Archive for October 2011

Viet Van, East Dulwich

October 30th, 2011 — 1:35pm

I must start by apologising to all local parents with young children because you will probably take offence to what I am about to say, which goes something along the lines of: get the hell out of East Dulwich or at least spread yourselves out a bit so I don’t have to fight my way into every shop and cafe and shout to hear myself speak over the noise of your precious little darlings (why do people let their kids scream and run around in shops and restaurants like its a crèche?) Let’s not forget those ankle biting, space invader buggies. How many times have they savagely scraped my Achilles tendon? How many times has no-one even apologised? Can you not just wait or deploy a spot of good old common courtesy rather than using your buggy as a battering ram? You can tell this makes me angry and I’m sorry but this is my blog and I can rant if I want to.

Anyway, there’s a point to this which is that North Cross Road in East Dulwich is home to a super little market which makes the trauma of venturing into the wilds of middle class smugsville totally worth it. There are no cupcakes and certainly no painted plates. There are only brilliant things, like The Dogfather and Viet Van.


The owner of the teeny canary yellow van is David Parkin, a man I warmed to immediately when he told me he lives in Peckham. His Viet Van t-shirt carries the message: “Viet Van – New York, Paris, Peckham.” I asked him why he doesn’t actually sell his banh mi in our ‘hood and his response was, “where would I do it?” He has a very good point. I think he’d do okay at the farmer’s market on a Sunday perhaps, but the footfall is nothing like that of East Dulwich, and I’m not even including the children.

I am rather fascinated by food carts and the way that everything is crammed in to make the most efficient use of space. I’ve worked in Petra Barran’s Chocstar van a couple of times which taught me a thing or two about not wasting a storage opportunity. The top of the Viet Van opens up to reveal various tubs of ingredients and a warmer/cooker thingy for the baguettes. A slow cooker full of pork sits on the back and a small BBQ at the side.

Obviously I chose the pork banh mi but there are caramelised chicken and mushroom and tofu options plus the choice of having a salad (‘Asian style slaw’ was one), with the banh mi filling on top. “For the carb-phobic East Dulwich ladies?” I sniped cynically. “Well, more for the gluten intolerant” he replied. Ah.

He begins the build with a baguette (not rice flour – apparently the only supplier he’s found is in Stoke Newington and they’re so overwhelmed with demand they can’t keep up) on to which he squeezes a line of lightly garlickly mayo, followed by a scarlet smear of Sriracha. The pickled radish and carrot tendrils come next, followed by coriander. The cucumbers are sliced thin and even, so they layer perfectly into the sandwich. Next, a foundation of crumbly pate followed by the main event: the pork. It’s stunning. Marinated in a salt, sugar and spice paste and heavily gingered, cooked all the way down to tender shreds. I could have stuck my face in that pot. The banh mi is devoured in minutes.


The amount of pork filling is incredibly generous, especially at £4 a pop. My only criticism is that I would like more chilli heat and coriander, but that’s easily rectified by asking for extra. At 1pm there was a queue down the road but by 2 I only waited 5 minutes – a little tip for you there. He’s popular for very good reason though and as a result, is looking for a permanent helper. Applicants, get yourself down to North Cross Road on a Saturday. Must like banh mi, street food banter and other people’s children.

Viet Van
Saturday’s at North Cross Road
East Dulwich

41 comments » | Peckham, Sandwiches, Street Food

Daim Bar Ice Cream

October 23rd, 2011 — 3:49pm

I say this every year so I may as well say it again: it’s never too cold for ice cream. If you disagree with that statement, may I suggest that you turn up your central heating.

I’m always on the look out for new flavours and the inspiration for this one came from a bag of mini Daim that I picked up for my colleagues at Gothenburg airport. I’d forgotten how good they are and as always when I find myself enjoying something sweet, I immediately thought, ‘this could be good mixed into a shitload of frozen custard’.

It was very good indeed; a smooth ice cream with lots of crunchy, burnt-butter-caramel and chocolate pieces. It’s basically a posh McFlurry. Phwoar.

Daim Bar Ice Cream

600ml single cream
6 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
4 x full size Daim Bars

Whisk the eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy (this is easiest in an electric mixer). Heat the cream until almost boiling (watch for little bubbles forming around the sides) then pour the cream over the egg mixture in a thin, steady stream, whisking all the time.

Pour the custard into a clean saucepan and heat gently, stirring constantly until it thickens slightly to coat the back of a wooden spoon. It is important to do this gently – if you overheat it, the eggs will start to cook and you’ll get little blobs of egg floating about in the mixture. Heat to 80C.

Decant into a bowl and cover with a piece of greaseproof paper, pushing the paper right down to cover the surface of the custard (this it to stop it forming a skin). When cool, chill for half an hour in the fridge.

Pour into an ice cream maker and churn. While this is happening, take a rolling pin and bash the (unopened) Daim Bars into pieces. Set some pieces aside for serving and add the rest to the ice cream towards the end of churning.

25 comments » | Ice Cream

Eat. St at King’s Cross

October 23rd, 2011 — 3:40pm

Photo: John Sturrock

You know by now that I’m a big fan of the Eat. St Collective. As I’ve iterated many, many times: I consider some of London’s street food to be more delicious than the food served in most swanky restaurants. Here’s the low-down on the latest street food adventure from Eat.St founder Petra Barran: has been chosen to bring some street-level flavour and sidewalk swag to London’s brand new street in King’s Cross – King’s Boulevard, N1C – a tree-lined pedestrianised street running from King’s Cross Station and St Pancras International, up to Goods Way, the Regent’s Canal and Central Saint Martins’ new home at King’s Cross.

This will be a first for many things:
1st dedicated street food zone in London
1st permanent base for the growing collective
1st major developer in the city to embrace the new-wave street food movement.”

Traders to look out for include:

Luardos - burritos and tacos. Of Whitecross Market fame
Buen Provecho – traditional Mexican street food. Best Mexican in London according to Marina O’Loughlin
Choc Star – ice cream, milkshakes, sundaes, hot chocolates. Britain’s only dedicated choc-mobile and originator of the scene.
Jamon Jamon – Spanish paella. Portobello stalwarts doing live cooking demos.
Homeslice Pizza – wood-fired pizza from mobile clay oven. New kids and contenders for best pizza in London.
Tongue ‘n Cheek – Italian street food using under-rated cuts of meat. Italian maverick Cristiano
Anna Mae’s – pulled pork, mac ‘n chees, Texas chili
Kimchi Cult – Korean sliders
Street Food Kolkata – jhal muri and other chaats
Healthy Yummies - pan-seared scallops
Bean & Gone – Monmouth coffee from a coffee pro
Banh Mi 11 – pho, banh mi and other Vietnamese food
Hardcore Prawn – Asian fusion skewers and soups
The Rib Man – baby-back ribs served with the famous Holy F*** sauce
Big Apple Hot Dogs – gourmet hot dogs. Blazing the trail for the new school hot dog vendor
Yum Bun – steamed handmade buns with free-range pork
Bhangra Burger – Indian spiced burgers and pakoras
Creperie Nicholas – Breton galletes

WHEN: Every Thursday and Friday from 10am to 4pm a rotating group of London’s best curbside cooks will form a ‘micro market’ at the top of King’s Boulevard, bringing a changing selection of food including burritos, paella, seared scallops, wood-fired pizza, spiced burgers, mac n cheese, ribs, Banh Mi, milkshakes, sundaes, coffee
and a whole load of other deliciousness.”

The Metro’s Marina O’Loughlin:

“These aren’t your average mobile food merchants – the collective is delivering some of the most exhilarating cooking in the Capital right now. And to have them assembled in a brand new London street at the heart of newly vibrant Kings Cross? Everything from BBQ to banh mi? It’s fair to say I couldn’t be more excited.”


4 comments » | Street Food

My Favourite Fast & Healthy Prawn Curry

October 19th, 2011 — 1:31pm

There’s only so much brisket, spaghetti, ribs and wings a woman can eat before she gets fat. I know it’s getting cold and all but I’m not so cool with the idea of an extra layer of blubber on top of the existing layers that I’ve spent the last few years nurturing to maturity. It’s impossible to stay thin in the food game, unless you’ve got great genes or you can find the time and energy to exercise 7 days a week.

When I start having a panic, I turn to trusty old recipes like this, which I’ve been cooking since I was a teenager. It’s adapted from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe (in her classic ‘Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery’ – donated by my mum) and it’s grown with me over the years as I’ve tinkered with the ingredients; every so often I turn to the tattered old notebook, to a familiar page covered in splodges, scribbles and crispy old bits of coriander that fall out like confetti.

I love the recipe because the flavours remain very fresh and distinct and it’s quite cardamom heavy; Madhur uses 6 pods and I chuck in one of the big black smoky variety too because I’m well rock’ n roll like that. I don’t even remove the cardamom pods at the end in fact, as I love the burst of flavour when you bite into one; all softened and bloated with sauce.

The final result is wonderfully fragrant, it’s fast and simple to make and you feel virtuous yet satisfied. Tick, tick and tick.

Fast and Healthy Prawn Curry (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery; serves 4)

1 large white onion
5 cloves garlic
1 inch cube ginger
2 red chillies
1 cinnamon stick
6 regular cardamom pods
1 large black cardamom pod
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
5 tablespoons natural yoghurt
1 tin chopped tomatoes
A pinch of sugar
450g large prawns (raw or cooked is up to you)
Vegetable or groundnut oil

Fresh coriander
1/4 teaspoon garam masala

Put the onion, garlic, ginger and chillies in a blender with 3 tablespoons of water and blend to a paste. Put the coriander and cumin seeds in a dry pan on a low heat and heat them, moving them around, until they start to smell fragrant. Tip them into a pestle and mortar or spice grinder and grind to a paste (you can use ready ground if you like but the results will not be as delicious).

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan and add the cinnamon stick, bay leaves and cardamom pods. Stir for about 30 seconds and add the paste from the blender. Cook, stirring often for about 5 minutes, until the liquid has cooked off. Add the cumin and coriander and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds or so. Add the chopped tomatoes. Stir and keep cooking until you have a reddish-brown paste.

Take the pan off the heat and add the yoghurt, 1 tablespoon at a time until it is all incorporated. Add the turmeric, cayenne and sugar along with half a pint of water. Bring to the boil then simmer vigorously until thickened. Taste, then season with salt and pepper. Add the prawns – if you are using raw prawns, cook until they have turned completely pink. If using pre-cooked prawns, add them for a few minutes only, just to warm through.

Stir in the garam masala then serve, sprinkled with fresh coriander.

29 comments » | Curry, Fish and Seafood, Healthy

Seafood Safaris in West Sweden

October 18th, 2011 — 7:50am

I’ve been in West Sweden for the past 3 days, bouncing around on boats, looking for some of the world’s best seafood. It’s a hard life. Most people apparently visit Sweden in June, with the peak tourist season lasting just 4 weeks a year – hardly ideal for some of the Swedish people who make their living from the influx of visitors. It’s crazy really, because the place is staggeringly beautiful in the late summer/early autumn. The West Sweden tourist board want to encourage people to visit all year round, which is why they invited me on a ‘culinary tour’ including 3 ‘seafood safaris'; we would look for mussels, lobster and oysters and we would devote an good amount of time to eating them. Don’t mind if I do.

Mussels first. We departed by boat from Lysekil with mussel-keeper Adriaan van Der Plasse who was, I was pleased to note, wearing a classic ‘Salty Sea Dog’  jumper. Very Captain Birdseye. Loved it. He took us out to what is essentially a big pipe with nylon stockings hanging off it; the mussels are ‘sown’ into the stockings and then dangled into the sea where they grow for 2 years in the nutrient-rich waters until mature enough to sell.

The sight of those nylon stockings emerging from the water is quite a thing, let me tell you. Millions of tiny anemones (I think), like miniature shrimp, twist and squirm alarmingly on the stockings. Here’s a video of the spectacle that my friend made.

After looking at the baby mussels, we clambered up onto a rocky island to lunch on the adults. Adriaan had a portable gas stove set up and he cooked the freshest mussels very simply with leeks, carrots and white wine. They were so sweet. We sat eating them and drinking wine, taking in the idyllic scenery. There was carrot cake and coffee for dessert, too; the Swedes love cake and coffee so much that they have a special name for cake and coffee time – ‘Fika’.

Adriaan and his companion were, like everyone we met in Sweden, incredibly friendly, healthy, weathered-looking people, eager to answer questions about the food and the country. Everyone speaks English. This was a blissful start to our adventure; I remember feeling totally relaxed, something I haven’t felt in a while. Well, not since my jolly to Spain er, 2 weeks ago. Ahem.

Details: Our mussel safari was organised by Orust Shellfish and was a shorter version of the usual 5 hour tour. The full tour costs £76 pp. You can also organise it as part of a package with a stay at Strandflickorna Havshotellet, see website here for details. 

The next day we went off to the enchanting car-free Koster Islands to explore South Koster, much of which falls within Sweden’s first Marine National Park: Kosterhavet. There’s something going on with the meeting of 2 tectonic plates under the water, and there are tons of unique species living there as a result. The planned afternoon safari was the biggy we’d been waiting for – lobsters, although in the end it was decided that a 2.5 metre swell in the sea was just a bit too frisky for a group of lily livered Londoners; we retreated, pulling up some pots the next day instead, from calmer waters.

The pots are baited with fish and lowered into the water. Apparently anyone can catch lobsters (providing they’re Swedish), as you don’t need a license like you do for fishing. The lobsters like to hang out in the stony areas with lots of little nooks and crannies they can poke about in. The first pot that came up was just full of crabs, which apparently happens all the time. Obviously crabs are sweet and delicious too, and we enjoyed big pots of them at almost every meal; picking and cracking our way through so many claws, viscera spraying onto hair, eyes and other people’s clothes. How I do enjoy working over a crab, even if I do always stab myself in the fingers with the equipment.

The lobsters fight often with one another and with the crabs too, gnarly little sods; this is why they often lose a claw, then grow a new one, leaving them with one claw bigger than the other. They’re incredibly lively when fresh and the claws need to be banded quickly, as they can take a finger clean off no problem. We saw lobsters as big as 2kg but they’re not good to eat at that age – less sweet and juicy.We enjoyed eating the good ones later as part of a 4 course lobster menu at Sydkoster Hotel Ekenäs and you can too. See details below.

Details: Lobster safari package includes  a three-day lobster experience, with two night’s accommodation, lobster safari, all meals including four-course lobster dinner and a cycle tour of the island. This costs 3,695 SEK (£359) pp (based on two sharing). Details here:

For the oysters, we travelled out to an adorable restored 19th century boathouse in Grönemad, Grebbestad, built on the rocks and supported on piles of stones, like many of the surrounding houses in the fishing villages. Our guide, Per Karlsson, grew up in Grebbestad and has been selling oysters for over 20 years, if my memory serves. He says the oysters of Sweden are considered by experts as some of the best in the world; I’m no expert but I’ve eaten a shedload and they were definitely up there. They can’t be bought here, in case you’re wondering. He has been asked to ship them further afield but refuses; they’re not plentiful enough and will be past their best by the time they reach destination.

They’re harvested from the natural oyster bed underneath the boathouse using a rake attached to a net. Handy.

I asked him if he’d ever been sick from an oyster: “well…only once, and that was because I ate an oyster I suspected may have been almost dead but I just wanted to try finding out.” That’s bloody brave if you ask me. Per said that he never gets sick because the oysters are so fresh and they’re tested every 2 weeks to ensure they’re safe to eat. The Swedes are very concerned with safety, I later learn. We have the opportunity to shuck an oyster (with protective glove) and we eat our fill, washing them down with a locally produced, dark beer I’ve forgotten the name of. The oysters are round, flat natives; metallic, mineral, saline and boy, do they chase the wind out of a hangover. Six perfectly fresh oysters, plucked from the sea just minutes before and BANG, the hangover is gone.

Details: The oyster experience was organised by Everts Sjöbod and there are various packages available. See links here and here

So you can probably tell that I thoroughly enjoyed the seafood journey experience and I think the packages are good value. A major word of warning though: Sweden in general is expensive [edit: see comment from Steph below], particularly if you like a drink (I think you know that I do). A European pint will set you back at least 7 quid and in one restaurant, a bottle of JACOB’S CREEK was over £30. If I were you, I’d book the seafood experiences with accomodation and meals included. There’s no doubt about it though, Sweden is a stunning country with some of the best seafood available. If  you’re an outdoorsy person, you’ll adore it. The Koster islands in particular are beautiful and if you do go, try to fit in a cycling tour; there are no cars to worry about and pedalling around with my mates was the most fun I’ve had in ages.

Even though I still feel like I’m bobbing about on a boat more than 24 hours later, I’m thrilled to have been invited to experience such a breathtaking country and of course, I had fun stuffing as much fresh seafood into my trap as possible. The details of how I came to find myself dancing wildly in a bar to the sounds of WHAM! and Credence while a Swedish man gyrated in my face shouting “let’s do it for the English girls!” shall go unmentioned.

You can see all my photos from the trip in my Flickr set, here

More information about West Sweden:

For more information about the Shellfish Journey:
Facebook page:

SAS Flight Information

Heathrow to Gothenburg fares incl taxes and charges :
£63 one way
£103 return

22 comments » | Fish and Seafood, Travel

Brisket Braised with Bourbon and Apricots

October 15th, 2011 — 9:00am


That’s what my boyfriend shouted across the room when he saw me lift up a piece of 7 hour braised brisket from the slow cooker. This is proper Sunday cooking: a big piece of cow, slung in a pot and allowed to cook down until the meat falls apart with so much as a sideways glance from hungry eyes.

I’ve been experimenting with brisket on the BBQ over the summer and I almost got it right – almost. It’s hard to achieve still-moist brisket complete with proper smoke ring on a small home BBQ but I’ll get there, next year. Now it’s all about the patient braising in my shiny new slow-cooking Crock Pot.

The 1.2 kg hunk of brisket sure did look cosy coddled in that pot with some home-made beef stock and a good slug of bourbon. I added dried apricots for sweetness, which plumped up and gradually broke down leaving little amber nuggets clinging to the meat. Man, was I proud when I served this up (and I don’t mind saying so myself); so rich and tender it made me want to give myself a  big ol’ pat on my smug-ass back.

After I’d finished with the patting, my thoughts turned to the leftovers. The Sandwich. A really generous portion of warmed brisket packed against coleslaw, sliced pickles, Frank’s Hot Sauce and French’s mustard. I think it’s fair to say I was in a state of mind approaching ecstasy when I sat down to consume this beautiful behemoth. She was big, she was messy and she was filthy in a good way. So worth the wait.

Seven-Hour Brisket Braised with Bourbon and Apricots (fed 2 people for 3 meals, generously)

1.195kg brisket (look, that’s what it weighed – I’m not taking the piss)
10 dried apricots
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled
A slosh of Frank’s Hot Sauce (or other hot sauce, or chilli flakes)
2 bay leaves
150ml bourbon
About 400ml good quality beef stock (I made mine)

Put the brisket in the slow cooker and add the onion, garlic, Frank’s, bay leaves, apricots, bourbon and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Add about half of the stock or whatever your slow cooker can take. I added half then topped it up halfway through cooking time.

Set the cooker to low and cook for seven hours, or until the meat is falling apart. As I say, you’ll need to top up with stock half way through (makes sure you warm it up first). When the meat is ready, remove it and shred it. Set aside.

In a saucepan over a high heat, reduce the sauce by about half then add the meat back into it. Serve with slaw and sourdough. Beans would also be nice. Make sure you save some for the sandwich. I mean that.

18 comments » | Main Dishes, Meat

Roast Fennel & Bread Salad with Anchovy Dressing

October 13th, 2011 — 6:49pm


“It’s not a salad if you put bread in it” someone once told me. What a load of tosh. Have you ever heard of croutons? Hmmm? Although regular croutons depress me; rock hard squares that shatter to dust once bitten. I like to make bread more of the main event by getting some really good quality sourdough or a similar sturdy loaf, charring it and and tearing it into rough chunks (an idea I fell in love with after making this). It sponges up the dressing, leaving you with half juicy, half crisp pieces which really bulk out a salad in the most obscenely delicious manner.

Last night I wasn’t in the mood for meat, so I roasted some fennel and cherry tomatoes, added some fat kalamata olives and coated everything in an anchovy rich dressing – 10 really large, plump fillets which pumped things up a notch or twenty. Chilli, garlic, parsley, olive oil…you can imagine it all soaking into the bread. Go on, imagine it.

Deep-fried croutons, be gone.

Roast Fennel and Bread Salad with Anchovy Dressing (serves 2)

2 bulbs fennel
10 cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
About 8 kalamata olives
2 slices sourdough bread

For the dressing:

1 red chilli, finely chopped
Small handful parsley, finely chopped
10 plump anchovy fillets, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Remove the tough outer later of the fennel and trim any stalky bits at the top. Cut each bulb into quarters and then cut each quarter in half again. Arrange in a roasting dish and sling in the garlic (unpeeled) too. Drizzle with oil then give everything a good mix around to make sure it’s coated well. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 20 minutes.

Arrange the tomatoes in a separate dish, coat with oil and season as you did with the fennel. Once the fennel has been roasting for 20 minutes, put the tomatoes in the oven too. Cook for a further 15 minutes.

To make the dressing, put the chilli, parsley and anchovies in a pestle and mortar and pound to a paste. Add the lemon juice, a good slug of oil to loosen it and season with black pepper. Give everything a really good mix to emulsify the dressing. Once the vegetables are ready, remove the garlic and squeeze that into the dressing also. Mix well again.

Toast the bread, tear it into chunks and put into a large bowl. Add the fennel and tomatoes followed by the dressing. Give it a really good mix. Arrange on plates with the olives scattered over.

18 comments » | Bread, Fish, Fish and Seafood, Main Dishes, Salads

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