Wednesday, 28 May 2014


Spices for Pho Bo
"Vietnamese people believe good food is a gift to the mouth."  Fresh, top quality ingredients, sharp flavours, and a careful balance of textures and "heating" and "cooling" foods: this is the way to good health. So says Uyen, aka Leluu, food blogger, pioneer of London's supper clubs, cookery book writer and, today, host of our cookery class.
Preparing pork and quail's eggs under Uyen's watchful eye
To show us what she means, Uyen takes us through breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner, all within the space of an afternoon of cooking and eating. She later guides us around a nearby Vietnamese supermarket showing how to source our own future meals.

Pho spices and stock bones
Pho is the iconic dish of Vietnam, and though every family knows that its version is the right one, it is a uniting force: the way the nation starts the day. As the body has "cooled" overnight, it needs this meat based broth to "heat" it to get ready to face the rigours of work.  The key is the creation of a high quality stock, to which is added bean sprouts, plenty of herbs, noodles, thinly sliced chilli and herbs, and slices of beef. Hot, soothing, full of flavour, we slurp our bowls of pho in quiet contemplation of the treats to come.
The Vietnamese are grazers: bustling street food stalls and tiny red stools fill every street and alleyway and are always busy serving quick snacks (pork skewers for example, or banh  mi - stuffed baguettes) to those on the move. Lemongrass beef in betel leaf are bite-sized flavour-packed morsels, and easy to make, but it's a good idea to get the whole family around the table to roll them up.

Lemongrass beef in Betel Leaf and Vietnamese Salad

As another quick snack, Uyen shows us how the prepare the light, herb-infused summer rolls that are ideal for a mouthful of intense flavour on the move through the markets. 
Uyen demonstrates summer rolls
The French influence is very evident in banh xeo (crepe-style wraps).  Fry some prawns and pork belly, add the rice-flour and coconut milk batter with some bean sprouts, and cover.  Fold the crisp pancake and serve with dipping sauce.

Making banh xeo
With our pork and quail's egg stew bubbling away and her mother getting a few more dishes ready for a final feast, Uyen takes us off to the supermarket and gives us a masterclass tour of the enormous range of Vietnamese ingredients available nowadays - many of them grown or made locally.
 Appetites sharpened by all the possibilities we have seen (and with bulging shopping bags), we return to a feast: the pork and quail's egg stew is ready, two fish dishes, winter melon soup with tofu, stir-fried morning glory.

Monday, 5 May 2014


Vanilla, egg, butter, sugar, lemon: these are the aromas that drift around the house as the Ciambellone is baking: it is the smell of Italy.  We were introduced to this cake by the doyenne of Italian supperclubs, Francesca
It is delicious.  And very easy to make.
100g melted butter
150g sugar
2 eggs
2 egg whites
50g tapioca flour (or potato flour)
150g plain flour
1 lemon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence

2 tbsp milk

Heat the oven to 180C. Grease the tin and flour it.
Whisk the melted butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue whisking. Zest the lemons and add the zest to the mixture, and then add the vanilla essence; stir together well.
Whisk the egg whites until firm and set aside. Mix together the plain flour, the potato flour and the baking powder, and sift into the egg mixture and beat together. Add the milk to create a runnier texture.
Using a metal spoon, fold in the beaten egg whites until they are well mixed in. Pour the mixture into the tin. Bake in the oven 25 minutes. When cooked, turn out the cake onto a rack. Dust the top with icing sugar.

If you can, leave it to cool before eating, with an espresso of course (though it goes just as well with tea in the afternoon). Serve with whipped cream or mascarpone and a spoonful of tart gooseberry compote.