Monday, June 28, 2010

Like A House On Fire

They say that what goes up, must come down. There is a black and there is white, Ying and Yang and all that. There is no one that believes this more than me. After a turbulent ride from the age of 29 – 32, I believe my bad luck years are over. (My Japanese friend, Nobuko, says that her natives believe this is the age women endure most bad luck in a lifetime – I hope that this is right!)

At 33, with Simon we are having the greatest time of our lives, with windows and doors appearing in every direction – all we have to do is open them, with our own hands and look forward to many great things.
Yet again, we had the most amazing supper clubs last weekend and we are astounded that we can still feel so happy about doing them after 9 months of solid work! And a lot of fun too!

-Pea Soup With Ham
-Figs w/ Goats Cheese & Prosciutto
-Tortilla & Tomate Picante w/ Courgette, Cucumber & Feta Salsa
-Deep Fried Lotus With Carrot & Chicken Salad & Prawn Crackers
-Banh Cuon With Cured Ham & Pork Belly
-Tuna Sashimi & Chips
-Beef Pho
-Coconut Sorbet W/ Cointreau
 (Figs w/ Goats Cheese & Prosciutto)

Via Adrian Bevan at Visit Britain (who looks after journalists from all over the world when it comes to food in the UK), Luiz Hara -The London Foodie bought over Annabelle White, New Zealand’s answer to Delia Smith. Annabelle is Author of 10 cookbooks, has a popular TV and radio cook show. It was slightly terrifying.

I spoke to her at some length at the beginning and at the end of the night, she was so lovely. She came in pretty happy but when she left, she was really really happy. She enjoyed herself so much and she kept asking me how I made the Pho – of which I have directed her to here and here. Must repost this with updates.
 (Banh Cuon With Cured Ham & Pork Belly)

Annabelle told me what gives her so much satisfaction is writing recipes so that other people can try to make your recipe at home themselves. She says how thrilled she gets when people stop her on the street to tell her how they made one of her recipes and how it made them so happy to feed their families and loved ones, a great dish.

I told Annabelle that I need more experience with writing recipes (I hardly follow them myself) because its very precise and I have not really had time to test a recipe with measurements before. Simon is better at recipes. I cook instinctively.

She said a great thing, that food needs to be shared. It doesn’t matter if someone can not make it taste as well as you can, but it’s the act of other people cooking what you have shared with them is the most important thing. Food is for sharing.

We totally agree. I will be doing my next pot of Pho with scientific precision so that Annabelle can share it with Kiwis!! Yay!
Not only was Thursday night’s guests were spectacular and Luiz stayed chatting with us, he said, we keep ‘outdoing ourselves’ as we were polishing off all the left over wine on tables.  (Someone opened a bottle and didn’t even touch it – thanks guys!!!)

On Friday, we were expecting Tim Hayward! OMG – he is the Editor of our favourite publication: Fire & Knives and he wanted to record a show for BBC Radio 4 for The Food Programme about Supper Clubs. He should have already been to the fantastic Civet Cat Supper Club in Newington Green and the famous - The Underground Restaurant in Kilburn for the show and we were the last stop. Now that is terrifying!!
Tim & Dan Saladino (the producer) mingled with 24 other guests. The garden swapped with strangers meeting strangers and becoming friends. It was extraordinary to see how people simply chat willingly to other people in a small place because it is allowed and accepted in this space, this supper club.

How often are we packed full to the brim like cattle and sheep on the tube and we only look at the smallest available space to avoid even the blink of eye contact.
To us, this idea of bringing people together is just as important as making the best tasting food we can to our ability. It is such a high to see people get on like a house on fire!

Tim, one of my favourite writers, is as lovely, charming, charismatic as I imagined him to be and he was interviewing us. What the-...

Tim and Dan asked us very sophisticated questions. I like those as we always get asked the same questions. One interesting one, was about supper clubs and what they mean to us – is it a performance art?

To us, creating and continuing to have strangers come into our home to be fed is a lot like a two way affair. We feed our guests, but they also feed us in more ways than food, in which a lot of our guests form many colours on a blank canvas we once started with 9 months ago.

The Food Programme on Supper Clubs will be on Radio 4 on Sunday 4th July 2010 from 12:30 pm. 

Listen to Podcast here 
In picture above: Most people have gone home, but sometimes, a few brilliant people stay behind and talk to us. Its fantastic- the best part of the day! We are tipsy and we are having very funny conversations. We are all either ourselves or we are someone else, it doesn't matter because we can be as we are, as we want, and we all become friends.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Hairy Bikers - Wants You!

We love watching cookery programmes on TV. What better – midweek, eating your dinner with the telly on. Whether it’s a bit of Sophie Dahl’s dreamy indulgence, to Jamie Oliver’s travels and missions to Gordon Ramsey’s four letter words – they are so much fun and inspirational – eat food, watch food, talk food, think food, see food!

We get some great dinner guests from all walks of life and some from the BBC approached us to write a blog post on The Hairy Bikers as they are looking for contestants to take part in their new show about being ‘Britain’s Best Cooking Family.’ It reminded us of their shows – ‘Mum Knows Best’.
Mums do definitely know best. Mums are awesome – they introduced us to the foods we love and they continue to make our best, our favourite and our most loved dish. My mother helps me so much with Vietnamese cuisine as does Simon’s mum advise him on many Spanish and British favourites. She is the actual secret to Simon’s amazing chips! Simon's mum loves The Hairy Bikers!

What we love about the Hairy Bikers is that they are no nonsense cooking – they make stuff and its about the taste and how enjoyable it is to cook and to eat. They are not about restaurants and presentation – they are down to earth and appeal to the vast majority of people who aren’t passionate foodies like some of us are and encourage people to enjoy food.

There isn’t anything pretty about them – but there is something massively appealing and warm about Simon King and David Myers that is so instinctive and humane.

You can apply to be in their next show here
or email

We will be cooking up some of their recipes very soon (we haven’t got much time of late)– and hope that they get to reveal some great secrets passed on from mums and mums of mums and their mums. (or dads).

Friday, June 18, 2010

Seeking School Dinners

I found these sausages by Clonakilty Sausages at Taste Of London yesterday and it provoked a head full of happy memories. I love them, I have been looking for these sausages for about 20 years and alas, we met Eat Like A Girl and she showed them to us – just like that – as if they were obviously there all that time! (The black and white puddings are also amazing!)
It was not always a joy to stand in a formal alphabetical queue with the same persons in front and behind you. You are stuck with them all your child hood years at primary school and secondary school. So you’d better get on with them. When the bell dings and Mrs Badger marches you with her whistle to the dinning hall my belly always rang with excitement and just as loudly. It was/is cool to hate school dinners but I loved it and so did everyone else – o yes – they loved it where I went.

The hoorah schcreams when we were the first class to the dinning hall being able to chose whatever we wanted and getting jelly & some Viennesse biscuit was the highlight of our little minds.

In Secondary school, we all ran as fast as possible to the dinning hall. OK it was to avoid the lengthy queues but it was also to catch their amazing pizzas on baguette, tinned raviolis, shepherds pie, macaroni and cheese, spam fritters, fish fingers and mash, chilli con carne and rice but most of all, it was the desserts.

Nowadays, I am not a dessert fan, unless you give me school dinner desserts (of which I now happily go to Stock Pot for - I am telling you - I am NOT ashamed). I have never since had the toffee tarts with hundreds and thousands, the apple crumble and custard, the golden syrup sponge, the jelly & biscuits, the rice pudding… I have never had it so well as I had it there – at school – my first introduction to British (?!) food.

It was the 80’s, we were Thatcher’s children, drinking our last bits of bottled milk. I loved St Joan Of Arc Primary School, I was the popular kid, the only oriental girl from a far far away land – every boy and girl thought was so exotic and wanted to teach me English. Being a refugee from Vietnam, my mother only fed us what she knew and she not only turned her nose up at the English diet, she actually couldn’t afford it. I still remember when she first found corriander in Dalston market - O the joy!!

My mum would seek the markets for cheap beef bones and cheap cuts of meat to make us the best Pho, the best braised pork belly, the best fried fish… well, at the time, my brother and I wanted to be like the other kids – we didn’t think that it was so cool to be eating any form of fish or Pho! We loved school dinners – for us, it was so different and it tasted so good!

The trauma still tingles of the memory of her getting a pig's head from the local butcher - they were giving it away. She was just delighted - but us? We weren't so delighted when we saw our school friends and their mum looking horrified through the butcher window at some woman happy about receiving a pigs head. There were squeals that day!

One week, for some reason, we all had to go on school dinners strike! I was devastated, being ten years old and having to deal with my mother’s packed lunch was a huge ordeal. She made us a bento box of things like braised pork belly with steamed rice, pickles, some choi sum in oyster sauce and then banana and coconut dessert.

Both my brother and I hid it, but having sense, we carried it home to mum, saying that we were too full to eat it (so would have it for dinner or on top of dinner - it was very delish), we were so ashamed as children to be seen with stinky Vietnamese food. She put a couple of apples in too, and so, for one week, my brother and I both ate apples only for lunch and ran to the fish and chips shop in Arsenal, Highbury Hill with our friends on the way home, hoping to share their chips as soon as possible.

The chips – the best ever-, covered in onion vinegar and salt, shaken in a newspaper paper was also another highlight – with our friends who lived nearby – still a memory I will forever cherish.

LOVE LELUU blog post on Canteen's Fish & Chips & Meeting Cass Titcombe here

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ingredients, Methods, Secrets Pho-Pho Phoever & BBQ

Last week we decided to do a three day run - its kind of like a test - for if we ever have a venue/ restaurant, we'd have to work every day! So we're trying it out with three days - just for practice's sake.


-Ho Fun With Crispy Pork Belly & Cured Ham
-Beef Pho
-Chargrilled Lemongrass Pork Patties
-Seared Beef Salad In Shrimp Paste Dressing, 
Lime, Coriander, Peanuts, Sugar Snap Peas & Chips
-Tomatoes & Tofu/ Or Fried Pak Choi In Oyster Sauce
-Slow Cooked Caramelised Catfish in Coconut Juice
-Coconut Sorbert

Ho Fun With Crispy Pork
Simon loves his meat - we roasted a belly of pork for the Ho Fun dish. It was an experiment and was not really Vietnamese tasting as it had non Vietnamese spices but it was really good nevertheless. We love playing around with flavours and pairing them with whats conventional.
Crispy Pork Belly Method: 
Blow torch on both sides to brown. Bake 150 C for 120 mins
Rub salt and pepper or in this instance - cajun.
220 C for 30 mins
You can buy the Ho Fun fresh every morning on Mare Street at a Vietnamese factory. They are made with Spring Onions and dried prawns. You can eat it cold or you can heat it up by steaming them in a bowl over hot water or simply put them in a microwave. Then you cut them up into desired lengths.
I usually eat these with Vietnamese hams - 'Cha', cured/ fermented hams like 'Nem' - sometimes with just good soy sauce. Sprinkle with dried shallots and coriander. But of course if you put a little effort in to make a great sauce - it's like you've died and gone to heaven.
Ho Fun Sauce Ingredients:
I am terribly bad at knowing the right quantities of ingredients - Simon is still shaking his head at me because I have never written it down and he wants me to share my sauces with him but as much as I want to share it with myself, I haven't gotten around to measuring because I like to do everything with instinct and taste.

I can not stress enough how important it is to buy premium fish sauce. The 3 Crabs one is the one we use - its the best one in our opinion. It costs about £5 - far from the £1.50 bottle and you can certainly taste the difference.
To make about 250ml - (these are purely estimates) Please do not add all of it at once - add as you go

about 75ml 3 Crabs Fish Sauce
about 125ml Coconut Juice
2 or 3 Limes to taste
Blend some chillis (about 4/5), garlic (3 cloves)
Teaspoonful of Honey to taste or you can use sugar.

Put together in a jar, stir to taste and keep getting that balance of salty-sour- sweet. I have also discovered that once you think you have found your balance - shaking the jar vigorously makes a huge difference to the taste of the sauce. All the flavours gets released and bursts in your mouth!

Beef PHO

You can find my method and list of ingredients in an older post here.
However, there have been some developments. I am no longer using the stock cubes because I am cooking it for a good 8 hours or more on low heat.
For a clear broth, I boil my ribs, shank, oxtails in salted water until the pot is full of froth and scum. Then I throw all the water away and wash all my bits completely clean. The I let it sit for about 15 minutes - all the blood will release - then I wash it again until the water in my bowl is not bloody anymore.

This is when I put everything into a big stock pot with clear, clean water. The secret ingredient I discovered is to cook all the beef with half a chicken (or even a whole one). Chicken stock is amazing - it gives everything a depth and I found that my Pho tastes better than ever now that I've cooked the beef ribs and oxtails with it.

Also, remember to keep the lid on and keep it on a gentle boil for a clear broth. After about half an hour, take the chicken out - you can have it in Pho later or mid way... or use it in a salad - its endless - what you can do with chicken!
Lemongrass Pork Patties
These are meant to be eaten with vermicelli and a herb salad - but because we had so much rice products on the menu - we just served them alone. They are great in a barbeque too.

Enough for 25 people: this is a rough estimate of what goes in - doe fry a bit and taste and adjust.

2kg Shoulder Of Pork - Minced by our fab butcher
4 bulbs Garlic blended10 x Small Shallots blended
8 x Lemongrass finely chopped or blended
4 tbs Olive Oil
2 tbs Pork Flavouring
1 thumb of Galangal
2 tbs Fish Sauce
4 tbs Honey
2 tbs Brown Sugar
4 tbs Red Wine
4 tbs Cornflour
1 tsp Ground Black Pepper

Mix together with your hands - get in there!
Leave overnight
You can shape them into little balls and grill with skrewers or you can fry them, barbeque them...

We served them with mint.

Seared Beef Salad In Shrimp Paste Dressing

We had never made this dressing before, the sauce is Cambodian inspired. We love playing around with sauces and making things taste different than expected. When you make this - it stinks a bit - but fear not - its really delicious!

Ingredients for Sauce- For about 6 people

1 Palm Sugar
1 and half tsp Shrimp Paste - into a mug of hot water - dissolve
Juice of 3 Limes
1 Red Chilli half de-seeded - chopped

Brown the following in a pan:
2 Lemongrass Stalks - blended -
2 Shallots
2 Garlic Cloves

Melt the palm sugar and add everything else in.
Shake in a jar and leave to rest for about an hour or so to let the lemongrass and all the flavours release.
Drain and then pour over fillet steak pieces.

We sliced up sugar snap peas and garnished with peanuts and coriander. The shrimp flavour really compliments the beef -that has just been seared on both sides.

Caramelised Catfish In Coconut Juice
Coconut Sorbet

Ingredients: for about 6 people

3/4 cup of caster sugar
120ml coconut milk
50g desiccated coconut
a good squeeze of lime

Sugar and a cup of water in the pan, bring to boil until sugar has dissolved.
Reduce and simmer for about 5 minutes
Stir in coconut milk, coconut and lime juice.
When cool, put into freezer for about an hour, then take out and reblend until smooth and creamy.
Freeze until frozen

The 3 day run was a success. After the first day - we learn how to put things in place and make life easier for ourselves the next. We cooked everything from scratch every day, ensuring we serve all our guests fresh and wholesome food. We had a fantastic time! Our guests were all so happy and that is so great to see. Great atmosphere as always!

You can read a review from Gourmet Lovers who attended here.

After the 3 days, it was my birthday so we invited some friends and had a BBQ!
Ribs, sausages, bellies, burgers, aubergines, sweetcorn firing away! Everyone bought something - it was amazing and very generous. In the far east, it means I will have lots of prosperity and success in the coming year. whooot! We watched the first England game against USA in the World Cup and drank to our hearts content.
It was such a good birthday. So good - we forgot to serve the coconut sorbet we had made for everyone. More matches = more BBQ!!! yay!


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