Recipe: Pork with Vietnamese Herbs (bun cha)

Here’s what happens: I go away to Berlin and discover a desire for Vietnamese food. Thanks to a recommendation from someone we were staying with, I ate at a little restaurant called Waterlily where I had summer rolls and a delicious crispy (proper crispy) duck with a curry sauce. My previous experience of Vietnamese food had not been good – the words unidentifiable and gelatinous were fitting adjectives. It was grim. This though, was fresh and fragrant.

Luckily for me there is an oriental supermarket a few minutes from home. I got myself some rice paper wrappers, which I discovered expire in October which is a good reason to not let them sit in the kitchen gathering dust.

rice paper

Why can I never put apple stickers in the bin?

Pork mince out of the freezer after holiday, I searched online for a recipe with a Vietnamese flavour, and found a recipe for bun cha. Apparantly, bun cha is Hanoi’s second most famous dish after pho. Another reason I may have steered clear of this sort of cuisine is that I can’t guarantee I’ll find the ingredients I need, even in the oriental supermarket. The frustration of having everything you need for dinner except one thing you can’t find is, well, very frustrating. If it’s Tesco Metro we’re talking about, I don’t tend get past ingredient number one which is usually something as simple as a red pepper. AVOID.

This time, I was shocked to find the two most unlikely ingredients in that well-known bottom-slapping supermarket. Thai basil and garlic chives, both in the reduced section as well? Made my day. The other ingredients are easy to find in larger supermarkets. I have no photos of this dish. It was too tasty to stop eating and pick up a camera (and I’m a bit lazy) but I do have a little picture of the garlic chives.

garlic chives

I got my proper camera out for the first time in over a year.

So here is the recipe for this wonderful fresh herby Vietnamese dish. I have made a few adaptations, based on how likely I was to find some of the more unusual items and how much I already had of the ingredients. The original recipe is here

pork mince

 egg, lightly beaten

 rice vermicelli noodles, cooked

200g bean sprouts

1 bunch
 Asian (Thai) basil, leaves plucked

1 bunch 
mint, leaves plucked

coriander if you wish


fish sauce

spring onions (scallions), thinly sliced

handful of 
garlic chives, roughly chopped

1/2  tbsp 
dark soy sauce

½ cup
 minced red Asian shallots

⅓ cup 
minced garlic (I wimped out at this much garlic and put in less!)

1 tsp 
freshly ground black pepper

Dipping sauce

2 tbsp
 fish sauce

2 tbsp

2 tbsp

½ cup 

 fresh red chilli, finely choppped

 garlic cloves, finely chopped

tbsp lime juice

In a mixing bowl, combine the pork mince, egg and half of the marinade ingredients and mix well. . Cover and marinate meat in the fridge for 2 hours, or overnight for a better result.

Form the pork mixture into small balls with oiled hands, then slightly press down on each ball to form patties, about 5 cm (2 inches) in diameter and 1 cm (½ inch) thick.

Heat a charcoal grill or barbecue (I used a frying pan)  to medium-high and grill the patties for 4 minutes on each side.

For the dipping sauce, add fish sauce, vinegar, sugar and water to a saucepan. Mix, then bring to the boil. Transfer to a dipping bowl and add chilli, garlic and lime juice.

Place the noodles, herbs and patties on three separate platters.

Transfer to 4-6 dipping bowls. Each guest should have their own dipping bowl, with all the ingredients in the middle of the table. Take a mixture of noodles, herbs and meat, and dip into the warm fish sauce with each mouthful.




Recipe: Bread and Butter Pudding with Berries and Lemon Curd

Bread and butter pudding is a bit of a classic, isn’t it? What better way to fancy up some bread but to pour cream and custard over it, sprinkle with sugar and sultanas then bake in the oven until crispy and golden? I was in the running to make a dessert for a family meal, feeding 9 people. It was actually a 50:50 split between making or buying a dessert. Making some effort, I picked up my latest issue of delicious, which I now subscribe to, and turned to the recipe index at the back. It’s a really useful feature when you want to scan for some inspiration.

My eyes hovered over the above recipe, I turned to the page and it was decided, I would be making this! The fact that the bread in question was brioche was a bonus. Lemon curd, too, as I love lemon in food, especially desserts.

brioche slices

bread butter pudding

cooked bb pudding

How to make:

400g brioche loaf (around 9 – 10 slices)

butter for spreading

500g fresh custard (I used the long-life carton type)

200ml double cream

100g raspberries

100g blueberries

50g dark chocolate, optional (I used Asda smartprice)

6 tbsp lemon curd

1. Thickly slice the brioche into around 9 – 10 slices and butter one side of each slice. Cut each slice into triangles, spread one side with butter  and layer in an ovenproof dish.

2. Mix the cream and custard together then pour in on and around the bread. Press the bread down slightly. Leave to stand and absorb for 20 minutes. In the meantime preheat oven to gas mark 3/160 degrees C.

3. Scatter the pudding with the berries and tuck them under the slices. Break the chocolate into small pieces if using, scatter it over the pudding. Place dollops of the lemon curd over the pudding.

4. Bake for 45 – 50 minutes. Leave to stand for 10 minutes before serving with your favourite accompaniment – cream, custard or ice-cream.

Food and Art

As a one-time photography student, we needed to do one essay per year of the course. Whilst the hard work of essay-writing is not something that brought me joy, the opportunity to delve into a particular subject and create your own argument whilst justifying your opinion with evidence was enjoyable. At the end of my second year, my work for the show consisted of a large print (around 50 inches square, I think) of people in the process of eating. You can see the image here.

I’d thought about the link between food and photography, and aside from actual food photography, there wasn’t a great deal out there. The focus was on making the experience or the product look tasteful, attractive and enticing. Regardless of the type of food pictured, whether it was chicken and chips or fine dining, the process which happened next – eating – was much the same. Cutlery or fingers, it involves putting food into the mouth, chewing and swallowing.

Who wants to be photographed whilst eating? There are numerous celebrities papped whilst eating in a variety of embarrassing poses. Is it the faces we inadvertently make whilst eating that are unattractive? With food accessible in all sorts of public places, do we really think that the act of eating is something personal and private? Maybe we don’t want to be judged on our eating habits or food choices.

I came across a video discussion on the Tate Britain website, on the subject of art and food. Food started being depicted in art many years ago – for example, the Last Supper shows a whole table full of food, but no-one is eating it. It becomes apparent that this was the norm in art. To be pictured eating was not respectable, and denoted you to possibly be of a lower class. The symbol of the apple in art was also discussed – there is the connection with Adam and Eve and temptation, therefore giving the apple connotations of sexuality and the fall of man.

Contemporary photographer Ralf Schmerberg’s “Dirty Dishes” was a series of work I used in my research. Schmerberg photographed the aftermath of dinners, or scenes in kitchens that we don’t get to (or want to) see. Whether it’s the fag butts on the table, or the grease stains and bones on the bedsheets, these pictures betray the memory of the food that came before. I like it. I want to see the remains that we leave behind; sometimes it’s the results of our excesses, ordering far too much in an Indian restaurant, or the bones that are sucked dry of meat. The sinks full of fat, and the mess made after a party – these are all part of the world of food that we are so obsessed with, but not a part that we wish to remember. This goes for the way we are sheltered in how our food is produced, or how we refuse to acknowledge how wasteful we can be – it all falls under the same umbrella. We are animals, we eat, we make mess. Pictures of these sort should have a place in the art world, even if we the consumers are not prepared to accept them as part of the process of what and how we eat.

Recipe: Beetroot and Goat’s Cheese Risotto

Whenever I see the bunches of beetroot in shops at the moment, I can’t resist putting one in my basket. It goes with so much, and tastes a lot nicer (in my opinion) than the pickled stuff. It’s easy to cook – you simply trim the stems not quite to the beet – this helps prevent the beet ‘bleeding’ – and simmer in a pan for around 30 minutes or until tender. I’ve found they are easier to peel under running water, and this way there is slightly less chance of mess!

Goat’s cheese and beetroot are a delightful pairing – the earthy but sweet beetroot compliments the salty goat’s cheese perfectly. A creamy risotto provides the subtle backdrop for these two special flavours. This is a recipe that I kind of put together myself, baring in mind that a basic risotto (which I made here) can be the base for lots of ingredients, so have a go at pairing your favourite flavours and adding to a risotto. With that in mind, please excuse me if I give slightly sketchy information. I didn’t weigh anything! This recipe is actually quite cheap to make, working out at about £2.30 for 4 portions, which then breaks down to 57p per person. Ingredients were mainly from Asda, with the goat’s cheese from Lidl at £1.50 for 180g – it’s a bigger pack for only a little more money than a 120g pack at Asda.

beetroot goats cheese risotto

Beetroot and Goat’s Cheese Risotto – serves around 4

around 250g risotto rice

2 fresh beetroot, stalks removed not quite to the end and reserved

1 onion

2 garlic cloves

fresh thyme leaves

about 6 thick slices of goat’s cheese, roughly chopped

vegetable stock, around 500ml although you may need more

salt and pepper to season

parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Set a pan of water to boil on the hob and place the beetroot in to simmer for around 30 minutes or until tender to the point of a knife.

2. Finely chop the onion and garlic.  You can also wash and chop the beetroot stalks into small pieces if you would like to use them. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan, and add the onion and garlic, taking care not to let them brown, but to become translucent. When this has happened, tip in the risotto rice and stir to coat in the oil until this too becomes translucent around the edges. I’ve never seen it go totally translucent.

3. Start to add the vegetable stock a ladleful at a time. The heat should be quite low so that the rice and stock are simmering, not boiling. It is time to add more stock when you draw a spoon through the rice and a clear path is left. Add the beetroot stalks at some point now if you wish to use them. Continue on in this way with the stock until the rice is tender.  It will take at least 20 minutes. You may need more stock, or just add hot water like I did. Season to taste.

4. When the beetroot are done, place in cold water to cool them down and then peel under cold running water. Chop into pieces about half an inch. Stir through the risotto. Add the goat’s cheese pieces and the thyme leaves. When it is all heated through and the cheese has begun to melt, serve in a bowl with a sprinkling of parmesan if you like.

I find that risottos go really stodgy if left to stand, a bit like pasta dishes. Adding a little water each time you reheat can help break the stodge down and loosen the risotto up. If you excuse me, I’m off to eat some now!

beetroot juice

Fairy Cakes and Coloured Sugar

When was the last time you had a fairy cake? They seem to be the product of school fetes and children’s cooking. Butterfly cakes… now I loved them! I do however remember liking the buttercream more than the cake, and making my own portion of buttercream to eat on it’s own. That makes me feel a little bit ill at the thought of all the butter and sugar I ingested on it’s own. On a cake – fine. From a spoon… hmm. Whilst I’m on the subject of extreme eating, I know of a friend who used to pour cream into a bowl, add sugar and eat it with a spoon. And a friend of a friend eats sugar sandwiches. I suppose these behaviours are in the same category as eating peanut butter or nutella from the jar, yet for some reason this seems more ‘normal’ than taking time to create your own sugar and saturated fat mixture to scoff straight from the bowl.

Back to fairy cakes. I think you can buy them in supermarkets, but the individual cake market has been saturated by the cupcake. The American super-sized beast of a cake with more icing (sorry, frosting) than actual cake. Not to be confused with the poisonous mushroom Hebeloma crustuliniforme, fairy cakes are dainty, perfect mouthfuls of sponge cake topped with an amount of icing that is not diabetes-inducing. I was actually wondering if I’d dreamed up water icing, it has become so seldom mentioned in recipes, replaced by it’s big cousin buttercream, and lashings of it. But don’t be fooled by the petite demeanor of the fairy cake – their modest size may well lead to multiple consumption of these treats. Five fairy cakes probably hold as much potential as one cupcake. That’s understated Britishness right there, summed up in edible form in the fairy cake. 

From time to time I go through a cooking frenzy, where I know I have ingredients, and boy do I want to use them! The butter, eggs, sugar and flour potential in my kitchen led to me wanting to bake something simple – it was here that the fairy cake came in, perfectly fitting the time frame I had, and a fitting gift to bring to my friend’s house a few hours later. Fortunately, I had fairy cake cases – you can’t make do with cupcake or muffin cases, they are simply too big. The baking commenced.

fairy cakes

I whipped up my water icing (icing sugar and water) and decorated the cakes with coloured sugar. Whilst the cakes were cooking, I made some coloured sugar. The recipe suggested it, and as I didn’t have many other decorations aside from some nuts and desiccated coconut, I thought I’d make some of my own. You can buy it, at around £2 per colour but as I had plenty of sugar and food colours I didn’t need to waste that money. It’s easy. I used about 6 – 7 teaspoons of granulated sugar (you could use caster if you wanted), put it in a mug and then added a really small amount of food colouring. Mix well, so that there are no clumps of colour. I was going for a pastel effect so I also added more sugar afterwards to dilute the shade. Obviously add more liquid if you want brighter colours.

I used liquid food colouring, and I heard that it makes the sugar quite wet and you’ll need to leave it to dry. It didn’t make it too wet and it had dried by the time I came to decorate the cakes.

coloured sugar 1

The jars were 2 for £1 in Tiger.

So there you go, a little hark back to childhood, with a simple baking recipe that looks and tastes great and is perfect with a cup of tea. And I now have a selection of coloured sugar for decorating in the future. Let’s bring the fairy cake back!

Yes, You Want It But Do You Really Need It?

I write this post from a viewpoint or situation that many of you might also share. Of course, my view, nor my situation is never going to be the same as anyone else’s. Just to put that out there in case anyone thinks that I think that. Because I don’t.

My situation, to cut a long story short, is one of going from a well-paid (in money) job, to being a student again, to taking a job that pays about a third of what I was earning. The lack of money is more than made up for by the wellness that I now have, doing a job that, whilst it’s not something I ever imagined doing, is enjoyable and 90% less stressful. A fair exchange, I’m sure you might agree.

The change in finances has led to a change in my buying habits. Since I’ve been a student, and I have to say in some respects I’m still living like a student, (I was a very good student!) I have managed to ‘train’ myself to not buy things excessively. This has been to my benefit mostly, but it has been very frustrating when I have had some money to spend and I just can’t spend it! The guilt is still there. I will go as far as trying something on, deciding it’s perfect, then change my mind at the last minute, because although I might want it, do I really need a 60’s style Henry Holland dress? Even if it is half price?

henry holland dress

The answer is, no, I don’t need it. (It’s £20 from £40 in Debenhams at the moment, along with lots of other HH stuff.)

Do I really need any more mugs?


For me, the mug issue is debatable. Mugs are important. I think I would buy a nice mug over a dress. Does that make me sound old?

In fact, the more I think about it, there is very little I do actually need. Besides food, shelter, clothes and friends and family, what else do I actually need? That dress might look nice on me, and I might get a few compliments (you never know!) but it won’t enhance my life past that.

Saying I don’t need things doesn’t mean I won’t sometimes get or do things anyway. I think that certain times of life need a little indulgence, whatever that is for your own particular budget. Spending money can make you feel good, not all the time, but it certainly has it’s place.

I rarely buy things full price anymore, unless its from Primark or TKMaxx, where prices are normally much lower than usual anyway. I had my eye on a t-shirt from Bank about 6 weeks ago(which happened to be a Paul’s Boutique t-shirt – this means nothing to me, except I see 10 and 11 year olds at school wearing jackets and bags with the logo) which was £25. That’s a lot of money for a white cotton t with a print. I went back today and it was £6! That in my eyes is a bargain.

I also got a book from The Works. I only really look at their food books selection. I picked up a book called Melt, by Claire Kelsey.


It’s based around ice-creams and frozen desserts, with some baking thrown in. Ice-cream and cake is a winning combination – just look at the arctic roll! (Or maybe don’t.) I like the look of the melon and chilli ice-cream. Again, I’d never have bought it at the full price of £18.99, but at £5.99 it was in my hand and I was over to the till before you could say, “You might want it, but do you need it?” I don’t feel that spending money on books is a bad thing. I’ll use them, and look at them often. I went on to make some ice-cream today, not from this book, but a BBC Good Food recipe for maple crunch ice-cream.

ice cream

I got a book just before school broke up, from The Book People. If they come to your place of work, you should take advantage of the books and other things they sell. I’ve got a couple of books from them, all at much lower prices than in shops. This time I got Peggy Porschen’s Boutique Baking. The recipes are quite lah-di-dah but somewhat of a challenge, which I enjoy when it comes to food. I’m looking forward to making the baked doughnuts and the meringue kisses.

peggy porschen

I picked up 4 more books today, but these ones were all FREE. I re-joined the local library. Luckily, my historic fine of £3.20 had been wiped. You can imagine the level of rejoicing that I had to suppress whilst the library lady sorted me out with a new library card. What a triumph! I got Paul Hollywood’s How To Bake – he doesn’t seduce me with his doughy fingers and floury aroma but I know some of you find him attractive. I’d like to try making croissants, and maybe a few types of bread.

I also got The Modern Pantry Cookbook by Anna Hansen. I was drawn to the cover of this one, although I have heard of the restaurant of the same name. Had a quick flick through and it was in the ‘to take out’ pile.

I then got a fiction book (“fiction books are story books”) and a travel guide. The fiction book is The Godless Boys by Naomi Wood, the travel guide is for Berlin. I am a lady of leisure for the next 6 weeks so I need to keep busy, whilst at the same time maximising my relaxation. Reading is perfect for that, hey? How did I not use the library for so long? I don’t want to give the books back!

library books

What was my point again? Something about not needing all you want. I still stand by that. I know I’ve rambled and gone off topic a bit. Today was quite unusual as I came home with a couple of bags of stuff, and that’s quite rare (unless I’ve been to the supermarket.) I think my inner restraints that I’ve ‘learned’ are a good thing. It stops me from being unnecessary with money. Every now and again we all get things we don’t really need, to make our lives a little bit more fun, or to treat ourselves. But at the end of the day, we only need the basics, as we can surely survive without Henry Holland dresses, or books about ice-cream…

An Ode To Sriracha

There’s always room to be more daring in life

Have you been afraid of chilli sauce? Hands up, I know it’s not just me.

The red for danger

The promise of your tongue on fire, does not appeal to us all.

Heat, but no flavour

Pain, but no pleasure

And then the aftermath…

It’s my time to be more daring in life

And join the chilli sauce loving masses.

But hold on! Not just any old chilli sauce

Not your 2 pots of chilli sauce from the chicken and chip shop

That’s not worth being brave for.

SRIRACHA. You temped me to step over that line.

Packaged in a generic plastic bottle, you look insignificant and unsubstantial,

Yet I bought you for my boyfriend. Now you are also for me. Yes.

 I was tempted to try what I have read so many rave about, a little drop on my finger was the test.

Burn? Yes, it burnt, I could cope with the burn, then there was flavour which unwrapped itself on my tongue

Pleasure and pain were there for me to see.

On salads, on potatoes, on chips, on anything.

SRIRACHA. What was my life like before you?

Not as good as it is now.

Get some.sriracha