Embracing cosiness: Albanian tavë kosi

We recently returned from a cosy ‘staycation’. We’re in the throes of renovations chaos in the Mash House, so the opportunity to escape the mess and spend a few days relaxing in the countryside was very welcome. Our first stop was Marlow, where we achieved the Tom Kerridge trifecta by eating delicious meals at The Hand & Flowers, The Coach and The Butcher’s Tap, as well as discovering the best hot chocolate ever in a little cafe. We found out afterwards that apparently The Hand & Flowers claims to serve the best chips in the world, but we’d already given that title to those on offer at The Coach – Ash ordered two portions!

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A poultry dose of irony: Bahamian fish chowder

Another day, another Caribbean archipelago, another nation declaring conch as its national dish. Still unable to source this seafood anywhere other than in a William Golding novel, we once again looked further afield, coming up with two alternative options: fish chowder or steamed chicken. Both looked nice, but Ash pointed out that we tend to eat a lot of chicken anyway, so maybe we should give the fish chowder a try. The recipe we used is by Norman Van Aken, a chef we’d probably have heard of if we lived in the US, given that he’s been described as the ‘Walt Whitman of American cuisine’ (and that makes two literary references in one paragraph).

Poet or otherwise, he seems to know his stuff, so on Saturday, while Ash was continuing his work as a DIY wizard, Miranda retrieved some previously made fish stock from the freezer and set about rustling up a hearty soup (despite the unseasonably warm weather!). Continue reading

Take us to the April sun: Cuban arroz con pollo a la chorrera

The nights are drawing in here in South London and we’re sure it’s only a matter of time before bitter temperatures follow suit: as ever, we’ve been promised the coldest winter ever with months of apocalyptic snowfall! Confident though we are that this is tabloid sensationalism, a visit to a Caribbean island would still be pretty nice. With some fairly significant renovations getting started in the Mash House, however, we’re going to have to imagine that warming sunshine vicariously through our cooking.

Today’s island nation is Cuba. We’ve never been there, but we know people who have! Ash’s sister and her husband went there on their honeymoon and amidst their adventures of swimming with dolphins, riding around in Cadillacs and drinking pina coladas, they were considerate enough to pick up some recipes for us (and some Cuban rum!) as Thomas Cook had left a handy folder of local information in their hotel.

According to Google, the national dish of Cuba is ropa vieja, which is a beef and tomato stew. This was one of the recipes in the folder, but we ended up deciding against it because ingredient number one was ‘1kg of brisket (previously used as boiling meat for a soup)’. Now, we love brisket, but prefer it when it has been smoked long and slow on a barbecue, rather than boiling all the flavour out of it in a soup base. Instead, we opted for arroz con pollo a la chorrera, which means rice with chicken in Chorrera style (interesting, given that Chorrera culture originated in Ecuador and didn’t make it as far up as Cuba – but if the Thomas Cook recipes aren’t 100% authentic, they still came from actual Cuba, so we went with it!). Continue reading

Labour of Luxembourg: Judd mat Gaardebounen

Here we are again at a country we’ve been fortunate enough to visit. We spent a weekend in Luxembourg City in December 2015. The main purpose of the trip was to visit the Christmas markets: after visiting the markets in Hamburg a couple of years earlier and realising the delights of spending a couple of days wandering around, eating street food and drinking glühwein, we wanted to experience the same thing somewhere else. Luxembourg did not disappoint (and it wasn’t as bitterly cold as Hamburg had been!).

1153 Gluhwein

Our stomachs were well and truly indulged on that trip. In addition to the glühwein already mentioned (and not forgetting the version served with a rum-soaked and flaming cone of sugar perched on top so it could slowly melt into the drink!) and the eierpunsch (eggnog), there was the perpetual lure of bratwurst, sides of salmon smoked over an open fire and served in a bread roll, the inspired combination of marzipan-filled pretzels, and complimentary ‘executive lounge’ beverages and petit-fours in our hotel. It’s a good thing we also found time for a couple of long walks around the city!

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It’s called saltfish for a reason: Jamaican ackee and saltfish

After a long stretch of cooking dishes from countries we’ve never been to, we’re finally back to one that we have . Well, one of us (Ash) has, and certainly got the benefit of the full hospitality offered by the locals to their guests when attending a wedding back in 2004. As one of very few Brits in attendance at the wedding of a Jamaican bride and English groom, he was treated like a VIP and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

When it comes to refreshments, his overriding memories are primarily of Appleton’s rum, rum punch (one sour, two sweet, three strong, four weak – or forget the weak if you’re that way inclined) and fantastic jerk BBQ. The tales of Uncle John spit roasting a cow on a telegraph pole for one of his birthday parties were all too believable from a man who was larger than life and not without wealth!

On one visit to the less salubrious parts of downtown Kingston, Ash and his companions received a real eye opener at the famous market. Locals with a sense of humour offered the group bags of fish heads (for stewing?) whilst they kept a close eye on their wallets. The sights and sounds of the market – including loudly played dominoes – were not to be forgotten.

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Today’s recipe comes from a book called The Real Taste of Jamaica, which Ash bought on his travels. A combination of his food memories and the knowledge of Jamaican cuisine that Miranda could bring to the table led us to expect to be making jerk chicken; however, with the national dish of Jamaica officially being ackee and saltfish, we had to move in that direction instead. Continue reading

A celebration of onions: Haitian griot and and pikliz

Haiti is an island in the Caribbean. Therefore, as seems to be the case for most of the islands in the Caribbean, its national dish is a version of rice and peas. We didn’t want to make that again, having already made it for Anguilla, so we dug a little deeper and eventually found a recipe for griot and pikliz that was accompanied by a video of a woman (Joyce Louis-Jean) who was so enthusiastic about the dish that we figured it must have something going for it – even if griot is deep-fried pork (which Miranda didn’t expect to like) and pikliz is very vinegary pickles (which Ash didn’t expect to like).

This is a multi-stage dish, so you want to make sure you’ve planned ahead before you start making it. The pikliz needs to mature for at least 12 hours, but a few days is even better. The pork needs to marinate overnight (although if you get home late the night before you make it, you could do our trick of getting up early on the day of cooking and quickly organise it then…). The pork then needs to braise for a couple of hours before eventually being deep-fried. The aforementioned enthusiastic Haitian woman assured us that all of this effort was worth it, though, so four days before we planned to cook this dish, the pikliz process began… Continue reading

Fridge raiding: Turks and Caicos Island rasta pasta

You know it’s been a busy summer when you’ve only managed to cook one dish for this blog in two months! With life set to get even busier, we thought we’d better squeeze in one more before Miranda ‘creeps like snail unwillingly’ back to work.

At first, however, this was easier said than done. The next country on our list was the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British Overseas Territory made up of 40 coral islands in the Atlantic. Its national dish is conch fritters. Other than in Lord of the Flies, we’ve never come across conch, and it certainly wasn’t an ingredient we could easily lay our hands on. With a population of only around 35,000, the Turks and Caicos Islands aren’t exactly swimming in alternative national dishes, so the search for something we could make proved a little elusive.

Eventually, we found a website that promised to teach us ‘how to cook like a Turks Islander’, and its recipe for rasta pasta listed ingredients that we could easily obtain. In fact, it bears a striking resemblance to what we often decide to make for dinner when we only have random bits and pieces of food in the house. So whilst we’re not entirely sure of rasta pasta’s authenticity, it was a meal that we could actually make! Continue reading