Archive for December 2011

My Favourite Recipes (& Guilty Pleasures) of 2011

December 31st, 2011 — 12:00pm

Food Stories has been predominantly recipe (not restaurant) focused this year. Creating is what makes me feel happiest inside, it turns out. So here are my favourite recipes of 2011, followed by the most memorable guilty pleasures; it would be terribly neglectful to exclude the latter, I think, as it’s surely clear by now that I’m quite partial to a filthy (probably pork-based, definitely artery-shuddering) snackette, or four.

1. Egg Yolk Ravioli (top photo)

It took three attempts, but I eventually nailed this recipe and was rewarded with some of the most decadent pasta I’ve ever eaten; a quivering yolk coddled by a ring of spinach and ricotta, ready to ooze headlong into a sauce that is made almost entirely from melted butter. Crushed pink peppercorns and purple basil made it one of my prettiest plates of 2011, too.

2. Piri Piri Chicken

2011 was the year I got even more into BBQ. Come drizzle, hail or sunshine, I was out there guarding that Weber, tongs in hand, bucket of meat on standby. We worked our way through jerk; brisket; brats cooked in beer; pulled pork and an obscene amount of wings (more on those later) but one of my favourite recipes was this piri piri chicken, inspired by a local takeaway. The combination of charred chicken (for piri piri must be charred), feisty chilli and tangy vinegar sauce made this one of my hits of the summer.

3. Boston Baked Beans

These rich and smoky Boston baked beans are thick with molasses and packed with nubs of smoked pork belly. They’re about as different to regular baked beans as you can imagine and they rocked my world.

4. Baghdad Eggs

I first came across Baghdad eggs in Jake Tilson’s brilliant cook book, ‘A Tale of 12 Kitchens’. This combination of  onions, sharp yoghurt and spiced butter on eggs is now my favourite weekend brunch.

5. Daim Bar Ice Cream

I visited Sweden this year and re-discovered Daim Bars. They went straight into ice cream. I watched my boyfriend devour the remains of this, straight from the tub with a spoon, after which he lay back, clutching his stomach, moaning “I feel siiiiiiick”. In a good way, you understand.

6. Ham Cooked in Coca Cola with a Rum and Molasses Glaze

The only way to make this sticky-sweet ham any better would be to pull great big hunks off it, stick it in a sandwich with some deep fried pickles and…oh, wait a minute.

7. Hickory Smoked Hot Wings 

After my first batch of home made hot wings, I wanted to do a variation and decided to smoke them using hickory wood chips, before dousing them as usual in Frank’s Hot Sauce and melted butter. Come to mama.

8. Smoky Aubergine and Lamb Pide

Pide are like a pointy Middle Eastern version of pizza. I based the recipe on my ‘Peckham Pizza’ (based on lahmacun). The topping is an intense paste made from spiced, minced lamb and the flesh from a charred aubergine. Garnished with chopped pickles and herbs, they’re lovely eaten as is, or wrapped around some salad.

 9. Pork Pibil Tacos

This pibil was made with pork knuckles and smothered in achiote paste – a wonderful ingredient which simply has no substitute. The tacos were spicy, drizzled as they were with a sauce made from orange juice, onion and scotch bonnet chillies.

10. Sausage Rolls with Apricots and Whisky-Caramelised Onions

And finally, a seasonal entry at number 10, my new favourite sausage roll recipe. Onions were slowly, slowly caramelised then bubbled furiously with whisky before going into these sausage rolls along with some dried apricots. The sweetness worked so well with the sausage meat and I’ve had great feedback from people who’ve made them this Christmas.

For the guilty pleasures, I’ve exercised some restraint (most uncharacteristic) and narrowed it down to five:

1. Baked Gnocchi with Gorgonzola and Spinach

Sneaking in on 3rd Jan was this rather naughty dish I made for my boyfriend’s birthday dinner. Home-made gnocchi baked in a sauce of Gorgonzola and cream, with a little spinach thrown in to ease the guilt. The gnocchi goes crispy on top while remaining gooey and soft underneath. A cardiologist’s nightmare.

2. Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing and Candied Bacon

Candied bacon is definitely one of my top guilty pleasures of the year, so much so I wrote a whole post about making it and using it. I have fond memories though of this ‘salad’ garnish, chopped candied bacon sprinkled over a river of blue cheese dressing and crunchy iceberg.

3. Deep Fried Pickles

Everyone went mad for these in 2011. I stuffed mine into a sandwich with coca cola ham and hot sauce. Then I had a lie down.

4. Meatwagon Burgers

I’ve followed Yianni’s journey from his van in Peckham, through #Meateasy in New Cross and now to Meat Liquor via The Rye. The latter has to be the most convenient and dangerous burger vending situation ever in existence if the state of my waistline is anything to go by. The Rye pub is opposite my house you see and for a few glorious months I needed to do little more than hop over the road to get my fix. Now they’re gone and Meat Liquor is in central London. I could cry.

5. Eggy Bread and Candied Bacon Sandwich

In at number 5: the sandwich of shame. I had candied bacon to hand and I’d just made eggy bread. It had to be done, see? We felt the guilt after eating this but damn, it was good. Sick, but good. If you’re into sandwiches, I’ve written a post about my top 5 here.

Phew. No wonder I need to lose weight. The diet inevitably starts er, tomorrow but until then I’ve got a Ginger Pig rib eye with my name on it. Happy New Year everyone. Thank you for reading and here’s to a tasty 2012. Cheers!


36 comments » | Barbecue, Brunch, Burgers, Christmas, Desserts, Dressings, Eggs, Gnocchi, Guilty Pleasures, Ice Cream, Main Dishes, Meat, Peckham, Round-ups, Salads, Salsa, Sandwiches, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Vegetables

Hot Sauce: My Top 4

December 15th, 2011 — 8:08am

We all know that chilli is addictive; the more you eat the more you become tolerant to the fire and want increasing amounts on everything. I have this ‘problem’. I want chilli pickle, chilli oil and every type of imported dried chilli I can get my hands on. I even bought a naga chilli plant (at Brockley Market), so that I can grow plenty of the hottest chillies in the world while simultaneously being too scared to eat them. When it comes to hot sauce though, it’s been a real personal mission. A great hot sauce can liven up just about any meal, be it jerk chicken with rice and peas (a must) or simply cheese on toast.

Everyone has at least one hot sauce in their cupboard, right? I think it’s a shame that so often that bottle is nothing more than a lonely Tabasco, a weeny thing that suggests fierce heat but doesn’t particularly deliver, despite having a pleasant peaty flavour. It has its place, which is often at the back of the cupboard where it sits unloved for years sporting an orange crust betwixt bottle and fiddly green cap.

The best hot sauces make you pause before dinner and think, ‘I wonder if I could get away with a blob of X on this?’  and they make you push the boundaries of your tolerance; we’ve all enthusiastically scooped up a massive blob – ‘I can take it!’ – only to be reduced to a snivelling wreck. A good hot sauce will make you crave, crave, crave. I’ve tried a LOT of varieties in recent years and these are the ones I think find the right balance between their position on the Scoville Scale and flavour. A hot sauce shouldn’t simply be very hot, you see (I’ve tried ‘Death Sauce‘ and found it unbearable); it should have depth, sweetness, acidity, salt and it should capture the flavour of the chilli in question. It’s a big ask. Here are my favourites, in no particular order:

1. ‘No Joke’ [see £3.25 + pp for 170ml. You'll need to e-mail if you want to order some, for the moment - new website coming soon. Follow the creator, Susanna on Twitter at @nojokepepper]. 

‘No Joke’ hot sauce (‘created in Trinidad, hand-made in Cumbria’), the newest addition to my cupboard, winged its way to me via food writer Adam Coghlan (his girlfriend’s mum makes it). I’ve tried a lot of scotch bonnet-based sauces in my time and this is one of the best. It has a jammy consistency, with a pure scotch bonnet flavour offset by the sweet, sour and spicy notes of papaya, lime and ginger. The heat pulls no punches but is balanced by the sugar and spicing. A truly tropical-tasting hot sauce.

2. Holy Fuck Sauce by The Rib Man [£5 for 250ml from]

Londoners have been going crazy for this sauce, and rightly so. It comes from the kitchen of Mark Gevaux (The Rib Man) and was apparently named ‘Holy Fuck’ because that’s what people say when they first taste it. He uses scotch bonnet and a smaller amount of bhut jolokia or naga, the world’s hottest chilli. It does, of course, pack serious burn but somehow – possibly through some kind of sorcery – Mark has managed to capture the rich, fruity perfume of the chillies. There is no other hot sauce with a comparable flavour; it’s truly addictive. A lot of sweetness balances out the heat and I wonder if he uses ketchup in the mix. It has the most incredible thick texture, too. I’m not sure I can ever be without a bottle.

3. Tan Rosie Garlic and Pepper Sauce [£4.00 for 250ml, available from]

I came across this one thanks to a tip-off on Twitter. It’s made to a family recipe by Tan Rosie foods (based in Birmingham) who advertise it as a ‘true taste of the Caribbean’. Phewee! Yeah, this is a hot one all right. Despite the heat which, for me, hangs just on the right side of searing, the flavour of scotch bonnets is so incredibly pure. It does border slightly on frustrating, because I always want more of the flavour with a little less of the heat but I can’t help going back for more. I’d choose ‘No Joke’ over Tan Rosie if it came down to it, but a great one to have in the cupboard nonetheless; it’s livened up many a mediocre jerk chicken, although the jerk pictured below was fantastic (from Caribbean Spice Jerk Centre – my favourite until it got taken over by new management recently. So sad).

4. Frank’s Original and Frank’s Extra Hot [you can buy 148ml bottles of Frank's in major branches of Tesco, Sainsbury's and through Ocado for £1.49 a bottle and at Waitrose for £1.59 a bottle]. 

I came across this American brand of hot sauce when I first made hot wings back in the summer. The classic buffalo wings recipe uses equal quantities of Frank’s and melted butter (although these days I’m inclined to skew that ratio a little); one batch and I was hooked. My favourite to date was this pile of hickory-smoked, Frank’s and butter slathered beauties (below). Phwoar. Frank’s is a mild sauce (even the extra hot, which is below Tabasco on the Scoville Scale) but it has a lovely flavour, made as it from a mixture of aged cayenne peppers.

I also love it sprinkled over my poached eggs in the morning. It’s mild enough for 8am in my book.

Those are my favourites, but I want to hear yours. Does Sriracha warm your cockles? What about Encona? Are you a hard core Death Sauce fanatic? I’d like to find some new varieties to try so please do let me know in the comments.


90 comments » | Hot Sauce, Sauces, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads

Sausage rolls with apricots and whisky-caramelised onions

December 13th, 2011 — 9:10am

Last year, I was all about the quick and easy sausage rolls. This year, I have about a third of the spare time and yet I’m spending it caramelising onions with whisky. Such is the power of procrastination. Still, they’re no bother once you get them on and I’m definitely going to make a massive batch next time, to add to pies, sandwiches and, ooh! HOTDOGS!

Anyway, they’re incredible in these sausage rolls too, together with re-plumped dried apricots and a good pinch of chipotle chilli flakes to play off that smoky thing going on with the whisky. At first I was worried the rolls might be a little on the sweet side with the onions and fruit but god damn if they weren’t just plain sexy. So sexy in fact that we ate all 12 between the two of us in the space of a few hours and the boyfriend claimed they were the best sausage rolls he’s ever eaten. High praise indeed.

Sausage Rolls with Whisky-caramelised Onions and Apricots (makes about 12)

3 regular, brown-skinned onions, chopped in half and sliced
500g good quality plain sausage meat
A good slosh of whisky (I mean generous)
12 dried apricots
320g pack ready-rolled puff pastry
1 generous teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
A generous pinch of chipotle flakes
1 egg, beaten
Butter, for caramelising the onions

First, make the onions. Melt the butter in a large pan and add the onions plus a good pinch of salt, tossing them around to coat them evenly. Set the pan to the lowest heat and put a lid on, leaving a small gap at one side. Let the onions cook down for at least an hour but preferably longer, stirring occasionally. They’re ready when they’re very soft, golden and not too wet. At this stage, turn up the heat and add a really good slosh of whisky (the amount you add obviously depends on how much you want them to taste of whisky) and let it bubble down until there’s almost no liquid left. The onions are now ready, so set them aside on a plate to cool completely (this happens faster if you spread them out in a thin layer).

Soak the apricots in warm water for 20 minutes or so, then dice them. When you’re ready to make the sausage rolls and the onions are cool, preheat the oven to 200C. Give the onions a quick chop then add them to the sausagemeat mix, along with the thyme leaves, chipotle flakes, the apricots and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Preheat a frying pan and make a tiny patty from the sausage meat mixture; fry it in the oil and taste it for seasoning. You may want to add more salt or chilli, depending on how it tastes.

When you’re satisfied with the mix, unwrap the pastry and lay it out on a lightly floured surface. It should be almost the right size, but I like to roll it out just a tiny bit thinner, making it easier to wrap around the meat. Cut the rectangle into two, lengthways, then make two long sausages with the meat down the centre of each strip of pastry. Brush one side of each pastry strip with the beaten egg, then fold each one over to make two long sausage rolls. Cut into two inch pieces and snip each twice in the stop, using scissors. Brush each with more beaten egg and cook on a baking tray for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through.

26 comments » | Beer, Christmas, Meat, Pastry, Snacks

French Onion Soup (AoL Lifestyle)

December 13th, 2011 — 8:24am

French onion is probably my favourite of all soups; it doesn’t sound like much, but this boozy allium brew always warms right through to the marrow. I love the process of slowly, slowly caramelising onions; the transformation from gassy tear-jerkers to a sweet, soft and sticky mass is one of those magical kitchen processes that should be undertaken mindfully and with love. For a soup made of onions, it’s surprisingly filling; possibly something to do with the copious amounts of Gruyere on toast I make to go with it. Ahem. Head over to AoL for the recipe.

1 comment » | AoL Lifestyle, Soups

Tsuru Ramen

December 12th, 2011 — 8:27am

The sushi and katsu chain Tsuru (don’t let the word ‘chain’ put you off), are planning to open a ramen restaurant. Ramen is not something that can be rushed, neither in the cooking nor in the research, so they are practising by hosting pop-up ramen lunches at the weekend, to get feedback before flying off on a research trip to Tokyo where there are a lot (3,957, apparently) of registered ramen vendors. They aim to develop their own style and bring it back to London (along with a noodle-making machine), where the grand total of places to eat good ramen currently amounts to zero.

It’s all about the broth with ramen; almost every region of Japan has it’s own variation and yesterday at Tsuru it was the turn of the pork-based Tonkotsu, which originates from Kyushu. A mixture of (predominantly) pork bones, trotters and vegetables are boiled and skimmed for 15 hours, to make a rich, clear broth with significant depth of flavour and porcine essence. This is very difficult to achieve, the last stages of cooking being particularly hairy, as the ingredients can catch and burn on the bottom of the pot, ruining all those hours of careful cooking.

This broth however, was excellent, as I knew it would be as soon as I picked up the scent wafting down Bishopsgate. We fished around in the pleasingly salty depths for springy noodles, pork pieces (a few more next time please) and the most incredible soy marinated egg, its creamy amber yolk oozing like liquid gold. Bean sprouts were superfluous but not offensive and I slurped my way through the whole thing with gusto.

We later found out that the stock is strained somewhat before serving, and that one table had complained their broth wasn’t ‘funky’ enough; they wanted something cloudier, with more of a feral whiff about it. Now of course, I wish I’d tried this, but feedback on Twitter seemed mixed and I was very happy with my bowl until I knew I’d missed out on something different.

A few shared starters of chicken kara-age (chicken marinated in soy, ginger and garlic then deep fried), pork gyoza, vegetable gyoza, 2 beers and a bowl of that gorgeous ramen later, my (particularly vicious) hangover was cured. I can’t wait to start exploring the world of ramen, particularly considering the fact I can’t afford a flight to Japan or New York any time soon. If you want to check it out for yourself, Tsuru are hosting a Hokkaido-style (fish and miso-based) ramen event on 21st January, Tonkotsu again on 4th February and there will be more events to follow. Book your tickets here (£10 for the ramen plus a bottle of Asahi beer. Gyoza and chicken are extra). I wouldn’t recommend that you go with a hangover, of course, but the restorative powers of ramen have to been experienced to be believed; it’s almost worth deliberately giving it a go.

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Tickets for future events here.

12 comments » | Japanese, Noodles, Pop-up Restaurants

Jambalaya (AoL Lifestyle)

December 5th, 2011 — 3:29pm

For my AoL Column this week I’ve gone all Creole on yo’ asses with a hearty jambalaya. Chicken, chorizo, prawns, chilli, plus something calling itself a ‘holy trinity'; get on over to AoL Lifestyle for the recipe.

10 comments » | AoL Lifestyle, Main Dishes, Meat

Pizarro, Bermondsey

December 4th, 2011 — 6:59pm

Oh how I laughed when my friend asked whether I might fancy a “little lunch at Pizarro.” There’s just no such thing as a ‘little lunch’ in our book, let alone when the restaurant is in soft opening with 50% off. We were, quite tragically really, waiting outside the door at 12pm for the place to open. Half an hour later it was 3/4 full and by the time we left people were queueing. “We’re still in soft opening; we’re still learning!” pleaded the waitress before we’d even sat down, “we’re trying our best!” I didn’t care; I’ve had such a rotten week, they could have slapped me in the face with a hot croqueta and I’d have thanked them. I was here to spend time with my mate, self-medicating with Manzanilla, demolishing explicitly decadent, wobbly balls of bechamel.

Pizarro is supposed to be more of a sit-down restaurant than José’s other place, a tapas bar just up the road; the room still buzzed though and despite there being no seats at the bar (the best spot, atmosphere-wise), there are window seats facing out into the street, meaning our conversation was peppered with important, life-affirming observations like, “squeeee! look at those cute pugs” and “holy shit, what IS she wearing?”

We ordered too much because this is tapas and it always happens. A tousle of soft, lightly pickled boquerones (anchovies) with roasted red peppers and black olives came topped with a really good quality egg, which was very well cooked at one point but was cold. Maybe it was supposed to be cold, I dunno; no big deal anyway, the dish was near perfect, if rather difficult to divvy up.

Prawns and serrano ham was Spanish surf n turf, given a good kick up the backside with the might of chilli and garlic. I felt the prawn could take a lot more of a kicking but the serrano ham deserved a break. It’s hard to be disappointed with such good ingredients though.

Quail with romesco sauce was nice and salty, almost crisp enough and perfectly cleaned of meat by the time I’d finished with my half. A swift chop right down the centre made this a lot easier to share than the previous three prawns between the two of us. The slather of rich, nutty romesco, was generous, too.

Cauliflower with chard, soft cheese and walnuts was delicate, the vegetables beautifully cooked with coriander seeds and bay, the lot topped with crumbles of light, fresh tasting cheese. When the veg was all gone, I longed for bread to plunge into the oily juices at the bottom.

The first of the larger plates we ordered – Secreto Ibérico – was surprising mainly because we thought we were ordering something akin to the Pluma Iberica at José, but it arrived cooked through. We could have predicted that to be honest, because it comes with mashed potato; mashed potato and rare pork would be strange. The charred fatty pieces were heavenly though and despite being underwhelmed at the time, I find myself thinking about the dish an awful lot now. I’m afraid I can’t say much about the mashed potato, as I’ve never been particularly interested in it, to the constant disbelief of other people.

Hake, black cabbage and clams was okay but the hake was a touch over-cooked (though better near the bone) and I just couldn’t get excited about it. Three clams is a bit mean too, I think, particularly if you’re going to list them on the menu.

Desserts ramped things back up again; first ‘chocolate, toast and caramel ice cream’, the chocolate a big, sticky ball like really high-grade Nutella which we treated appropriately by smearing on the toast. It was incredibly good but intense and large; we couldn’t finish it. It was decided that more caramel ice cream, less Nutella blob would be better. I’m sure these things will be sorted.

To finish, my highlight of the meal; a pear sorbet in cava which was just so much fun, the light perfume of pear rising to our noses as we bent down to suck up the (lightly) saffron infused cava through straws, finally mixing it all together to make a posh, boozy Slush Puppie.

With 2 glasses of La Gitana Manzania and a beer each, that all went down very nicely at £46 for two thanks very much (with £50% off everything due to the soft opening). I’m sure any niggles will be ironed out pronto making this another boost for the increasingly trendy Bermondsey Street. Maybe one day Pizarro will own the whole stretch. Let’s hope he’s got lots of middle names.

194 Bermondsey Street

Restaurant 12 – 3 pm then 6 – 11 pm
Bar open all day

The restaurant does not take bookings.


14 comments » | Bars/Pubs, Restaurant Reviews

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