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Foodie Penpals: feeling Hungary

2 May

This month’s package of foodie goodness came from Szilvia, who lives in Budapest, Hungary. Once again, another cuisine I knew nothing about, but her incredibly thoughtful parcel has hopefully put paid to that.


Inside was a wealth of lovely items:

* Jokai Bableves and guylas soup mixes
* Tubes of guylas crem and porkolt izesito to use as bases for stews and soups
* Magyaros fuszerkerverek spice mix for marinading meat
* Wild garlic
* Paprika
* Goose liver pate
* Home-made rosehip jam
* Local sweets
* Beautiful home-made lollipops



Szilvia also sent me plenty of local recipes, including one for pasta and potatoes with paprika, which I can’t wait to try next time we have a chilly day (knowing British summer, I’m sure I won’t have to wait long). I think I’m most excited about using the rosehip jam on toasted bagels for breakfast – it’s deep, complex-tasting and not too sweet – and about experimenting with the spice pastes and wild garlic, which I’ve been meaning to try cooking with for some time now.

Thank you very much, Szilvia!

My other partner this month was Gill at Tales Of Pigling Bland – fingers crossed she liked her parcel from me, too.

If you want to get involed with Foodie Penpals, you can check out how it works over at Rock Salt.

Plenty of lemons were harmed in the making of this pesto

18 Mar

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There are some foods that improve pretty much everything they’re added to. Cheese, for instance, and green pesto. So I thought I was being very clever indeed when I seized upon the idea of feta pesto. After a quick Google search, I based my attempt on this one from The Inadvertent Gardener, but substituted the pine nuts for walnuts.

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American measurements proved, as ever, my nemesis. I’ve said it many times and I’ll repeat it once more for emphasis: since when is a ‘cup’ a reasonable means of measuring things? If nothing else, nuts are not a valid shape to be measured in such terms. (You can stop sniggering at the back now.)

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Also, three cups of basil is a lot more basil than you’d think. In fact, it’s enough basil to necessitate a run out to the supermarket for more basil. This may be testament to my own idiocy, however; I’m willing to let that stand.

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My biggest problem, though, was the salt. I may have been using a different type of tablespoon to the one in the recipe (I tend to use a proper measuring one, which probably errs toward the generous side in comparison to a normal spoon) and I used sea salt rather than kosher salt (I didn’t even know salt could be kosher) but my first iteration was almost inedibly salty. You can definitely have iterations of food, right?

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Unwilling – and too time-pressed – to start again from scratch, I did the one thing that sprang to mind as a means of salvage: I started adding lemon juice. It seemed to be improving things, so I added some more. And then some more. Hell, and then some more after that. In short: quite a lot of lemon juice. Turns out, lemon does help to counteract salt. I must have read this at some point previously and stashed it away a the back of my brain where the cobwebs live.

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A bit more olive oil to balance things out, plus a few more walnuts blitzed in to re-thicken, and things were actually almost saved. A near-disaster, then, but one that just about got clawed back – and that could easily be avoided in future. And let’s face it, there will be a future iteration, because this was quite tasty with lamb steaks.

Foodie Penpals: cheese from Holland

28 Feb

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I haven’t been this excited to receive post in a long time. I arrived home today to find my first Foodie Penpals parcel awaiting me. It was very kindly sent from the Netherlands by my penpal for the month, Lielle – and I had little idea what to expect, seeing as my knowledge of Holland is entirely garnered from a couple of trips to Amsterdam back in my slightly wilder days. (I certainly experienced some culture, but it was not exactly the type to inform me of the country’s culinary traditions…)

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Still, despite my utter ignorance, I knew it would be worth my eager anticipation seeing as I’d received an email from Lielle, asking what my favourite food was, and if I’d like to try the cheese that Holland is famous for. The answer to the first question is ‘cheese’, so the second didn’t take a lot of thought. As such, this was a postcard that filled me with glee.

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Inside, there were cheese straws, a mix of miniature cheeses, two different Wyngaard Affineur cheeses and some kletzenbrood (a sort of semi-sweet fruit and nut loaf).

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The Wyngaard cheeses are undoubtedly the stars here – one is with wholegrain mustard (let’s be honest, never going to be anything other than a winning combination), the other with ginger (not a pairing I’d have thought to try, but one that definitely works). The cheese itself creamy-tasting, with just the right amount of bite to stand up to the additional flavours.

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Things I have learnt from this plate: Holland seems to do cheese very well indeed; ginger and cheese is a good mix; exactly what kletzenbrood is. I would say that these are lessons extremely well learned.

Thank you very much, Lielle!

“You look like you could use a pork bun”

6 Nov

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Sleeping Dogs is what started this. Specifically, the way that background characters often call out things like, “You look like you could use a pork bun!” as you go sprinting past – in a manner so quotable it’s become somewhat of an office in-joke.

When I was leafing through my copy of Jamie’s America over the weekend, looking for a recipe to help cure my odd ambivalence to chilli con carne (clearly I’m on some kind of American kick at the moment) when my eyes alighted on his recipe for sher ping pancakes, stuffed with pork. I know they’re not the same thing, but I couldn’t resist. Of course I couldn’t.

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The filling’s a mix of pork mince, fresh ginger, grated cabbage, spring onion and a few other things, which combine to smell amazing even before having been cooked. The dough’s a simple flour-water-oil mix.

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I love anything hands-on, cookery-wise, so making these into adorable little parcels was absolutely the most fun part of it all.

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Then it was just a case of popping them into a pan for a few minutes on each side, and trying not to join the Triads. See? Videogames can definitely be a positive influence. Take that, Daily Mail.

I’ll probably turn into a pumpkin

4 Nov

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My housemate and I went a bit mad over pumpkin last week, a fact that can be wholly attributed to Halloween. Firstly we carved them – I crafted the rather fetching (if wonky) Jack Skellington above – then we cleaned and toasted the seeds, and tossed them with chilli flakes and sea salt. They’re possibly my new favourite snack.

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Then, as she made pumpkin soup, I decided to venture way out of my comfort zone and give pumpkin pie a shot. I was absolutely flying blind on this one, having never eaten pumpkin pie in my life, let alone read a recipe for one. Hell, until now I’d never even seen one in real life.

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American recipes mainly seemed to call for canned pumpkin (seriously, is that a thing? It doesn’t sound like it ought to be a thing at all) so, as ever when in doubt, BBC Food website to the rescue! Specifically, a Saturday Kitchen recipe from Antony Worrall Thompson. As a bit of a Shakespeare geek, I was more than mildly amused by the fact that it called for a literal pound of (pumpkin) flesh.

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Once steamed and mashed into a purée, it was mixed with heated cream, sugar, eggs and spices to make a custard that, if I’m honest, looked more akin to baby sick than anything I’d want to eat. Well, until I tasted it, anyway. Nutmeg and cinnamon could make anything okay.

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I shunned the recipe’s suggestion of shop-bought pastry – what’s the point in shortcuts when you’re already making something that involves effort? – and made up a batch of sweet shortcrust from a Paul Hollywood recipe. I used a cupcake tray, too, to make individual ones, and just went on instinct in terms of baking time.

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Drizzled with dark chocolate, I was pretty pleased with how they turned out – almost like spiced egg custard tarts. More treat than trick, then. Happy (belated) Halloween!

Back to school

8 Sep

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It’s been eight years since I left school – two since I left university – and I don’t miss it. At all. I still love learning new stuff, though, especially when it comes to food. So obviously I was overjoyed when I got a place on Bordeaux Quay‘s tapas course as a birthday present.

Today was the day. Under the guidance of the lovely Kelly Sealey – who may just be my new favourite person – me and eight others learnt how to make (deep breath): black olive tapenade, tortilla, mussels with shallots and sherry, lamb pinchos, romesco sauce (which we ate with Parma ham) and empanadas filled with chorizo. Oh, and as if we hadn’t eaten enough by that point, Kelly had prepared crème Catalan in advance for pudding.

It was a great environment for a class. We were paired up (I was with a nice gentleman called Nick) and then shared the cookery between the two of us at a station. Kelly showed us how to make a dish, and then we went off and did so. Then we reconvened at the front of the kitchen and ate the results together along with a specially matched wine. It was informal and plenty of fun; the afternoon flew by.

If I had to pick a favourite dish from the list, it would potentially be the tapenade – which is ironic, given that I don’t actually even usually like olives – or the romesco sauce, which I’ll definitely be making again. I’m also chuffed to have finally produced a Spanish omelette – indeed, any omelette at all – that actually looked the part, rather than simply a mess of eggs on a plate.

So, I learnt a whole bunch – including lots that I’ll be using in my own kitchen, and now I can’t wait to have friends over for tapas. What’s more, I did so while eating, drinking, giggling and generally enjoying myself. What could be better? I only wish that actual school had been more like this.

(Apologies for the lack of photos in this post – perhaps understandably, I was a bit too busy learning how to cook tapas at the time.)

My big fat Greek packed lunch

12 Jul

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Yep, I’m still trying to chase down that Greek food dragon.

I get bored of normal salad (or indeed any packed lunch) fairly quickly, so I’m always keen for new spins to put on it. I’m fairly pleased with this combo: salad leaves, crumbled feta, Greek-style new potatoes and home-made tzatziki.

The potatoes are somewhere between a roast and a fondant – drizzled with olive oil and then shoved into a roasting pan with chicken stock, an oregano-heavy herb mix and an almost-literal ton of lemon juice. Thanks to a bit of confusion with the recipe (which called for two tablespoons of the seasoning mix; apparently this didn’t mean the properly measured type) the tzatziki is about more garlicky than I’d have ideally liked. Still, it’s pretty close, and a good way of incorporating cucumber, which I don’t really like on its own – plus, I should be able to nail it next time.

Monday’s attempt fared less well. After a morning sat in the office fridge, tzatziki and potato marinade had conspired to turn things into a sad, soggy mess. This morning, though, I stumbled upon a two-compartment takeaway container in the kitchen cupboard. Problem solved! I need to get me one of these ace Black + Blum lunchboxes.

Get her to the Greek

8 Jul

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A couple of days ago, I returned from a week in Tsilivi, Zackynthos. Yes, I am still grumpy about being back in the British weather. And yes, I did drink enough cocktails to procure all of those little flags myself. But I also ate a lot of amazing Greek food. I’ll confine myself to the highlights…

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Saganaki. My favourite Greek starter from every family holiday ever, it’s local cheese (Google seems to suggest that kefalotyri and kasseri are common varieties), rolled in flour and fried. It has a wonderfully light, crisp crust to it, and tastes great liberally doused in lemon juice.

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Souvlaki. This mixed one – at Romios, like the saganaki – featured beef, lamb, pork, chicken and spicy village sausage. As the picture suggests, it’s basically a posh kebab – but with infinitely better seasoning.

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Meze plate. If the name isn’t Greek for “I don’t know what I want, so hit me with a bit of everything that’s tasty”, it bloody well ought to be. Deep breath: moussaka, lamb kleftiko, beef stifado, Zackynthian chicken (in a tomato and herb sauce with local cheese, although our maitre d’ at Calypso informed me that every restaurant has its own variation on the recipe), dolmades, tzatziki, Greek potatoes and potato salad… Oof.

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Kalamari. I have little patience with people who are squeamish about squid, especially when it’s absurdly fresh from the sea, like this was from Sweet Revenge. Also, crispy tentacles are the best.

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Roast chicken with olive oil, garlic and rosemary (again from Sweet Revenge). Simple, but with a ton of flavour. I really can’t wait to attempt to recreate this at home.

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Mixed dips – houmous, tzatziki, taramasalata and a spicy cheese dip called tyrokafteri. It sounds daft, but I’m always (pleasantly) surprised by how different fresh humour tastes from its supermarket counterpart; more garlicky by far, and thicker in texture. The Olive Tree‘s did not disappoint.

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Grilled swordfish. Greek islands were my family’s holiday default throughout my teenage years, but amazingly, at 23, this was my first trip as a meat-eater, having spent about six (some might say misguided) years as a pescetarian. As such, stuff like swordfish steak was a staple for me, so it was fantastic to revisit it at Athena and find it just as delicious as I fondly remembered.

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Baklava. Probably the most famous Greek dessert (this one also from Athena), chopped nuts wrapped in filo and then drenched in honey is always going to be a winner. That will probably give you impossibly high blood sugar levels, followed by type two diabetes. Worth it, though.

Squirrelled away in my suitcase on the flight home were several packets of herbs (oregano, mixes for souvlaki, tzatziki, potatoes, feta…), a couple of different olive oil blends and a Greek recipe book – *cough* but definitely no honey *cough* – so I’m really excited about giving some of this stuff a go myself.

In the mean time, though, is it really too much to ask that all of my drinks look like this?

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