Thai Sweet Potato Soup and A Competition Winner

Thai Soup

First things first: the competition. I used a random number generator to pick a winner and the lucky recipient of a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Plenty More’ is Saol San Gluten. Congratulations!

This soup is one of the healthier recipes to be found on this blog. In fairness, after bacon jam almost anything would look healthy. ‘Eating clean’ seems to be the trend of the moment (so much so that someone emailing me about a flatshare listed it as a hobby), but it means  different things to different people. For some it’s being vegan, for others it involves making conventional food with non-conventional ingredients, like sugar-free, egg-free, butter-free brownies and for some people it seems to involve putting chia seeds in everything you eat. 

I’m definitely more a fan of the Julia Child philosophy that you should only eat diet food while you’re waiting for the steak to cook. But sometimes, you need to eat a meal that feels a bit wholesome. I’ve been travelling a lot lately, eating all the best food London has to offer, and every fried thing Holland has to offer, and eventually something has to give. This is a nourishing, comforting soup from the Avoca Cafe Cookbook that is perfect for autumn. I have a tempestuous relationship with sweet potato. Sometimes I crave it, sometimes I find it sickeningly cloying. This soup strikes a good balance. The lime juice counters the sweetness and the fish sauce gives it an umami hit. It’s gluten and dairy free, but obviously not vegetarian. It’s quick to make and it freezes well.

This makes about 4 lunch/starter portions

Ingredients

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes (about 700g weight)
  • 1 stick of lemongrass, outer leaves peeled and inner core finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli, chopped (you can also just use some chili sauce as a substitute, it’s getting blended in anyways)
  • 2 leeks, chopped
  • 750ml stock
  • 100ml light coconut milk
  • Fish sauce (nam pla)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • Chili flakes
  • Neutral oil

Method

  • Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into small cubes.
  • Toss with some oil and roast in an oven at 200C until soft and starting to brown a little, about 20-30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, fry the ginger,garlic and lemongrass in some oil for 2 minutes until fragrant.
  • Add the leek and cook for 7-10 minutes until soft.
  • Add the roasted sweet potato, coconut milk and stock and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  • Blend, and add the fish sauce, lime juice and chili flakes to taste (be careful with the fish sauce and add it little by little, it can get very overwhelming very quickly).
  • Season if required.

Win Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest cookbook ‘Plenty More’

plenty more

I was hoping to have a new recipe post up sooner, but the last few weeks have been hectic, and to make matters worse, I injured my foot last week and have spent the last few days hobbling very inelegantly around on crutches. So instead, I have something even better: a competition.

I’ve been given a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s wonderful new cookbook, Plenty More to give away. As you can probably tell from the blog, I’m a big Ottolenghi fan. I visited London recently and spent quite a lot of time flicking through the new book in Foyles and I’m looking forward to cooking from it once I’m back on my feet. The recipes are as innovative and exciting as always, and it’s the kind of book you will come back to again and again. It’s a vegetable cookbook following on from his earlier book Plenty. 

To win this prize, you just have to leave a comment below telling me your favourite Ottolenghi recipe. There is no restriction on where the book can be sent. The winner will be announced here, on Facebook, and Twitter on Saturday. To whet your appetite, I’ve got a video of Yotam making his tomato and pomegranate salad below, but you can find more videos here.

 

Smoky Harissa and Bacon Jam

Bacon Jam

I first made bacon jam over a year ago when I lived in Denmark. For the sake of my health, I then tried to block it from my mind. I oscillate between thinking life is too short not eat bacon jam, and realising life will probably be shorter still after eating it. Bacon, and all manner of pork products traditionally constitute the staple diet for most Danes. The average Dane eats slightly more than my body weight in pork on a yearly basis. I’m not a huge fan personally. I don’t really buy into the bacon obsession that has been going on the last few years, where bacon is added to absolutely everything you can think of. That’s what cheese is for. But bacon jam is something else entirely. It hits all the right fat/salt/sugar notes that scientists tell us make up human cravings. It’s best served on a spoon, but if you fancy being sensible and controlled about it, it’s also good on baked potatoes with some creme fraiche. You can get slabs of smoked back bacon in Ireland in Lidl and Aldi for a reasonable price which are perfect for this. This recipe makes just over two standard jam jar sized portions of bacon jam which is really more than you can safely consume, but you can also use it to bribe/butter up friends and family. 

Ingredients

  • 600g smoky bacon, finely chopped
  • 2 red onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 65g brown sugar
  • 150ml coffee
  • 80ml red wine or sherry vinegar
  • 110g honey
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon harissa
  • 75ml red wine (optional)
  • olive oil

Method

  • Pan fry the bacon in a large saucepan over a medium heat with a little olive oil until crispy (about 5-8 minutes)
  • Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on some kitchen paper.
  • Fry the onions in the saucepan until soft 5-7 minutes, and then add the garlic for 2 minutes.
  • I deglazed my pan with some wine along with the onion, but this is entirely optional.
  • Add the bacon back into the onion garlic mix.
  • Add in the sugar, coffee, vinegar, honey, paprika and harissa.
  • Simmer and cook until the whole thing is reduced and syrupy, around 30-45 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
  • Use a stick blender to pulse the mixture into a coarse paste, and serve at room temperature.
  • If you have more self control than me, this will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.

 

 

Galicia Guide: Part 2

Pulpo

Vigo

Vigo is the biggest city in Galicia, and not really a tourist destination.  Our main reason for going there was to visit the Cies Islands, a nature reserve off the coast, but it turned out to be a great city in and of itself. It’s perched on the side of a fairly steep hill with views out over the Ria, and is largely modern and 19th century, with sweeping boulevards through the city centre. It reminded me of Marseille without the constant feeling that someone is about to mug you. The old town is quite small, you can cross it in five minutes, and is filled with shaded winding passageways leading out into bustling light filled squares. We stayed in the centre in a hotel that seemed to have acquired all of its furnishings from some kind of adult film company prop sale. Each night, without fail, we ended up starting off in  A Lareira, a lovely little wine and food shop in the Old Town which had a few tables. There you could get a selection of great local wines by the glass and delicacies such as cured beef ‘jamon’ and little pinchos. We also enjoyed Taberna Baiuca another wine bar in an adjoining square, which was playing host to the world’s largest dog while we were outside.

Vigo1

Vigo2

Vigo3

Sanxenxo

Sanxenxo is trying to market itself as the Marbella of Galicia, and honestly, the comparison is a bit too kind on Sanxenxo. It’s a town of high rise sixties flats crowded around a city beach. Apparently, it’s the favourite holiday spot for Madrilenos. We spent a considerable portion of the trip in the bus station there, wandering up to various staff, pointing at buses and saying ‘Pontevedra’ in an increasingly fearful tone as bus after bus disappeared off with no regard for timetables. Its saving grace was a visit to the lovely vineyards at Adega Eidos, where we were given a tour in impeccable English by Noella (despite the fact that they get about one set of English language visitors per month). Adega Eidos is at the top of a large hill near the bus station, which we climbed twice. Learn from our mistake, the vineyard is not open from 1-3pm. They make three different albarino wines here as well as some liqueurs, which we tasted after a tour of the lab, vat rooms and the vineyard itself. The tour was genuinely interesting if you’re curious about wine, and trying three entirely different tasting wines made from the same grapes in the same fields gave a great insight into viniculture. Noella was knowledgable and chatty, and we ended up staying far longer than expected. I didn’t bring a camera, but you can see it all on their website.

Pontevedra3

Cambados

Pontevedr4

 

The Cies Islands

The  largest of the Cies Islands is home to the best beach in the world according to the Guardian. It is in fact home to two mountains and multiple beaches, including a nude beach that the guidebook explains is referred to locally as ‘the German beach’. They islands are a nature reserve which only allow 4000 visitors per day, which means that you need to book well in advance in order to be sure of being allowed to visit. We did none of this, and instead turned up at the port hungover and half asleep at 9am in the hopes of getting a cancelled ticket, which we immediately did.  Fighting nausea and exhaustion on the boat over, I wondered if spending 8 hours on an island in the Atlantic was a bad idea. It wasn’t. It is one of the most spectacular places I’ve been. In our eight hours, we managed to climb to all of the various peaks, and swim at most of the beaches (my convent education didn’t leave me feeling suitably prepared for a nude beach). There are two reasonably priced restaurants on the island, as well as public toilets and a supermarket in the small campsite by Lanzada beach which made my hoarding of litres of bottled water and toilet paper in my tote bag pretty redundant. Bring lots of suncream.

Lanzada Beach

Cies 2 Cies Islands

 

Pontevedra

 Halfway through our hellish five hour journey from Cambados to Vigo, a journey of some 50km (timetables are basically a sick joke in Galicia), we spent a large amount of time navigating the suburbs of Pontevedra. They are some of grimmest suburbs I’ve ever seen. So much so, when we arrived in Vigo, I frantically tried to figure out if we could cancel our upcoming two day stay there (we couldn’t). Fortunately, the old town of Pontevedra turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, straight out of Don Quixote. Medieval squares lined with arcades gave way to narrow streets lined with tapas bars. We didn’t actually end up eating or drinking anywhere spectacular, in part due to spending a night watching the World Cup final in a bar that kept loading us up with stodgy free pinchos, but exploring the old town after dark was one of the highlights of the trip.

Pontevedra 1 Pontevedra2

Pontevedra5

 

 

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Roasted Carrot Salad with Bulgar, Feta and Peas

Carrot salad

 

I made this salad a few weeks back during one of my thrice monthly health kicks. These usually last a few days, in which I largely eat plants, go to the gym, take the stairs in work, then remember fried things are delicious and the whole cycle begins again. It was meant to contain all sorts of things other than carrots and peas but I was thwarted by my vanity. I went to the gym, had a long, bitter and thankless workout, and was smugly strolling into the changing room when I was confronted with a host of confused semi clothed women clutching towels around themselves. It quickly became clear that all the water to the building had been cut off, and I was destined to walk home looking and smelling as appealing as a secondary school changing room. I scurried through the backstreets of inner city Dublin like a fugitive, darting through alleyways that probably weren’t the safest to try and avoid human contact. Clearly, going to the supermarket was out of the question, and so I ventured home to raid my fridge, freezer and cupboards to salvage dinner. And this was what I found. The carrots were lingering at the bottom of the vegetable drawer, a little disturbingly since I’d bought them over a month ago. Mint is the only herb that doesn’t die in my dark and damp kitchen, and I had a hoard of bulgar wheat in the cupboard. Thank god for my borderline survivalist stash of dried goods. This salad keeps well for packed lunches, and is quite cheap to make once you have a good store cupboard. 

Makes about 4 side servings

Ingredients

For the roasted carrots

  • 6 carrots, peeled and sliced into batons
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and pepper

For the salad

  • 150g frozen petit pois
  • 150g bulgar wheat (unsoaked weight)
  • 75g feta, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1-2 teaspoons honey
  • a few shakes of togarashi or chilli flakes (optional)

Method

  • Mix the carrot batons with the remaining ingredients and roast at 200C for 25 minutes or until soft and a little browned around the edges.
  • Meanwhile, boil the petit pois as per pack instructions.
  • Soak the bulgar wheat in hot water until soft (approximately 20 minutes, but keep tasting)
  • Make the dressing by whisking the oil, juice, garlic, allspice and honey together.
  • Once the bulgar is properly soaked, dress and season with salt, pepper and togarashi/chilli flakes.
  • Mix in the peas, carrots, feta and chopped mint.
  • Serve at room temperature.

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The Island Cottage, Heir Island, West Cork

photo 3 (1)

Before supper clubs and pop-ups became buzzwords to be lobbed around  by knowing foodies, The Island Cottage was offering the perfect pop up restaurant experience on a small island off the coast of West Cork. Every summer for 25 years, locals and visitors make the five minute ferry journey from Cunnamore Pier to Heir Island, walk up the winding lanes past cottages and fields, and find themselves at the front door of John Desmond and Ellmary Fenton’s cottage for a very unusual restaurant experience.

The Island Cottage restaurant seats 22 people in the living room  for a four course set meal cooked by John and served by Ellmary. John trained at the Ritz Hotel in Paris while Ellmary was manager of the restaurant in the Hôtel de Crillon and this experience shows in the wonderful food created from a tiny domestic kitchen, and the efficiency of serving a large amount of people in a quite small space.

photo 2 (2)

I have been hearing about the Island Cottage for years, as my dad honed his cooking skills at the one on one cooking school run out of the kitchen, and many of my favourite dishes growing up came from here (including Duck Aigre-Douce). As a child and teenager my fussy eating habits would not have suited the fixed menu format, but over the past few years I have learnt to eat pretty much everything. Once you’ve eaten bull testicles, you’ve pretty much crossed the fussy eating rubicon. On this visit,kindly sponsored by my parents, we were blessed with the kind of  beautifully sunny evening that makes West Cork the equal of the Cote D’Azur or Amalfi. We started off with drinks in the herb garden behind the cottage, with views across the evocatively named Roaringwater Bay to Mount Gabriel, and Jeremy Iron’s pink castle. When dinner was ready, Ellmary ushered us inside and provided me with some aloe vera lotion for my recently acquired sunburn, while guiding the various tables through the menu. Depending on your party size, you may have a table by yourself as our group of four did, or you may share with others

photo 4 (1)

The meals at the Island Cottage combine classic French cooking with great local ingredients.Our starter was a delicate cured salmon with home-made mayonnaise, pickled cucumber and delicate little loaves of brown bread. I have a challenging relationship with salmon, I love it raw and hate it cooked, and this was just perfect. Brown bread similarly would not be high on my list, but we ended up polishing off ours so quickly we were supplied with a second helping. The main was cod with a creamy mushroom bonne femme sauce and potato pureed with olive oil. The cod having been handpicked that morning by John from the fish market at Union Hall was immaculately fresh. It was delicate and melted into perfect little bites at the touch of a fork. This was followed by a slice of local Gubbeen cheese along with a tart fresh beetroot garnish that perfectly complimented the nuttiness of the cheese. Our dessert was a white chocolate mousse with passionfruit and raspberry sauce. I was the only person at the table who actually likes white chocolate but this again was devoured by all. It managed to capture the sweetness and creaminess of white chocolate, without the cloying feeling it usually leaves.

At midnight, our dinner complete, we wandered down the pitch dark lanes (bring a torch) of the island to our waiting ferry and made the trip back across the bay under the millions of stars that are never visible in inner city Dublin. It was the kind of evening to savour in your memory for a very long time.

 

The Island Cottage

Heir/Hare Island

Skibbereen

Co Cork

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