Saturday, March 12, 2005

Young Cheng 22 Lisle Street, WC2H 7BA

Young Cheng always comes up trumps in the mire of London Chinatown eating. We always ask for the '8 pound per head dish' menu which includes soup and rice and dessert, which the staff use as a barometer of how well you think you know your food. I don't know whether this is a popular Chinatown tactic, but ordering away from the 'Set Menu', that invariably serves up the over-sugared baby-food sweet and sour glop and 5th rate Peking duck with dried out pancakes is the trick to getting a really edible meal in London. I've come here before with an English friend and the waiters hovered around trying to guage my ethnicity before I had to ask for the 'real menu'. Its offputting at the best of times, being judged, its almost hostlie, but that's classic Chinatown service for you.

And now onto the eating:Red Snapper is something that I don't often see on Western menus, but the colour is breathtaking. Here it is, steamed with hot sesame oil poured over raw spring onion, ginger and corainder. It makes for refreshingly light eating, tempered by the salty soy steamed broth. The fish had been 'butterflied' somewhat to expose the bones, I can't work out quite how they did it.

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As you can see below, the trick here is to cram as much of the resulting parcel into your mouth
with a passing regard as to your dining companions views of your evident gluttony,
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This is one of my absolute favourite dishes at Young's. Cabbage pork wraps. The mixture is a mix of
diced pork, baby sweetcorn and pine nuts sprinkled with sesame. The effect is one of crunch and munch.
There is a real caramelized taste and is served with rich, thick salty-sweet bean paste.

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Monday, March 07, 2005

Chinese New Year 2005 Hotpot mania

Blurry quality, but still enough to inspire the tastebuds.

I don't normally celebrate Chinese New Year on my own. This is my final year in Leeds and I felt like this would be good to do everything up North that I would normally do at home with my family in London. It will be a good send off.
I made it down to the frozen food market in the dilapidated Chinatown area and picked up some goodies. Hotpot is something found all over South East Asia, known as 'steamboat' or 'huo guo' (literally 'firepot') in Chinese.I picked up some pe-tsai greens, which I later found to be freighted in from China somewhere (bad), tofu, tiger prawns, Korean, Japanese and thai fish cakes and assorted yummies. Enoki mushrooms and finally a portion of the amazing kim-chee I brought up from London.
Ingredients for a winter hotpot They didn't have the paper-thin slices of meat available at only the best Korean butchers in London up here (which are truly amazing when you can see your fingers through the meat - they really do slice it that thin). The thiness means that the meat cooks instantly which you can dip straight into your little concoction of wasabi, soy and chili bean sauce. Everything cooks at different times and dip in freely at whiever ingredient is done. Communal eating at it's very best.

ngredients for a Yorkshire winter hotpot:

- Sliced rump steak
- Fresh firm tofu
- Napa Cabbage kimchee
- Mustard greens kimchee
- S-a cha Chinese BBQ sauce
- Chili bean sauce
- Soy sauce
- Sliced pork fillet
- Tofu and fish blocks
- Fish balls
- Tofu and seaweed cakes
- Beef balls
- Thai fish cakes
- Various Korean fish products
-Chinese pe-tsai
- Enoki mushrooms
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This all turned into an unbelievebly rich stock at the end and warmed us up. You really can't beat a fire on your tabletop.
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Sunday, March 06, 2005

In Search of Lost Time -Summer 2004

This is a series of photos from my yearly visit to Taipei, Taiwan where my grandmother and my mother's family lives. I've never thought to document the idiosyncrasies of the city where I have spent much of my years growing up in, things change very, very fast and like a lot of other people I'm sure, food memories are a way back home.

The Taiwanese/Chinese attitude to bakery and patisserie is interesting, often, bread products are baked primarily as a visual feast with not much of the traditional substantial qualities savoured in Europe and the West. The desirable chiffon-like texture of white bread is an acquired taste for those who prefer their daily bread to be something more than a slightly less sweet chiffon. However, that's not to say that their pastries and purposely sweet-things are uninteresting, in fact this 'fusion' food is the opposite of Pan-Asian/European restaurant fare where traditional Asian elements are tinkered with to appeal to the Western palate. Here, breads, cakes and pastries are tinkered with to appeal to the Chinese taste.

The proximity of Japanese and Korean aesthetic and cultural influences on Taiwan makes for some possibly unintended and new infusions. Very cute dog-bun with raisins for eyes, a 'bo-lo' Hong Kong style chiffon bun with flaked almonds, a glazed variation with a sweet, milk and almond paste inside and a lonesome chocolate tartlett soon to be consumed by my brother.

Hong Kong - Mandarin Hotel buffet

A stopover measure for passport renewal in Hong Kong. City of my birth. I hardly ever go back to Hong Kong, despite living there for a good decade or so, I find that so many things change in such a short space of time that my favourites eateries have long gone andI spend my time trying to capture and re-capture a little taste or evocation of the past.

Hotel buffets, however are another deal altogether. HK hotels are renowned for their sumptuous and extravagent offerings round the clock, the Mandarin hotel had an ambience and attitude many will be undoubtedly familiar with:I Must Beat the Buffet. The unmistakable air of desperation, (despite the fact that the food isn't going anywhere) the hovering at the stations and the general rush to the seafood is a little bit of the unpleasantness at these affairs. What can't be denied is that the chefs at these institutions have to work bloody hard and watch their food go to waste after a few mouthfuls.

Grill and seafood station, which is amazing considering that crustacea in general are the insects/bugs of the ocean. Below, an assortment of fish gratin, chili-tomato dressed scallips, braised chinese vegetables and in the terracotta pot, a Japanese dessert dusted with coconut which tasted inexplicably like mango, sweet butter and marzipan all at the same time.

Mitsukoshi Food Hall Basement, Taipei Taiwan.

The food hall at the Japanese mall Mitsukoshi is a chaotic affair. Imagine a mall with hawkers. Hawkers who yell at you. Its legal. What is clearly not legal is the incredible mixture of smells that coat the air as you walk into a basement of a hotch-potch of culinary wizardry, the crying of babies, running about of school children, the illicit dating of high school kids and unbelivably, students doing their homework amongst the noise and bustle.

I ate here almost every other day and chose the traditional Northen Chinese fare, usually inauthentic, however for 150 NT or 1 UK pound (2 dollars) gets you:

Miso soup, pickled vegetables, sweet plum sauce with scallions, leek and strips of beef marinated in soy and 'velveted'. All wrapped up in a thin, steamed flour pancake. It beats Pret a Manger anyday.

Baked Cheesecakes

The idea of 'baking a cake' isn't really something that appeals to me much; the flour, the mess and the expectation at the oven door for something delicious , spongy and light just doesn't hold the same appeal as something more robust. There's a time and a place for a sweet piece of nothingness and I'd like to have it made for me. Cheesecake is the nice in-between a torte and an actual cake.

Here is my first attempt at a baked cheesecake. Using a generic cream cheese works well here, but the addition of sour cream (even yoghurt), ricotta and marscapone adds a depth of flavour and changes the flavour and texture of the cheesecake over time, this seasoning effect isn't as strong with regular cream cheese although it produces a good, dense texture and a lingering mouthfeel. I used half-fat Philly which didn't betray too much of the dusty flavour you often get with 'light' or diet products. After surfing around for an age, I made a mix of directions to produce the below.The nut crust base was a hit, dry frying them in a pan produces a really smoky, delicious flavour. I used a mixture of chopped peanuts, hazelnuts and brazils.

Here is the final cake with a mixed berry glaze.

680 grams or two 8 0z packages cream cheese
17 tablespoons sugar
5 eggs
4.5 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons lemon juice
473 ml sour cream
2 squares of good chocolate
2 teaspoons of good coffee or espresso dissolved in water

Base: 200 grams chopped nuts
2 tablespoons ground almonds

Mix all nuts and almond meal with melted butter and press into a springform pan, trying to line the sides as much as possible about 1 1/2\" up the sides of the pan, set aside to mix filling.

Start by beating the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Keep the mixer on a low setting throughout the beating and mixing process. Add the sugar a little at a time and continue beating until creamy. Add one egg at a time and beat after each egg. When eggs have been mixed into the cream cheese add flour, vanilla and lemon juice, coffee, mix well. Add the sour cream last and beat well.

Pour half of cream cheese mixture into the springform pan. Melt chocolate in a bain-marie or in the microwave and add to the remaining mixture and tip slowly into the tin. Place on the top rack in the middle of a 170 degree preheated oven for one hour and 15 minutes. When time is up, prop open oven door and leave in oven for one hour. After one hour, remove from oven. Let cool enough before the cheesecake is put into the refrigerator for 24 hours.

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This recipe was very slightly crumbly, but dense in the middle. The coffee flavour didn't overpower.

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Not using a bain-marie in the oven gave me a cookie-like crust which I personally really liked, however, a water-bath would give a bakery-perfect uniform finish.

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I added melted 70% cocoa Lindt chocolate to a little remainder of the second batch and poured in circles before swirling with a skewer towards the centre of the cake to get the pattern effect. Pretty, no?

Second attempt with summer berries in the mix and a glace topping.
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A roast beef dinner

First ever roast sirloin, admittedly a tough piece of meat to get right for a first-time roast-ee. I scanned Epicurious, Delia and Nigel Slater but came up trumps with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's guide to doing justice to the cow. Mustard, salt and pepper, plus a bay-leaf or two. Roast peppers and broccoli on the side with bearnaise. The collagen dissolved in slow heat and didn't poison Mr. Vagrant

Christmas 2004 in Leeds

Roast Duck stuffed with Apricot, Orange and Stilton

A frugal affair for two this was not. Cheating this was. The duck came from Marks and Spencers, the fine purveyor of 'finishing it off in the oven' meals and other sundries and bringer of garlic to the masses in the UK. Roast potatoes, two types of stuffing, cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts cooked with ginger, glazed carrots and tiny chipolatas, cloudy apple juice and ready-made bread sauce. Christmas away from home, wherever that is, is something worth making special and taking the risk element out of when hungry mouths (well, two hungrey mouths including mine) are waiting. I'm really not ready to do Xmas from absolute scratch until I reach my mardy thirties and this year's did its job and pushed me to bursting point. I would include pictures of the Turkish pastries baklava, made with cardmom, pistachio, filo pastry drenched in honey had I remembered to document the gluttony...

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Not bad for a couple of down-at-the-heel students I'd say!

An overloaded plate.

Is there anything loaded with more anticipation?

Christmas 2004, parnsips, roast potatoes, glazed carrots, ginger brussel sprouts, cranberry sauce..mmm
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Cafe Emm's of Soho, London.

Mr. V and I found this place by chance a few years ago on one of our jaunts to the capital. Finding somewhere cheap and tasteful, but not obscenely unpalatable or a menu displayed in neon grease patina above your head is near-impossible in central London. Cafe Emm's on Frith Street in Soho, London is one of those reliable eateries that delivery again and again. The burgers I have heard on more than one occasion are the 'best in Soho', which I suppose counts for a little something. The draw is definitely thre half-pound burger, which weighs in with a hefty home-made wholemeal bun, chips, salad with a verdant mustardy vinagerette. A choice of toppings for your burger is offered, Stilton, barbeque etc. the menu is priced attractively under 5.95 rising to 7-ish. French cafe art lines the walls, a hustling and bustling line of people lines this place from around 8pm onwards.