The Witchery and then the Atrium before learning high-end French cooking at Michael Caines’ Gidleigh Park in Devon. From there he went to Australia, working in top Sydney restaurants; He cooked French-Japanese fusion with chef Nori Sugie at VII and French at Mark Best’s Marque. Back in London, Dunford Wood worked at Le Gavroche with chef Michel Roux Jr, and then as sous chef at Rowley Leigh’s Kensington Place. Itchy feet must have struck again because he was then off to America, working at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and then a couple of successful NY restaurants. Back in London once again, he teamed up with Oliver Peyton, and was the executive chef at The National Dining Rooms in The National Gallery.

And now he is head chef at his own place – somewhere far more laid back and casual than most of the places where he’s learned his trade. But don’t let that fool you, The Mall Tavern is pretty special.

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photo from pub website

It’s a lovely old pub that’s been stylishly modernised without losing all its traditional character. This shouldn’t be too surprising given that Dunford Wood’s two partners are the Perritt Brothers, who also own The Regent in Kensal Green and The Stag in Hampstead. The Perritts have a reputation for taking on and refurbishing pubs that have seen better days and bringing in top quality food and drink menus.

The Mall Tavern is warm, welcoming and, when we arrive on a Thursday evening, it’s absolutely packed and buzzing with conversation.

There are ten of us friends meeting for dinner tonight and the fact that we’re about to have one of the best meals I’ve had in some time is all down to the lovely MiMi (of Meemalee’s Kitchen) who cleverly booked us the Kitchen Table and a fixed price feast menu.

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rules of the kitchen!

Dunford Wood disarms me immediately by telling me he recognises me – he saw me give my little rant on stage at Mixed Grill (though I don’t dare ask what he thought of it).

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He ushers us in with warm welcomes and we quickly take our places at the long, sturdy table at one end of the kitchen.

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image by CCs adventures in space (flickr creative commons license)

Full of energy, Dunford Wood hops about ensuring we’re all settled in, takes drinks orders and also places a strange fruit or vegetable in front of us, challenging us to identify it. We’re quite flummoxed for ages but suddenly, the shape of that funny knob at the top makes me think again and I wonder if it’s a cashew fruit? I’ve never seen these, though Dunford Wood later tells us his mum just brought it back for him from India, where they grow plentifully. I shall seek them out next time I visit. I do recall watching something on TV about them many, many years ago. I have a feeling the nut is poisonous until it’s been processed.

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MiMi cuts the cashew fruit into pieces for us to try. But it must be under ripe. Never before has something made my mouth feel so incredibly furry! The taste is actually quite pleasant, though I bet it’s far nicer when fully ripe. But, that furry feeling is just horrid!

Onto the proper food…

Dunford Wood’s menu focuses on British food with lots of comforting classics – many of which are sadly seldom seem on menus anymore.

Instead of us making individual choices, Dunford Wood brings out lots of different dishes for us to share. With ten of us, he brings two of each dish and more dishes just keep coming and coming and coming and coming. And as quickly as we finish them, they are refilled and come again!

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Our starters include still warm soda bread and butter, gala pork pie with mushroom ketchup, fried brie and cranberry sauce, home smoked salmon, mushroom and chestnut pate with marinated shimeji mushrooms, whipped goats cheese with squash and pepitas (squash seeds), rabbit terrine with caper mayonnaise, pork crackling and bramley apple sauce, chicken liver pate with pickled red onion parsley and half pint glasses of sweet “fartichoke” crisps (Dunford Wood’s pun, not mine!)

By the time the onslaught of starters dies down, we are pretty full. But of course, the mains are still to come.

Again, the serving style is perfect for a relaxed groups of good friends – Dunford Wood serves two each of 6 different mains, randomly placing one dish in front of each of us and a few more in the centre of the table, with instructions to pass them all around. (This is not the dining experience for germ-paranoia folks!)

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Chicken Kiev is one of The Mall Tavern’s signature dishes and certainly one Dunford Wood has become known for. Served on a potato rosti and with lashings of garlic butter inside, the chicken is moist with a crunchy coating. Glorious!

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Cow Pie, filled with gloriously tender and richly flavoured beef and punctured with a marrow bone chimney, is a very fine pie indeed. This is one of the favourite dishes.

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A fine looking pithivier is introduced as a posh pigeon pasty! Moist pigeon meat, light pastry, all very tasty.

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I can’t remember now what this fish dish is, though I’m fairly sure it’s seabass. It ‘s light, fresh, delicious and deserves a stronger memory but the other dishes are so good, it’s up against stiff competition!

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I don’t dislike vegetarian food but I’m seldom tempted away from the meat to order a vegetable main when dining out. This dish of red-wine poached eggs with chestnuts, cipollini onions and mushrooms on smoked mashed potatoes is truly mind-blowing for me – it is rich, savoury, unctuous and deeply satisfying. I could eat the whole plate on my own, though I reluctantly share.

Mat sulks that I’m keener on Dunford Wood’s smoky mash than his, but I think he quickly forgives me!

It’s not often that I’d travel across London for a veggie dish, but I would for this one!

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The enormous pork chops have been brined and then breaded. Definitely meaty man food, according to our resident cave man!

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We are also invited to try an experimental Uncle Sam’s Hot dog, which is a meaty fine sossidge! It needs a pile of caramelised onions, some mustard and lots of ketchup!

Believe it or not, after all that food, there are desserts too!

As with the starters, Dunford Wood serves these family-style, for sharing.

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Dunford Wood has a bit of a thing for arctic rolls. His versions are fabulous, especially the raspberry though the malted whisky and chocolate, chocolate orange and classic ones are excellent too. We also have Neapolitan ice cream, rhubarb jelly, clementine cheesecake, hot apple turnover with quince ice cream and a rich, moist rhubarb and almond bakewell cake.

I can hardly move. Not that this stops me trying absolutely everything!

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Coffee comes with Dave the cook’s salted caramel “rolos”.

I have one of those Batchelors cup-a-soup mugs too, by the way!

Finally, our epic feast is over. We are sated.

And – I’m sure you’ll find this as unbelievable as I did – this fantastic meal, this amazing experience, costs us just £35 a head for the meal plus drinks. Our final bill comes to £50 a head including a tip!

In terms of food, ambience, service, experience… this has been one of the most enjoyable meals I can remember.

Go! Soon!

The Mall Tavern
71-73 Palace Gardens Terrace
London W8 4RU

Mall Tavern on Urbanspoon

 

I had no intention to blog any further about Easter chocolate eggs, after the Great Easter Egg Review and the posh Crème Eggs, but I simply must share the delights of one more egg with you!

To my shame, I failed to invite Gorvett & Stone to participate in my review – I simply didn’t think of it, which is remiss of me given they are one of the first decent chocolatiers I discovered, a few years ago.

But, whilst I forgot them, they didn’t forget me and recently asked me to join a customer panel providing feedback on their products, a few of which they sent me recently. I have filled in my questionnaire on this product already, which is all they were looking for, but I absolutely have to blog too because I’ve just found another favourite!

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The Bang Egg (£16.95) is made from Valrhona Jivara 40% – a delicious top quality, creamy, fruity chocolate. Within the chocolate is a generous amount of popping candy, so beloved to those of us who grew up in the eighties, and currently enjoying a bit of a retro revival.

I broke the thick egg open which was harder than it looked – I heeded the instruction on the outside and banged it hard against the table. I popped a large piece into my mouth. At first, the popping candy effect seemed far too subtle and, whilst I loved the taste and texture of the chocolate, I was a little disappointed.

But then, just as I was sucking the last remnants of the chocolate, a crescendo of popping built and my mouth came to life!

It sounded like the calls of a million tiny reed frogs just before night fall in Africa.

And, in one of life’s funny little “freak you out” moments, I immediately went to their site to find out more, and that’s when I discovered that they make exploding chocolate frogs out of the same heady mix!

This one’s a winner, folks!

 

As I wrote recently, I fell in love with Saraban: A chef’s journey through Persia by Greg & Lucy Malouf, the moment I saw it.

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In this post, I want to share a most wonderful recipe from the book – tahcheen-e morgh (baked yoghurt rice with chicken).

During a talk I attended recently, Greg was asked to describe the one dish that summed up Persian cuisine for him. He answered:

“There is one dish that is the centre of the universe for Iranians and that is rice… the way they cook it with a crispy edge, it’s like suckling pig!”

Many questions later, he was asked about any particularly difficult cooking techniques:

“The rice! I really like making it… it’s really easy… but there are five minutes of sweating at the end to see if there’s a crust!”

Having taken that comment to heart, I was certainly a little nervous about how the dish would turn out, apprehensive about how disappointing it would be if I failed to get the fabled crunchy crust.

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To my delight, the crust was magnificent and the dish delicious. I can’t wait to make it again!

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Tahcheen-e morgh

Baked yoghurt rice with chicken

Ingredients
250 grams thick natural yoghurt
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons saffron liquid *
1 teaspoon orange-flower water +
finely grated zestof 1 orange
1 teaspoon sea salt ^
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
500 grams boneless free-range chicken breast and thighs, skin removed and cut into 2 cm cubes ~
400 grams basmati rice
2 tablespoons sea salt^
80 grams butter, plus extra for greasing

*The recipe for saffron liquid specifies 20 strands of saffron to 2 tablespoons of boiling water, instructing that they be lightly, briefly and carefully toasted in a dry pan over medium heat, ground in a mortar and infused in boiling water for at least 1 hour. I dislike the strong earthy taste that comes from too much saffron so I used approximately 10 strands in 3 tablespoons of boiling water and didn’t bother to toast them before infusing.

+I didn’t have any orange-flower water so used just 2 tiny drops of (the much stronger) natural orange extract that I had in stock. This worked well.

~ I prefer the taste and texture of thigh, so used only thigh meat and no breast.

^As the first teaspoon of salt was to be used in the marinade and the second two tablespoons were used to cook the rice, I used ordinary table salt instead of sea salt.

Method

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  • Beat the yoghurt with the egg yolks, saffron liquid, orange-flower water, zest, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Add the chicken to the yoghurt mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours ahead of time.
  • Wash the rice thoroughly, then leave it to soak in a generous amount of lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Swish it around with your fingers every now and then to loosen the starch. Strain the rice, rinsing it again with warm water.
  • Bring 2.5 litres of water to the boil in a large saucepan. Add the salt and stir in the strained rice. Return the water to a roiling boil and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Test the rice by pinching a grain between your fingers or by biting it. It should be soft on the outside, but still hard in the centre. Strain the rice and rinse again with warm water. Toss it several times to drain away as much of the water as you can.

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  • Preheat the oven to 190 C and butter a 2 litre ovenproof dish. Remove the chicken pieces from the yoghurt marinade. Mix half of the parboiled rice with the marinade and spoon it into the base of the ovenproof dish. Spread the rice over the bottom and up the sides of the dish. Arrange the chicken on top of the rice, then spoon the rest of the rice to cover, and smooth the surface. Cover tightly with a sheet of lightly buttered foil and bake for 1.5 hours.

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  • Remove the dish from the oven and dot the surface of the rice with bits of butter. Replace the foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Turn the rice out onto a warm serving platter.

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  • Serve with a bowl of creamy yoghurt and a selection of fresh herbs – tarragon, basil, chives and parsley would be lovely.

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We didn’t have a suitably shallow ovenproof dish, so we used a deeper cast-iron casserole. Although we buttered very liberally, we were not able to turn the dome of baked rice and chicken out whole. In fact it wouldn’t come out at all! Instead, we had to serve it from the dish, ensuring that each plate received a generous piece of the crunchy crust.

We served it with thick natural yoghurt with parsley, coriander, dill and chives (the four herbs used in the kuku-ye sabzi (soft herbed omelette) recipe we had made recently, also from Saraban.


Published by Hardie Grant Books, Saraban: A chef’s journey through Persia is currently available from Amazon.co.uk for £17.62 (RRP £30).

 

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Late last month, Paul A Young tweeted about his latest creation:

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I was quite excited… I’m a huge fan of his original chocolate brownie, a huge fan of Billington’s sugars, especially their muscovado and a huge fan of marzipan. (Addict would be closer to reality on that last one).

I’ve used Billington’s unrefined sugars and I used the same dark muscovado in this fabulous Nigella dense chocolate loaf cake recipe. Their sugars really do bring their own flavour to any finished dish they’re used in; if you’ve not tried them before, I thoroughly recommend them.

April has been quite a month for having wishes granted… lo and behold, another wand was waved and one of Paul’s Simnel Brownies was dispatched in my direction – lucky Kavey!

I was a little apprehensive as we missed delivery on Friday and, not knowing what the parcel contained, didn’t manage to collect it till Tuesday afternoon. However, having popped it into the fridge on arrival, I finally opened it on Wednesday evening and was relieved it was still in tip top condition.

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And in a darling little ribbon-tied box too!

The brownies were inspired by a Simnel cake. These light fruit cakes, covered in marzipan and with more baked into the middle, are traditionally eaten on Easter, though they were originally made as a Mothering Sunday gift.

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Paul has taken combined his usual Valrhona chocolate brownie goodness with dried vine fruits, Billington’s dark muscovado sugar, golden syrup, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and marzipan.

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The result is a deeply decadent and rich brownie, fudgy in Paul’s usual style, with the heady fruit and spice of Simnel cake.

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The top is delightfully crunchy – pieces of marzipan and a muscovado sugar crust. It gives a nice contrast to the softness within. Mine was so gooey I happily ate it with a spoon…

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My only request would be for a little more marzipan. While the texture came through, the flavour was mostly lost against the rich spices, dried fruits and chocolates. I’d have loved a hidden layer of marzipan half way down, just like in a Simnel cake!

At £4.50 each these beauties are a little pricey but, like Paul’s salted caramel Easter egg, they are worth it. They aren’t available to order online, but you can buy them directly from Paul’s shops. If you call, you might be able to persuade them to send one by mail order.

Apr 132011
 

Vimto Competition won by Kanga_Rue

Interflora Hamper
won by Jaz.Whitt

Tesco Easter Eggs won by @LardUK

Tickets to BBC Good Food Show won by Anonymous (Sue), @shal777 and Inside the Wendy House.

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Interflora hamper – a very happy mum!

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Easter eggs and very happy little ones!

 

I fell in love with this book the moment I saw it, on a friend’s coffee table, towards the end of last year.

Sitting in her flat, steaming a number of Christmas puddings and occasionally checking they hadn’t run low on water, I had plenty of time to give the book lots of attention. By the time the pudding tasters arrived, I had reached page 135!

Soon after that, the same friend bought me a copy for Christmas, an unexpected and wonderful gift! (Thank you, Sarah)

Saraban: A chef’s journey through Persia, by Greg & Lucy Malouf, is about the Maloufs’ journeys through the culinary landscapes of ancient Persia and modern-day Iran.

It’s definitely one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen.

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There is an extravagant richness of colour, patterns and texture. The book is full of vibrant photographs of architecture and landscapes, of small details and wide open views, of the people of Iran, and, of course, of the wonderful food. The publishers have been generous with their choice of materials and finishes; I particularly love the shiny metallic copper-coloured pages used liberally throughout the book and the matching ink used for shimmering recipe titles on white paper pages. Each chapter is welcomed by another coppery page with the most beautiful star-shaped arabesque fretwork cut into it. It is simply a sumptuous feast of a book!

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The Maloufs have already received much acclaim for their previous books Arabesque, Moorish, Saha and Turquoise (about travels and food in the Middle East and North Africa, the same plus Spain and the Eastern Mediterranean, Lebanon & Syria and Turkey, respectively). Born in Australia to Lebanese parents, Greg is also well-respected for his successful restaurant MoMo, which serves modern Middle Eastern cuisine. Lucy, (no longer married to Greg) is a food and travel writer; it is her evocative prose that pulls Greg’s recipes together.

In Saraban, Greg and Lucy explore Persian cuisine, one of the oldest in the world, with an influence that spread across India, the Middle East, North Africa and even into Iberia and Medieval Europe.

As well as being a visual feast, the content of the book draw me in completely.

It starts with a story that reveals how the book got its name; a chance encounter in their hotel one evening with two young Tehrani women and their male cousin who is acting as their guide. After some lively conversation the two begin to sing… “ay saraban, ay caravan“… What does it mean? They explain that their cousin is their saraban, their guide. In the days of the camel trains or caravans, the saraban was the head of the train, the one whose job it was to lead travellers safely across the desert.

Also in the introduction is an acknowledgement of how Iran is perceived by most of the world through the reaction to its politics and religion. Yet the long history, rich culture, warm and welcoming people and fabulous cuisine get far less attention.

The next few pages give some history and current day context to the Maloufs’ visit and try and convey a little of this fascinating country.

Despite making genuine efforts to follow current affairs and international politics, I confess that I’d never really got my head around the Shia and Sunni divide; source of so much friction in Iran. In just four paragraphs, the Maloufs present the facts in such a way that I understand, for the first time. For this one short passage alone, the book deserves its place on my bookshelf.

Of course, there is an introduction to Persian food which looks at the roles of history, climate and terrain (and the bounties they provide), Persia’s position on ancient trade routes and also the influences of religion (which resulted in the prohibition of alcohol and the use of verjuice and other non-wine-based souring agents, for example). There is also recognition of how much Persian cuisine has influenced not just neighbouring and nearby countries but much farther afield, into Europe and along the old Silk Road.

Some of you will recognise Hippocrate’s categorisation of blood, yellow bile, phlegm and black bile as bodily representations of earth, air, fire and water. What you may not realise is that these were originally so classified by Zoroaster (the founder of the founder of Zoroastrianism), before being further developed by Hippocrates and his theory of humours. Zoroaster advised that health and happiness could be achieved by maintaining balance in the body. This gave rise to the Zoroastrian diet system which classes different foods as garm (hot) or sard (cold) and is still widely followed to this day. It continues to inform traditional dishes and meals and minor ailments are often first treated by tweaking the diet.

Having learned (just a very little) about Ayurvedic principles from my mother and aunt, I was struck by the similarities between this Persian classification of foods into hot and cold and the Ayurvedic classifications of sattvic, rajasic and tamasic. It’s perhaps even closer to the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang which advocates balancing light and dark or, in food terms, ingredients with cold and hot properties.

The introduction goes on to describe the place of food in Persian celebration and festivals and also the culture and rituals of eating.

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image from book

Lastly, the Maloufs clarify that the book is not intended to be a definitive collection of traditional Persian recipes. Such tomes exist already and are excellent. Rather, it is a book about the country, its people and its food, and the recipes have been tweaked or modernised by Greg. The idea is to share flavours, ideas, techniques and dishes in a way that makes the cuisine accessible, enjoyable and practical.

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images from book

The rest of the book is filled with evocative passages about their travel experiences, the people they encountered, the food they tasted… and of course recipes, all illustrated with truly beautiful photography.

I was entranced by the book and eager to meet the authors. Luckily, I was invited to attend a talk they gave in February, hosted by Made in Camden.

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The Maloufs, and their book, were introduced by Mr Vahid Alaghband, the chairman of the The Iran Heritage Foundation, which describes itself as “a non-political UK registered charity with the mission to promote and preserve the history, languages and cultures of Iran and the Persian world.”

Mr Alaghband explained, “We Persians love to feast. We feast at the time of mourning let alone feasting for celebration!

After a slide show of images from the book, Lucy talked to us first and started by telling us about how little they’d known about Persia/ Iran before their two visits, and how they had, perhaps, shared some of the misperceptions commonly held by much of the world. Certainly, they had not imagined quite how much Persia has given to the rest of the world – the first charter of human rights, the first postal service, the first windmill and watermill, algebra, chess, and the clever technique to build the agreeably-named squinch – a construction that allows a spherical dome to be built on square supporting walls. She also read some beautifully poetic passages from the book, about their experiences in Iran.

Then Greg took the microphone to talk to us more specifically about the food they encountered and about his recipes. During their time in Iran, they researched many traditional dishes, observing them being cooked not just in restaurants but also in the many homes into which they were invited and welcomed, asking lots of questions and taking many notes and photographs. From this base, Greg developed and tweaked the recipes to suit his style, not to mention ingredients and equipment readily available outside Iran. For example, provolone in kuku-ye kadoo (white zucchini omelette) is certainly not traditional, but Greg loves what it adds to the dish.

He also admitted that, as a third generation Lebanese in Australia, he had always been convinced that Lebanon was the most hospitable nation on earth. After his travels in Iran, he was willing to concede that this title should rightly belong to the Iranians!

Most of those attending were Iranians living in the UK, and the pride in their country and food heritage was palpable. They loved the book and images, and asked lots of questions.

Asked about which one dish summed up Persian cuisine for him, Greg answered:

“There is one dish that is the centre of the universe for Iranians and that is rice… the way they cook it with a crispy edge, it’s like suckling pig!”

Many questions later, he was asked about any particularly difficult cooking techniques:

“The rice! I really like making it… it’s really easy… but there are five minutes of sweating at the end to see if there’s a crust!”

So, when it came to choosing which recipes to try first, I had no hesitation.

For the first, it had to be one of the crusted rice bakes, rice being at the core of Persian cuisine. I chose the tahcheen-e morgh (baked yoghurt rice with chicken).

The other was also an easy choice. One of my favourite local restaurants, and my regular haunt for kuku-ye sabzi (soft herb omelette), closed early this year. It was time to learn how to make my own.

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I was absolutely delighted with the results of both these recipes and will be sharing them in upcoming posts soon. (Here is the tahcheen-e morg recipe)

As you can probably tell, I recommend this book wholeheartedly, and can’t wait to try more recipes from it. If you make (or have made) any of the recipes from Saraban, do please let me know how they turned out!


Published by Hardie Grant Books, Saraban: A chef’s journey through Persia is currently available from Amazon.co.uk for £18.11 (RRP £30).

 

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I stumbled across the Mersea Island Brewery at a food festival last year. Actually, what I stumbled across was the Mersea Island Vineyard stall (wines from Essex? who knew?!) and noticed that one end of their stall was filled with the bottles above, looking distinctly un-winelike.

I must confess that in the end I didn’t try their wines (they only produce whites and I’m more of a red man) but I did bring home a full set of their bottle conditioned ales to try – and I’m very glad I did!

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Island Yo Boy (well, it is an Essex brewery after all!) is a 3.9% golden bitter ale. It pours as a nice light amber, clear (except when you eagerly pour all the yeast into the glass as I did in the picture!) with a generous, open head that lingers fairly well. There are nice floral hops on the nose, and a nice medium body. There’s a surprising amount of fizz, light on the malt but with a really tasty balance of bitter and aromatic hops. A light, easy drinking session ale – very tasty, and a great start to the evening!

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Next is Island Gold, a 4.5% beer made with lager malt and hops. A pale gold colour, with a less pronounced head on it. There is very little smell to it, just a hint of sweetness and light fruits, almost grape-like. It has a similarly understated taste, with a gentle but surprisingly deep malt flavour, light on the bitterness and more of that green fruitiness. Again lots of fizz but that’s more to be expected with this one; it’s an interesting lager-style beer with a little more flavour to it than you might expect. Not my normal beer drinking cup of tea but it’s a good example of the style.

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Island Skippers is a 4.8% Best Bitter; a nice reddish brown in the glass with another generous and open head on pouring. It has a delicious malty nose with milk chocolate and just a hint of coffee roasting; it smells darker than it looks. There is a wonderful smooth mouth feel, a generous body, buckets of malt and a nice undercurrent of hoppy bitterness. Another great beer that hits the spot.

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Next is Island Oysters, at 5.1% – the first of two properly dark beers. Pouring such a dark brown as to be almost black, it has a generous if slightly short lived rich brown head on it. On the nose, rich dark chocolate and black coffee. In the mouth, a bold, full body, sweet without being sticky. Distinctly chocolatey, with little bitterness coming through. Deliciously drinkable.

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And so, finally, to Island Monkeys, at 4.5%. Still dark, although marginally less so than the Oysters and with a finer textured, more lingering tan coloured head. There’s a generous amount of chocolate and liquorice on the nose. It still has a firm body but is lighter than the Oysters; dark malt and black treacle flavours but not hugely sweet. Bitterness is much more pronounced this time, with a slightly peculiar bitter aftertaste which spoils it a little. Nice, but not their best.

Overall, a very tasty collection of beers with Skippers and Oysters both deserving of a special mention. I haven’t seen the brewery listed on the usual online suppliers, so your best bet is either to get lucky and find them in your local, or order direct from the brewery itself.

 

I came to wild garlic late. Others have known about it’s deliciousness for many a year, but I first tasted it just a couple of years back.

Last year, I was determined to forage my own and use it in my cooking.

Here’s a quote from a previous post: By the way, in the UK, when we talk about wild garlic we’re usually referring to ramsons (allium ursinum), a wild relative of chives. From wiki, I learn that “the Latin name owes to the brown bear’s taste for the bulbs and habit of digging up the ground to get at them” which also explains another of it’s aliases: bear’s garlic.

My first stash came early in last year’s wild garlic season, courtesy of the lovely MarkyMarket, who generously shared his secret foraging location with me. I had been intending to make a soup but instead used only some of the wild garlic leaves to stuff a chicken before roasting. Lovely!

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With plenty of leaves leftover, I decided to blitz the rest raw with oil and pop them into the freezer, in tiny plastic boxes.

My second stash was foraged when the wild garlic was in flower, carpeting swathes of grassy roadside verges in rural Dorset. Much of this harvest was enjoyed as a wild garlic tempura, which was delicious!

Again, I had leftovers, and blitzed with oil before freezing in small portions.

In the year since then, we’ve gradually used up our stock making this delicious pasta which, after the first time we made it, has become a firm favourite. The mushrooms really absorb the flavours of the wild garlic and the rest coats the pasta nicely.

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In this instance, we happened to use one pot of frozen wild garlic leaves and another pot of frozen flowers and stems.

Wild Garlic Pasta

Ingredients
Some wild garlic leaves and/ or flowers on stems blitzed in vegetable oil
Bacon, pancetta or lardons, cut into small pieces
Mushrooms, sliced
Pasta of your choice

Note: If you are making this with fresh pasta, I would still blitz the wild garlic in some oil as the oil takes on the flavour and is absorbed by the mushrooms during cooking.

Method

  • Put the pasta on to cook (unless it’s fresh and needs much less time).

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  • Fry the bacon until cooked and just beginning to crisp, then set aside.

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  • In the same pan, slowly cook the mushrooms in the blitzed wild garlic and oil. (We give our frozen wild garlic and oil time to defrost before adding the mushrooms).

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  • When the mushrooms are ready (and the pasta is cooked), stir the bacon back in, drain the pasta well and stir it in too.

If you have found an abundant source of wild garlic near you (please forage sustainably), do consider preserving some as we did so you can enjoy this simple pasta dish year round.

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