Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Slimy green onion

March 25, 2012

When cooking tofu in the Vietnamese way, we eat it with a sauce made of fish sauce & spring onions. We never refer to it as that, just as ‘fish sauce’, but since we eat it one or two times a week and we never it with anything else, we never question it.

You use the green part of the spring onion. It’s really important that when you cut the onion you slice green part thinly. the green stalk of the spring onion contains a gooey, slimy gunk that is brought out both by the salt in the fish sauce and the degree to which it is exposed to this. Slice the onion thickly and there is less goo exposed to the fish sauce. Slice it thinly and there is more. It’s crucial to get it as thin as possible. You can approximately the effect by chopping up the result. similarly, don’t overdo the fish sauce. put in a 3rd of a small bowl and then add the onion and mix. Mix up the onion until it is all wet. You should start to see a similar effect to honey and mustard.

Here’s how it looks when done well:

To be eaten with freshly fried tofu and sticky rice

Fish sauce with spring onion


Eat with fresh cooked sticky white rice and boiled vegetables. Perfect!



October 2, 2009

I just ate a chocoladebol. This is an oliebol (Dutch: ‘ball of oil’ but a bit like a doughnut) covered with melted chocolate and also pumped full of melted chocolate. Hard to go wrong. Less like a chocolate doughnut and more like a melted chocolate bar freshly deep fried in batter.

Extreme vegetables

January 3, 2009

Parsnips are a good old-fashioned vegetable which are becoming more and more popular, mostly spurred onwards by the Jamie Olivers and Nigel Slaters of this world. In Leiden, where I live, they are known as one of the vegetables left in a pan by the Spanish after the fled the country a few hundred years ago. This dish (“Hutspot”) is the most famous in the city, eaten around the 3rd October every year to commemorate the breaking of the Spanish siege of Leiden. These days the parsnips are often substituted by potatoes, which is a pity.

I like roasting parsnips and serving them with a roasted piece of meat. Their starch caramelises and the parsnips become soft and incredibly sweet inside. Their skins thicken and crisp up with the dripping fat from the meat. They are also great to make a thick warming soup for the cold winter months.

I asked for some parsnips at our local supermarket. “Par-what?” was the answer, “I’ll have to ask my colleague about that”.

“Yes, sir, some of the extreme vegetables are often in the Surinaam section”. Sure enough, there they were, sitting in the ‘extreme vegegables’ section. I’m happy to report that the local greengrocers knew just what they were, and had plenty sitting between butternut squash and pumpkins.

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Eating Chinese with Vietnamese

August 24, 2008

Notes from a big Chinese meal with family:

  • My wife’s grandfather is the brother of the mother of the wife of the man who sat next to me. In Vietnam, this is called ‘close family’.
  • Most of my Vietnamese family are way above me intellectually. A few PhDs, a University lecturer or Professor (maths or medicine seem to be favourites), or an all round polyglot are not uncommon. The gentleman next to me made conversation by waxing lyrical about the key differentiators between oriental and occidental meals. In French. (It comes down to alcohol in the end apparently; well, doesn’t everything?) How many times do you hear the word ‘occidental’?
  • Food is eaten quite slowly but it all still goes surprisingly quickly.
  • Two out of three tables have at least one fun portable electronic device: iPhone, PSP or Nintendo DS Lite. Most children are being entertained by one of these whilst the adults eat and drink.
  • Although the most tables of ten are Chinese, there are a number of Dutch, Indians and other big family get-togethers
  • Choice pieces of the meal can be found in strange places. The cabbage that is typically underneath the duck and roast pork soaking up the meat’s juice is ferreted out quickly.
  • Between Totoro, Pokemon and Pixar shorts, Totoro wins in the end, even if it is in the original Japanese.
  • I-spy is the just about the only game to keep 5-year olds conscious when up past their bedtime in a speeding car

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What I have been eating in Portugal

August 5, 2008

I have been in the sunny Algarve, in the quiet and peaceful Olhos d’gua for the last couple of weeks. We have been enjoying the fresh fish and shellfish. Favourites included of course the small fish like sardines but also the clams and langoustined (sorry to disappoint frequent readers, I have just about abstained from lobster this holiday because other shellfish was more plentiful). Last but not least, the wonderful desserts — Portugal has some of the best puddings in the whole of Europe. Like British puddings they mostly include plenty of eggs and sugar. The English custard pies and the Portuguese pasteis de nata are close siblings. Chocolate mousse here is more deliciously gooey than the lighter and airier French variety.

These were some of our favourites.











June 7, 2008

On a whim, I asked my wife to buy us a lobster from the market today. Leiden market is a big and bustling affair, and the fish stalls are excellent: fresh from the day’s catch from Scheveningen, near The Hague, with every sort of fish and shellfish you could want. We often eat lobster in restaurants. Indeed, I have a bit of reputation for ordering it every time I go on a company dinner, where €40 would not be uncommon. At the market, 470g sets you back just €11.

The problem is, lobster needs to be cooked and it needs to be cooked alive, alive-oh. I think everyone is squeamish about their first kill, but I think it hypocrisy of the highest order not to be willing to kill the meat you eat. If you find it too hard to kill, you should go vegetarian. If you enjoy the taste of meat, you should be happy to do your own dirty work.

Theory is great in theory but rarely seems to work out in practice. The lobster stares up at me. “C’mon, you think you can take me on? Gimme a fair fight and take these cuffs off o’ me” It’s true, he’s bound and gagged. It may be that I can get over my squeamishness, but I remain a coward and I’m proud of it. He is very much alive. Vague hopes that he would have popped a couple of suicide pills upon realisation of the inevitability of his demise are dashed when he makes a break for it, clambering off the plate and heading for 4-ft precipice to the kitchen floor.

Looking in my treasure trove of cookery lore for how exactly to kill and prepare him turns up very little. The inaptly named “Complete Cookbook” has no mention. Nothing from Jamie and not a mention from the River Cafe book. The inimitable Mr Slater says in his wonderful Real Cooking “…Under the table there is a box of black and blue lobsters, straitjacketed with green rubber bands. I feel sorry for them and look away”. That’s it. Luckily, there is an encyclopedia of possibilities in my Good Housekeeping tome: a) soak in vigourously boiled, water for 30 minutes to make unconscious b) dunk screaming head-first into boiling water c) plunge a cleaver into the cross-shaped mark behind his head with one sharp blow. Obviously Darwinism is alive and well (and possibly evolving as we speak) because lobsters with cross-shaped marks behind their heads are about as common as deer with bulleyes on the backs.

So I choose the coward’s way out and decide to drown the poor wretch. The question is: what is so special about boiled cold water, that it will render a water-dwelling animal inert? Or is this actually merely a devious plan to render an overly-pensive potential lobster-murderer inert?

In the mean time, my son has been petting and stroking the lobster and they are suddenly old friends. Lobsters should not be eaten, he declares, they make good pets. Indeed we should take the cuddly crustacean back to the sea and release it into freedom once again.

I perservere against feelings of guilt and plenty of persuasive points from my progeny and the business at hand is short and easily completed. Lobster in, leave for a half hour, boil for a few minutes (silently), crack him open and feast on the sweet flesh.


June 24, 2007

I’m quite a big fan of . It’s a cooking and recipes site at its Web 2.0 best, with some interesting approaches to adverts and sponsorship. You have a choice between paying for your Premium membership once your free trial is up, inviting others for free credits or being sponsored by an advertising partner. Instead of spamming your videos and the rest of the sites with unwanted links, the sponsorship partner is chosen on the basis of your personal preferences and gives you free access to the site. There are plenty of opportunity to click through and explore their site, and since it’s a site that matches your likes and dislikes, the chances are that you will.

My sponsor for the next three months is Epitourean which focuses on culinary tourism — thanks guys!

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