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Dim sum masterclass at Ping Pong

Ping Pong Dum Sum

Last week Ping Pong invited me to take a dim sum masterclass at their Westfield Stratford restaurant. The restaurant only opened there last month, and I’m glad to have one close to home as I love their food. So I was excited to go and learn how to make their tasty dumplings myself…

Ping Pong Dum Sum

Armed with a delicious – and rather potent – cocktail (which may or may not have hampered our dim sum success) we first got an introduction to the art of dumpling from Ping Pong’s head chef, before being let loose on the ingredients. The dough for these steamed dumplings is made from fine wheat flour, potato starch and water, which gives it the characteristic chewiness. You can also add colouring from natural vegetable sources (spinach for green, beetroot for pink, carrot for orange etc) and they are then stuffed with a meat, seafood or vegetable filling before being steamed to plump deliciousness.

Ping Pong Dum Sum

There’s a technique to getting the perfect little scalloped shape: tuck, fold, press. Naturally the chefs who make up to 3,000 dumplings a day are pro at rolling out perfect ones each time, but us mortals struggled a bit to get the hang of it. With their encouragement, I got a few looking quite neat.

Ping Pong Dum Sum

Some of us took it more seriously than others…

Ping Pong Dum Sum

There was a friendly competition for the best dim sum roller amongst our group. I won, and got a bottle of bubbly for my efforts! I have to confess, I probably had a head start as I learned a similar technique on the Japanese cooking class I did a while ago.

Ping Pong Dum Sum

After our handmade efforts came back from being steamed, we got to enjoy them, then we were treated to several more classic Ping Pong dishes too. We all went home pretty stuffed and merry from the cocktails. If you fancy taking a class yourself, they can be privately booked for a group at a cost of £40 per head, which includes the masterclass and meal afterwards. Check Ping Pong’s site for details.

Mushroom Bao

Mushroom Bao

I got the idea to make these watching Jamie Oliver’s new series on TV. I was amazed to see him make bao – pillowy steamed Chinese buns with a spicy filling tucked inside – with a dough of just flour and milk, and had to give it a go with a veggie filling. I had everything I needed to hand in the kitchen – don’t you love when that happens – so they made for a good impromptu Friday night dinner after the rain put paid to any other plans.

Mushroom Bao
Mushroom Bao
Mushroom Bao

You can find Jamie’s bao recipe and method here. It was so quick to make the dough and fill the buns – the dough is soft and stretchy so it’s easy to pull it over the filling and seal. No resting or kneading required either!

Mushroom Bao

For my spicy mushroom filling I just fried together:
· 8 chestnut mushrooms, finely diced
· 1 diced red chilli
· 2 crushed cloves of garlic
· 1 tablespoon of Szechaun chilli bean paste
· A shake of hickory liquid smoke (my current favourite ingredient ever)

Mushroom Bao

One 10-minute steam later…

Mushroom Bao

… perfectly soft and fluffy little buns pop out. Served with quick pickled veg slivers and all the chilli sauces, they made for a tasty, filling dinner – definitely one to add to my regular roster.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard

Street Feast, Dalston Yard

I’m pretty late to the blogging party with this one, because Street Fast is now nicely settled into its newest temporary home in Dalston Yard – just up the road from the last incarnation in Merchants Yard. In all honesty I’ve visited three times already in as many weeks, but like a bad blogger I never took my camera until this time. Here’s a peek at why you should definitely visit before it pops down again.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard

Street food markets are still a bit hit and miss in London: at one end you have the woefully disorganised ones with massive queues, vendors running out of food early and no toilets; then you have the fancier ones like We Feast which attract high end restaurants and are superbly organised in lovely venues – but charge a hefty fee just to get in before you’ve even bought your food and obligatory cocktail.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard

Brilliantly, Street Feast seems to have nailed an ideal middle ground: it’s free, capacity is limited to 500 at a time, the venue is an old car park but well equipped with rustic decor touches, large bars and loads of seating… good vibes all round. The vendors vary from week to week: in past weeks I’ve had Japanese egg curry from Nanban (Tim from Masterchef’s new venture), fried Mauritian fritters, and delicious gelato from Sorbitum.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard

This week I was delighted to find Horn OK Please which offers veggie Indian street snacks – I went for a samosa chat, topped with chickpea curry and some fabulous chutneys.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard

Josh had tacos from Street Feast stalwarts Breddos (you can find them at Netil Market in London Fields too) followed by salted caramel and pecan bites from the excellently-named You Doughnut.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard

There’s really someone for everyone, from jerk chicken to handmade gnocchi, to an old fashioned burger and chips (albeit poshed up with rosemary salt). There could be more choice for veggies but I can generally find something new to try each time.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard

The crowd’s a variety of all ages, with little kids having as much fun at the adults.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard
Street Feast, Dalston Yard

For the gin fans, there’s even a separate little bar dedicated to the good stuff including a very passable Negroni.

Street Feast, Dalston Yard

Vibes are high, in other words. Make sure to check it out before it moves on again.

Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: review

Smitten kitchen cooking

I’m sure that if you’re into blogs and into food, you’ve already seen Smitten Kitchen: a lovely food blog from self-taught cook and photographer Deb Perelman. Her food seems to tread a very clever line: not too saintly-healthy but not dripping in fat either, very rarely a fancy or expensive ingredient, and a love and appreciation of technique that I very much admire. It’s home cooking levelled up by someone who really loves and understands food, and it’s all captured beautifully thanks to her photography expertise.

Smitten kitchen cooking

I’m pleased to see that Deb’s newly-released Smitten Kitchen cookbook follows the same, um, recipe. From just a glance at the contents page – with chapter headings including Breakfast, Vegetarian Main Dishes, and Sandwiches, Tarts and Pizzas – I could tell it was going to be right up my street. I’ve already tested a few recipes from my advance copy, so here are my highlights so far.

Smitten kitchen cooking

I’m often guilty of having breakfast-as-dinner, and the Breakfasts chapter offers plenty of recipes that would suit an evening meal, from a twist on Huevos Rancheros with crisped tortilla shreds and lime cream to individual baked eggs with greens and hollandaise.

Smitten kitchen cooking

We had the huevos as a Sunday supper: it was super fast and easy to make, with an all-in-one blended tomato sauce and cooked in one pan with storecupboard ingredients – perfect lazy-day cooking.

Smitten kitchen cooking
Smitten kitchen cooking

I have to admit I often skip the Salads chapter of cookbooks, but this one contains several hearty-looking dishes that I’d be happy to have for a light meal. Courgette ribbons with almond pesto and Borlotti beans with walnuts and feta particularly caught my eye. I served the ribbons with a side of bulgur wheat and some toasted pine nuts. It took all of five minutes – literally! – to prepare but made for a great zingy dinner.

Smitten kitchen cooking

As an ex-vegetarian herself, Deb’s recipes are often still veggie or light on the meat, and she points out something I believe too: that vegetarian food can be just as flavourful and filling as meat, given the right choice of flavours and cooking techniques. The book is probably 75% vegetarian overall so it’s definitely a good buy for the veggie cook or those looking for some non-meat based meal ideas. I was delighted to find a recipe for Mushroom Bourgignon – a dish that tends to induce meat-envy in me – amongst smoky black bean ragout, butternut galette, and a simple but bold dish of roast tomato and baby onion, served with white beans and a crouton to soak up the umami-rich juices.

Smitten kitchen cooking
Smitten kitchen cooking

I made that one on Tuesday night, throwing in some romano pepper and courgette for good measure (and substituting shallots for baby onions since i had them in the fridge). Even with crappy out-of-season cherry tomatoes, the pronounced flavour you gain from roasting them in a bit of salt and olive oil is incredible, and for such low effort.

Smitten kitchen cooking

This book comes Lila-approved

This book really is a gorgeous package. Every single recipe is photographed beautifully and prefaced by a personal story about its history, invention or method, which makes it a great sofa read as well as informative cook book. Yet it’s practical and straightforward too: it’s littered with helpful extra cooking notes and I’m pleased to see that no recipe appears to be particularly long or complex. Deb has several techniques that save time but don’t sacrifice flavour, like cutting ratatouille vegetables into thin slices with a mandolin so they cook quicker. A giant bonus is that the publishers have made the effort to convert the entire book – ingredients, measurements and technique names – from U.S to British English, so everything is immediately familiar without having to Google what the heck ‘broiling’ is or how much a cup is.

I haven’t even mentioned the rather sizeable puddings section yet as I’m on a semi-diet, but yes: the puddings look immense too.


I always think it’s a good sign when I flick through a new cook book and immediately earmark about 90% of the recipes as ‘must make soon’, and even better to find I already have the ingredients for several of them in the house already! It’s the kind of book that I will find myself reaching for midweek inspiration as well as for ‘occasion’ cooking. Needless to say, I highly recommend it to everyone. It’s out now: order it here for just £11.

An advance copy was sent to me by the publishers for review.

Recent Eats

Sweet Thursday

Feeling hungry? Time for a little round up of things I’ve been eating on my way round London lately…

Sweet Thursday
Sweet Thursday
Sweet ThursdaySweet Thursday

First up, Sweet Thursday, a new neighbourhood pizzeria not too far from me in De Beauvoir town. There’s a wine shop out front and a big clay oven out back: my kind of place. The pizza menu’s small but the pizzas themselves certainly aren’t: you could definitely share one with a few of the antipasti-type sides for dinner. They are the properly charred and chewy-crusted types too, with lovely flavourful toppings. Will be back soon.

Brixton Village
Brixton Village
Brixton Village
Brixton Village
Brixton Village
Brixton Village
Brixton Village
Screen-Shot-2013-02-11-at-21.54.47

I had to run an errand in South London a few weekends ago, so we popped to Brixton Village to make the most of this rare foray. I loved how vibrant and energetic it was, with all the hip new popup places like Wishbone, Bukowski and Honest Burger elbow-to-elbow with the Caribbean grocery stores and kitschy gift shops. Unfortunately I don’t think we picked the best place for lunch – the Mexican was the only place without a queue but it wasn’t anything special. Coffee and a brownie in Federation afterwards made up for it, though, and we’ll just have to go again to try Mama Lan’s noodles, Okan’s okonomiyaki or the best-ever pizza at the original Franco Manca.

Screen-Shot-2013-02-11-at-21.54.25

Finally, Josh’s parents kindly treated us to lunch at La Porte Des Indes at the weekend. To be perfectly honest, it’s not the kind of place I would usually choose – the bonkers French-colonial decor, high prices and Marble Arch location put it off my radar. But I was extremely pleasantly surprised by our lunch: they do a buffet on Sundays with street food starters, curry mains and fresh little fruity desserts. I went back to the starters table twice: each little dish, from lentil dumplings in fiery soup to mini beetroot dosas to crispy spinach fritters, was a tiny taste ‘pow’! Of course I then sampled three curries for main and couldn’t resist the vibrant dessert table either, so left feeling very full indeed.

That’s it for indulgence for the rest of the month now – we’re off to Barbados at the beginning of March (!) so it’s health kick to get beach-ready before then. Um, anyone have any foody tips for Barbados?!