Five Spice Duck Legs

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Five spice duck legs, burnt onions, pak choi with garlic, chilli and mustard seeds

Recipe, by James Ramsden, can be found here

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Wuli Wuli, Camberwell

Salt and Pepper Squid

Salt and Pepper Squid

Sliced Pig's Chin in Chilli Sauce

Sliced Pig’s Chin in Chilli Sauce

Smacked Cucumbers

Smacked Cucumbers

Beef Brisket and Potato in Clay Pot

Beef Brisket and Potato in Clay Pot

Deep Fried Aubergine with Minced Pork

Deep Fried Aubergine with Minced Pork

Wuli Wuli, 15 Camberwell Church Street, London SE5 8TR

Meal for two with drinks and service, approx £50.

Some reviews of Wuli Wuli:

I think these three all went together!

Baking Disasters

Being both an avid fan of social media and photo-sharing sites and a keen cook, a lot of the food I create and consume ends up online.  I am not alone in this, for many of my news feeds contain pictures of food in all its forms.  I would even hazard a guess that food pictures are among the most commonly shared, after selfies and endless pictures of people’s children, of course.  Looking at endless pictures of food can be wonderful when seeking some inspiration in the kitchen or complete torture when stuck on a bus, in traffic, on the Old Kent Road with nothing but a packet of mints for nourishment.

I started to think about why we are all so keen to share pictures of our food online, after all, we all eat, we all cook (to some degree) and we all enjoy eating out, whether the local fast food joint or a three Michelin star restaurant.  If, as it has been claimed, the recession has made foodies of us all, why do we need to constantly tell others what we eat?  One explanation harks back to the old saying You Are What You Eat.  Many take this phrase and use it from a health perspective – that the healthier your food is, the healthier you yourself will be.  Of course, scientific research has proved this to be true, however there is another meaning to the saying that goes to explain our obsession with sharing, and that is the idea of food as an indicator of social status.  As with many things,  food is often used to indicate wealth and taste – the recent comments made by Jamie Oliver about the consumption of ready meals among the lower classes not only indicates that there are many people living on food deemed a risk to their health, but also highlighted the level of food snobbery that simmers beneath the health concerns.  Putting out pictures of food is a way of creating a window into your lifestyle and opening this window for others.  A snapshot of a dish in a hyped, impossible-to-get-a-booking restaurant in the first week of opening is bound to earn you some kind of kudos, as is a picture of a perfectly crafted layer cake with the kind of pipework, sugarcraft and palette knife skills that the rest of us could only aspire to.

It has been a while since I noticed that, whilst food photo-sharing is on the up, people are becoming as selective about what they share as they are about which Facebook photos they are tagged in, which backs up my theory about food being an extension of a person’s self-image.  It is rare that you would see a plate with sauce splashed over the side, a collapsed tart or an elbow in a perfectly piped swirl or buttercream – these creations go unrecorded or condemned to a corner of iPhoto, never to be seen again.  Despite this, the most talked about and most enjoyed parts of reality cooking shows such as Masterchef and The Great British Bake Off are the parts when things go horribly wrong – a dropped cake, a sunken souffle or a burnt fillet cause the most excitement.  In cooking, as with many things, it is the mistakes and the disasters, both our own and that of others, that cause the most improvement.  In our quest to portray the image of a perfect cook, we are neglecting that vital part of knowledge sharing – what went wrong.  By confessing our mistakes, we open ourselves to the wisdom of others and, in turn, can impart our wisdom to help somebody else.  I’m not suggesting that every failed experiment be exposed online for all to see, simply that we instead all stop trying to be experts showcasing only our perfection and sometimes show a few of our flaws.

Collapsed eclairs

Collapsed eclairs

Ugly-looking pork pies. The inside was grey too.

Ugly-looking pork pies. The inside was grey too.

The mango and passion fruit mousse that tasted of nothing whatsoever

The mango and passion fruit mousse that tasted of nothing whatsoever

Split crema catalana

Split crema catalana

Before I realised that a piping bag or palette knife was, you know, essential

Before I realised that a piping bag or palette knife was, you know, essential

Sausage and Mushroom ‘Orzotto’

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The nights are gradually beginning to draw in, a little more each day. When once, just a few weeks ago, I was able to sit out on my balcony long into the evening, now I am more or less confined to the house as soon as soon as I arrive home from work.  The crisper air and dark evenings always bring with them a desire to nest, and the autumn colours in the market bring with them a particular type of food; autumnal food – shades of gold somewhere in between summer’s lightness and winter’s austerity.  Opening the fridge to these ingredients and their possibilities is enough to make you forget about the trip to the pub in favour of a warm night in.

Sausages, for me, are such a part of warming winter comfort food that, unless they are pulled, charred and smoking, from a BBQ, I find it almost impossible to eat them in the summer months.  The smoky meatiness lends itself so well to a host of other flavours that are best enjoyed whilst wearing a jumper, with the central heating on, watching all of the films you missed during the hot weather because the city gave you better things to do.  Whether accompanied by a heap of artery-clogging buttery mashed potato or plunged into a spicy bean stew, they cannot help but warm you through.  As a child, I always ate sausages on bonfire night, encased in a bun with ketchup spilling all over my gloves – they were a good and cheap way to protect us against the winter chill and momentarily distract us from the possibility of sparklers, something we would constantly harass our parents for.

This ‘orzotto’ recipe, a kind of risotto made with orzo, or risoni, pasta instead of the usual arborio rice, was adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg book – my go-to cookbook for cheap and healthy mid-week suppers.   Finding warming vegetarian suppers, whilst not a challenge, can often be monotonous, but this book draws upon a range of different cultures to provide enough meat-free meals to see you through the colder months.  Of course, I have done the unthinkable and added meat to this otherwise well-thought out dish.  This is not simply a carnivore’s reaction, after all, I was a vegetarian for almost twelve years, but instead a need to find a way to use up some sausages leftover from the weekend that were languishing in the bottom of my fridge.  On a trip to Brockley Market this weekend, I managed to procure some rather delicious sausages – venison, chilli and garlic and wild boar and apple.  The former were eaten at a late Saturday night BBQ, something my family insist on having each month, come rain or shine, but we could not manage the second packet.  Two made their way into a rather good Sunday morning sandwich, and I could not bear to let the rest go to waste.

When cooking with sausages in this way, as with adding them to the top of a pizza, I prefer to peel off the skins and use the meat in its rougher form – it is far easier to cook it evenly this way.  Some chunks of apple escaped from the sausage meat during frying, which was picked out and discarded and, although some small chunks remained, the flavour was very subtle and in no way overwhelmed the mushrooms.  As with any mushroom dish, the real beauty comes when you use a mixture of mushrooms to get a more interesting flavour and texture.  In this recipe I used a mixture of chestnut and oyster mushrooms.  Surprisingly, I did not include porcini as I often do in mushroom dishes as I thought the flavour too strong.  The orzo, when cooked properly, gives a velvety texture that it is difficult to achieve when using the various types of short grain rice preferred for a risotto, and the ritual of adding stock and stirring is also unnecessary, making this a somewhat lazy dish in comparison.  The sauce is similar to that of a mushroom ragout and would work just as perfectly with other types of pasta, particularly tagliatelle or pappardalle.

Sausage and Mushroom ‘Orzotto’ (serves two)

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Four sausages, skins removed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 500g mixed mushrooms
  • 200g orzo or risoni pasta
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 50g mascarpone
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Finely chopped parsley, to serve
  • Shaved parmesan, to serve

Put a large pan of salted water on to boil and cook the pasta according to packet instructions.  Once cooked, drain and set aside.

Heat half the oil in a frying pan and add the sausage meat.  Cook for five minutes until browned.  Add the mushrooms to the pan and continue to cook until caramelised.  Remove all of the contents from the pan on to a plate, heat the oil and cook the garlic and thyme.  Add the balsamic vinegar until it bubbles and return the sausage and mushrooms to the pan.

Reduce the heat and stir in the mascarpone.  Cook until it is just simmering.  Stir in the drained pasta and cook until heated through.  Season to taste and serve topped with the copped parsley and shaved parmesan.