Thursday, 28 May 2009

NoLIta, New York City

Chinatown, New York City.

So, I think this is almost it now from New York for a while. Most of my images were taken during various business trips, so my food experiences were in fact quite limited as I was often pushed for time to really seek out the true culinary gems the city had to offer, and were pre-Masterchef too, so at the time I was more focused on graffiti and other random urban art forms.
At some point I will post up some incredible pictures from Tokyo, and blog about the Tsukiji fish market - which was not only one the most incredible things I have ever seen, but is also home to some of the freshest and most delicious sushi in the world. So, one more post from NYC, then back (after a brief hiatus) to Guatemala. Hope you've enjoyed the diversion.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Meatpacking District, New York City

Images of New York City

I know there is a bit of blog globe-trotting going on, but I simply had to post these photos I took in New York. I promise I will get back to Guatemala, however please be prepared for a few other diversions, including Tokyo, South of France and Northey Island.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The 'Miss Havisham' wedding cake

I have to admit that even though I am a fairly good cook, and was lucky enough to win Masterchef, but baking and me aren't the easiest of friends. I know every good cook should be able to bake well, but I think it's either a knack you have, or you don't, and I certainly belong to the latter. Now Hannah on the other hand, who was with me on the show is an ace and a genius. Her cakes are really out of this world. So with this scepticism about my baking abilities in my head, I was asked by a friend to create a cake for a very cool vintage store in London's Queen's Park. The brief was 'Miss Havisham' the Dickens character who lived in opulent decay, the doyenne of faded glamour. The cake was for a vintage shop called Merchant Archive in Queen's Park, who were having a party and needed a cake and various canapes. I have to admit it was fun to do, especially as I had full artistic license to go crazy with dyes, gold paint and fresh (but fading) flowers. Here's the result....

Commissions upon request.

Gazetteer; Bonnie Slotnik's Cookbooks, New York City.

In the process of writing up so many new, exciting tales from Guatemala, I am also at the same time unearthing lots of photos of places I have been and experiences I have had whilst I was on my blogging hiatus. One such place I stumbled across on a gloomy January afternoon was Bonnie Slotnick's Cookbook Shop, in the West Village, whilst on a business trip to New York.
I remember making a double take, and realising that there was a gem of a shop right in front of my eyes. It the ground floor of a townhouse, a cosy place that was crammed full of beautiful cookbooks of every leaning and desire. Many were wonderful; the kind that are passed down from generation to generation, and woefully out of print. Others were obscure, fascinating, kitsch and others just the kind of cookbooks that warmed you with their warming recipes and home-making spirit.
Bonnie's had a small congregation of local friends who had popped in to chat, and seemed to linger for hours. It was a place where I could have idled away many hours had I had the chance, and come away with all sorts of riches.
If you happen to be in New York and love food (which I assume you do), go visit Bonnie and her treasures, and as it happens it isn't too far from Magnolia Bakery either.

Bonnie Slotnik's Cookbooks,
163 W10th Street,
New York.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Pacaya - Palm Flower Fritters

I'm sort of jumping the gun a bit here, but I was so excited not only to spy these at the market, but then stand witness as these flowers were bought home and cooked in such an unusual way that I've decided to post this up before anything else. The dish is known locally as 'pacaya', which are in fact the flowers of a species of palm tree.
On closer inspection, these flora are exquisite - a plume of fronds, each with beautifully textured skins. Marie, (my friend Jose's housekeeper and cook) set to work explaining to me the process of how these curiosities are cooked. First they are hulled of their green sheaths, and the flowers are blanched in boiling water for a few minutes which is said to reduce their bitterness and kill any bugs lurking amongst the stamens. Eggs whites are then beaten until stiff, to which maize flour is added along with salt and a smattering of chilli powder, which combine to create a luscious batter. The palm flowers are then draped in the batter and shallow fried until crisp and golden, and the flowers inside are just cooked, to a nice 'al dente' bite.
Marie served these with a delicious tomato salsa - made with blanched tomatoes and white onion that were pureed and seasoned to create the perfect sauce. The pacaya have a flavour all of their own; at times they tasted liked the nouvelle baby sweetcorn, a further mouthful and they tasted more like a bitter courgette or gourd. The eggy crust and Tomato sauce pulled whole dish together in a funny way, that took me back to childhood lunches of omelette with tomato ketchup, with a few greens on the side of the plate, put there because my Mother had grown them and saw fit that I therefore ate them.
My nostalgia for omelette and home grown greens aside, it was delicious and an unusually tasting pit stop on this culinary road trip.

The local 'Mercardo's' exotica

I'm posting these photos up as passionate reminder that even a quick visit to the local 'store' here in Guatemala is a foray into a kaleidoscope of colours, sights and smells. Some of the produce here may be musky and a little rough around the edges, but it is all as nature intended - ripe, delicious and full of flavour. It beats the plastic shrouded corpses that are jet-lagged and unripened that arrive in supermarkets in the UK, desperately trying to please but failing miserably on every level. Of course I miss the incredible British produce that I have become accustomed to cooking and eating with seasonal glee, and really I cannot compare but only contrast that with the local produce here. I guess I have become intoxicated by what's on offer - it's like tasting food on a higher octave or wavelength, a sensory attunement. If only you could smell and taste too, you would understand what all the fuss is all about.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Thursday, 21 May 2009


Guatemalan Fish Soup & Ceviche

One of the must-do food experiences of Central America, and more typically South America is Ceviche. I love the delicate saltiness and sharp acidity that accompanies the sweet flesh of locally caught fish and shrimps, and I have often enjoyed it, albeit decadently in several good restaurants in London, notably at Pied à Terre; a Ceviche of Mackerel with Carrot and a myriad of citrus notes that lingered in my mouth for ages. My first experience of this dish in Central America on the other head was far more rustic, and the flavours packing a far more aggressive punch.

The restaurant is a famous pit-stop for hungry townies heading south to the sultry, volcanic beaches of Monterrico on the Guatemalan Pacific coast. Served up with a bowl of lime halves, Gallo Beer (the national beer of choice), a 'mixed' ceviche appeared featuring clam, conch, shrimps, a white fish (similar to Dorado), crab meat and two rather unpalatable ingredients which were discovered half way through eating - bovine spinal cord and bull's testicles! Yikes. With one raw and jelly-like, and the other staring malevolently at me, daring to be eaten, my appetite quickly diminished as my thoughts turned from succulent seafood to squeamishness. Steamed herb Tomales took the edge off, as did a delicious fish and shellfish soup that we shared that was full of meaty fishyness and lightly spiced with chillies and a sweet tomato broth. In the end the soup was the star turn, and yielded tasty morsels of fish that were poached perfectly, along with mussels, giant shrimps and a tasty little crab that really saved the day.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Mayan Pepian

The creation of this incredible dish was observed one morning last week, as Marie - my host's housekeeper and cook set about making what is one of Guatemala's favourite dishes. I was told that the roots of this dish come from the Mayan people of Guatemala, who reside in the volcanic regions that cut a swathe across the country. This is one of those dishes that has been made with love for years, by women, each family recipe and way of cooking passing from generation to generation.

What makes this dish so exciting is not just the ingredients and the combinations of such, but treatment these are then given to create such a rich and deeply flavoursome meal. The key piece of cooking kit is the Comale, an iron pan or skillet used for cooking tortillas - in a similar fashion to how chapattis or pancakes are cooked. This is used to toast, burnish and blacken each of the ingredients in stages. First a whole bunch of fresh coriander, resplendent with roots and pretty green leaves is left
to crisp to a golden hue. It felt slightly uncomfortable seeing luscious herbs frazzling on hot iron, but the smells had me fixed, trance like as Marie added more ingredients. Next came sticks of cinnamon, and in a small frying pan pumpkin and sesame seeds were also toasted until they popped excitedly. Then there were dried chilli peppers of all sorts; the black, raisin-like Chille Passa, the hot and spicy Chille Guaque and sweet red peppers. The charring ingredients filled the house with an intoxicating smoke, the kind that smelt of ancient cooking fires and had with it a faint whiff of alchemy.

Next were the tomatoes (both large red ones and small green ones), onions, garlic and flour that once toasted would thicken the luscious sauce. All of the toasted ingredients would then be blitzed in a food processor with a small cup of hot water, and would end up resembling what I can only describe as a Mayan Curry sauce, full of aromatic richness and an almost cloying piquancy. The sauce is added to chicken pieces that had been poached, along with onions, carrots and a Guatemalan squash-like vegetable called guisquil. The flavour of the finished dish was unbelievable; layers upon layers of sweet smokiness that gave way to nuttiness and bitter spiciness. This was definitely a meal I will always remember and my first real taste of true Guatemala.