This is a gentle but warming dish for those who do not want to get stuffed, but want a rich taste to last the evening. It only takes about ten minutes to prepare and 20 to 30 minutes to cook and so is ideal for a working day.
You can vary the ingredients, to be honest, even moving it away from the East Asian influence I have here. The most important idea is that this is fish steamed in the oven over stock and served on a bed of cooked cabbage.
Ingredients for two people
2 fillets of fresh smoked haddock
400 mil fish stock
2 tablespoons coconut cream
1 stick lemon grass
1 thumb size of fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic
3 spring onions
1/4 bulb of fennel
2 lime leaves
big handful green cabbage
small handful french beans
ground nut oil
Fist of coriander
Good chilli powder
How to do it
The haddock will be steamed in an oven. So, take a small roasting tin or pan and cover it with thickly sliced fennel bulb and the carrots. Slice up the lemon grass very thinly and scatter over the top. Chop up the ginger and 2 of the garlic cloves and scatter this over too. Finely chop up the stalks of the coriander, keeping the leaf for later, and scatter this over. Tear up the lime leaves and add them. Add the coconut cream and the stock.
Stir it all up and then gather the carrot and fennel in the middle. Lay the fillets of haddock on top and then cook in an oven for around 20-30 minutes at 200 degrees C.
While that is cooking, finely chop the cabbage, the other cloves of garlic and the spring onions. Stir fry them with the beans in a little ground nut oil, salting to taste and adding chilli powder so it has a gentle heat. Do not cook this too hot or the cabbage will catch and it will be inedible! Just get a little toastiness to it.
In a separate saucepan, poach a couple of eggs.
Pile the cabbage in the middle of two large bows. Place the carrots and fennel on top and then the fish. Ladle the stock out round the edge. Top with an egg and chopped coriander.
And that is your lot. Quick, easy, warming and delicious. Healthy too!
Why do retailers produce incredibly high calorie food?
Well, it is simple really. They know that modern society loves over the top food and they know that high calorie food eaten on a regular basis makes us hungrier both physically and psychologically. So, why not? As a retailer you would be stupid to worry about health issues in case they got in the way of fat profits. After all, tobacco companies have been trading on that ideal for years.
In the race to be more gross than anyone else, enter Hungry Horse, a chain of pub restaurants in the UK owned by the old Green King brewery. The chain has been going since 1995 and serves value offerings – a sort of modern, fast food version of a gastro pub.
They have imported an idea from the US of multi layered burger sandwiched between two glazed doughnut rings and come up with a product that kicks in at 1900 plus calories – that is more than the entire daily allowance for a female and pretty much all of it for a male. It is 500 calories more than my current diet!
According to the BBC, Mel Wakeman, senior lecturer in Applied Physiology at Birmingham City University, said: “To me, this is simply ludicrous and irresponsible. I am no killjoy but why is this sort of food available?”
But this is not about being irresponsible. That makes it sound like they are not really bothered about whether something is fattening or not. Of course they care. They know well that the selling of this kind of food over a couple of generations has made us hungrier, greedier, perhaps, and more likely to buy more. This kind of food makes a fortune and Hungry Horse are jumping on a well known bandwagon.
They go further too – one of their dishes clocks up over 3000 calories.
Hungry Horse themselves make the point that they cater for a range of tastes and appetites and print the nutritional information on the menu.
However true that might be, no business sells something because they don’t think they can make a profit out of it. They do it because they see pound signs. That is the only reason they are selling this lump of fat, sugar and salt.
Drink slowly, but drink thoughtfully – that is how to enjoy the finest coffee
(Me, about two minutes ago)
Years ago, around 1997 I think, I had the privilege to record old man Illy in our studios in London. Ernesto, would that have been his name?
Today, I set up my coffee machine in my small studio at home (I am a composer these days) and made myself a wonderful Espresso – Illy, of course. It took me back to that interview.
Illy was accompanied by two young women and he was absolutely wicked, in a charming, mischievous way. But we did chat about coffee, something I am very passionate about. His English was dreadful, as I remember it, but one of the young ladies (who I think may have been a daughter or granddaughter) worked hard to keep up with the translating between the jokes.
He is among several people who have come to the studio and, though the work was simple, impressed me with their wit. Another was Michael Anderson, director of films such as the Dam Busters, Around the World in 80 days and Logans Run. I spent a week with him recording extra dialogue for his last film, The New Adventures of Pinocchio with Warwick Davis and Martin Landau. He sat in the studio, content to let me direct and just fill our week with wonderful stories from an incredible career – most of them completely unrepeatable. I also had a memorable couple of days with Alessandro Alessandroni. He wrote some music for Toby Russell, son of Ken, for a modern day marshal arts sequel of the famous Trinity spaghetti western films. Alessandro was another full of stories, and since I am also a musician, we quickly fell into swapping stories and jokes that completely alienated dear Toby and the producers. Oops! We did have a lot of fun, however.
Back to Illy, the old man really believed in the purity of good coffee and told me that whatever coffee I drank in any part of the world, always make sure it was an honest product. (And make sure it was Illy because he needed the cash!) He wasn’t exactly flattering about coffee in the UK and even less flattering about the growing chains like Starbucks. He pointed out that there was far more to coffee than what it looked like or how slick the barista was.
I agree. Back in the day, I used to buy coffee from the Algerian Coffee Shop in Old Compton Street, London. They did a special blend which I adored and I miss greatly since I moved out of London. But, Illy is good and now I have my machine up and running right next to my desk, I will continue to drink slowly, but thoughtfully and enjoy every sip.
So, tonight, I made myself a second cup and took a photo of it while I was at it – this cup is dedicated to that wicked Old Man Illy who died back in 2008 – it was an honour to meet him and talk about coffee.
I am always on the look out for new ideas, new ventures, new tastes. I come from a world which is all about invention and reinvention, the world of turning creativity into a product.
The problem with such a world is that finding people to back an idea with cash, even a great idea, is taking a crash course in futility. Enter the world of crowdfunding, where for little financial risk, hundreds or even thousands of people can look at a project and decide that these people deserve that rare chance.
Such a couple are two, young-ish designers in the north of Portugal.
The Muesli Café
“She came up with the idea,” says Diogo Olivera, a talented web designer with a love of muesli – eating it, that is.
Erika Göbel, the German half of this enterprising duo, and the one with the cooking flare, explains why opening the Muesli Cafe in Porto is such a wonderful idea.
“It totally fits into the modern diet! Muesli is so easy to prepare and you can take it to the office or school. It’s a light meal, it boosts your energy and keeps you satisfied for a long time. You can use any ingredients you like, even if you are vegan, just use (home-made) almond milk instead of dairy products.”
But the philosophy is probably better explained by the photos on their website. If ever a dish deserved to have a colour palette named after it, muesli, or at least Diogo and Erika’s take on muesli, certainly does.
The idea is to open a small breakfast cafe in the vibrant, beautiful and cosmopolitan city of Porto on the Atlantic coast of Portugal. This city of colourful and historic buildings already has a café culture ripe for the picking and ready to try something new. “Muesli is not for any specific age,” Diogo explains, “and we want to create a place that doesn’t leave anyone out, although we understand that younger people will probably be more open to try something as new as muesli will be in Porto.”
The locals only taste of Muesli up until now has been the usual industrialised box loads in the supermarkets. “We will try to communicate that our muesli is much tastier than the industrial versions. People already connect muesli to something that is healthy, which is good, but now we have to show them that it is not a boring healthy thing, but the contrary!”
Crowdfunding in Portugal
Raising the money through crowdfunding, if they succeed, could give them more than just the cash they need to rent a property, get it looking they way they want, get staff in and get their message out to the locals.
“In our opinion, the advantage of crowdfunding is that the business happens only if there is interest. This dilutes the risk of failure after opening. We also get the opportunity of making great marketing even before the café exists.” It is a very good point. Another friend who has crowdfunded a games book knows he has a fan base waiting – they have just invested in him.
The crowdfunding site they are using is Portuguese venture website, PPL. This is probably a good move – they want investors who are not just interested in them, but want to come and gorge themselves on the product and then go away and tell more people.
Both Diogo and Erika are designers by trade and develop serious business websites. Diogo is also an accomplished illustrator and has put his skills to good use on their cheerful promotional video for the venture. The proposal is certainly both flavour and design lead, and that is important in food. People don’t just want a feast for the stomach, it must be for the eyes too and if they can get as much colour and flavour into the final venture as they have into their photographs, then surely they will make an impression on Porto society.
But, of course, one has to ask, do they eat Muesli themselves? I mean, every day?
“YES!” Erika shouts into my inbox, adding that her current seasonal favourite is Pomegranate muesli with Roasted Almonds.
“Well, sometimes I eat a typical Portuguese breakfast,” Diogo admits. I am not exactly sure what that is, but I am sure Erika will educate him in the error of his ways…..
There is a reason why this blog is not stuffed with Restaurant reviews, well a couple actually. Firstly, I find the restaurant food available within a normal budget is often disappointing, so I simply do not eat out often. The other reason is when I do I am very rarely surprised, at least nicely.
The other week I had the opportunity to visit the China Brasserie in a new district of Aylesbury. Aylesbury has a large and diverse community from many parts of the world, which opens up the opportunity for some interesting food. Despite that, my experience of other similar communities has shown that much ethnic food is in the hands of the opportunist and the best of it is still to be found in their home countries. Indian restaurants are a prime example and however much people in the UK might enjoy popping out for “an Indian,” trust me – that is not how great food from the Indian Subcontinent is meant to taste!
Chinese food has a similar problem. I suspect the majority of Chinese food in the UK is eaten via a take-away and that really is the worst possible punishment for the humble Chinese dish. Chinese food is distinctive in its freshness. The people of the various provinces of China enjoy very different approaches to their food, but they are united by both the wok and a love of steaming. Sadly, steaming is something we see far too little of in the West. The food in Beijing, both in the street and in their noisy, competitive restaurants, is cooked right there, right at the time you want it. It has lightness and subtlety and great love. In many of the takeaways in the UK, the food has the weight of a whale and probably most of it’s oil to boot. It is thick, sticky and every dish tastes pretty much the same.
The China Brasserie is, happily, trying to buck this trend and we had a thoroughly enjoyable meal the other night. Being midweek, and me being lazy, we chose a set menu. I admit this was completely unfair since the set menus were pretty much the same as you get every where else, and we ignored any original and inspiring unique dishes they might well serve. But then, I did not go in order to review; this was just a pleasant evening out!
This was a Wednesday and the restaurant was very quite, so the service, as you can imagine was prompt. The Thai lady that served us was friendly and chatty, yet polite and efficient. The food, when it arrived, was fresh, generous and quite delightful. It is rare I stop talking to mention something is nice, but I did several times.
It was made up of pretty predictable dishes including satay chicken, crispy seaweed (!) and crispy aromatic duck, but it was well cooked, properly seasoned, and had some subtlety, which was very much appreciated. Reading through the rest of the menu on their dreadful website (please contact me for a nice new one!) there is not a lot on there that cannot be found elsewhere and I would really like to see less dishes and more originality. But the chef, who I suspect might be Thai, can cook properly and I am sure if he or she decided to move away from the predictable and venture into interesting they would make a very good job of it.
The restaurant itself is very modern, large and sited on a new square in the Fairford Leys village, which is a new, well noted development within Aylesbury. Not actually a village then. Pricing is fairly typical for the menu style and is generally affordable. Checking through the public reviews, the restaurant is well liked and popular and I have no reason to disagree with any of those reviewers.
It is now up to other restaurants in Aylesbury to up their game and present their food, whether that is Asian, European, American or African with as much style and care as the China Brasserie.