Mmm… Malaysian: Nasi lemak and beef rendang

Something that was revealed early in our relationship was Ash’s intolerance of all things coconut. Long bartending shifts surrounded by the sickly scent of Malibu combined with his phobia of the texture of desiccated coconut apparently developed into an irrevocable hatred of the tropical treat and everything it stands for. This was devastating news for Miranda, for whom coconut is a favourite flavour: a throwback to an adolescence full of coconut oil and lamingtons and, indeed, student days catered by Malibu. But, ever the compromiser, she agreed to forego her coconut-scented shampoo and moisturiser, and stopped dreaming of piña coladas. Life went on without incident and mostly without complaint.

Then came this weekend, when we hit Malaysia on our cooking challenge and found that not only is nasi lemak (coconut rice) the national dish, but that (according to Nyonya Cooking) it works very nicely next to a beef rendang – a coconutty curry. Miranda was thrilled; Ash was apprehensive but vowed to be big and brave, and thus our Malaysian meal was born. Continue reading

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Another rainy ‘BBQ’: Cambodian beef and coleslaw

It seems like forever since we made our Vietnamese banh mi thit, and indeed it was nearly a full month ago. Our recent weeks have been filled with birthday celebrations, stag and hen dos, catching up with friends and a cupcake decorating class, to name a few events: all pretty much centred around food (as is our way), but not necessarily international food. So we were pleased to get back to the challenge and cook a Cambodian meal this weekend. Ash spent just over a week in Cambodia in 2004, visiting the temples of Angkor, the peaceful beaches of Sihanoukville, the crazy hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh and the museums that record – lest we forget – the horrors of Cambodia’s recent past. So he had a number of food experiences to bring to our dinner table.

Ash’s journey from Thailand was something of an adventure: the pre-booked luxury mini bus had broken down so 14 people with luggage climbed into the back of a pick-up truck at the border and, after a few hours of clinging on for dear life, arrived in Siam Reap. Along the roads of the cities and towns were hawkers and traders trying to sell post cards, trinkets and souvenirs, as well as fast food and snacks of many different kinds, one of which was skewers of barbecued meat.

Cambodian border Continue reading

Syrian ‘sandwich’: Kibbeh bil sanieh

Lesson #1 learnt whilst cooking Syrian food: cutting a wedge out of one’s finger whilst trying to dice a tomato makes it really quite painful to type.

Subsequently, this is going to be a shorter than usual preamble. However, it is probably an appropriate moment to sing the praises of what is possibly our best bargain buy ever – and that’s saying a lot, as Miranda is one of the world’s most dedicated bargain and freebie hunters. But few bargains have had the longevity of our favourite kitchen knife – from IKEA, of all places.

IKEA knife

When Ash first moved out of home, we did a big IKEA shop, cheaply picking up all the essentials, with the intention of upgrading the important things later. One of the essentials, of course, was an all-purpose knife, which he picked up for about £8. Four and a half years (and a few sharpenings) later, it is still our most reached-for knife when cooking, and will probably feature in nearly every recipe on this blog, despite the fact that since then we’ve acquired fancier and more expensive knives. Moral of the story: don’t underestimate IKEA. (But don’t come into too close contact with the knife blade, if you know what’s good for you. And don’t visit the store on a bank holiday Monday, if you know what’s good for you.)

Fortunately, losing a chunk of Miranda’s finger didn’t affect our ability to cook and eat Syrian kibbeh bil sanieh, which is basically multiple layers of meat sandwiched together – which made Ash very happy. Unfortunately we can’t remember which website this recipe came from, so apologies for the lack of credit. Continue reading

One more stew for luck: Greek beef stifado

While our taste buds were touring around Central and Eastern Europe, our only frustration was that so many countries had similar traditional dishes, mostly based around stewed meat and plenty of stodgy carbs (usually potatoes or a variation on pasta). In an effort to avoid making the same thing every time we reached a new country, we tried to vary what we made, including desserts, baking and even breakfasts in the mix. Understandably, we were pretty excited to have left that region of the world and get to the Mediterranean region (namely Greece), which would give us the opportunity to make a whole new range of meals. We could eat vegetables again! Olives, feta, seafood, fresh herbs! Light, fresh, tangy flavours that we’ve been looking forward to since ‘setting sail’!

So what have we opted for? Beef stifado. In other words, Greek beef stew. Served with pasta. However, this decision is not quite as strange as it may appear. Ash remembers enjoying a beef stifado at a tiny local restaurant whilst on holiday with his parents on the Island of Kalymnos (to the east side of the Aegean Sea near Kos) over 15 years ago, and has been going on about it ever since. The strong-flavoured and melt-in-the-mouth beef and onion stew with spices and a thick gravy was worth one more casserole… Continue reading

British beef and Belgian beer: Carbonnade flamande

As our culinary whistle stop tour of Europe pulled into Belgium, we cast our memories back to 2011 when we spent three nights in Brussels (with a day in Bruges).

70 Grand Place Brussels

On our first night there, we were lucky enough to find a fantastic little restaurant called Raphael where we sampled some traditional Belgian dishes like waterzooi and carbonnade flamande. The carbonnade was a highlight but one that was sadly not matched by our ill-chosen dinner on the ‘tourist strip’ the following night. However, Raphael’s version was so good that it was a dish that we were excited about trying to recreate. Continue reading