Wagamama is making 2021 the year of positive change pledging that 50% of the menu will be meat free by the end of the year. Quite a challenge given the crippling COVID restrictions and constant closures of the past year. Plans for the current lockdown are to keep as many of its branches open as possible for takeaways, including the Bury St Edmunds branch. So whilst many of us have been correctly focussing on supporting the independent restaurants, we mustn't forget the role that the bigger chains play within the UK economy. As employers across a range of varied roles, the UK restaurant sector remains one of the UK's most diverse and creative industries in which the chains play a significant part. When Wagamama opened in 1992 it was revolutionary, bringing Asian food to consumers in an approachable way. Hopefully in 2021 it will be revolutionary in tackling the hard issues of sustainability.
I was invited by the GM in Bury St Edmunds to try some of the new and existing menu, including some vegan options. Of course, because of lockdown it had to be a takeaway, but that proved to be a good opportunity to see how the click and collect system worked and if the food would be as good as when served in the restaurant. At the moment I have my 14 month old grandson living with me and the million dollar question was - will the baby like the food? So last Thursday I set off to Bury to collect a family takeaway, selected for us by the staff. What a treat to not have to cook and greedily we managed to devour the sides of edamame beans with chilli garlic salt, wok fried greens, duck gyoza, ebi katsu and tama chilli squid while we unpacked the main course dishes. Abbie (in the picture above with the other friendly and upbeat staff) wanted us to try the fresh squeezed juices and included both the 'positive' (pineapple, lime, spinach, cucumber and apple) and 'power' (spinach, apple, fresh ginger) which I'd drive back to Bury for right now. These were really invigorating drinks, especially the power juice with a good hit of ginger. The takeaway packaging for the food is robust, so robust I thought why such an expense on containers, but I get it, already the take-out bowls, although recyclable have been put to use in the freezer and been kept to re-use again and again. Main courses included a portion of the Wagamama vegan 'ribs' which were sticky, smoky, sweet and spicy but softer in texture than pork or beef. For the ever growing number of consumers who are turning to veganism for ethical reasons and look for fake meat products these ribs might be the answer, but for me, because I'm a fresh vegetable lover, far more enjoyable was the delicious vegan Teppanyaki -yaki soba yasai ( thin noodles, sizzling from the grill with stir fried mushrooms, peppers, beansprouts, onions and flavoured with ginger and sesame). We also tried a hearty donburri with teriyaki beef brisket which came with kimchee. Curry was also on the menu; a mild and citrusy chicken raisukaree which was well balanced and fragrant with chilli, fresh lime and fresh coriander. And the baby? Well Emilio was served a mini chicken katsu and a mini yaki soba, which we tasted too. He loved both and what a treat to see an interesting kids menu full of colourful, fresh and exciting flavours.
- edamame beans which we ate dipped into chilli-garlic salt
- donburi - teriyaki beef brisket - sticky white rice topped with teriyaki beef brisket with shredded carrots and seasonal greens
- kids mini chicken katsu
- power juice - delicious spinach, apple and fresh ginger
- happy Emilio who loved mini chicken katsu
- wok-fried greens were perfectly cooked with some crunch
- kids yaki soba - what child doesn't like noodles?
- ebi katsu - prawns in crispy panko breadcrumbs, fresh chilli, coriander and a squeeze of lime with garlic dipping sauce on the side
- raisukaree chicken curry - mild and citrussy with coconut, red peppers, spring onion and fresh coriander
- vegan ribs certainly looked the part and were sticky, smoky and spicy
- teppanyaki - yasai yaki soba - mushroom, noodles, peppers,beanshoots with delicious fried shallots
I usually leave writing about Michelin Star restaurants to others, but not today. What wonderful news this week to hear that Justin and Jurga Sharp at Pea Porridge have been awarded a MICHELIN STAR. Such happy news for a hard working couple and their team. Bravo! It's A Pea Porridge Sunrise! (We need another poem Justin)
If they start the day by dunking a rusk into their mug of tea you'll know that you're with a true South African. Rusks in their various forms have been baked since the 17th Century. They are no longer the hard white, flour and water biscuits that sustained the Voortrekkers whilst on the move, but since commercialisation in the 1930's, and the production of the iconic Ouma Rusk, buttermilk rusks are now part of the national culture. For those who enjoy baking and live with a Saffa, me included, there's always a jar of homemade buttermilk rusks by the teapot.
I'm trying hard to eat more salad and keep off the comfort food. Salads made with grains, pulses or seasonal vegetables are more than just about lettuce and are a great way to provide a hearty meal and a good way to incorporate some exciting herb flavours. Toasted Pearl Barley with Lemon and Herbs makes a nice change from rice. It is a little more chewy, has a delicate nutty flavour and is filling. It soaks up the bold flavours of a rich meat or vegetable stew too, if like me that's all you want to eat at the moment. So serve as you prefer, hot or cold, both work equally well.
God help us if Carob makes a comeback in 2021. The chocolate alternative of the 70's and 80's that tasted horrible and traumatised a generation. My first restaurant business (in 1982) was The Chalice Vegetarian and Wholefood Restaurant in Bury St Edmunds and the one ingredient that I hated was Carob. Despite my numerous hippy recipe books and an eclectic and colourful team of cooks, including many well travelled Sannyasins from Medina Rajneesh, you'd never find me with a Carob Drink or Carob Shortcake Biscuit in my hand. Carob may be naturally sweet and cocoa coloured but it's no replacement for the real thing. No doubt the shift towards plant-based and health conscious foods will drive this trend. Expect to find it in nut butters, sweet treats and drinks. Being high in antioxidants, calcium, fibre, iron and protein and low in fat and sodium, Carob is sure to be the next superfood. But it's not chocolate.
(photo taken from my Eva Batt Vegan Cookery, co-published with the Vegan Society. 1985. And no, we didn't bake these)
Pizza's come highly recommended from Lucy's Restaurant in Fornham All Saints. This neighbourhood restaurant has adapted so well to the lockdowns and continues to offer an excellent takeaway and delivery service. Check their website for the menu as pizza's change regularly. Don't forget to order yourself a pud too. 5 mini cannoli for £5.99.
The resilience of restaurants throughout the lockdowns and the ingenuity of proprietors just amazes me, none more so than the Get My Goat campaign from the lovely Justin and Jurga Sharp at Pea Porridge. For a start the marketing and humour from Justin, the Goatfather, is one of the best calls to action on social media I've seen for a while. Who could resist Bury'sGoatTalent and GoatWhisperer Justin's beautiful four course dinner? We ordered the middle eastern style, heat at home GoatToGo supper last week. It was phenomenal! Justin and Jurga are great advocates and supporters of Cabrito Goat, who source meat from British dairy farms and who supplied the kid goat meat for the four course menu. Not only was the menu fantastic, but the information sheet and serving instructions were superbly presented and included interesting information about the ingredients, and the cooking techniques used for each course. Plus exact reheating instructions - this is the kind of dinner that I enjoy. While the Goatfather mans the kitchen alongside award winning chef and flatbread maker extraordinaire, James Carn Pryor, Jurga ensures that the ordering, payment and collection of the GoatFest goes smoothly and will sell you some wine; it's good, buy it. From Lowerland, Prieska. (the land of the lost 'She' goat) high altitude, hands- off naturally farmed grapes are made into complex wines. Loweland, Die Verlore Bokooi NV (red) and Lowerland, Die Wonde-Draai (white). My goatness we are lucky in Bury St Edmunds.
Get My Goat continues to be available each Thursday, Friday and Saturday at £55 for two people.
What's that I hear you say? The Amelie Flam-kuche flatpack is a new on-line, delicious, UK delivery ready meal, from father and son team Regis and Alex Crepy at Amelie Restaurant in Cambridge. Flammekeuche is a traditional Alsace dish, so think France meets Germany. It could be described as a skinny pizza, but it's rather more like an unleavened pastry or flatbread. Thin with crispy edges as it comes out of the oven and the perfect snack at any time of the day. You can choose the toppings when ordering your flatpack (which contains 4 bases and will keep for up to 4 days in the fridge) then it's a quick assembly job; which is also fun and easy for children to do, cook for six minutes in a very hot oven. Et Voila!
- sour cream is traditionally used on a flammekueche base, here with Amelie signature creme fraiche
- Toppings are freshly prepared. Piquant, sliced onions, mushrooms and mozzarella with the pesto adding colour and punch
- Preheat the oven to 230 C and it takes just six minutes to cook
- Voila! We chose the mushroom and mozzarella flatpack
So the celebrities on I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here aren't enjoying their food rations? Blimey, they've been sent squirrel, quail and hare all supplied by The Wild Meat Company in Suffolk. That's my idea of a perfect supper. Here's the wild venison from my last online order. Get your Christmas order in now!
In 1977 I went to work as a nanny for an Iranian family living in Oxford. I arrived on a Sunday evening ready to start work on the Monday. It was a cold November night and I was welcomed with the most delicious Ghormeh Sabzi served with Persian steamed rice. I discovered on this first night that rice would endlessly be cooked and turned out of the pan to great ceremony,with both the children’s mother and their granny competitively trying to achieve the perfect and fluffiest finish. The Persian steamed rice was always fragrant with saffron and glistening with butter. A raw egg, presented in an egg cup alongside a side dish of somagh were often placed on the table, ready for us to add to our own serving of rice. I hated that raw egg, but eventually became quite adept at quickly mixing it into the hot, steaming rice so that it scrambled slightly, losing its raw snottiness. My favourite rice was always the one served with a thick, golden crunchy crust of TahDig, (bottom of the pot) which formed when slowly steaming the rice over a layer of butter, or sometimes yoghurt and saffron. I was taught to make this and eagerly watched whenever it was made to make sure I had the best chance of perfecting it myself.
Recently I was sent a pot of Sandlings Saffron to sample which is grown in Suffolk and when I opened the envelope containing the tin capsule the aroma hit me, instantly reminding me of those days working as a nanny. Persian rice therefore was my go-to recipe to test the pungency, colour and strength of this locally Orford grown saffron. Quantities were not important when I was taught to cook the rice, just the technique, which if followed should work for any amount that you decide to cook. It has for me over the years. The best rice to use is a bog-standard long grain Basmati rice. Usually the cheapest bag in the supermarket that’s not ‘easy cook’ or if you check the cooking time on the packet is not a 10/15 minute quick cook rice. Generally any ethnic supermarket will have a good unadulterated Basmati.
- Soak the rice in cold water overnight or for at least a few hours if overnight is not practical.
- Take a couple of pinches of saffron threads and pummel in a pestle and mortar, then steep in about half an egg cupful of boiling water until needed.
- Rinse the soaked rice under cold running water until the water runs clear.
- Heat a large pan of boiling, unsalted water and stir in the rinsed rice. Stir only once or twice to stop the rice sticking to the bottom of the pan. Allow the rice to reach a rolling boil (and you might notice some grains and foam starting to float to the top) and cook it for 5 minutes. The grains should be softening on the outside but hard in the middle.
- Drain and rinse the rice again under cold running water.
- Take a deep, heavy based pan, non-stick if you want to ensure the TahDig comes away in one piece. (It must be clean so don’t be tempted to use the pan that you’ve blanched the rice in unless it’s had a good wash.)
- Melt a couple of large knobs of butter in the bottom of the pan, enough that once melted it covers the bottom of the pan and is about 5mm deep. Add a splash of oil to the butter to prevent it from burning too quickly.
- Once the butter is sizzling take the blanched, drained but still wet rice and carefully spoon it over the butter layer. Sprinkle with a little salt.
- Make about four holes with the handle of a wooden spoon and divide the soaked saffron between the holes, cover up with a little loose rice, hiding the saffron and forming a small mound with the rice in the saucepan.
- Wrap the lid of the pan in a clean tea towel and place the pan over a very low heat for an hour. The heat must be no more than the equivalent of a slow trembling simmer. Do not remove the lid or peep at the rice during this time.
- After an hour turn off the heat and the rice is ready to serve.
- Turn out onto a large serving dish, admiring the crust (TahDig) that’s formed on the bottom and which was always the prized part of the rice. You may need to encourage the TahDig to come away from the bottom of the pan, but hopefully it should come away in one piece.
The Sandlings Saffron was excellent and robust enough to flavour the rice and provide the pungency required to provide that saffron waft when turning out the rice. I’ve always been lucky enough to be sent Iranian saffron which I think is the best, but Suffolk’s doing very well indeed and I’d have this one in my store cupboard any day.
- soak the rice overnight or for as long as possible
- bring to the boil in a large pan of water (5 mins only)
- melt butter and a splash of oil in a clean pan
- add the blanched and drained rice burying the steeped saffron and liquid
- steam for 1 hr using a cloth to cover the saucepan lid
- turn out onto a plate and if you are lucky the tahdig will be in one piece
- fluff up the remaining rice and add more butter if desired
I liked the look of the fried chicken sandwich on last night's Nigella- Cook, Eat, Repeat but the level of the oil in her saucepan/deep fat fryer terrified me. I'm a wuss I know but one chicken thigh didn't need a cauldron of bubbling oil to fry it in. I was watching with fire blanket in hand. Anyway,who's going to clean out the pan, find somewhere to put the used oil and get rid of the lingering aromas of frying from the house? Give me my Tefal deep fat fryer that I operate in my outhouse anyday.
Just sorting through my photos and saw the Brays pork pie that we'd ordered during lockdown. It immediately made me fancy one, so I've ordered my Grandson one for his first birthday party next week. Ssshh, don't tell him!
There's a brilliant crop of walnuts on my next door neighbour's tree which happily hangs over into my garden. So I've been making Stilton and Walnut Crisps.