31 December 2011

Seri Muka

Seri Muka (one of the most popular of Malaysian Kuih – bite-sized desserts or cakes) is a steamed dessert in two layers: a bottom layer of glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk; and a thick custard-like top layer flavoured with the juice of pandan leaves (which provides the vibrant green colouring).

There are many Seri Muka recipes available and while most have a similar approach to the bottom layer, the balance of ingredients in the top layer can vary wildly. Some people use more eggs and very little flour and others prefer fewer eggs, using more flour or tapioca flour to provide the necessary stiffness. We prefer the following recipe which uses a combination of eggs and flours to create a custard with a slight cake-like texture.


Bottom Layer
400g Glutinous Rice (pre-soaked for 4 hours and drained)
300ml Coconut Milk
½ teaspoon Salt

Top Layer
2 Large Eggs
120g Castor Sugar
100 ml Pandan Water (blend 8 to 10 pandan leaves in 100ml water)
320ml Coconut Milk
100g Plain White Flour
3 tablespoons Tapioca Flour
¼ teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Pandan Paste (optional)


Bottom Layer
  1. Pre-soak the glutinous rice in water for about 4 hours and drain it.
  2. Mix in the coconut milk and salt and steam for about 30 minutes on a medium heat.
  3. Set aside to rest for about 10 minutes then transfer into a 22cm square loose-bottomed cake tin.
  4. Press quite firmly into an even layer, making sure it forms a good seal with the tin around the edges. 
Top Layer
  1. To make the pandan water, chop the pandan leaves into small pieces and mash them up in a blender with the water until you get a good smooth pulp. Strain the pulp through a sieve and squeeze it out to get a beautiful dark green fragrant water. Discard the pulp.
  2. Mix the pandan water with all the other ingredients for the top lawyer in a largish bowl (it doesn’t matter in what order you add them – just throw them all in together!).
  3. Beat with a hand whisk or electric mixer for a couple of minutes until the mixture is nice and smooth.
  4. Strain through a sieve to get rid of any little lumps. Let it rest for a few minutes while you finish off the bottom layer.
  5. Once you have pressed the bottom layer into the tin properly, pour the top layer mixture on top of the rice and steam again for 30 to 40 minutes over a medium heat.
  6. Remove from heat once the top layer has stiffened throughout and leave to cool before removing from tin and cutting into squares or diamonds.
Steaming can be done in a bespoke steamer if you have one big enough to take the cake tin. Otherwise it works quite well by placing a square tin in a large wok with a lid on and water at the bottom below the tin. Make sure it doesn’t boil dry.

Chicken Liver Pate

We love chicken liver in all it's forms but especially when just simply fried and served with a little lambs lettuce and honey/mustard vinaigrette dressing. Delicious! We also love to make pate which is more or less just the buttery spreadable version of the simple fried dish. It has one major advantage though you can play endlessly with flavours, textures and nuances by varying the supporting ingredients according to your mood. True to say that no two pates we ever make are exactly the same.

When thinking about making a pate we generally look and see what's in the fridge. For example some diced chorizo is a wonderful addition which you can enhance by adding a few pinches of paprika, smoked paprika and/or cayenne pepper. More conventionally some diced smoked streaky bacon can be added for extra flavour. If using fry them off with the onion at the start. To add texture we might put in a few dried mushrooms which have been soaked in boiling water for a few minutes beforehand or even some diced dried fruits like apricot or fig. To add heat and a little kick garlic and chilli are good, or a little tobasco, sweet chilli sauce or Worcestershire works wonders but you do need to be careful not to add too much liquid as this may cause problems down the line when trying to set the pate. A splash of Port or sherry can be used to lend sweetness.

Once made the pate will last for several days in the fridge and can be served as a canape on crostini with a chutney, as a starter with Irish soda bread, as stuffing for example in beef wellington or chicken breasts or even as a flavour enhancer to mince meat when making something like Bolognaise sauce or cottage pie. The recipe below is for a basic pate which you can enhance with some of the suggestions above.


250g pot of chicken livers
2 red onions
2 garlic cloves
Handfull of Bacon lardons
50g butter
Tbl spoon olive oil
Salt and Black pepper


Sweat down the onions and garlic in a skillet with a little butter and olive oil. if adding any further spice powder such as paprika do it now so it has a chance to cook out with the onions. Add the bacon. In the mean time make sure all the livers are free of sinew and are roughly the same size. Once the onions are translucent and the bacon cooked push to one side of the pan and throw in the livers and keep turning them for about a minute then remove from the heat, don't worry they will continue to cook in the residue heat. Allow to cool slightly and put in a food blender. Again the final pate texture can range from course or rustic to creamy smooth depending on your preference just by varying the length of whizzing. Put in an airtight container and re-fridgerate. Pate in preserving jars makes a nice present. Clarified butter can be used as a seal which stops the pate oxidising. Decorate with cornichons halved lengthwise.

28 December 2011

Pimientos de Padron

Whenever we go to Spain there are a few things which we just can't wait to eat. Most are relatively simple everyday foods and whilst theoretically available in the UK too somehow just don't seem to taste the same. One of those is Pimientos de Padron. These are small green peppers which interestingly engage you in a game of Russian roulette whenever you have them. They are easy to prepare and make a great tapas dish but due to some genetic anomaly about one in ten is considerably hotter than it's companions. We once served them to a friend and as luck would have it the first one she tried was a hot one so suspecting my motives she could not be persuaded to try any more completely disbelieving my protestations that this was the exception rather than the rule.
To cook them we generally put a splash of olive oil in a skillet. Throw in the pimientos and cook until slightly charred. Season and sprinkle with a little garlic salt. Serve immediately.

24 December 2011

Amaze Bouche!

This combination of a small virgin mary served in a shot glass together with a Parmesan snap can all be made in advance and is ideal to serve as a little amuse bouche to kick off a meal. The drinks can be served either with the cheese biscuits or without.

The Virgin Mary

Pour a few drops of Worcestershire sauce into the bottom of each shot glass. Make up a jug of tomato juice with a dash of Tobasco and a pinch of salt. Pour into the glasses and put a teaspoon of creme fraiche on top. Sprinkle with a little cayenne pepper and garnish with either a thinly cut slice of cucumber or some celery leaves. Of course the Marys do not necessarily need to be virgins. In this case add a dash of Vodka to the tomato juice mix before pouring from the jug.

The Parmesan Snaps

100g plain flour
100g butter
50g grated cheddar
50g parmesan
mustard powder
Cayenne pepper

Blend all the above to a dough and leave in the fridge for one hour wrapped in cling film. Roll out to a thickness of a £1 coin. Brush with egg wash and cut into desired shape. You need to work quickly before the butter in the dough starts to soften. Place on a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking tray. For further variety top with grated parmesan, mustard seeds or sesame seeds. Bake for about 10 minutes at 180 C. The biscuits will keep in an air tight container for several days.

21 December 2011


We are very fortunate to have close friends living in Barcelona and get to go there very often. I am frequently asked where to go and what to do there so here they are just a few personal favourites.... 

Every visitor has to start with a wander along the Ramblas it's very touristy but has a buzz and lots of entertaining buskers and the bird market but beware pickpockets !! Pay homage at the high temple of all that is best in Catalan produce, the famous Boqueria Market. If you're peckish which you will be after surveying the dazzling array of foods on offer try the snacks at Pinochio. Further along the Ramblas is Palau Guell a Gaudi palace recently reopened after a major restoration and at the end of the Ramblas the Maritime Museum is housed in a beautiful range of medieval workshops has a lovely restaurant with daily specials. 

Wander around the Gothic Quarter El Borne - it's achingly trendy! Don't miss the Picasso Museum off Calle Montcada and Santa Maria del Mar church Barcelona's XIV Century Gothic gem. Nearby you can pop into a Basque tapas bar for "pinxos" tapas where they charge by the number of cocktail sticks you have gathered at the end. There's a good one, if a bit touristy on Calle Argenteria alternatively you can lunch at the Hotel Neri a beautiful old courtyard house. On the other side of the Ramblas Raval is full of ethnic shops and despite drastic regeneration projects is still a lot more edgy. Spot the ladies of the night at all times of the day. 

Out of the tangled knot of the medieval city wander through the elegent and airy Example, the nineteenth century grid iron urban extension divided by the Passeig de Gracia - don't miss the Gaudi buildings, Casa Batllo and La Pedrera. Both have apartments open to the public which are fascinating. There are great rooftop views and iconic Gaudi chimney pots on the Padrera. There are also always free exhibitions at the Caixa in the Pedrera. Go into the nearby Vincon shop which again has fantastic modernista interiors and see especially the fireplace on the first floor ! The other Gaudi  not to be missed sights are of course La Sagrada Familia still under construction, the nave is now finished and pretty impressive (you can buy timed tickets from Servi Caixa on line and skip the queues!) Park Guell, his brave but ultimately unsuccessful attempt at landscaping and town planning and the Ciutadella Parc built for the 1888 Exhibition where he worked on the fountains when very young and before he developed his distinctive style. This is my favourite park it's full of atmosphere! I particularly love the old hot houses beside the Geological Museum. At the top of Passeig de Gracia pop into the Casa Fuster Bar for a quick refreshment! It's another breathtaking Modernista building. Modernista is a sort of Spanish Art Noveau / Arts and Crafts style popular at turn of 20C. If you like it then see what's on at the Palau de la Musica and try for tickets or just have a look around, there are tours, it's a fantastic Modernista Concert Hall off Via Laietana and very Important in the story of Catalan cultural revival and nationalism.

For some fresh air spend the day on Montjuic. Take the cable car from the harbour or start at the Plaza Espanya dominated by the Montjuic Catalan National Museum a cultural Palace built for the 1929 Exhibition.  Don't miss the iconic Mies van der Rohe  pavilion so beautifully serene and moderne! A Bauhaus triumph packed up and lost for many years! In the evening the "Font Magica"  are wonderfully entertaining - they're kitsch but charming! Nearby The Caixa Forum Exhibitions are free in the Casamora a beautiful old and splendidly converted textile factory. 

Also on  Montjuic you can see Calatrava's sculptural telephone mast and the site of the 1992 Summer Olympic Stadium which did so much to put Barcelona on the map. There are fantastic views everywhere you look. Further along is the Fundacio Miro, lunch at the restaurant there (Book in advance). 

Tibidabo is the name given to the other range of hills which overlook the city and well worth another day! The views are absolutely spectacular!  Tibi dabo - Latin "to thee I give" is what the devil allegedly said to Jesus Christ in the desert in a failed attempt to tempt him! You can pop into the Hotel Florida for cocktails on the terrace or visit the Tibidabo fun fair, it boasts the second oldest Ferris wheel in Europe after the one in Vienna featured in "The Third Man"  Take the historic tram and funicular which runs at the weekend. Climb to the top of the church tower nearby for spectacular 360 degree views over the surrounding countryside. Speaking of Vienna there is a wonderful Viennese style Coffee House beside the fair. 

On a Sunday afternoon everyone heads to the harbour front at Barceloneta. There's a small market and many many restaurants. Continue to the end for Cocktails at the rooftop bar in Hotel W. You need to  dress smart No sandles! but they do Excellent Mojitos - ask for a Dirty Argentinian! This is the European flag ship hotel of this chain and is an iconic sail like building built out into the sea at the end of the harbour.

If all that hasn't exhausted you try your luck at haggling in Encants flea market where there are a few interesting antique / brocante shops around. Get the tram or Metro to Glories and follow the crowds but if it's too warm and the heat is getting to you head to the beaches at Marbella for a dip instead - no need to bring swimsuits! 

Getting around on foot is easy or you can sign up to the Bicing bicycle hire system. Taxis are cheap, friendly and numerous.  Say Catalan 'Bon dia' as a greeting and they'll be even more friendly. Alternatively you can buy a 10 journey "carnet" T-10 ticket at any metro station its the best value and works on buses as well. The metro service is very efficient and air conditioned but when you land take the aerobus from right outside  the airport terminals to Plaza Catalunya via the plaza Espanya it costs a fraction of the taxi fare!

Oh and before you go read Irish author Colm Toibin's account of history and life in the Catalan Capital  "Homage to Barcelona" It will help give you a real feel for the city and it's people.

17 December 2011

Festive Fools

Some fools invaded a Chelsea party last night and added lots of festive colour!

15 December 2011

Memories of "Dusun"....

Being the last to arrive in a big family of twelve had a profound effect on me. The life of my childhood home in Kuala Lumpur centred around food. My mum was an excellent cook. She was originally from Chang Mai but was brought up mainly in Malaysia and was combining ingredients to cook "fusion" for her family long before the term was ever coined anywhere else. For my part being the youngest I would taken by the hand to the wet market to buy fish and I would watch her as she carefully selected the best produce. Her skills still go through my head as I go through my check list for buying fish at our local fishmongers.

Breakfast fruits on a recent visit to my sister's, served by the pool!  

Our city garden was full of fruit trees and being the smallest I was made to climb up on my big brothers' shoulders to try to retrieve the best fruits.  There balanced precariously I would reach for the juiciest rambutans, papayas and mangos  which were always just inches out of reach. Best of all though were the school holiday trips to my grandparents farm about three hours from KL where my father's family lived . The 'dusun' or orchard was to me the garden of Eden with neat rows of laden mangosteen trees, rambutans and mango trees which I would climb to get the best fruit. Also of course the infamous durian the king of fruits which you either love or hate. They bear huge prehistoric looking fruits with lethal spikes and have a pungent smell. They are so large they can only be harvested after they've fallen to the ground which happens only at night. They are much beloved by tigers many of which meet an untimely end as they fall asleep under the trees and when the fruits fall they are killed!  There was so much produce from the garden that my aunt used to show me how to  tie it up into neat bunches like grapes which we could then sell by the roadside. I'd come home happy having earned a little much appreciated pocket money.


12 December 2011

My Ayah a snapshot memory...

Kieron and Nigosti circa 1962 
In the British Raj nannies were known as ayahs, after the Portuguese word aia for nurse or governess. I grew up in Aden (Yemen) a mini version of India, where ayahs were mainly either beautifully slender Somali women or Etheopians. 
I had two that I can remember Rhum was Somali with striking East African features and Nigosti who was a great cook. I have only memory flashes of this time but it is of course Nigosti I remember best. She would arrive in the evening to babysit me as my parents went out to dinner or to play bridge. My mum would put me to bed, tuck me in and kiss me goodnight but no sooner than the car would pull out of the drive than Nigosti would burst into my room pull me out of bed and put me sitting cross legged in the middle of the living room rug to share her evening meal. She always brought a tiffin box with her (a three tier aluminium food container with a single handle) which was opened up to reveal delicious food and spread around the floor. One container had rice or vegetables another usually an eye wateringly hot meat curry and the last a type of East African naan bread which was grey in colour and had the texture of a sponge. Perfect for mopping up. We ate with our fingers or more specifically the first three fingers and thumb of the right hand. 
These are some of the earliest tastes I can remember enhanced in no small measure by the delicious naughtiness of being up and doing something I wasn't supposed to be doing and that my mum and dad didn't know about. Something that all kids love! I suspect now my parents must've had an idea of what was going on but decided on balance it was probably prudent to turn a blind eye.


10 December 2011

Cooking lunch at a City Bank

There are always unforeseen and unexpected issues which arise when you are cooking in a strange kitchen. Yesterday we were asked to cook lunch for a dozen high powered City bankers in the beautifully panelled and listed Board room of a well known City bank. A dream gig you might think - well not really! The challenge was the kitchen which although boasting a reasonably good electric cooker, oven and grill had absolutely no utensils whatsoever, nada, nothing. As a result we had to take a taxi across London laden like medieval travelling iron mongers clanking with all the necessary cooking accoutrements pots, pans, tongs, fish slices, and of course knives - it's just as well were not made to pass through a metal detector when we arrived!!! The menu suggested had taken this problem into consideration and was as below. Timing was of the essence. Luckily it all seemed to go down pretty well!

Starter:  Smoked salmon and avocado, celeriac and dill remoulade, gravad lax dressing
Main: Marinated filet of lamb brochettes, French beans with citrus and
roast vegetable cous cous, tahini dip
Dessert: Pears poached in Port and red wine, star anise and cinnamon
with Kentish cherries and creme fraiche

4 December 2011

Chocolate Peppercorns

Attention Chocaholics Anonymous we were recently given some of these scrumptious chocolate-coated peppercorns from Barcelona chocolatier Cacao Sampaka. Undoubtedly the best in the Catalan capital. We will be using them in desserts soon!!


Filo baskets and melba toast are fantastic with a range of fillings. A particular vegetarian favourite is Caponata - a sweet/sour Sicilian chutney traditionally made from a mix of aubergine, celery and capers. In this case topped with feta cheese and toasted pine nuts.

Malaysian Chicken Satay

At the Wild Swans Christmas party last night the chicken satay with spicy peanut sauce was a real hit.

Dublin Coddle...

My father was the better cook in our family when I was growing up. Far better than my mother which was highly unusual when you consider I am talking about Dublin in the 1960's, a time when gender roles dictated that women should be queens of the hob and oven and males were expected to keep a respectful distance from the kitchen. The only problem was my mother could by no stretch of the imagination be considered a kitchen goddess. I don't think even now she would be offended if I told you she couldn't really cook at all! In her defence she always protested that "I have to cook every day, your father only cooks when he wants to" Maybe so but of course it's my father's recipes that have stuck in my mind and by making them he also unwittingly impressed on his only son's young mind that there was nothing unusual about a man in the kitchen wearing an apron in front of the gas stove, thereby inadvertently paving the way in me for an early interest in preparing and cooking food. 

Some of my hazy early memories of his food are pretty bizarre for instance I can still remember vividly the stomach churning smell of his cow's tripe boiled in milk which always resulted in the house being evacuated rapidly by my mother and me every time he cooked it, and another peculiar spaghetti dish which involved baking cooked spaghetti in a ceramic casserole dish topped with tomatoes and hard boiled eggs. Pasta was avant guarde for the time, but perhaps the best of all was a dish he liked a lot and often graced the table called Dublin Coddle. It is a well known dish in Ireland and like much of Irish cuisine coddle stems from a peasant origin and makes use of cheaper and left over cuts of meat and offal. As I remember it was basically a concoction of offal boiled in milk. I have googled this recipe recently but no version that I have found remotely resembles how I can recall he made it, for instance some drop the milk altogether and many call for fresh garlic (an ingredient which with the possible exception of a small jar of garlic salt for sprinkling on sirloin steak was totally absent from our larder) so I  have put together my own version based on what I can recall. I don't really expect anyone to try to cook this but it is interesting to see how much recipes, tastes, techniques and ingredients have changed over the intervening decades. 

Dublin Coddle 

8 pork sausages
4 lambs kidneys halved and white sinues removed. 
8 streaky rashers rolled up 
Several small onions 
Button mushrooms 
3 or 4 potatoes chopped into cubes 
1 litre of whole milk 
1 tsp of cornflour diluted in milk 
Salt and While pepper to season 

Place the first 6 ingredients in a large saucepan or casserole dish and cover with the milk. Bring to the boil slowly taking care the milk does not boil over. Cover and simmer for 20 to 30 mins or until you are satisfied each element is cooked and tender. Once you are happy this is the case skim off any skin from the milk and add the cornflour and stir to thicken. You may need to adjust the amount of sauce to meat. Season to taste. 

You will note that this recipe relies on the white pepper for "kick" as I have mentioned garlic was not really used and chillies were out of the question (even black pepper was unheard of so the hottest thing we had at our disposal was white pepper which is something I've started using again in my cooking). You can easily google an up-to-date version of this recipe which is probably more suitable to our present day palate.