Friday, 29 May 2009

Spaghetti Alla Olio with Basil, Mushrooms and Peppers

Quick and tasty vegetarian pasta dish- use lots of chopped garlic, onion and herbs and season well for full flavour. Add chopped fresh chilli or more dried ones for a spicier kick, and for meat eaters, bacon bits or chunks of sausage are fantastic additions.

Serves 3-4

Boil 400g of dried spaghetti in lots of water for 10-15 mins until al dente. Drain and steep in cold water to keep from sticking together. Set aside.

Saute in olive oil over high heat until fragrant:
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
Handful fresh basil leaves, shredded
2 dried chillies, crushed

Add and fry:
1 red pepper, cut into cubes
400g mushrooms, sliced

Lower the heat and add cooked spaghetti. Generously drizzle over extra virgin olive oil and season with lots of salt, black pepper and dried mixed herbs of choice. Toss well to combine.

Sprinkle with grated Parmesan if desired and serve hot.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Baked New York Cheesecake

*If you'd rather just buy this ready-to-eat, it is available on my Baked Goods to Order list at £15 per cake :)*

Luscious, creamy New York-style baked cheesecake- characteristically tall, tinged golden brown, smooth and rich but with a slight tang and delicious chewy digestive base.

I will be honest with you, if you have never baked a cheesecake before in your life you may find it rather fiddly and time-consuming: all the ingredients need to be mixed carefully, then baked slowly in a moist oven, then cooled gently, then refrigerated for at least 12 hours before the cheesecake can be eaten. They are also prone to cracking down the middle, so if appearance is important then it may take a bit of practice before you know how to best prevent this, depending on your own oven. I have included the tips that work for me below, follow them carefully and hopefully the result will be perfect :)

Baked New York Cheesecake

Before you begin:
  • Firstly bring all the ingredients to room temperature before starting (takes roughly half an hour from refrigeration).
  • Line the base of an 8" loose-bottomed/springform cake pan with greaseproof paper. DO NOT attempt to use a normal cake pan as it will be impossible to remove.
  • Preheat your oven to 150 C (140C fan assisted). Create a moist oven by placing a shallow tray of hot water on the bottom rack.
The base:

Crush together (I find the easiest way is to place in a bowl and pound with the bottom of a heavy pint glass) and press tightly into the base of the lined cake pan:
175g (6oz) digestives
50g butter, melted
Handful of oats (optional)
The cake:

*Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature and be careful not to overmix*

Beat 600g full fat soft cheese (also called cream cheese) on low with an electric whisk until soft.

Combine and beat in on slow speed until just combined:
175g (6oz) caster sugar
3 tbsp flour
Pinch of salt

Fold in gently until just combined:
3 large eggs, beaten- add one by one
300ml sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 orange/lemon (I use a bit from both)

Pour batter into pan over digestive base. To remove air bubbles, lift and knock the pan down onto the counter firmly a few times, and run a butter knife through in an “S” pattern.

Place the cake on the rack above the tray of water and bake for 80-90 mins. DO NOT open the oven whilst cake is baking. Cheesecake is done when the edges are puffy and only a small spot in the center (about 1" in diameter) still jiggles. DO NOT bother testing with a skewer or toothpick like a regular cake, as it will not come out clean.

Leave to cool in a warm place (remove from the oven and cover the pan with a bowl, or turn off the oven and leave it inside with the door slightly ajar). After 10 mins, scrape around the edges with a
thin spatula to ensure the cake doesn't leave a residual skin on the sides as it shrinks and tears away whilst cooling. Return it to its warm place to cool completely in the pan, then refrigerate the cake for at least 12 hours (preferably overnight) until cold and firm.

To remove the cake from a loose-bottomed pan, place the pan on top of a large can or jar and pull the sides downwards. Remove the pan bottom by sliding a spatula under the digestive base and pushing the cake carefully onto a serving plate.

The cake tastes best served at room temperature, and is easiest sliced with a hot knife or taut dental floss.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

American Chocolate Chunk Cookies

*IMPORTANT AMENDMENT 24 MAY 2009- left out the sugar in the original post, SORRY! Thank you Michelle for bringing it to my attention :)

THE single best chocolate chip cookie recipe I have ever come across, so perfectly gooey and chewy and buttery that my friend thought "juicy" was the most appropriate word. Can't remember now which book or magazine it's originally from, but thank you so much to whoever came up with this decadent combination!

Melt together* and let cool:
100g dark chocolate
85g butter

*You can use a traditional bain marie method, but I find it saves time and produces the exact same result to microwave at full power, stopping every 20-30 seconds to stir until melted and glossy.

Beat in with a spoon until well mixed:
100g brown sugar
100g crunchy peanut butter
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

Stir in:
100g self-raising flour
100g milk chocolate chunks
200g dark chocolate chunks
100g salted roasted peanuts

Drop tablespoonfuls (or roll into a medium ball in your hand and press) onto a baking sheet, leaving enough room for each cookie to spread. Bake 12 mins at 180 C (160C fan-assisted), or longer if you want crisper cookies. Flavour improves when stored overnight.

Mocha Tiramisu (Non-Alcoholic)

Traditional Tiramisu but with a stronger hint of cocoa and no booze, just because I prefer mocha over straight coffee and am alcohol intolerant. Feel free to add a few tablespoons of brandy, sweet Marsala wine, dark rum, Amaretto or any liqueur of choice to the mocha.

Dissolve mocha ingredients together and set aside to cool:
3 tsp coffee granules
2 tsp cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water

Whisk until mixture is pale creamy yellow and leaves a ribbon trail when whisk is lifted out:
5 egg yolks
170g caster sugar

Add 500g mascarpone and beat until smooth.

In a separate bowl, whisk 5 egg whites (ensure the bowl and all equipment is dry and grease-free) until soft peaks form. Fold into mascarpone mixture.

Pour cold mocha into a shallow dish to start soaking the sponge fingers. You will need about 36 sponge fingers (also known as savoiardi or ladyfingers), in total for the whole tiramisu. Dip enough, a few at a time, to line the base of an 8" x 11" casserole dish. Only soak them briefly- the biscuits should still be firm enough to hold up without breaking- and press them into a tightly packed layer in the base of the dish.

Spread half the mascarpone mixture over, then top with another layer of soaked sponge fingers. Layer over the remaining mascarpone and dust lots of unsweetened cocoa powder over the top to finish.

Refrigerate for at least a few hours, or overnight for a better flavour.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Malaysia Kopi Tiam

The exterior- take Exit 2 at Leicester Square station and turn left. Walk up Charing Cross Road (past Cafe de Hong Kong, Corean Chilli etc) and you will see it on your left
Hokkien Mee

Hainanese Chicken Rice
Malaysia Kopi Tiam
67 Charing Cross Road,
London, WC2H 0NE
Tel: 0207 287 1113

Read my initial review in November 2008 here

Malaysia Kopi Tiam has opened and shut down in several different locations over the years, but I'm glad to say it is now doing a bustling business on Charing Cross Road and is dishing up amazing authentic food up to the standards of critical Malaysians like myself :)

I have been numerous times and love so many of its dishes: Char Kway Teow, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Nasi Lemak, Nasi Goreng, handmade Hakka Mee, Hokkien Mee and Cantonese Style Hor Fun are all well-executed and come highly recommended. Yong Tau Foo is also decent, and I have been told by friends that the Bak Kut Teh is up to scratch (I personally have not tried it as I'm not a fan, but from what I've seen on nearby tables it certainly looks the part). However, two dishes I would say are not quite as impressive are the Prawn Mee and Ipoh chicken hor fun, both which have prawn-based soups which are far too clear and bland. The manager actually agreed when I mentioned this to him, saying they are unable to get enough prawn shells to make the stocks rich and thick enough! Also whilst the Curry Mee is tasty, it was not really to my personal taste (too little soup in my opinion, and I prefer shredded poached Hainan chicken not actual Curry Chicken portions).

At the moment desserts are limited (only ice kacang) but I've been told they will expand it in future. In any case I am happy enough that grass jelly ("cincau" or "leong fun" in Chinese) is on the drinks menu. At about £5.50 per dish, it's definitely a place for cheap authentic robust Malaysian food to satisfy those cravings!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Homemade Pesto

SAM TAN'S KITCHEN HAS MOVED! Please visit the new website/online store at You can also follow Sam on InstagramFacebook and Twitter. Thank you!

If you like pesto and have been buying it in supermarkets, stop now. There isn't a single ready-made jar on the market, no matter how well-known the brand or premium the range that can even come close to the flavour of one you freshly blitzed yourself. I swear to you I am not exaggerating; my pesto-lover friend Daniel has never looked back after trying this recipe, and even makes his own reddish-brown version with sundried tomatoes.

Chuck it all into a blender/food processor and press "on". That's all it takes.

Blitz to a smooth puree:

50g (2oz) fresh basil leaves
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Dash of salt
25g (1oz) Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (substitute with Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) or Grana Padano if unavailable)

Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Delicious stirred into pasta, roasted with chicken, grilled on bread with melted cheese for amazing toasties, tossed with salad and olive oil as a herby dressing...

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Lotus Floating Chinese Restaurant

Original review written 29 March 2009 on Trusted Places

Lotus Floating Chinese Restaurant
38 Limeharbour
E14 9RH

For full menu and details see:

We live walking distance from Lotus and are so glad we have finally found a place for authentic cheap dim sum without needing to travel all the way to Chinatown! From its mundane unlit appearance in the afternoon and tinted windows which prevented us from seeing inside, we always assumed it was a novelty joint either failing miserably or completely abandoned, until we walked in last week at lunchtime and realised it was buzzing especially with the office crowd from Canary Wharf!

All the steamed dim sum classics are well executed- fluffy white char siew bao (BBQ pork buns), har gau (prawn dumplings), siew mai (pork dumplings), beef tripe with ginger etc, and we were surprised to find good Ma Lai Koh (Malay steamed sponge cake) on the menu too which is the first time I've encountered it in London! We ordered two varieties of cheong fun (steamed rice sheet rolls)- char siew and fried dough- and loved both, highly appreciating the fact that the sauce for the fried dough version was served in a separate saucer for dipping instead of drizzled over, to ensure the filling remained crispy.

The fried/baked dishes also got the thumbs up all round- gorgeous little egg custard tarts with a flaky pastry, light and not-too-greasy wu kok (yam puffs with meat filling) and crunchy salad har (fried prawn dumplings with salad cream).

The only thing we regretted ordering was the plate of dry-fried beef hor fun, which was rather bland and oily and not worth the £6.50 price tag. Although I haven't tried any of their other noodle dishes, I would say it's a safer bet to stick to the dim sum classics.

Service was typical of a Chinese restaurant (none too friendly, civil but indifferent), but with most of the dishes priced at £2 (the most expensive ones being £3.50) and a lovely waterfront view to boot, I will definitely be back at Lotus over and over to satisfy my dim sum cravings! :)

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Rare Roast Beef Joint with Mustard

For the carnivores amongst us :)

Roast beef is one of my father's favourite foods ever; I sent him this picture and he promptly replied asking whether I could hurry up and go back to KL to cook it for him! I've explained many times how he could easily do it himself- take a hulk of meat, rub it with salt, pepper and mustard, shove it in to cook- but I guess what he really wants is for someone else to watch the oven, carve the joint, pour the gravy, roast the vegetables, bake the Yorkshire puddings and just present it all ready on a plate to feast on.

He is right though in wanting the whole package; when it comes to roast, the trimmings and sides are just as important as the meat itself. So be sure to serve this with lots of rich gravy, roast potatoes/parsnips/carrots (or buttered/mashed/baked if you prefer), something green like broccoli or beans or cabbage and most importantly, Yorkshire puddings to soak it all up.

*Recipe based on a 2kg beef roasting joint (enough to feed 6-8 people). Vary your cooking times accordingly*

Slice 2 large onions into rings and spread into a roasting tin lined with foil.
Place beef joint on the bed of onions and rub meat all over with 2 tbsp mustard, salt and lots of black pepper.

Cover with foil and roast for 15 mins in a very hot oven preheated to 240 C (220 fan assisted). Then lower heat to 180 C (160 fan assisted) and leave to roast 20 minutes for every 500g of meat (so my 2kg joint took 1 hour 35 mins in total). Cook for an extra 15-20 mins or longer if you prefer it less rare.

Remove the meat, wrap it in foil and let it rest at room temperature for 30 mins. This is MUST so the meat gets very moist and tender. (A lot more juice/blood may come out, don't worry it's all good and can go into the gravy!)

Onion Gravy:
Pour all the onions and juices from the roasting tin into a pot. Add some gravy granules and a dollop of cream to thicken and bring to boil.

Yorkshire Puddings

Gorgeous golden puffs, slightly crisp on the outside and soft and hollow on the inside... the single most important accompaniment to any roast meal in my opinion, perfect for soaking up gravy. Thank you James Martin for this great recipe!

Yorkshire Puddings
Makes 12 big puffy ones (always make at least 2 per person)

Sift 4 oz (100g) flour with a pinch of salt into a large bowl, adding a sprinkling of dried herbs if desired. Make a well in the middle and add:

4 eggs
300ml milk

Mix until well combined (I use an electric whisk to eliminate lumps) and refrigerate overnight.

To bake:
Preheat the oven to 220C (200 C fan assisted). Fill each cup in a 12-cup muffin pan* with a good amount of oil/drippings from your roast. Heat in the oven for 5-10 mins until very hot.

Remove the pan from the oven and ladle batter into each cup until half or 3/4 full. Bake on the middle rack for 20 mins, then lower the heat to 190C (170 C fan assisted) and bake for a further 10 mins. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN MIDWAY otherwise your puddings will collapse!

Serve immediately with lots of gravy.

*This is not usually done but I have found that you can line the pan with paper muffin cases if desired to prevent sticking/make clean-up easier. The puds will still puff up to a grand size but for some reason need to be cooked longer to prevent collapsing, so bake them for an extra 15-20 minutes at the lower temperature. Peel off the paper cases before serving.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Avocado Mixed Leaf Salad with Bacon

Some days I just crave a nice big juicy leafy salad, with lots of different textures and bits mixed in. I hate buying prepared ones in shops, because more often than not they cost too much, skimp on the leaves, have one or more ingredients that you don't particularly like and leave you hungry at the end of it.

Of course Pret A Manger is an exception- their salads are utterly scrumptious (just like their sandwiches, wraps, soups, dried mango, pastries...), but £4 is still quite a lot for a small cardboard box and I always end up thinking of how many giant homemade bowls I could have thrown together myself for the same amount.

So here below, is my idea of the perfect salad- humongous, heaps of different leaves and colours/textures/flavours, slightly creamy with avocado and a tiny touch of mayo (no bottled dressings for me, mayo works just as well!) and sprinkled over with pine nuts and bacon or whatever I feel like depending on my mood. There are no set rules, just put what you want!

Serves 1

Two big handfuls of mixed salad leaves- easiest way I find is to buy several different packs of bagged salad and combine a bit from each :) I usually go for mild/tender varieties like lamb's lettuce, beetroot, batavia, chard, baby spinach, lollo rosso, iceberg, red oak leaf, tatsoi...

1 small tsp mayonnaise- toss well with the leaves until lightly dressed.

Add/sprinkle as desired:
1 large red tomato, sliced (*Tip: It is MUCH easier to cut tomatoes with a bread knife, steak knife or any other knife with a serrated edge rather than a flat one.)

1 ripe avocado (if you are an avocado virgin, please see "Easy Twisty Way of Cutting an Avocado" below)

1 slice bacon, cut into bits and fried until crisp
Handful of pine nuts, toasted
Grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Other options: shredded roast chicken/turkey, ham, hard boiled eggs, seafood sticks, thinly sliced red onions...

Devour! :)

Easy Twisty Way of Cutting An Avocado
Cut lengthwise all the way around (working around the seed) and twist the two halves apart.
Tap the blade of your knife so that it's wedged into the seed, and twist to remove.
Spoon the flesh out with a spoon.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Black Hokkien Mee

You know a dish isn't for the health-conscious when its key ingredient is crispy fried lard. Oh well.

Prepare beforehand:

400g fresh fat yellow Hokkien noodles (hard to find overseas I've realised-use udon or Shanghai noodles as a substitute)- scald for 1 minute then steep in cold water and set aside.

100g pork fat, cubed to make “chu yau char”- Render cubes over low-medium heat for about 1 hour (cover partially if it splutters all over the place). Set aside crispy bits and use liquid lard for frying.


*make sure wok is smoking hot*

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped- stir fry until fragrant in liquid lard.
100g sliced pork/chicken- add and brown.


100g prawns/ 100g squid/sliced fishcake
Handful Chinese cabbage
3 tbsp thick dark soy sauce (or more for darker colour. I use Cheong Chan “cooking caramel” which is very thick and dark but not too salty)
1 tbsp oyster sauce
Dash of white pepper and sugar
½ cup fresh chicken stock (or ½ tsp chicken stock granules and ½ cup water if unavailable)

Lower heat and simmer until thick, then turn up heat and stir briskly. Sprinkle liberally with “chu yau char” and serve immediately with a dollop of good sambal (chilli paste).

Friday, 1 May 2009

Shepherd's Pie

Originally a poor man's way of using up leftovers, Shepherd's Pie is warm, tasty and satisfying- the ultimate British comfort food. Succulent lamb mince and vegetables in a thick flavourful tomato gravy, baked under a creamy mashed potato and cheese topping... mmm.

If you don't like lamb (re: if you are someone I just cannot relate to), feel free to replace with beef/any other mince but please be informed that you would then be making Cottage Pie and not Shepherd's Pie. That's right, no sheep meat no shepherd name :)

Dry fry together for 10 minutes until browned:
500g minced lamb
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Stir in 2 tbsp flour. Add and bring to boil:
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 tin (400g) chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
100ml beef stock (or 1 cube beef stock diluted in 1/3 cup water)
Salt and black pepper

*Change it up as you please: add different vegetables e.g. peas, chopped leeks and mushrooms, herbs like bay leaves or thyme or crumble in a few crushed dried chillies for a spicy kick.

Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Pour into a casserole dish and set aside.

Potato topping:
1 kg potatoes- boil until tender and mash. Stir in:
5 tbsp hot milk
30g soft butter
Salt and black pepper

Spoon the mash over the meat and spread to cover completely (without being too smooth- little rough bits give it a nice rustic appearance). Sprinkle with lots of grated cheese (any melty kind you like) and bake 30 minutes until bubbling and golden brown.