Monday, 31 August 2009

Southwold eating

I've had a hankering to go to the seaside for a while now, and took advantage of last weekend's lovely weather to head down to Southwold on the Suffolk coast. I'd never been before but had heard a lot of talk about beach huts. Luckily due to the power of Twitter (thanks to @EssexEating) and a blog post by Around Britain with a Paunch I also had some top food tips, which proved to be excellent- I do love the internet.

Southwold is a little bit of a trek from my patch of East Anglia but it was definitely worth it. This little town does indeed have a lot of beach huts but it also has a lot of lovely beach, quaint little streets with funny houses and lots of places to have a cream tea.

During a wander around we stopped off at Munchies for an ice cream. My strawberry ice cream was some of the nicest that I've had- lovely and fruity but with a rich creaminess and not too sweet. The male companion person had a toffee crunch cone that also disappeared very rapidly, and there was serious consideration about going back for seconds.

An ice cream-powered stroll along the beach all the way to the harbour followed, with sand dunes gradually evolving into families crabbing from the rocks, and eventually lots of little boats moored in the estury. As you walk further into the harbour area there are various ramshackle huts that would normally be selling fresh fish, though as we were there quite late on a Sunday afternoon they were mainly closed or on the verge of shutting. Luckily we were just in time to join the end of the queue for the fish and chip shop (phew) and as we were waiting felt a little smug as various latecomers tried to get in only to leave disppointed when they realised it had already shut.

Mrs T's was run by possibly the poshest ever fish and chip shop proprietor that I have ever encountered. A request from one customer for a battered sausage was given a disdainful response, as she pointed out (quite reasonably actually) that they specialised in seafood. There was no sign of any battered fish sitting around here and everything seemed to be freshly cooked. This did involve a bit of waiting around, taking of tickets and checking of numbers but the final outcome was definitely worth it. My plaice came in an amazingly crisp batter that required some concerted effort to break into. The fish inside was soft and moist, and there was barely a trace of grease present. The chips were nice if unremarkable but the portion size was just right, which meant that the walk back along the beach was an enjoyable one rather then an over-stuffed waddle.

I would happily spend a lot more time in Southwold as I'm sure there are many more foodie spots and other things to see and do. In fact I'd be happy just to go back and laze about on the beach (and eat more ice cream and fish and chips of course).

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Spaghetti with crab and rocket

I only started cooking this relatively recently when fresh picked crab meat started appearing in my local supermarket but it has undoubtedly become one of my favourite speedy recipes. It's light enough to eat in the summer, especially with the rocket leaves which act like an integrated salad, but is also lovely in the winter when you're in need of some hearty fare. The brown crab meat forms an instant sauce so additional ingredients like cream aren't required, and it's so quick the thing that takes longest to cook is the pasta.

There seem to be lots of variants of this recipe but this is my version (probably initially inspired by Nigella or someone else off the telly though). For enough for two you'll need:

100g picked crab meat (white and brown)
2 or 3 spring onions (finely sliced)
1 fat clove of garlic (finely chopped)
1 medium red chilli (finely chopped; remove seeds if you don't want too much heat)
Large handful of rocket
Plenty of olive oil
Enough spaghetti for two (about 200g)
Plenty of seasoning

Bring a pan of water to the boil and cook the spaghetti. At the same time gently sweat the spring onions in a generous amount of olive oil until they've softened without colouring. Add the garlic and chilli, stir for a couple of minutes and then add the crab meat and cook until it's heated through. Remove from the heat and then stir through the cooked pasta. Season to taste and add an extra splash of olive oil if you want. Either add the rocket directly to the crab and pasta and mix or serve on top (and eat immediately).

It has also been known for all of the above to be combined with enough pasta for one and eaten solo. But definitely not by me, no definitely not.......

Thursday, 20 August 2009

MAMA shrimp tom yum instant noodles

These Thai MAMA brand instant noodles recently appeared in my local supermarket, and so when Tamarind and Thyme recommended then too, I thought I'd better give them a go. There was only one variety though, so shrimp tom yum it was.

As you can see the noodles came with a couple of different flavour sachets and a whole sachet of ground chilli. The noodles themselves also seemed to be flecked with chilli powder. So unsuprisingly the cooked noodles were pretty hot and spicy. In fact I cunningly anticipated this and didn't add all the chilli sachet initially. Even with just a light sprinkling of chilli the noodles left my lips tingling and by the end of my meal I had a distinctly rosy glow about my person. I think this was just the right amount of heat for me, but I will admit to being rather wussy about chilli so someone more robust than me could probably have coped with the whole packet. These noodles were full of flavour and did a pretty good job of capturing the hot and sour flavours of a tom yum soup. The addition of a few prawns and vegetables would turn this into quite a substantial meal, but even on their own these noodles made a quick and tasty supper.

I think I still prefer the more subtle but still intensely savoury flavours of Indomie's mi goreng instant noodles, but the MAMA shrimp tom yum instant noodles are a very different, but good, spicy alternative.

I rate them 7.5/10
Cost: Approximate £0.40 per packet.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Blackberrry pancake brunch (or pudding)

The male companion person is very keen on American-style pancakes, and I've found that these are ideal for a Sunday brunch. They are much thicker than our regular British pancakes and need to smothered in copious amounts of maple syrup and an optional hunk of butter. I initally used this BBC recipe but now I know what the consistency of the batter should be (quite thick), I can judge it by eye so precise amounts of each ingredient don't appear to be too crucial.

As we've currently got a glut of blackberries I thought I'd try and add a fruit element to these pancakes. Being too lazy to make a compote, I just added a couple of generous handfuls of blackberries to the batter and squished them a bit with the back of a fork. Once they were in the pan the fruit burst a bit more but without disintegrating completely. Cold vanilla ice cream was the perfect contrast to the hot fruit pancakes (and pah to anyone who doesn't think it's appropriate to have ice cream for brunch).

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Festival fooding

There was a time (I am told) when music festival attendance required trolloping about in mud with only the equivalent of the late night kebab van to sustain you. How times have changed. These days deciding what you're going to eat can be as tricky as deciding which bands to see.
Cambridge Folk Festival is possibly one of the most middle-class festivals going- you can frequently see people in the main tent surrounded by half the contents of Millets, reading the Daily Telegraph and looking slightly put out by those people on the stage making a racket- so getting hold of a skinny latte to go with your paper is not a problem. But for a very small site Cambridge does cram in a lot of food stalls. In addition to your regular burgers and baked potatoes, there are Indian, Chinese, Mexican and Jamaican options. It's just a shame that this variety wasn't reflected in the music this year.

I remembered the Blue Moon Cafe from previous years, and their veggie burgers and paprika fries were as good as I remembered. The male companion person went for the 'jerk mon' from the Jamaican stall (leading to a comedy ordering scenario), and declared himself to be very happy with the chicken and rice combo. Though if you'd like to sample any of this you're going to have head to a festival this summer too.

And of course there was this essential festival food component too....

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Sea bass tortillas a la Valentine Warner

I'm not really sure what to make of Valentine Warner. On the one hand I quite like the look of some of his food, but on the other his random drooling comments and vocal stylings remind me quite strongly of David Bellamy. Tricky....

However this Mexican tortilla and sea bass recipe that he cooked on his tv programme a few weeks ago did catch my eye. Despite most of Mexico being pretty hot I somehow associate Mexican food with winter and hearty veggie chillis with loads of cheese and rice, and not something I'd generally cook in the summer. But this more seasonal dish (recipe here) basically involves flaked sea bass, guacamole, and an onion relish, all wrapped in a corn tortilla. This was not a combination that I'd really think to put together, but it all worked amazing well, and was perfect for a summer evening. The dish could have been quite rich with the sea bass and avocado, but was not at all heavy, and the other elements provided a nice freshness to it all. I think using corn tortillas rather than the flour ones also kept things light, as flour tortillas can become quite gluey and a bit like eating a damp flannel.

As ever I did tweak things slightly and used my own guacamole recipe which includes chopped spring onion, red chilli, and no mayo (in fact not sure that should be included in Val's recipe at all as I don't recall it being in the tv show), but also added a few blobs of sour cream over the filling before rolling up the tortillas. The only slightly disappointing part was the red onion relish/pickle. The recipe called for the thinly sliced red onions to be blanched before marinating with orange and lime juice and oregano. Admittedly I had to substitute lemon juice but the whole thing lacked punch, with a few vague hints of onion and citrus that did not match the incredibly vivid colour in terms of flavour. Next time (and I will definitely make this again), I'll just use sliced raw onion and not bother with blanching.

I thought I'd also add a few prawns to go in the tortillas, in case one sea bass fillet each was not enough. These were baked in the oven with some garlic, chilli and olive oil until cooked through, combined really well with the rest of the components inside the tortillas, and could even have replaced the sea bass completely in a fish emergency. The source of these prawns and the quality of some of them is however another matter which I may blog about later, but has definitely pushed me back into the arms of the supermarket as far as internationally travelled seafood goes.

So in conclusion, do Valentine Warner's tip top recipes compensate for his somewhat daffy presentation style? I say yes! All hail the David Bellamy of food!