Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Rosa's Thai Cafe - A Cookery Class at School of Wok

Saiphin Moore is Rosa. Well, there is no Rosa. Saiphin grew up in rural Thailand, set up her own noodle stall there at the age of 14, then after college moved to Hong Kong, where after making enough money working in a Thai restaurant, she opened her first restaurant, Tuk Tuk Thai. She moved with her husband in 2006 to London, where they found a disused cafe called Rosa's Cafe in Spitalfield's and turned it into the first of her chain of seven restaurants serving home cooked Thai food, as authentic as you can get in London.

Saiphin's secret to cooking at Rosa's Thai Cafe is to keep it real. She cooks using authentic Thai ingredients, never substituting ginger for her lesser galangal, refined sugar for palm sugar, or regular limes for kaffir limes. All Thai cooking is based around four flavours - salty, spicy, sour and sweet. Each flavour can be tasted individually, and in unison.

Rosa's fizz cocktails;
Lab Tod; Thai aubergine salad
Salmon red curry

At the School of Wok, for their series of guest chef classes, Saiphin, along with Head Chef Jeremy Pang, showed us how to cook three of her dishes: Laab Tod - a spicy minced pork patty, Thai Aubergine Salad - the dressing you can use on any salad, and Red Salmon Curry.

First we ground a bunch of ingredients in a pestle and mortar to make a red curry paste, and cooked it up with some coconut milk.
While this was simmering we made Laab Tod, the spicy minced pork patty, which was then deep-fried while we made our aubergine salad dressing. This, my friends, was sublime. I'm posting the recipe below because I think everyone should have it. And best thing about it? It's really simple! Once you have all the ingredients (visit Chinatown or a good Asian supermarket), it's really easy to knock up. 

Once the salad was ready, we fried off our salmon, and poured over the curry sauce. Garnished with chillies, kaffir lime leaves and holy basil and galangal, it tasted delicious (although most people dipped into Saiphin's bowl to compare!). The patties were crispy and the secret to this was roasted ground rice. The aubergine salad - I'll say it again - was sublime. Eating amazing dishes, cooked by ourselves, with our fellow cookery enthusiasts, the School of Wok have once more demonstrated that preparation is 90% of cooking Asian food, and the results, with the right ingredients and guidance, show that cooking amazing authentic Asian food is accessible and absolutely delicious!

Thai Aubergine Salad (Yum-Maker-Yao)

Serves 2

2 Thai Long Eggplants or Aubergine (green or purple)
1 red onion
1/2 tbsp. Lime juice
1/2 tbsp. Fish sauce
3-5 Thai red chillies
5 g palm sugar

For the garnish:
1 sprig coriander, chopped
1 spring onion, sliced
1 tsp white sesame seeds
1 hard-boiled egg, quartered
Jumbo prawns, if desired (cooked)


Chargrill or roast the aubergine until the skin is brown/black. Set aside to cool.
Once cooled, peel off the charred skin and cut into chunks.

For the dressing, mix palm sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice. Stir well until the palm sugar is completely dissolved. Finish off with chopped red chillies and red onions, and adjust to taste with fish sauce.

Pour the sauce over the aubergines just before serving. Garnish with coriander, spring onion, sesame seeds, prawns and egg.

Serve at room temperature.

Thai Aubergine Salad
Photo by Yolanda Ocon

Photo by Yolanda Ocon

Sunday, 15 May 2016

New York - My Little Bite of the Big Apple

New York. My dream destination - and I finally made it there (you can make it - anywhere, it's up to you!) with a bunch of besties for the trip of a lifetime. Mostly, we drank cocktails, Sex and the City-style (well, in our heads anyway) though we did manage a little bit of sight-seeing and the odd bite to eat.

Benares, Tribeca
Benares Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Our best meal by far was in the Tribeca area, at Benares. An Indian fine dining experience in the heart of the Financial district, with a menu fully exploring the Indian subcontinent. With a Michelin-starred sister restaurant in Mayfair, London, the dishes on offer at Benares, Tribeca, were beautifully presented and zinged with exotic spices and freshness. Our gluten-free friend was catered for on request, and had a range of dishes to choose from. I have to say it was one of the best Indian meals I've had (and I've had a lot of those!).

Tamarind and Mint Chutneys with Rice Puffs; Kandhari Murgh (chicken with pomegranate, date and gooseberry dip); Mathura Se (aloe tikka - potato patties with gram, mint and cranberry)
Tii Wali Machhi (Ahi tuna with ground spices, sesame and wild rice); Achari Bhindi (okra bhaji)
Chicken Saag; Chicken Shahi Karma; Chicken Jalfrezi 

Thai Select, 9th Avenue
Thai Select Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Initially this place looked a little run down and unappetizing, but once inside, the staff were delightful, and the cocktails were almost glowing. The food came out quickly and it was pretty standard Thai fare. The portion sizes were quite 'American', read 'Large', and we each had a variety of authentic curries. The starters of edamame beans satisfied the gluten-free requirements, the rest of us digging into more traditional springs rolls and satay in a sharing platter, and although I was asked several times, if I wanted my Jungle Curry 'hot', (to which I replied OF COURSE!), it wasn't particularly powerful. A good, safe option for Thai in New York.

Edamame Beans, Tasting Combo; Red Chicken Curry
Panang Curry; Mojitos, MaiTais and a Blue Lagoon; Jungle Curry
Red Curry; Green Curry

Ipanema, West 46th Street (Broadway)
Ipanema Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Ipanema was the one I was looking forward to most. It was the only one we'd booked before we left for NYC, as we wanted to make sure we ate something before Broadway Show (Kinky Boots, should you ask). I was expecting petiscos like I had in Camden, so it was quite different. Disappointing in some ways, as I had bigged it up to my mates, and as it was our first formal meal, it didn't quite cut it. A haven for seafood lovers, perhaps, with the sauted shrimp served in a coconut shell, and the salted cod looked appetizing. My chicken, however was really dry and overcooked, so I couldn't finish it.
We shared a croquette sharing dish, and the best dish, for me, was the chorizo - served in it's fryer!

The cocktails showcased the Brazilian spirit cachaca, giving a kick to our more familiar drinks, mainly the Caipirinha, reminiscent of a Mojito and various fruity versions of the Cosmo, all made with cachaca. Bright and fruity, they set the tone for Kinky Boots...

Salgadinhos sortidas; Portuguese Sausage; Camar o no coco
Salm o Recheado; Camar o Pandor


Visiting New York is like visiting a film set, so it's easy to pretend we're in our favourite sitcom Friends, or SATC, or even try to be a bit classier and re-enact Breakfast at Tiffany's or Some Like It Hot. Niles Bar, conveniently located in our hotel, was our most frequented bar. With friendly Irish barmen, thoroughly professional at rustling up anything from a Cosmopolitan or five, to a Key Lime Martini, a Frozen Margarita, and even the occasional Hot Toddy. And once, yes, a pot of tea...

Niles Bar, Seventh Avenue (and some Red-Headed Slots)

Ward III is a dark (though definitely not dingy) whiskey joint in Tribeca. We sought solace there after a moving afternoon at Ground Zero, and as none of us are whiskey drinkers, we found comfort in several bespoke libations such as Sex in The City (of course!) - a 'Wodka, Hibiscus, Lime, Strawberry, Sparkling Wine' concoction, The Moroccan - 'Orange-infused Wodka, Mint, Lime', and a Benito - 'Tequila, Pineapple, Lime, Aperol, JalapeƱo, Mint'. Make sure you eat the kirsch cherry from the Sex and the City - a perfect ending...
Ward III Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Ward III
No trip to New York would be complete for a SATC fan (who, us?) without a visit to Aiden's fictional Scout Bar on Mulberry Street. It's actually O'Nieals on Grand Street (they moved the street sign from Mulberry Street two blocks away for filming). We got bustled in there along with another 30 girls (and one bloke) on a SATC On Location tour, and got to sample the 'original' Cosmopolitan. The tour also included a stop at Magnolia Bakery on Bleeker Street, where Carrie and Miranda supposedly 'ate cupcakes', as well a chance to walk into Buddakan restaurant, where Carrie and Big had their wedding rehearsal dinner. None of this I knew before... but I'm glad I experienced it. And a shop called The Pleasure Chest. Fun. Rabbits and such.

Cosmopolitans at Scout
Another iconic place to visit in New York is The Plaza. Featured in so many movies, this place oozes old-fashioned charm and opulence and despite our ruddy cheeks after a stroll around a sunny Central Park, we were made to feel welcome, special and as though we, ourselves, were the movie stars. The champagne bar overlooking the Pulitzer Fountain offered a long list of champagne cocktails - absolutely the prettiest, tastiest cocktails by far.

The Champagne Bar at The Plaza
Aviation, 5Star, Rose Club Sparkle

Of course it wasn't ALL cocktails. Predominately, but not all. On the way to Ellis Island, I had a pretzel - those babies are salty, and one morning, breakfast on the go was a cream cheese bagel.


The best burger was at BRGR on Seventh, grass-fed, succulent and accompanied by sweet potato fries.
Brunch at Le Pain Quotidian opposite Carnegie Hall was avocado on sourdough toast, with a post-noon Mimosa. This place was great for gluten-free and I know the London branches are renowned for catering for all dietary requirements.
Avocado on sourdough, with Mimosa.
Friedman's on 31st Street were also super gluten-free friendly, they do a great brunch on the weekend, as well as artisan and organic-type lunches during the week. I can especially recommend the herbed-fries for a hangover...
Turkey Burger with herbed fries
 Breakfast to go (or rather, lunch) one day was a breakfast crepe from Eataly in Brookfield Place - here you can watch them cook your food with style and the typical New York friendliness.
Breakfast crepe
So with all the yellow cab hailing, high rise buildings, sirens and 'Have a nice day, ma'am's, this holiday was the best ever. New York, with so many iconic places to visit, so much good food, and the amazing feeling that you are actually on location, I'm definitely going back to the city that never sleeps.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Soho Arts Theatre Club - Victorian Variety Cocktails - Review

The Soho Arts Theatre has long been one of London's best kept secrets. From the days of the Krays and Danny LaRue, it's a late night speakeasy basement bar for cocktail connoisseurs. A relaxed yet dramatically designed drinking den, the dark walls lend a reddish hue to the room, with an overall vintage velvety vibe.

The relaunch of the cocktail menu pays homage to the classic cocktails enjoyed by many a thespian and literary luvvies of bygone days. As a members-only club (non-members may enter before 11pm), Sally and I were treated to an exclusive booth close to the bar, with bottomless salted popcorn and the perusal of the retro menu. 

First I tried Josh and Joan The Married Contortionists, a gin cocktail with agave, Aperol with lemon and mint, served in a spherical flask with wooden straw. Did they know I'm a scientist, or is this the latest food/science fusion?
For her first drink, Sally tried the Fabulous Eskimo Nell - containing her favourite fig liquer, Grey Goose vodka and served, quite literally, in snow.

Next, as I was feeling much like death, a Deadwood Dick to sort out my cold - jalapeno-infused Tequila with limes and Grand Marnier. Potent, yes. Cured, well... 
For my cocktail-loving companion, another spherical flask of Jack Haraway and his Band of Pirates - rum with pomegranate and passionfruit.

DeadWood Dick
Eskimo Nell
So many more to try, but with my croaky voice, and my head feeling like a Devil's Goat (which would have been my next choice) I opted to abandon ship (helped along by the rather odd bouncer complaining about his sore feet, muttering 'freeloaders' and squinting and swearing at his cufflinks - but who am I to question his parentage...).

The Devil's Goat

Wallace the Magician

Kentucky Kevin

The cocktail 'specials' menu changes monthly and next month promises a retro comic book theme. 

To brush shoulders with literary Londonors, including certain Masterchef judges and some East End royalty, and to taste tempting cocktails with a twist, get your bottle down those apples for a butchers and a Vera...

50 Frith St, 
London W1D 4SQ

020 7287 9236

Members only after 11pm

Cocktails from £8.50

Photos courtesy of Crisp Media.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Minions Birthday Cake

My boy turns 11 today. We recently watched the Minions movie and I thought it would be a relatively easy cake to do for him... It only took about a week...

He loves chocolate cake, so there was no contest there. I used the store cupboard chocolate cake recipe from Decorated, a four layer 7 inch cake. It worked well although my bockety old oven burnt the top. I was able to trim it with my cake cutter so that it still looked smooth. In fact it's the first time I've made a layer cake which actually looked level!

For the minions, I couldn't stop thinking about the Cocoa Box truffles, so I thought I'd use those to shape the minion figures instead of having big lumps of icing. First I made a truffle mixture 2:1 chocolate: cream. I used 300 g milk chocolate, 200g dark chocolate and 250 ml double cream. I beat it carefully (with some help from Himself) but it didn't really go hard like at The Cocoa Box so I added golden syrup (about 100 ml I reckon) and left it over night. Then I used an ice cream scoop to dig it out and moulded it by hand into randon minion shapes. This part was very messy! Have a sink full of water at the ready! I made several taller ones - like Kevin, and a number of smaller ones - Bob and Stuart. This mixture made about 14 minion shapes, but you can adjust to make them bigger or smaller of course...

Once these had set (I left them overnight again), I trawled through YouTube to find a tutorial to help me, and this tutorial by Francesca SugarArt was the one I followed, to a point. Below are my step-by-step photos - when I remembered to take them along the way! Obviously I improvised as I went along... and ran out of time so these are feet-less minions.
I thought it would be fun to make the name out of bananas. All the black I used was painted on, using a mixture of black gel food colouring and a smidge of vodka.

Once it was cut, the boys ate it and declared it good. Phew!

Happy Birthday Joey. Love you.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Mojito Cupcakes - again

So, I made these again.

Mojito cupcakes
Same friend's birthday.
It's becoming a tradition...

Mojito cupcakes

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Easter Bunny-Bum Cupcakes

Happy Easter! It's chocolate time! I saw these cupcakes on Twitter and couldn't resist making them - so cute! And yes, very chocolate-y. 

Find the recipe here. Blatantly a bit of Dr Oetker marketing... not by me though.

The only thing I changed (apart from the brands) was swapping the liquid glucose for golden syrup. I was really surprised, and actually delighted to discover that this made the chocolate easy to model, almost like sugarpaste. And it tastes rich and indulgent.

Also I used my grass nozzle... well, it's got to be used sometime!
(Disclaimer: No Dr Oetker products were used in the making of these cupcakes)

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Cocoa Box Chocolate Workshop - Happy Easter from FarFetch

Farfetch. Ever heard of them? Me neither. It's a fashion thing dahling. (400 boutiques. 1 address). So why ask a bunch of food bloggers along to their hidden offices in Old Street? Well for some chocolate tasting of course. Fashion and food are international languages, don't you know, so combining them seems to be the most natural #NextBigThing.

Chocolate Martini anyone? Oh yes, I'll have three please.

So, were we going to be wearing the chocolate? Well, in fact, some of us were... Sally (LifeLovingBlog) got some on her boots and I almost got licked on the tube on the way home as I had chocolate on my jeans. But it was a fun and informative evening, and Lisa from The Cocoa Box and her cocktail-making assistant proved that prep is key and learning is fun (especially when there are chocolate martinis...)

First, Lisa tested our chocoholic levels by passing round testers varying in quality and in flavour. Most of us turned out to be pretty au fait with what was good and what was poor, and nailing it when it came to identifying the flavours: rose, salted, and chilli. Having said that, it was all good fun, and I can tell you that chocolate served at room temperature will bring out all the aromas and flavours immediately it melts in your mouth. Don't eat chocolate straight from the fridge, people. Just don't.

Chocolate tasters... the chocolate martini was the best.

A brief history of chocolate (the first chocolate bar was produced in Bristol), a biography of chocolate (from bean to bar) and two chocolate martinis later, and it was time to make some truffles.
The simplicity of it was surprising. I've made truffles before (and yes I cheated a bit then too), so I thought I knew what was involved, but Lisa had a few tricks up her sleeve which meant we could produce our very own handmade, beautifully decorated truffles in less than two hours.

Firstly the cream was cold. Really really really cold. We mixed one part cream with two parts melted chocolate (we added extract of peppermint) and then beat the bejaysus out of it, somewhat slowly at first, and then it really needed some welly - thanks to Sally and her super strength.
This mixture was then rustled into a piping bag and again some, er, strain, was required to pipe it out into... shall we say... pipes. It tasted delicious I promise. It looked... not so much.

Cocoa beans; cocoa nibs;
Truffles mixture; Trufflepoop

However, poop jokes aside, we rolled the truffles (fingertips) and dipped them in melted milk chocolate and/or a choice of coating (cocoa powder, raspberry fizz, and vermicelli sprinkles), and they were ready! No sticking them in the fridge to set, no waiting around for hours licking your fingers. (Well, there was a bit of that!).

Handmade Truffles

Such a fun evening. Lisa is an excellent teacher, dealing with spillage and poop jokes better than any Reception teacher. If you are in London this weekend and want to combine some fashion and food (I can recommend it, it's fun) pop into Topshop on Oxford Street on 24th, 25th, and 26th March, and see the Topshop girls on bikes giving out fudge and tokens. If customers spend £25 in store they can pick up some hand-rolled truffles with a choice of 10 toppings at The Cocoa Box Pop-Up stand.

Here's a truffley shout out to all the other lovely food bloggers:
Sally at LifeLoving
Jamila at Pip&LittleBlue
Vicky at BoozyBunch
Erin at IslandBell

If you are a proper fashionista, take a peek at the FarFetch website where over 400 independent boutiques from around the world are curated in one online shopping site, showing that cultural diversity comes from uniting the perspectives of many unique individuals.

This event took place on the day of the Belgium bombings. I wish that the people responsible would let go of their narrow-minded belief that their way is the only way. Live and let live. Be who you are and let others do the same without judgement. My thoughts are with those affected and their families.

Life Loving Linkie