So… last year you did that spring clean in your kitchen and finally ditched the pasta machine that’s been gathering dust in the back of the cupboard. Probably patted yourself on the back then for decluttering… but this year, it’s a different story. You now realise that it’s the missing piece on your road to winning lockdown bingo. The insta-famous banana bread and choc-chip cookies have been made, the sourdough starter is alive, and you’ve participated in more Zoom quizzes than you ever thought possible… but how to tick off ‘make you own pasta’ without that sodding machine?! You will no doubt have a rolling bin or empty wine bottle which will absolutely do the job but requires a bit of hard graft and extra time… so that’s definitely an option, but I’ve got an even better one for you.
Forget about the thinly rolled sheets to be cut into fettuccine or folded in ravioli or tortellini. Stick with something altogether less faff but equally satisfying. Friends, I am going to suggest you make cavatelli. This small rustic shell-like pasta shape is made from semolina flour which is another bonus if you find yourself rationing wheat flour. I managed to easily source it in the international foods section of my Sainsbury’s or you can order it online, doesn’t appear to be in short supply. And the final reason why I think cavatelli (or are they actually called gnochetti… no amount of googling has given me a definitive answer) is worth your time, is that it actually doesn’t take that much time – from flour to finish in around an hour!
After my first attempt at making kimchi, there very almost wasn’t a second attempt. Not because the end result wasn’t tasty, or because it was particularly hard to make… it was the smell. I thought I was adequately prepared for that funky fermentation whiff when I opened it for the first time, but I was not. And neither was a certain someone… from memory, he actually left the flat, for no other reason. So as you can imagine, once that batch was finished, it took me a while longer to work up the courage and olfactory fortitude to try again…
The second, third, fourth… I’ve lost count now… times that I’ve made kimchi since then, it’s turned out a lot less messy both in the mixing and the smell factor. Which is an absolute relief because we love the stuff and have taken to eating it any which way we can. The distinct sourness and gentle blend of sweetness and spice makes it a perfect accompaniment for more than you might realise. Of course it’s an absolute necessity in Korean dishes such as kimchi-jjigae (kimchi stew which you can add pork and/or tofu to), kimchi buchimgae (pancakes), or as a side to a bibimbap. But… it’s also absolutely delightful in a crispy chicken burger or a grilled cheese toastie. That, my friends, is why you need to start making your own with this easy kimchi recipe…
A friend recently asked if I had any recommendations for yakitori spots in Tokyo… I mean, how long is a piece of string? Alongside sushi and ramen (which he also asked about and I think is even more of a minefield), yakitori is probably one of the most recognisable Japanese foods. ‘Yakitori’ which translates to ‘grilled chicken’ might just be meat on a stick, but in Japan where everything has a certain ceremony to it, this is meticulously prepared meat on a stick. Every piece of bite-sized chicken, which could be anything from breast, liver or even skin, is carefully selected and threaded onto a skewer before being seasoned with either shio (salt) or a tare made from a base of soy sauce and other flavourings.
During our time in Japan, we chewed through a lot of yakitori. You’ll find some yakitori on most izakaya menus as they pair so perfectly with a cold beer, but we did also visit a few yakitori-ya where they were even more extensive and creative in their use of the whole bird. As offal lovers, we were in heaven… livers and hearts were particular favourites. I think the best way to do a yakitori meal is to park yourself up at the bar, order a beer and get a steady stream of sticks until you’re full. Either let the chef choose (omakase) or get a mixed plate (moriwase) and then repeat the ones you particularly enjoyed!
I remember that first sip well; it was chalky and abrasive, something I did not want to drink again. In hindsight, trying sake for the first time at a raucous, much-loved local BYO restaurant was not my smartest move. There’s a reason they suggest you bring your own booze. But I was young and stupid, and the bento box dinners were within easy reach of my university student budget. The sake was promptly chased by a gulp of cheap wine and classed as a tick off the drinks bucket list. The few experiences I had since then were better, though still not enough to turn it into a regular drink of choice. Trying it again in Japan would be the final test; my logic was that if I couldn’t like it here then I wouldn’t bother drinking it again. So to give myself and sake the best possible chance of getting along, we joined sake sommelier Yuma from Ninja Food Tours for a sake tasting class!
When we landed in Phnom Penh, we knew nothing more than the name of our hotel and a rough idea of how much the taxi would cost to get us there. Many of you will know that pre-trip planning and research is not our strong suit. This was the case before we decided to hit the road for months on end, but is even worse now that we’re constantly on the move. Cambodia also had the added misfortune of being the last country on our South East Asia adventure; we were a bit travel worn by the time we arrived and in no mood for extensive days of sightseeing yet we didn’t want to waste our short time in the country.
Much to our delight, Phnom Penh turned out to fit our requirements perfectly – this vibrant city has enough to keep you occupied, but its compact nature means it’s not at all overwhelming. Visiting in April also meant that it was suffocatingly hot. I thought I had acclimatised to the soaring temperatures of Asia but landing in Phnom Penh pulled me back to reality. And so our days took on a comfortable routine of action-packed mornings and lazy afternoons in the poolside cabanas at our hotel – it was bliss. For first time visitors, I think three days in the city is ideal to get around the main attractions, enjoy some of the fantastic restaurants, and still have some down time. Here’s what you should do on your first visit to Phnom Penh…
When a certain someone and I decided years ago to put Sri Lanka on our travel bucket list, it was because of the beaches. We read somewhere that this teardrop island was blessed with beautiful shores, and that just stuck in our minds. For two people who aren’t particularly skilled at swimming, we have a bizarre soft spot for beach holidays. But what really pushed us into finally booking this trip was years of living in Tooting and eating our way round the myriad of Sri Lankan curry houses in our neighbourhood. Slowly but surely, the flavours of this cuisine began to win us over… the more we became enamoured with the dals, dosas, and mutton rolls, the more we wanted to taste it all in Sri Lanka.
And then we arrived in the country and got a giant dose of reality. Our daydreams of streets lined with food carts selling delectable snacks, and days spent gorging on aromatic curries with piping hot roti breads, did not exactly come true. We did have some excellent meals, but that was more the exception than the norm and we had to dig a little deeper, and at times venture off track to find some of these gems. I came to the conclusion that perhaps the best Sri Lankan food is still found in Sri Lankan homes, and since I didn’t know any locals to impose myself on, the next best thing was to learn to cook like a local.
I recently spent an afternoon eating my way through course after course dedicated solely to showcasing the magic of a certain Italian cheese and vinegar. Both are well-loved and often used in all sorts of dishes, but rarely as the main event. The more I ate, the fuller I became… full of delicious food and full of enthusiasm for these two ingredients. So much so that by the end of lunch I had vowed to use my Parmigiano Reggiano and Aceto Balsamico Traditionale di Modena with the respect they deserved, and that did not mean a little sprinkle over pasta or drizzle over salad. My intentions were pure, but it turned out that my devotion was not and a few weeks later, I found myself sprinkling and drizzling as I had always done.
So it seemed like fate when Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano told me to don my apron for an evening where I could actually do what I vowed I would: cook a dish where Parmigiano Reggiano was the star, and not the supporting act. The prospect of having another opportunity to eat an obscene amount of cheese was enough to get me in the kitchen, but when I found out that the kitchen was the one and only Le Cordon Bleu London, I was deliriously excited. Many of my office daydreams involved trading in my convoluted project plans and business cases for days filled with mise en place and hours in front of the stove at this culinary institution.