Archive for September, 2012

Something is happening. South Korea is becoming seriously cool.

Gangnam Style bareback dancing is taking the world by storm – and is now officially the most ‘liked’ video in the world. Hipster chef Gizzi Erskine is launching a pop-up Korean restaurant at Concrete in Shoreditch. And Korean chef David Chang (one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People) continues to launch global food trends from his Momofuku bar in America.

Out of all the great things to come from this explosion of Korean culture though, I wanted to share one of the best. Kimchi.

The spicy, fizzy, fermented cabbage is utterly addictive. It makes everything taste great, and honestly makes your tummy feel great too (the fermentation creates lactobacilli which is also found in Activia and Actimel). The only downside is that if you’re eating kimchi you have to be round other people who are also eating kimchi as well, otherwise it’s just too antisocial for words. Stinky as hell.

Stinky, but addictive. In doing some research for an article I wrote about kimchi I learned that Korean troops took vats of it to fight in Vietnam, and the first Korean astronaut took some a load of kimchi into space with them. So it’s good to know that I’m not the first (and won’t be the last) person to develop a serious taste for the fermented cabbage.

Although you can buy ready-made pots of kimchi, it’s not a patch on the homemade kind.
Sous Chef are selling kits which contain the hard-to-find Korean anchovy sauce and the Korean red pepper powder needed to make the salty sauce base. This means you can mix your own varieties using whatever combination of cabbage, carrot, radish, cucumber and pak choi you come across at the shops.

Visit the site for the full recipe, or follow the directions (below) I used to make it at home. Oh, and click here to get hold of the Korean pepper and anchovy sauce.

Chop a cabbage into 1cm slices. A Napa cabbage is traditional – but I used a sweetheart cabbage which worked just fine. Shake a tablespoon of salt over it, and set aside for a few hours so that the salt draws the water out of the leaves and they go all limp and floppy. Rinse and drain.

Next, mix up 25g of Korean red pepper powder with 50g of anchovy sauce and 50ml water. Add a tablespoon of grated ginger and fresh garlic and four spring onions.

Use your hands to mix the sauce into the cabbage. Stuff it inside two jars, and sit it on the side for a couple of days until it starts to ferment. Keep it in the fridge to slow down the fermentation process. There are no rules about when you should eat it.

Kimchi makes a great condiment to go with rice. I’ve grown especially partial to using it for bokkeumbap though.

Delicious. Do drop me a note to let me know if you’ve been making kimchi, and what recipes you’ve been using it in. Would love to know.

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Champagne + Fromage

Maud’s ‘Frenchness’ adheres to the true Chocolat stereotype – pristine bob, chic wraparound dress and impressively slim in an effortless European way, despite an unholy appetite for cheese and champagne.

Years ago she worked for La Semaine du goût (a week where the French strive to eat even more wonderful things than usual), before moving to Britain and starting a champagne importing company, French bubbles, which evolved into ‘Champagne + Fromage’ – a recently-launched shop-cum-bar in Covent Garden.

The premise of Champagne + Fromage is quite as simple as the name implies: a place to drink champagne and eat cheese. The carefully-stylised deli also functions as a shop for those who wish to do the drinking and eating back home. And a downstairs room takes bookings for corporate tastings, for those who are cunning enough to persuade their boss to pay for them to eat cheese and drink champagne.

It’s a great concept. Though the only aspect which might make traditionalists baulk is the idea of pairing champagne with cheese. Yes, I thought I’d already heard you bemoan the absence of red wine or port in this ‘Champagne + Fromage’ equation. Well, Maud has the answer:

“The same words are used to describe cheese as champagne – creamy, nutty, young” she says. “And champagne is a high acidity wine which is good for balancing strong flavours and cleansing the palette – it cuts straight through the fattiness of cheese.”

And, (although I’m anyone’s if I’m eating cheese and drinking champagne), I’m inclined to agree.

One cheese in particular, a ‘triple cream cheese brie’ called Brillat-Savarin had the artery-clogging consistency of clotted cream, and was trying to escape from the spoon it was served from. But when paired with a beautifully crisp champagne(Waris Larmandier Cuvee Sensation), it became an elegant partnership – whereas a sweet glass of port would have been too heavy and teeth-coatingly rich a combination.

If I had to pick a last meal, then it would definitely involve cheese in many different shapes and forms. And, (although I can whole-heartedly recommend the cheeses at Champagne + Fromage – particularly the Brillat-Savar and the Extra Comte) it is the champagne which is particularly special about the bistro.

Maud explains that she founded French Bubbles when she saw a gap in the British champagne market: “Britain is the number one importer of French champagne, but 80 per cent of this comes from the big houses” she says.

“There are 15,000 independent producers of champagne in France” Maud explains. “They take care of their own vineyards from growing and picking the grapes to bottling on site – not like the big houses which ship in grapes which they know very little about.”

“All my producers know what they know because they were born into champagne-making” says Maud, whose oldest producer spans back eight generations, while her youngest still having produced champagne for three generations. “They can look at the colour of the leaves on the vines and tell you what to expect from the champagne.”

Heritage, integrity and – perhaps most of all – character are most important to Maud. She introduces each champagne like she might introduce a friend at a drinks party – rattling through their background to get you up to date. The Waris Larmandier Cuvee Sensation, for example, is produced by a woman who married into a tiny 5.5 hectare vineyard. When her husband died she kept the vineyard going, and was the first female producer to ever win a gold medal for champagne production in that region of France.

Michel Furdyna, Maud explained, is a more “muscular” champagne from pinot noir grapes in the Cote du Bar region. The vineyards are owned by Michel and Marie-Noelle who started the label in 1974, but they are training their nephew Mathieu to take over in the future. And the vineyards which produce the Pertois-Moriset Grand Cru are now run by Dominique - the son of founders Yves Pertois and his wife Janine. Maud’s drinks-party approach to champagne introduction is no coincidence though – she knows each producer. And this is what makes Champagne + Fromage so special.

In a hectic part of town crammed with tourists and chains, this is the most perfect retreat – a wonderful environment to sit in and take a break over a glass (or two) of champagne, and a slice (or two) of cheese.

Champagne + Fromage
22 Wellington Street, London
WC2E 7DD, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)207 240 1604
Hours: Tues-Sat 11am-11pm; Sun 11am-8pm

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The problem of trying to lose weight is that it involves a distressing and somewhat depressing list of prioritisation.

Obviously, I’d be several stone lighter if I gave up booze. But then the luxury of the odd glass of wine is high up on my list of priorities. I suppose that going for a run in the mornings would also be a good way of shifting the pounds…but when the alarm goes off an hour earlier than usual, that extra time in bed scoots up to the top of my list of priorities too. Perhaps I should jog to work…but spending the day in sweat-free clothes is quite a high priority – and anyway, my bad toe (mentioned in previous post) still hurts (and is still lingering in Tier 2), so it looks like I’ll be getting the tube tomorrow.

Rather than a brutal and over-ambitious culling of a high-priority activity such as wine or sleep, I’ve decided the best tactic is to start small. Obviously apple crumble and ice cream is a glorious start to the day. But, in the grand scheme of things, a pudding-based breakfast is fairly low-priority. And guess I can just about cope with trading morning pavlova for a sensible bit of porridge.

So, in the name of trying to chip away at bad habits in the most pain-free way possible, you can only imagine my delight when my great friend Andrew Tongue introduced me to The Hairy Bikers’ Skinny Beef Lasagne.

Now, I know that lasagne is famed for its crowd-pleasing abilities…but I’m going to put it out there – I’m not a huge fan. Sure, I’ll always have a plateful, but it does make me feel snoozy afterwards. Just bolognese and pasta, or just pasta and cheese sauce is a great partnership – but when all three are piled on top of each other in a baking tray, it’s an uncomfortable ménage a trois.

The Hairy Bikers are really onto something though. They’ve swapped lasagne sheets with lovely leeks, sliced flat. And the cheese sauce is switched for a béchamel sauce – not as much of a loss as you might imagine, as the white sauce still tastes rich and creamy. And The Hairy Bikers do allow a “sprinkle” of cheese on top to satisfy any cravings…and it still comes in at a meager 354 calories.

So I thought I’d recommend this recipe to anybody also struggling with getting-thin-prioritisation. So far I’ve ditched puddings for breakfast, and am from now onwards am only eating pasta-and-cheese-free lasagne. Practically shedding the pounds already!

Go to BBC Food site for the Hairy Biker’s Skinny Beef Lasagne recipe

Cooking Note We found that the leeks were hard to cut through. The way round this is to decide how you’re going to portion-up the lasagne as you’re making it, and lay out the leeks accordingly eg. If you’re going to serve horizontal slices in the tray, then make sure that all the leeks are lying in that direction.

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