Blog surfing: Halloween favourites

One of the things I love most about the blogging community is the sheer amount of talent out there. As cheesy as it sounds, it is really inspiring to see what other bloggers come up with because believe me – these people are REALLY creative!

I’ve been trying to catch up on my ever growing pile of unread blog posts in my RSS reader, and have come across quite a number of brilliant Halloween inspired posts in the last week or so. Whilst I would love to make them all, I simply don’t have the time to do it at present, so I thought I would compile a list of my favourite Halloween posts so far…

*ALL photos in this post are courtesy of the respective bloggers 

“Batty” Battenburg cake from Sprinkle Bakes

I absolutely adore Heather’s blog, and she has inspired a great many of my baking experiments. This Battenburg cake is just another one of her marvellous creations – I mean, how COOL does this cake look? Totally blew me away. My favourite bit is the orange bat eyes. ;)

Black widow chocolate rum cupcakes from 6 Bittersweets

Xiaolu’s blog is one of my newfound favourites, and I urge you to check out her blog if you don’t already read it regularly. The ‘black widow’ spiders are made from modelling chocolate, which is something I’ve yet to work with – but I plan to experiment with it… soon! Xiaolu has helpfully detailed the instructions of how to make the spiders, if you wish to try recreating them.

Rat plaque brownie bites from Not Quite Nigella

One of the first blogs I discovered back in the day (which actually wasn’t too long ago!) was Lorraine’s, and her blog remains one of my favourite ones. She is a total wonder woman, and manages to blog EVERY SINGLE DAY. I kid you not. I have no idea how she manages to do it, especially when you consider the effort she puts into writing them (she’s really funny too!). Lorraine loves Halloween, and always puts on truly elaborate Halloween parties each year… which she blogs about, naturally. You can read her Halloween party posts here, here, and here.

Spooky shortbread fingers from Baking Quinn

Quinn has a number of great recipes on her blog (she inspired me to make Chinese New Year peanut cookies earlier this year!), and this is another one of them. These shortbread fingers are made with muscovado sugar, which I suspect adds a nice molasses-esque taste to them. I’ve seen a recipe for brown sugar shortbread in Bill Granger’s cookbook (of course, being me I find a way to bring Bill into everything), and I’ve now reminded myself that I need to try the recipe!

Oreo and M&M witch hats from Gourmand Recipes

These cute hats are from Ellie’s new-ish blog Gourmand Recipes – as I’m sure most of you know, she’s no newbie to the blogging world though, as she used to blog on Almost Bourdain (which if you should definitely check out if you haven’t yet). All you need to make these little babies are oreos, M&Ms, mini cones, and chocolate. How much simpler could it get? I can only imagine how good these would be with peanut butter M&M’s….. :D

Halloween chocolate orange layer cake from Bakingdom

If you think this cake looks amazing now, just wait till you have a look at what it looks like on the inside! One word – amazing!

Devil-ish red velvet cupcakes from 6 Bittersweets

Another one from Xiaolu, and she’s made the red velvet cupcake even red-der! ;) The tails and horns are made from modelling chocolate. I normally am not a fan of too much food colouring, but I figure Halloween is a good time to whip out the supplies!

Ghost cake from I Am Baker

Amanda churns out so many fantastic cakes that it simply astounds me… can you imagine being her neighbour? ;) I only recently learnt of her blog, and I’m still trawling through her very impressive archive of posts. This ghost cake is just one of the many examples of her creativity…

Eyeball cake pops from Bakerella

The pop cake queen strikes again! These eyeballs somehow manage to strike the right balance of cute and scary… and I love them. Her creativity (and love of sprinkles) knows no bounds! :) She also made some Halloween ‘character’ cake pops last year, which you can find here.

Decorated Halloween cookies from Sweetopia

Marian’s blog is a cookie decorating newbie’s heaven – she has everything from great ideas, to detailed tutorials on the how-to of royal icing and sugar cookies. I’ve learnt a great deal from her site, and I still continue to learn! These Halloween pumpkin cookies are by far the cutest ones I’ve seen so far. Look at them just smiling away at you! :)

Ghost marshmallows from One Million Gold Stars

Gail’s photo of her ‘drowning’ ghost marshmallow totally put a smile on my face! Imagine how good these would be dunked in some hot chocolate… mmmm. I’ve made my own marshmallows before, and I can safely say that they taste a LOT better than storebought ones. Trust me, once you make them you will find it hard to return to storebought.

So yes, these are my favourite Halloween treats so far! I’m sure there will be more in the coming days, and I’ll update the post as needed. :) Please feel free to let me know if you have any favourite Halloween goodies that I haven’t included in the post – it’s always lovely to discover new blogs!

The Modern, New York

One of R’s friends went to New York last week, and we gave her a list of restaurant recommendations… which included The Modern, the restaurant at MoMa (The Museum of Modern Art). This helpfully reminded me that I had yet to blog about our meal there (that took place almost 7 months ago!), so here goes:

NB: We ate in the bar area, as the restaurant (which I believe holds a Michelin star – but I might be mistaken) was unfortunately closed for lunch!

Bread rolls – I enjoyed the mini baguette rolls more than the sourdough, I think it was the novelty of miniature rolls!

Quail terrine, with a fennel and grapefruit salad. A delicious start to the meal. Loved the inclusion of pistachio bits in the terrine.

Artichoke soup, with pearl barley, almonds and ricotta salata. I always order artichoke dishes whenever they are on a menu, and this soup didn’t dissapoint. The accompanying biscuits were buttery and crumbly, just how they should be.

Crispy Atlantic cod, celeriac Granny Smith apple salad, and sauce gribiche. A slightly “healthier” take on fish and chips, where light celeriac/apple cubes replaced the chips. (Secretly I think I’d prefer some fat-laden chips though.) The cod batter was deliciously crispy, and the cod itself perfectly cooked.



Long Island duck breast, with peppercorn crusted apples and pistachio truffle dipping sauce. This was SO DELICIOUS I could have eaten another plate. By far the best pan fried duck I’ve ever eaten, hands down. I also loved the peppercorn crusted apples – they were so good that I would choose this over potato wedges/fries (believe me, that rarely happens).

Pan-Seared Skate with crispy rock shrimp, creamy grits and brown butter vinaigrette. All I can say is: YUM. The brown butter vinaigrette was an inspired sauce for the dish.

Citrus Carpaccio with lemongrass gelée and green apple basil sorbet. I never would have thought that a few simple segments of grapefruits and oranges could make for such an elegant dessert. I liked the crispy ‘sugar’ halve that came with the dish, as it added extra texture to the dish.

The Modern: bar area. It had emptied significantly when I took this photo, it was extremely busy around lunchtime, and were were lucky to get a table within 20 minutes. I highly recommend planning ahead, and booking a table! You can always wander back to the museum after you finish your meal.

The Modern Bar Room in a nutshell:
- Simple yet delicious food, I enjoyed every single dish!
- Has the bonus of having MoMA next door, and believe me when I say MoMA is a MUST visit.
- Gets very busy: reservations are definitely recommended
- Service was lacking at times, I suspect they reserve their A-list team for the restaurant perhaps?
- If I get a chance, I’d go back – but I want to try the restaurant next time around!

The Modern
9, West 53rd Street
New York 10019
themodernnyc.com

Chee cheong fun (steamed rice rolls)

Anyone who enjoys dim sum usually knows what chee cheong fun is. Chee cheong fun is essentially steamed rice rolls (either filled or unfilled), served with a sweet/savoury sauce. The ‘Cantonese’ version of chee cheong fun is usually filled, be it with prawns, char siu (Chinese BBQ pork), fish, or yu tiao (fried dough sticks). It is usually served with a simple soy sauce. On the other hand, the ‘Malaysian’ version is usually unfilled, and is served with sesame seeds and a slightly sweet sauce that is made from hae kor (prawn paste).

When I was growing up, I always preferred the ‘Cantonese’ prawn filled chee cheong fun, simply because they were harder to find where I lived. Do bear in mind that this was in the 1990s/early 2000′s, and things might well have changed now. But since coming to England, I now prefer the unfilled chee cheong fun – partly because it is now the more ‘elusive’ version. I really do seem to enjoy making life difficult for myself, don’t I?

I’d seen a number of recipes for chee cheong fun on other blogs, and bookmarked them knowing that I’d have to try to making them at home, because I was curious about how they’d turn out. I’d heard that it was notoriously difficult to get thin sheets of the rice mixture, but as they say, you don’t know till you’ve tried it.

And now, having attempted making homemade chee cheong fun, I can concur and say that yes, it is really difficult to get thin rice sheets. I steamed my rice mixture on a plate, and although I thought that I was using a very minute amount of mixture… I was wrong. My chee cheong fun turned out at least double (if not triple) the normal thickness of chee cheong fun! Having said that, it was still delicious. Just a little on the thick side though, which as any dim sum loving person will tell you, just doesn’t cut it.

Restaurants normally steam their chee cheong fun on large pieces of muslin cloth placed on a special tray with holes, which helps to achieve the ‘barely there’ paper thin rice rolls. I presume that one should be able to replicate this by using a muslin cloth placed on a pizza tray (which has holes in it), but unfortunately my pan isn’t large enough to accomodate my pizza tray, so I guess I’ll never know!

I made my chee cheong fun sauce from a very ‘estimated’/’agak-agak’ recipe. This essentially means I added in ingredients as I tasted the mixture, trying to get the sauce as close as possible to the version I grew up eating. The recipe below is a rough estimate of ingredient quantities, I suggest that you taste the sauce as you go along to adapt it to your preference.

Chee cheong fun
Based on this recipe on Baking Mum

For the chee cheong fun (rice rolls):

  • 150g rice flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp wheat starch
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 1 tbsp corn oil
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the sauce:

  • 1 tbsp light soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp kicap manis (alternatively you may use dark soya sauce + a pinch of sugar)
  • 2 tbsp hae kor (prawn paste)
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tbsp sesame oil

For garnishing:

  • Sesame seeds

1. Sift the rice flour, wheat starch, and cornflour into a large bowl.
2. Slowly add the water to the flour mixture, whilst stirring the mixture with a spatula.
3. Add the oil and salt, and mix until it forms a smooth mixture. I sieved my mixture to ensure there were no lumps. Leave batter to rest for an hour.
4. Make the sauce for your chee cheong fun whilst the batter is resting. To make the sauce, mix the soy sauce, kicap manis, hae kor, water and sesame oil together, till it forms a smooth paste.
5. Prepare your steamer.
6. Grease a pan/tray/plate with oil, and pour approximately 1/4 cup of batter into the pan/tray/plate. (I used a 20cm plate – you may need more or less batter depending on the size of your pan/tray/plate.) You are aiming for a very thin layer of batter, and you should be able to see the surface of the pan/tray/plate through the batter. Steam for 3-4 minutes.
7. Remove the steamed rice roll sheet from the pan/tray/plate, and roll it up to form a ‘swiss roll’. Repeat with the remaining batter.
8. Serve your chee cheong fun with its accompanying sauce, topped with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social

In my last post, I mentioned that I would be making a few changes to the way I blogged to ensure I’d be able to blog more often. One of these changes will be to do more ‘photo’ orientated posts, where I won’t write much – I’ll let the photos do the talking instead. I will primarily do this for restaurant and travel posts, as I was never all that good at describing dishes anyway! This will hopefully allow me to blog more regularly whilst I’m on my ‘student’ year.

I visited the very talked about Pollen Street Social recently, and this was what I ate:

Dining area

I adore the little ridged platter that the butter was served on – I would LOVE to have one of these. Ah, the joys of prop hoarding. ;)

Warm bread rolls – I enjoyed the french loaf (pictured above), and the mixed seed roll.

Full English breakfast – tomato puree, slow poached egg, crispy bacon pieces, crispy croutons and morels. The tomato puree was an intensely tomato-ey, and absolutely delicious.

Escabeche of quail, chicken liver cream, nuts and seeds. Perfectly cooked quail – need I say more?

Roasted halibut, Catalan paella, sprouting broccoli and pork-ham fat. The paella.. oh, my. Absolutely delicious. Better than any paella than I have eaten in Spain, thus far anyway!

Braised oxtail with carrots and mash. Don’t let the simple description of the dish fool you, for this packed a whole lot of flavour, and was a total ‘comfort food’ type dish.

The much talked about Dessert Bar

Pastry Chef Emily hard at work

(Complimentary) ice cream – passionfruit ice cream and lime sorbet. The passionfruit ice cream stood out for me, as it had a perfect balance of tartness and sweetness.

PBJ – a playful twist on the traditional peanut butter & jam sandwich. Peanut parfait (which tasted like frozen peanut butter!), cherry sorbet, cheery tagiatelle, cherry halves, cherry jellies, and toasted rice puffs. One of my favourite restaurant desserts, ever. I would happily eat this over and over and over again.

Tiramisu. This is one for any chocolate lover: dark chocolate mousse, chocolate shards, chocolate ‘fronds’, chocolate sand, mascarpone mousse, and kirsch jelly cubes. Served with chocolate coffee on the side (which can be drunk separately, or poured on top of the tiramisu).

The ‘chocolate’ coffee. Luxurious, thick and creamy. I couldn’t actually finish this as I hit my level of chocolate overload (which is very hard to do, believe me!).

View of the kitchen, from the dessert bar

Pollen Street Social in a nutshell:
- Lovely food, and brilliant desserts
- Dessert Bar – an inspired idea!
- Service was good, but not fantastic
- The set lunch menu is excellent value for money – but skip the desserts on the set menu, and choose something from the full dessert menu
- I’m definitely going back! :)

EDIT: Pollen Street Social has been awarded one Michelin star, which is very well deserved! Extremely pleased for Jason Atherton and his team (and my tummy).

Pollen Street Social
8-10 Pollen Street
London W1S 1NQ
+44 (0)20 7290 7600
www.pollenstreetsocial.com