For my family, it’s all about the eating at Christmas time. This year, I’m in Vancouver with my father and I’m finding it quite a challenge not overdoing the cooking for two! Like last year, I cooked a Chinese meal for Christmas Eve and this year, there was a steamed fish again – and this time, this was a brilliantly fresh giant trout my father found at a local supermarket. I feel like I’m starting a new tradition with the Asian Christmas Eve meal.

Steamed Trout

And for dessert? A big bowl of jelly, tinned fruit and some honey and walnut frozen yoghurt.

And last night's jelly, tinned fruit and honey and walnut frozen yoghurt...

On Christmas day, there was steak! Steak with a mushroom and pepper sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts and sweet potato fries. I do believe I’ve converted my father to sprouts! It’s not a conventional Christmas meal but steak’s great for smaller parties.

Steak, Sprouts and Sweet Spuds

For dessert – homemade sherry trifles. These were supposed to be individual serving sizes until my brother pointed out that they were huge. Oops. Yup, that’s a pint glass. And yes, they were extremely rich and definitely filled us up!

Trifle

What did you have for Christmas?

Wherever you are this year (I’m in Vancouver!), I wish you and your loved ones a very merry Christmas! Happy eating!

I spent a day at the Scandinavian Christmas fair late last month with Jeanne from Cooksister (the same as featured here last year and Jeanne wrote about our visit this year) and one of the many delicious things we tasted was a Norwegian fish ball soup, all hot and creamy and just the thing for the cold day. Once I got home, the memory of that soup stayed with me and I knew I had to recreate it!

Norwegian Fish Soup

It turns out fish soup is incredibly quick to put together and perfect for a cold winter’s night. As salmon was on offer at our supermarket, I only used that but you could mix and match with a number of fishes; prawns would be good too. It’s wonderfully creamy and filling and I only wonder why I’d not made it before. There are similar soups served in Sweden and Finland and I now hope to investigate the differences between them all.

Norwegian Fish Soup
serves 4.

2 large carrots
1 large leek
1 tbsp olive oil
4 cups fish stock (I used a bouillon cube)
1 large potato
500g salmon fillets
100-150ml double cream
fresh dill
salt and white pepper
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Peel and cut the carrots into chunks. Clean the leeks (slice them lengthwise), trim anything too tough and slice into 1cm half circles. Heat a pot over medium heat, add the olive oil and cook the carrots for a few minutes. Add the leeks and continue cooking until the leeks start to soften. Pour in the fish stock and bring to a boil. Peel the potato and cut into small chunks. Lower the heat, add the potato and let the whole thing simmer until the vegetables are soft.

Meanwhile, cut the salmon fillets into large chunks – not too small or they’ll just fall apart in the soup later. Add the salmon chunks into the soup when the vegetables are soft. Stir gently. When the fish is cooked through, pour in the double cream and continue to simmer it all together for a few minutes (don’t bring it to a boil). Salt and pepper the soup to taste and stir through the Worcestershire sauce. Finally, add as much dill as you wish and serve with lots of crusty bread and perhaps a salad on the side.

Blai’s work brings him to Paris occasionally and earlier this month, he brought me along for the day (how romantic!). Our train arrived in Paris at 11:47 and for our lunch, I had searched for a restaurant near where Blai needed to be that afternoon. We selected Bistroy Les Papilles from this list – a little restaurant very close to the Pantheon with very good reviews online. Walking down the street, it’s a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it kind of place with its narrow storefront that, on that cold day, was entirely condensed over.

We didn’t have a booking that lunchtime but there were a few spare tables, of which one we snagged. The place is extremely cute with its beautiful bar counter, its tiny tables and equally tiny kitchen in the back and lots of specialty goods that they sell and that I think they use in their food as well. There’s a menu at lunch and dinner that’s entirely fixed – it’s based on what’s good that day at the market. You can go for either the entree-plat-formage-dessert formule (35€) or just entree-plat or plat-dessert (28€).

The starter that day was a sweet potato soup with chorizo and croutons. A small tureen of the soup was brought to the table along with a bowl of diced sweet potato, chorizo, croutons, creme fraiche, fried parsley and piment d’espelette. This was just gorgeous – I’m not sure why I don’t order soup more often. The creamy sweet potato soup was fantastic with all the bits adding great textural contrast.

Sweet Potato, Chorizo, Croutons

The tureen was huge too! I reckon there was enough to refill that bowl twice over.

Sweet Potato Soup

The main that day was also brought to the table in a similar manner as the soup – in a large serving dish. This was magret de canard glazed with honey and spices and served with carrots, new potatoes, mangetout, tomatoes and thyme. Each serving was half a huge and tender duck breast and there were plenty of vegetables too – no leaving hungry here! And there was lots of bread to mop up all that delicious sauce. Fantastic stuff.

Magret de Canard

I ordered something different off a separate a la carte menu (only available at lunchtime): brandade de morue parmentière (20€).

Brandade

The salt cod puree had been toasted to a beautiful golden hue and was served with a fresh and perfectly dressed salad on the side.

Brandade

For dessert, we skipped the day’s option (pear pannacotta with caramel) and went with Gelée d’agrumes au campari, crème battue aux zestes (9€). This was a refreshing dessert with lots of citrus fruit segments but unfortunately, the jelly itself had not set. Still, it was pleasant.

Gelée d'agrumes

With coffee came some fantastic soft nougat – I’ve heard that they also sell the little sweet things they serve with their coffees. What a great way to sample their wares!

Cafe

It’s a gem of a place for a meal but it’s not cheap – this lunch for two (we were stuffed) came to about 70€. It’s a lovely treat though. If you’re extremely keen to dine there, do call ahead for a reservation – we saw them turn away many disappointed people after we arrived.

Bistroy Les Papilles
30 rue Gay Lussac
75005 Paris
France

A large group of us met one evening to try the Greek cuisine on offer at Tsiakkos & Charcoal, a little restaurant in Maida Vale with a tiny kitchen and an equally tiny eating area. We were led to the back where tables had been reserved for us – the back being their sheltered outdoor terrace with lots and lots of heaters! Luckily, we just about stayed warm while eating!

The whole meal felt like eating in someone’s living room and we’d heard the food was some of the best Greek food in London. The small menu presented to us had a selection of starters and a handful of main courses. With guidance from our Greek friends who’d been here before, we all opted for the £20 per head meze deal (minimum two people) and then sat back and waited for the food to arrive. A lot more arrived than I expected – you really get a bit of everything that the restaurant has that day! All the dishes I photographed below were shared between four people.

Baskets of pitta bread first arrived with generous portions of houmous, tzatziki and quite possibly the best taramasalata I’ve ever had (beautiful flavour!).

Pitta and Dips

Grilled haloumi was tender and squeaky and doused in plenty of lemon juice and good olive oil.

Haloumi

Greek salad with feta was a lovely burst of freshness before the meats started arriving.

Feta Salad

First up of the meats was a ‘slow burnt’ pork, a long cooked large chunk of pork that was falling apart. No, no part of it was actually ‘burnt’!

Slow Burnt Pork

A portion of mousaka also came along – this was quite heavily and uniquely spiced with cinnamon and maybe cloves. I quite liked this but this started a conversation at the table about how different regions in Greece and Cyprus have different mousaka seasonings.

Mousaka

Pork and chicken kebab were overgrilled to slight toughness but the flavour in them was promising. A good squeeze of lemon juice over and they were chewy morsels that were pleasant enough. A little less time on the grill and these would have been perfect.

Pork and Chicken Kebabs

Kleftiko then arrived. This giant hunk of super tender lamb was sitting on an incredibly delicious rice pilaf. I would make sure to save space for this – this was one of my favourites that night.

Kleftiko

But that wasn’t all! In addition to all that meat, we also were brought a whole grilled sea bream! This too was beautifully cooked to perfection – I loved grilled fish.

Sea Bream

We were really rolling around stuffed by this point but I insisted on a wee little something sweet. A piece of baklava each was just enough sugariness to end the meal. It was a shame these weren’t homemade but the usual store-bought stuff.

Baklava

Altogether, a lovely meal at a good price – with drinks and the baklava, it ended up being something like £25 per head. If you’d rather have just a few things, the dips are under £4 and mains are around £10-15. The place is good for groups, especially with the meze option, but do make sure to book in advance! The place was packed on a Thursday night. Sure, seating could be a little more comfortable but I guess it all adds to the unique ‘ambiance’ of the place!

Tsiakkos & Charcoal
5 Marylands Road
London W9 2DU

Tsiakkos & Charcoal on Urbanspoon

Last year, my friend Roxanne and I managed to visit four Nordic Christmas markets in one day and only missed out on the Danish Christmas fair. This year, we vowed to visit the Danish one to finally tick that off our list! On the same weekend as all the other Scandinavian markets (it happens on only one weekend each year – keep an eye out for next year’s!), we made our way to the Danish YWCA near Finchley Road. It’s a beautiful grand building and yes, that day there were a lot of Danes about. This Christmas Bazaar cost £2 per person for entry.

Danish YWCA

There were not one, not two, but three eating ‘zones’ interspersed between the craft and grocery rooms and raffle tables. The first was outside with the wreaths and evergreen branches for sale. There was a Tulip hot dog stand!

A Tulip Hot Dog Stand

I loved all the hot dogs I ate in Copenhagen oh so many years ago and here was my chance to get one with the full Danish works again: ketchup, mustard, remoulade, diced raw onions, crispy fried onions, sliced pickles. And I even went for the bright red sausage (the rød pølse)!

Hot Dog!

Inside, we found rooms of traditional Danish Christmas crafts and even a groceries room full of Christmas goodies. The crafts were indeed very beautiful and I yearned for a reindeer head to decorate my living room.

Inside

Crafts

The Head of Rudolf

I didn’t buy anything major this year but I did leave with a few packs of Danish Christmas biscuits – mmm, such buttery buttery biscuits.

Outside in the back garden, a marquee had been set up as a sort of cafe serving drinks, meatballs and aebleskiver, the Danish spherical pancakes. Aebleskiver are delicious! They’re have a much more tender crumb than I imagined and they’re just perfect with jam and powdered sugar.

Æbleskiver

Everyone seemed to be drinking either gløgg or these yellow cans of chocolate milk. I had to try one of the latter and it is very moreish!

Chocolate Milk

Back inside the building, we finally made our way to the last room for eats – the YWCA’s canteen turned into a cute and cosy cafe where one could have various savouries, sandwiches and pastries.

I had to try the liver pate smørrebrød after one woman waxed poetic about hot liver pate. This was some good pate and I bet it would have been even better if it had been served hot.

Liver Pate Smørrebrød

Chicken and mushroom puffs were very generously filled and served hot.

Chicken and Mushroom Puffs

We finished with a slice of Christmas kringle – a puff pastry with plenty of dried fruit and spices of the festive season.

Christmas Kringle

We were stuffed by the time we left. Highly recommended! Keep your eyes peeled for when the 2014 weekend is – this year, I also reported the dates on Twitter.

I’m not sure how I learned about the Japanese doria, a rice gratin that’s quite popular in Japan, but it may have been while browsing recipes on the English language site of Cookpad, one of the most popular recipe sharing sites in Japan. Rice gratins. In a way they’re not too dissimilar to the Hong Kong style baked rices but y’know, with cheese. Now why haven’t I got onto that bandwagon?

As is usual with these fleeting obsessions of mine, I had to have one and I started with a bit of research on existing recipes. They’re all a combination of rice with whatever ingredients stirred or fried in, a layer of bechamel (or some other sauce) and a layer of cheese. While most Japanese recipes online are for small individual portions in cute gratin dishes, I opted to make a giant doria for us to share (and there were leftovers too).

Closeup of the Doria

It all starts with a base of fried rice or rice with some toppings. From what I can gather, most of the recipes either use ketchup as a flavouring or even curry. For my fried rice, I opted to just add a bit of soy and some chicken stock base. I had chicken and vegetables in mine.

Fried Rice Base

A layer of bechamel then goes on top of that rice. Another option would be to use Japanese curry or tomato sauce.

Bechamel on Top

Then a layer of grated cheese (I used a mixture of cheddar and crappy mozzarella – I think parmesan is usually used but I had none at the time).

Cheese on Top and Ready for the Oven

The rice gratin had a spell in the oven and voila, I had a gloriously beautiful doria.

Out of the Oven

And oh yes, it was delicious.

Serving the Doria

While this time, I made everything from scratch for my doria, I can see how it could be created from leftovers – rice, sauces, cheeses, etc. Even random ingredients that need using up could be incorporated with the rice. I see many more dorias in my future.

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