Wednesday, 25 August 2010

PURL London, Marylebone

Mr Hyde's Fixer Upper

I'm honoured that The Grubworm has asked me to write a guest post - it's my very first one and it's about the cocktail bar PURL London in Marylebone.

To read my review of PURL, please go to the Grubworm blog

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

University Challenge-d


Hard though it may be to believe, MasterChef isn't my favourite TV programme. Not by a long shot. That honour goes to the quiz show University Challenge as hosted by the redoubtable Jeremy Paxman.

I've always been good at quizzes so, unsurprisingly, it was always my dream to go on University Challenge (I was that kid from Starter for Ten, though I did have a brief flirtation with Blockbusters) and, as a student, I very nearly achieved that dream - I was the reserve for my college team and, wonder of wonders, they passed the auditions and actually got on the show.

So I trundled along with the team up to Granada studios in Manchester in the hope that someone would get food poisoning and I'd graciously step into the breach and save the day. But no, they were all fine. And after that, I graduated and I thought that was that.

intercollegiate challenge
This is in my parents' house. Not mine.

Then one day, bored at work, I was reading a trade paper when I saw an ad asking people to apply for a spin-off called University Challenge - The Professionals and so of course I applied ...

It was 2003. I was captain. I led a team of lawyers. I'd really like to say we stormed to victory, but in fact we got absolutely slaughtered. By a bunch of vicars.

Meh, I guess it's only right that God beat Mammon.

Anyway, as a kind of cathartic therapy I suppose, here for your delectation is my deathless appearance on University Challenge. Please don't laugh too much.

I still love Paxo by the way.

And I still clearly love University Challenge - I mean, look what I just bought on eBay:

UC game

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Tristan Welch's Cinder Toffee


Last Friday, I found out that Whole Foods Market in Kensington was running a short Summer Chef Series - a lovely initiative where the public could see free cookery demonstrations by various leading chefs from eg Salt Yard and Min Jiang, although we were encouraged to donate to the charity of their choice*. All the chefs were giving up their time for free so it would have been churlish to refuse.

I bombed it down to the first session to see Tristan Welch of Launceston Place preparing three desserts, which even a pud virgin like me could handle at home. He made Raspberry and Black Pepper "Angel Delight", Banana Split with Rum and Chocolate Mousse, and Cinder Toffee aka puff candy, honeycomb toffee or hokey pokey - all super-simple and gorgeous.

The recipes are all in September's Delicious Magazine, but we were given copies to take away (as well as a welcoming glass of Prosecco), so here's Tristan's recipe for Cinder Toffee.


Cinder Toffee by Tristan Welch
  • 75g honey
  • 140g liquid glucose
  • 400g sugar
  • 5 tbsp water
  • 20g bicarbonate of soda (sifted)
Boil everything except the bicarbonate of soda in a heavy based pan to 148 degrees C. You can use a jam thermometer but if you don't have one, you can tell by sight - it will become caramel brown and bubbly - a little like lava.

Then add the bicarbonate of soda to the saucepan and whisk quickly into the mix.

Pour the lot onto a greaseproof paper-lined tray and leave to cool - it will froth and expand quite a lot during this time, but do not panic.

When the cinder toffee has cooled, smash it into pieces with a rolling pin and serve.


I stirred little chunks of this light and crumbly toffee into vanilla ice cream to make hokey pokey ice cream and it was absolutely beautiful.

The best thing about this cinder toffee is how smoky it is - like my husband said, it tastes just like a bonfire. I've no idea what magic is employed to make this the case ...

*in Tristan's case, the charity was Pakistani Flood Relief - see for more details

Friday, 13 August 2010

meemalee's kitchen in Wikio Top Five Food Blogs

August 2010 Wikio Ranking

Lord knows if this actually means anything, but I'm still over the moon to see that news portal Wikio has ranked meemalee's kitchen in the Top Five Gastronomy Blogs for August.

Hence the little blue badge in the top right of my blog. The Wikio blog rankings are compiled as follows apparently:

The position of a blog in the Wikio ranking depends on the number and weight of the incoming links from other blogs. These links are dynamic, which means that they are backlinks or links found within articles.

Only links found in the RSS feed are included. Blogrolls are not taken into account, and the weight of any given link increases according to how recently it was published. We thus hope to provide a classification that is more representative of the current influence levels of the blogs therein.

No, I don't really know what that means either.

Anyway, the ranking changes month by month, so who knows where I'll be next month ...

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Ohn-No Khao Swè - Burmese Coconut Chicken Noodles (Recipe)

Ohn No Khao Swè - Burmese Coconut Chicken Noodles

The national dish of Burma is called mohinga, a kind of fish chowder with lemongrass and banana stem that's served over rice vermicelli noodles. But arguably the most famous Burmese dish is one called ohn-no khao swè - Coconut Chicken Noodles.

The reason for this is that ohn-no khao swè is generally considered the predecessor of the famous Northern Thai noodle dish Khao Soi - a dish so beloved that it has spawned its own fan sites and even essays.

Apparently "khao soi" doesn't actually mean anything in Thai, so it's very likely that the name is just a derivation of khao swè, the Burmese word for "noodles", which literally means "fold pull" ie the method for making noodles.

To add support to this theory, outside of Burma, ohn-no khao swè is also known as khao sway, khauk swe, khaot swe and my absolute favourite, cow suey. That's what happens when you try to transliterate a non-Roman language like Burmese.

"Ohn-No Khao Swè" literally means "Coconut Milk Noodles" (and then you get into all kinds of murky cultural metonymy, as "No" not only means "milk" but also "breast" in Burmese), but the protein which is generally used is chicken, hence my paraphrase of Coconut Chicken Noodles.

This is a wonderfully subtle, lightly curried dish, vaguely like laksa but comforting and flavoursome without whacking you in the face. Of course, you can also adjust the seasoning to taste - adding more fish sauce, squeezing more lime or sprinkling more chilli at the table.

Which reminds me, ohn-no khao swè will also go down in my personal history as the dish that I cooked for John and Gregg at the Miele MasterChef Cook-off - happy days ...

Ohn No Khao Swè - Burmese Coconut Chicken Noodles

Ohn No Khao Swè - Burmese Coconut Chicken Noodles
Serves 4
  • 3 medium white onions
  • 1/2 inch chunk of ginger, skinned
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 shallots or 1 small red onion
  • 2 spring onions
  • 250g egg or wheat noodles (standard packet)
  • 4 deboned chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp gram flour
  • 200 ml coconut milk
  • Small handful of dried flat rice noodles aka rice sticks
  • 3 tbsp chilli flakes
  • 3 tbsp paprika
  • 1 lime, sliced into wedges
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • Fish sauce
  • Vegetable oil
Dice the onions finely. Add a little oil to a saucepan, heat and then sweat the diced onions in the hot oil. Take spoonful of the onions and add to the ginger, garlic and spring onions and mince the lot in a blender till it forms a rough paste.

Slice the chicken thighs into small strips. Mix chilli flakes, 1 tbsp paprika and a little salt in a heatproof cup.

Whisk the gram flour with 100 ml cold water and then add to the pan of sweated onions. Add four dashes of fish sauce and the stock cube. Bring to a simmer and then top up with 500 ml cold water. Bring the broth back to a simmer.

Heat a 2 inch depth of vegetable oil in a small frying-pan/wok. When it's hot (you'll feel a wave of heat coming off the top), ladle a few spoonfuls of the oil over the chilli flake mix so it sizzles and becomes fragrant. Set the toasted chilli oil to one side.

Next, snap the dried rice noodles straight into the hot oil so they puff up, and then use a slotted spoon to fish out the now-crispy rice noodles onto some kitchen towel. Turn off the heat and pour away most of the oil from the frying-pan, reserving about a tbsp.

Boil the egg/wheat noodles and drain. Soft-boil the eggs and slice into wedges. Slice shallots/red onion finely and soak in some cold water.

Ohn-No Khao Swe Sauce cooking

Reheat the frying-pan/wok which has the tbsp of oil, and add the minced garlic, ginger, onion, spring onion. Add the chicken and 1 tbsp paprika, and stir-fry the lot till browned.

Add the coconut milk and the last tbsp of paprika to the saucepan of broth. Lob in the stir-fried chicken and bring to a simmer.

Place the egg/wheat noodles in bowl, then ladle the chicken broth over. Top with the sliced shallots, the eggs and the crispy rice noodle garnish.

Add another dash of fish sauce, and serve with the toasted chilli for sprinkling and a fat wedge of lime for squeezing.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Catalan Cooking with Rachel McCormack


I have this friend. Let's call her Rachel. She's one of the funniest people I know, in a charming, often acerbic but never cruel way.

She also happens to be a wonderful cook and bilingual - Spanish is her second language, as she spent most of her youth in Catalonia aka Catalunya, in Spain.

The fact that she's from Glasgow is just the icing on the cake, as it means that she'll slip from a Scottish brogue into perfect Spanish without a blink.

So when she decided to start her own Catalan Cooking Class, I thought "Sign me up!". As far as the online food community are concerned, Rachel is the Catalan Queen. I was honoured to be invited to attend the inaugural class ...

The Catalan Queen and Gareth Groves of Bibendum

It's Tuesday evening - the venue is the lovely patisserie Bea's of Bloomsbury. I take my husband along as I think he'd have fun and it's a good decision as, within minutes, Rachel has us all laughing as she tells us stories about living in Catalunya.

The six of us get aproned up and then we go to our communal worktops, where Rachel explains to us a little about the Catalan region, its people and its cuisine and that we're lucky enough to have a tutored wine-tasting as well courtesy of Gareth Groves of Bibendum Wines.

She then explains what we're about to make - starting with fideua, a dish a little like paella but with noodle-like pasta instead of rice and a wonderfully intense base called sofregit (a tomato and onion passata). We're also adding squid to give it an even richer kick.


Whilst she tells us about the dishes' origins, each of us dice ingredients for the sofregit with the biggest, sharpest ruddy knives I have ever seen. In fact, as I'd sliced the tip of my finger off the day before, I shun these machetes, beautiful as they are, and gratefully take the smaller knife that's offered to me with a smile by one of Rachel's able assistants.

The sofregit takes a while to cook, so we stick the pans on the induction hobs for it to caramelize (for want of a better word) to a rich, dark, sticky state. And although we need to keep an eye on the sofregit and give it the occasional stir, it's time for us to snack.


There's three types of cheese including a goats' cheese called Garrotxa and my favourite Manchego, roast and Parma ham, toasted broad beans, Gordal olives, and guindillas – sweet, spicy green chilli peppers.

Rachel also shows us how to make pa amb tomàquet – bread rubbed with ripe tomato, which is much more delicious than something so simple ought to be.

And just in case we're still peckish, she invites us to flash-fry some chorizo in white wine and black pudding in olive oil and then dig in. I am a firm believer that hot chorizo makes everything better.


As the sofregit simmers away, it's time to make romesco sauce and alioli to accompany the fideua.

We make two types of romesco (a kind of almond pesto) - one is authentic with nyoras, those fat burnished red dried peppers you see bunches of decorating comedy bistros, and one with less authentic but more easily available smoked paprika (never sweet).

They're both incredible - I prefer the one with paprika, my husband loves the one with nyoras.


And when I say we make the romesco, I mean every member of the class - it's not a case of Rachel cooking whilst we nod and take notes - we're getting stuck right in and (bliss) tasting all the way, as she encourages us to add a bit more of this and a bit more of that.

I think this is the reason why it works so well - I'm not keen on didactic cookery classes, much preferring to have knowledge imparted to me almost by stealth and Rachel is a pro. It feels like a night in with friends rather than a class of any kind. And yes, I am biased as Rachel is a friend of mine, but she hosts so well that I feel like I've known everyone there for years.

The friendliness takes on a slight but healthy competitive edge, as Rachel asks us to split into teams to attempt to make alioli, which is literally garlic and oil made into a wickedly powerful mayo.


I'm in charge of pestle and mortar; my husband's in charge of drip-feeding the olive oil. I grind and swoosh the garlic and oil as we race against the others to get it to emulsify and resemble something vaguely edible.

The end result is strangely grey, but we're so proud that the mixture hasn't split that I do a little dance.

Next we cook some fideua pasta in lots of fish stock and then when it's ready, we combine this with the squid sofregit which has turned into rich, saucey heaven and finish it off in the oven so it becomes a kind of noodle-cake (this is a very, very good thing).


The class ends with us sitting down together to eat our fideua with the romesco and the alioli and to drink some rosé wine. There's dessert with ice cream too – bread, red wine and spices which tastes boozily mulled and is apparently used to sedate Catalan children (I may have got this bit wrong).

I loved every minute of it and I would heartily recommend the course to anyone who wants a fun, interactive evening, as well as people who want to learn more about Spanish cuisine.

But please don't just take my word for it - Delicious Magazine reviewed the Catalan Cooking Class here.


And if you'd like to know more about the wine we tried, read Gareth Groves' review at Bibendum Times

Catalan Cooking with Rachel McCormack
£60 a head
8 people max per class
Held every other Tuesday

Bea's of Bloomsburys
44 Theobald's Road
London WC1X 8NW
020 7242 8330

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Inish Turk Beg Hot-Smoked Salmon

Inish Turk Beg Honey-Roast Hot-Smoked Salmon

In my second year at university, I entered the ballot for college accommodation and ended up moving into a house with a female friend and four unknown male entities.

By then, said friend and I were drifting apart, which was a bit unfortunate, and the unknown male entities turned out to be a tad over-excitable, which was even more unfortunate as it manifested itself in the oddest manner. In short, they seemed to spend their days yelling, and giggling, and throwing wads of moistened toilet tissue at each other and around the house.

One day I even woke up to a football being thrown repeatedly - and hard - against the wall by one of them in a travesty of the ghettoblaster scene in "Say Anything". John Cusack he was not - if he was, I might have forgiven him.

I would have preferred this

To be honest, for the most part it was fine - I wasn't indoors much by then anyway, as it was around this time I got together with my husband. But meal-times were still often a battle-scene - once, when nobody was in, I made a huge acacia omelette, dished up half with some rice and then went into my room to eat. Twenty minutes later, I returned to the kitchen to find everyone was back and the other half of my omelette was gone. I was furious and inconsolable - acacia leaf is hard to come by anyway, and it had been expensive. Of course, no-one confessed. B*stards.

Another time, our local Sainsbury's went a bit mad and started selling whole sides of smoked salmon for a fiver plus "Buy One, Get One Free". Of course, the student population of Cambridge then lived off nothing but for about a fortnight. And as a result, there were constant arguments about which packs belonged to whom, and how the packs took up too much space in the fridge (they were mahoosive), and even rabid and wild accusations of theft.

The point is, I've had fights over smoked salmon before. And it wasn't even good smoked salmon.

So when I was given some decent salmon to try (I say "given" - I kinda used emotional blackmail on a friend), I was in raptures.

Inish Turk Beg Honey-Roast Hot-Smoked Salmon (Packet)

Inish Turk Beg is a private island in Clew Bay, off the West Coast of Ireland and means "small island of the wild boar". On the island itself, agriculture has always been a mainstay - sheep, pigs, cattle, and potatoes. But Clew Bay itself is home to an organic salmon farm, certified by the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association, where the salmon are reared in the Class A1 waters in the Atlantic, fed only natural ingredients, and grown to maturity in a low stock density environment.

The salmon I tried was Inish Turk Beg Honey-Roast Hot-Smoked Salmon. This Irish salmon is apparently lightly salted and slowly roasted over beechwood and local seaweed, and basted with an organic honey.

I was curious as to whether the honey might be too strong for the delicate flavour of the salmon, but I found it merely enhanced its natural sweetness. It also meant that each fat, tender slice had a slightly caramelized glaze which the husband and I fought over.

We served the salmon simply with baked potatoes and a leafy salad - I rather cheekily gave myself more fish and less potato, and I definitely got the better deal as this softly flakey hot-smoked salmon is a real treat even when eaten by itself (in fact, a slice may have found its way into my stomach before I'd even dished up).

Inish Turk Beg also produce Irish bacon and I have my eye on their Smoked Streaky Belly - fat slices of bacon which are hand-trimmed, hand-rubbed with a dry cure of cloves, Muscovado sugar, apricot, and foraged rosehips, and then hung and cold-smoked over beechwood for nine days.

And now I'm hungry again.

Inish Turk Beg