Monday, 23 May 2011

How to make Thai inspired steamed fish

I originally posted this recipe on facebook, long before I ever thought of doing a blog. At that time, I'd just come back from my Summer holidays to Italy and France and was looking for ways of making low fat delicious food since I had to lose the points I'd piled on whilst on holiday.
Since I am now recently returned from the land whose cuisine inspired this dish, Thailand, land of smiles, I thought it might be a good time to post this to my blog. I had steamed fish whilst on my travels in Thailand; they steam the fish whole with lots of chili and lime. The results are incendiary but immensely satisfying!

Picture: Steamed whole fish at Phu Lae Restaurant, Chiang Rai, Thailand

I'll confess that I've always been a little scared of cooking fish. That's because, much like the rhyme about the 'little girl with a little curl right in the middle of her forehead' when the dishes come out good, they are very, very good and when they are bad, they are horrid. Overcooking is, to my mind, the biggest disaster in fish cookery. It is also the sin I commit the most often. So I invented this dish to avoid that problem. Steaming does not involve the direct application of heat to the fish, which is why it gives you the most leeway with cooking time. Pan-frying gives none; it is either cooked perfectly or overdone. I am not alone in the use of steaming as a method of cooking for fish. Although out of favour in the UK, it is common in China and across the south east of Asia. The benefits are, as I say, it avoids overcooking, but it also maintains the integrity of the fish, and does not involve copious amounts of fat.

Here are the ingredients:
2 fillets of haddock (around 350g total) - You could use any fish you like, though
1 2cm piece of ginger, peeled and sliced into rounds
2 chillies sliced in half
1tbsp chopped coriander
1 lime - juiced
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
half a clove of garlic chopped into tiny pieces

Mix up all the ingredients except for the haddock into a large bowl. Once mixed, put the haddock on top, skin side up. Move around so that the filletted side comes into contact with the other ingredients. Marinade at room temp for 5-10 mins (the time it takes for the water in your steamer to come to the boil).

I have both a metal steamer pot and a bamboo steamer, but only the metal pot was big enough to fit the fish into. If you have a bamboo steamer with a bottom big enough to fit a china plate on, that would be the perfect utensil for the job. I had to improvise - so I used a piece of doubled up foil bigger than the bottom of the steamer with the edges rolled up to hold in all the juices.

Once the water in the pan is boiling, empty all the marinade ingredients onto the foil or plate. Place the fish skin side up on the plate or foil. Put the lid on. 

Steam for 8-10 mins. Scrape off marinade ingredients before serving. 

Serve with rice or salad, although I served it with a rice salad!

First posted by Snigdha Nag on facebook on Tuesday, 17 August 2010 at 10:57

Saturday, 21 May 2011

TV review: Two Greedy Italians – Episode 3 – Piedmont (BBC)

The premise behind this programme is that two key figures in Italian gastronomy who have lived away from their homeland for many years return to rediscover their homeland, its cuisine and comment on how much or how little things have changed since their departure. It's a wonderful concept combining two real passions of mine; food and travel.

Our guides are Antonio Carluccio, one of the founding fathers of real Italian food in the UK and Gennaro Contaldo, one time mentor to a certain Jamie Oliver. These two were one-time colleagues and friends but have only recently made up after a major falling out which happened some time ago, a fact alluded to on the show.

The concept of the show is that our two heroes travel around both north and south Italy, usually in vintage automobiles, meeting foodies, shopping in markets, cooking and eating along the way. They bicker and tease each other and show a north v south rivalry which will strike a chord among many English who feel the north/south divide is alive and well. Carluccio is northern Italian whilst Contaldo hails from the south.

Episode 3 which aired the past Wednesday, dealt with the Piedmont district, the area where Carluccio grew up in. He was a an effusive and enthusiastic guide to the area, showing the market, the house he grew up in and spoke with great sincerity about his memories of growing up in the region, including the tragic death of his younger brother who drowned in a pond aged only 13.

The food they explored was of the northerly region they traversed. Influenced by Germany and France, it is a cuisine apart from the rest of Italy. Apple Strudel, that classic German dish was demonstrated by Carluccio as an example of the neighbourly influence of nearby Germany and in a cafe the patisseries of France and Franco-influenced dialect of Piedmont demonstrated the cultural impact of France.

Some of the banter between the two cooks was sometimes childish and felt put on for the cameras. Particularly when the two bait each other for being unable to cook, these scenes appear to be part of an act Carluccio and Contaldo feel obliged to present for the cameras. One wonders whether their reconciliation is a real and permanent one given the constancy they revert to the childish baiting of each other.

However, it is the food which takes centre stage. The truffles literally dealt for cash out of the back of cars as if they were drugs or other dodgy contraband, the risotto rice grown in the region (Carnaroli rice from the area has D.O.P. Protection under EU law), the home cooked dishes loved by the locals. The truffle dish demonstrated by Antonio Carluccio using fresh pasta with chicken livers and truffles was a lesson in how simple but good ingredients can make a stunning dish. By contrast, Gennaro Contaldo's eastern influenced slow cooked pork dish with ginger showed how cooking techniques can be used to make a simple ingredient amazing.

What made real impact on me was the examination of the situation that recent migrants to the north of Italy have found themselves in. Contaldo and Carluccio both made their names and gastronomic reputations in the UK. The UK has a global food scene which includes the foods of most of the nations on this planet. However, despite this, some Italian towns do not allow foreign restaurants to open within the city walls/city limits. Tuscany has banned foreigners from growing any fruit or vegetables which are not Italian in nature. Despite being successful and working within Italian legal requirements, Chinese farms in the Turin area growing Chinese produce are threatened with closure.

Apparently this is all being done to protect Italian culture and the Italian culinary heritage. It smacks to this viewer of out-and-out racism. This saddens me greatly. Multiculturalism has brought strength through diversity to the UK. As a result, London now has a restaurant scene that gives Paris, Tokyo and New York a run for their money. And I reckon we are winning. This Italian 'protectionist' attitude is retrograde and backward. If they are confident in their cuisine, allow it to be open to competition! I don't have any doubt that the strength of Italian cuisine and the depth of love shown to it by its own people means it does not have to feel in any way threatened by the food of its recent migrants. However, banning foreign food and foreign produce being grown shows a lack of tolerance no civilised nation should display.

Our hosts were quick to make the very sensible point that Italian food has successfully incorporated a number of ingredients which were not native to Italy to great effect. What would Italian food be like today without tomatoes, basil, potatoes and maize (for polenta)? The forefathers of the Italian cultural heritage welcomed those ingredients and made them their own without fear or reservations.

Contaldo himself described the protectionist policy as 'silly'. He was then admonished by Carluccio for saying so, but he then added the withering words 'no one said it was sensible.' Amen that these two champions of Italian food, ingredients and culture are with me that the Italian government's current policy is both distasteful and absurd.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

How to make Mango Sticky Rice

Ma Muang Khao Niaow ("niaow" rhymes with a cat's miaow) translates as mango with sticky rice (ma muang is mango, khao is rice, niaow - sticky). It is a classic Thai dessert. I've seen it prepared by the chefs at Mango Tree in London (at a Thai festival), read various recipes, eaten it in London and had the real thing in Thailand. Trouble is, no-one seems to agree on the recipe! So what's a girl to do?

The best example of the dish I had was in a night food market in Bangkok, on Soi 38 Sukhumvit (which translates as Alley number 38 off Sukhumvit Road), a bustlingly busy night market loved by hard-working Thais with no time to cook their own dinners and a handful of dedicated backpackers, notable from their relaxed gait and more-than-superficial tropical tans.

Picture: Ma Muang Stall, Soi 38 Sukhumvit, Bangkok, Thailand

So I'm going to do my best to approximate this dish. I went to London's Chinatown in search of Thai mangoes. I knew that the type sold in supermarkets right now, which tend to come from the Caribbean and thereabouts are lovely fruits, but do not have the intense sweetness needed for this dish. At time of writing in the UK the prevalent mango available is the Kent mango. Not as stringy as some of the other American/Caribbean mangoes - and just the kind of thing I would use for a dinner salad or fruit salad, but not right for this dish. So after a little searching I found exactly what I wanted in Loon Fung on Gerrard Street;  a Thai mango. OK, it was a little steep at £3.22 (I truly wish I were joking, but sadly, no) but after trying many varieties of mango from all manner of tropical climes, I knew this was going to be the only one which would match the ripe, sweet mellowness of the Bangkok delight I am trying to re-create. Apparently the name for this delightful mango is 'Naam Dok Maai' (flower nectar mango) - a totally appropriate description. You will know you are buying the right type of mango if what you buy resembles the 'Paisley' shape from Paisley pattern material - the shape is a classical mango shape.
Anyway, despite misgivings over the hefty price tag (if you knew what a bargain hunter I am, you would get it!),  I parted with the cold hard cash. If you are not willing to part with £3.22 for a single mango (which I would TOTALLY understand), then I advise you to get the small Indian/Pakistani mangoes with yellow skin - varieties include 'honey' and 'alfonso'. You are looking for a non-fibrous, thin skinned, intensely sweet mango..... I think I am getting a tad obsessed....!
Picture: A very expensive mango

Serves 2

1 small mug full of glutinous rice
1 + 3/4 small mugs full of water
1 very expensive Thai mango (but I'm not bitter!)
1 can coconut milk
3 tbsp palm sugar (use brown unrefined sugar if you can't find this ingredient)
1 pinch salt / 1/3rd tsp salt
fried split mung beans (topping) - Hard to find, but truly authentic!

The small mug of rice needs to be soaked in the first water in a bowl for as long as you can manage. I soaked mine for 3 hours. Overnight will most likely give you are more authentic results.

After soaking add the other 3/4 mug of water plus 1/4 can coconut milk.

Either put in a pan and bring to the boil for 12 minutes or until the liquid more or less disappears or cook in a the microwave. I've seen two lovely Thai ladies cook their sticky rice in the microwave on youtube, so don't sweat the 'is that authentic' issue. Besides, I cook all my rice in the microwave as it guarantees that it cooks by steaming/absorbtion.

If using microwave, then cook in a plastic rice cooker / lidded glazed pottery pot for 10-12 minutes.

Make the sauce by heating up the remaining coconut milk, salt and sugar together in a small pan. 
Picture: Freshly ground palm sugar, coconut milk and sea salt ready to make the sauce

When hot and well-combined, the sauce is done!

Prepare the mango. Cut into 3 thirds - one with the stone and 2 without, then remove the flesh from the 2 non-stone pieces by spooning out the mango goodness and then by using knife to trim the good bits from the stone piece. Cut all the mango into small bite sized pieces.
Picture: Step 1 of mango preparation; cutting into thirds

 Picture: Step 2 of mango preparation; harvesting and chopping the mango 'meat'

Serve a pile of the sticky rice with sliced mango. Pour sauce thoroughly over both. Top with friend mung beans if available. If not no topping or toasted sesame seeds would be great.

Picture: the finished pudding!

It is a dish which is well worth the effort.

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Restaurant Rules

Originally posted by Snigdha yesterday. Lost by 'Blogger' today, hence the re-post. Not happy!

I've just come back from Thailand. I fear that I will be posting a number of articles both inspired and obsessed by my travels around that beautiful, inspired and amazing country. What I want to deal with in this post, however, is how do you choose a place to eat when travelling?

At home, it's easy. Ask your friends and family for recommendations. Log in to toptable and look at reviews. Information is reliable and readily available. Job done, as Obama would say.

But what do you do when abroad? Once upon a time, I'd buy the latest edition of the Rough Guide or Lonely Planet and I'd follow their recommendations. I must say, it often worked for me. There were the wonderfully memorable Indonesian restaurants (at both the high and low end of the spectrum) in Amsterdam that I visited with my husband and best mate Chris that stand out as magical moments of our trip to that fair city. The 'tchendol', a strange, sweet yet tart tamarindy drink we enjoyed is etched on our collective memories forevermore. In Delhi I would never have found the basic but brilliant Punjabi restaurant with huge vats of steaming curry, nor the tiny, rustic but packed Paratha place in 'Paratha Wale Gale' just off Chandni Chowk. So guidebooks have their uses.

Picture: Paratha at Paratha Wale Gale, Delhi, India.

However, a book is only as reliable as often as it is updated and I clearly remember trying to find a restaurant in Phuket 11 years ago which was recommended by Lonely Planet and was a less than happy experience.... Picture the scene: at 7:30 we decide to make our way to said restaurant, not quite realising how far away from the hotel it actually is.... in the meantime gets dark. Then it starts to rain. Torrentially. But we have no umbrella. Then we come to a wooden slatted foot bridge. With steps missing. We cross, but it's all a bit too 'Indiana Jones' for my liking. After much stress and worry about imminent loss of life, we come to the exact address stated in the book after a further half an hour of searching. No restaurant. What is going on? We got back to our hotel and decide to call said restaurant – they closed a year ago! A scary experience where not once I thought that both myself and my tiny LED torch would fall steeply into the river below!

And that is not the only occupational hazard. Chefs leave, service declines. In fact, it's a pretty good rule of thumb that as soon as a restaurant gets recommended by a mainstream guide book that the staff will rest on their laurels and the quality will decline. This happened particularly with 2 restaurants in Jaipur who ought to know better (and I will not name!).

So how do you work out where to eat when travelling further afield? I have two rules, one which comes from my own experience and the other from a lovely man I met in pottery class once called John (AKA Pottery John). Thanks, John – you are a star!
  1. The locals test
Work out who the indigenous people are wherever you are. Where they eat will be pretty damn good. After all, whether lunch or dinner, they wouldn't keep coming back to some tourist place with poor food and bad service day after day. So, regardless of your snobbery, if you are in Venice and you see some gondoliers or boat builders eating in a trattoria – chances are it's pretty good. Similarly, if you are in Chinatown in London and you see people who are Chinese eating there, you have similarly struck gold. Don't fret about the surroundings, in fact ignore them if they are modest or even scruffy – if the indigenous eat there you aren't going to get a bad meal.

Picture: The Locals Test in action: Sabung-Gha, Chiang Rai, Thailand
  1. Don't worried about the food taking time to arrive
We have all been spoiled by places which get food to us within minutes of taking our order. It has lulled us into the philosophy of instant gratification, which if we are honest, does not and should not exist in real life. Posh restaurants have all sorts of 'cheats' to ensure you are not left waiting too long for your food; ingredients prepared and piled high in large plastic containers, risottos part cooked and just waiting to be finished off as they are ordered (see Marco Pierre White's book Wild Food From Land and Sea to find how they manage this). But really authentic food, if prepared with the love and care that you wish for, will take time. Sometimes that means from 15 mins to 30 mins. Just make sure you go out before you get to that starving hungry stage and enjoy the results. And don’t complain to the staff that you’ve been waiting for ages, or they’ll conclude you favour microwave meals that you just prick and ping.

  1. The tablecloth rule (with thanks to Pottery John)
To cater for Western European tourists, restaurants feel they must give that 'cultured' presentation; posh cutlery, candles and most importantly, linen tablecloths. These can only be used the once and then have to be sent to be laundered. The extra cost of their being laundered is then passed back to the customer, of course. This is something the indigenous local neither values nor wishes to pay for – they seek only the quality and authenticity of the food. So if you find a restaurant with posh linen, chances are it is only there to entice tourists into eating in their establishment. Therefore, no tablecloth (or a wipe clean plastic tablecloth) will usually be a sign of good, honest unpretentious food. Of course this rule doesn’t apply to a fine dining restaurant – but as with all rules there are always exceptions.

Picture: The tablecloth rule in action, Cambodia.

These rules have stood us in very good stead in places as diverse as Italy, India, Cambodia, Thailand and France (among others). Maybe they will work for you. What are your rules? Do they work? Let me know....

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Review of Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escape Part 1 – Cambodia

Cambodia is one of those countries that doesn’t figure on everybody’s radar. And much like Vietnam, its presence in the consciousness of the average Westerner is linked to tragedy. Cambodia will, for many years to come, be associated with ‘The Killing Fields’ and the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge.

Sadly this means that when writers and programme makers focus on the country, they enjoy the sensational aspects of Cambodia; the genocide and atrocities, and the stranger aspects of the cuisine. Channel 4’s programme last night therefore predictably featured fried tarantulas, duck eggs complete with embryo (baby duck eggs), and buffalo blood. This is so unfortunate when Cambodian food offers so much taste, colour and excitement and the people who make it are so full of vitality and cheer. In my travels to this wonderful country, I had amazing food several times a day, whether from restaurants, cafes, truck stops or humble street stalls. The food is spicy, fresh and contains influences from its neighbouring countries.

 Picture: Truck stop cuisine

Cambodian cuisine was badly affected by the Khmer Rouge. Food shortages were commonplace. People starved. Although Pol Pot wanted a Maoist agrarian society, his plan went badly wrong to the cost of the Cambodian people. How can you expect those with no farming know-how to grow enough to feed a country? And if you have eliminated the majority of the population who were literate, how do you preserve the culinary heritage?

Gordon explored the renaissance of Khmer food. His meetings with Khethana, Aunty Sovanna and Nina (at the Phnom Penh orphan’s cooking school) were inspiring. He was delighted with being taught how to make stuffed frog, showing his openness to new ingredients and tastes. Whole frogs stuffed with kroeng is a world away from mannered French frog's legs. Highly amusing was his attempt to make an authentic Cambodian curry, for which he was only given 8 out of 10 by Nina. Gordon stops dead for a few seconds in disbelief (his face is a picture) before he realises he isn’t an expert of Eastern cookery and tries the dish. He then agrees with the mark given and humbled, adds more palm sugar as instructed. TV gold! The young lad (Soubeg?) he meets at the cooking school shows how much he has learned in just 3 years when he helps Gordon cook on a barge for royalty and VIPs; a wonderful testament to the tenacity of the Cambodian people. The princess saying should would hire Ramsay ‘anytime’ because he is better than her cook was a wryly ironic moment.

However, there are some unforgivable problems with the show. Here are my thoughts:

Gordon talked about Siem Reap, site of the famous “Anger Wat”? WTF? Gordon, please! It’s ANGKOR WAT. It’s pretty much the 8th wonder of the world, so do try to pronounce it correctly!

Picture: the amazing Angkor Wat (with scaffolding)

The tasting of fried tarantulas was stagey and lacked authenticity. I’ve seen fried tarantulas for sale in markets in Cambodia – they are nearly always presented legs flattened out and battered. Gordon’s were deep fried as they were. And the Khmers themselves never eat the abdomen (bottom end of the body) of the tarantula as it can be full of acid or eggs. Gordon ate the thing whole – not Khmer style! Perhaps the locals were having a bit of a laugh at his expense.

Picture: Lightly battered tarantulas

Gordon visited Kampot when trying the tarantulas, but amazingly did not seek out Kampot black pepper. It is the finest in the world. When the French ruled Cambodia as part of French Indochina, the tables of the best restaurants kept Kampot pepper. This was ignored in favour of the more television-friendly tarantula hunt which had too much of a feel of ‘let’s look at how strangely these foreign people live’.

There was no real exploration of the street food scene, which is a real omission. Street food in Cambodia goes beyond baby duck eggs and fried tarantulas. There are hot woks cooking up noodle and rice stir fries, curries of varied chilli levels (hot to incendiary), and noodle soups which are sustaining and delicious. The ordinary people, regardless of background all partake of the products of this gloriously makeshift industry.

Picture: Street food in Siem Reap

Gordon Ramsay is an acquired taste, much like some of the specialities featured on the programme. But his enthusiasm for food is undeniable. His response and interaction with the orphaned street children showed that he is a much deeper character than the ‘Big Sweary’ he is sometimes reduced to by the press. He could, however, have made more of a focus on the Khmer people who were re-establishing their culinary heritage rather than his efforts to cook for the Royal family. The ‘tough guy’ routines of jeep driving, tarantula hunting and buffalo slaughter/bleeding have all been done before. But I guess his viewers are all expecting these things, so the producers have to include them.

I’ll be interested to see what he makes of Vietnam next week, a country I have longed to visit for many years......

I’ll be making Khetana’s fish amok when I can get hold of the many varied ingredients, particularly banana leaves:

A dish not included, but is a Khmer classic is Beef Lok Lak, another one to try!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

My first recipe suggestion from a friend!

Obviously, I am new to blogging, and also a cook of limited skill and experience.

How exciting, then, to get my first suggestion from old school pal Raymond, who trained and worked in catering!

Please - anyone who reads this blog, please either post your comments or suggestions or EMAIL me, so I can include your input into 'Snig's Kitchen'!

Back to Chef Ray, who says:

"After a roast chicken, I throw all the bones into a pot of water with bay leaves, peppercorns and cayenne pepper (Cayenne speeds your metabolism up) and boil it till all the spare meat falls off into the water, take out all bones and crappy bits, strain liquid, add sweet corn and some noodles of choice and there you go, chicken noodle soup, Raymond style!"

Chicken noodle soup is a classic - and you could use Chinese noodles or corte Cappelli D'Angelli (fine short cut pasta, Italian style).

If anyone gives this a go, I'd love to see some pictures!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Waste not, want not: Taking stock

We waste a terrible amount of the food we buy in the Western world. But rather than feel guilty, let's take control of the problem. Sure, you may think you can afford to throw some of that manky food lurking in the fridge because you shouldn't have to eat stuff that's past it's best – but have you thought about how you might use what you buy or even save some money by buying a little less?

To give you an example, I used to be a 'lady who lunched'. No, I didn't necessarily go out to eat each day, but whilst at work, I used to do a mix of sandwiches and salads from nice posh shops and the odd weekly sit down lunch somewhere. I found my bank balance was telling me I was spending around £100 per month just on lunch alone. That's £1200 per year; enough for a holiday. Once I started thinking about having a free holiday each year or continuing my lunching, the decision was easy: start bringing lunch in and enjoy a well-earned “free” holiday.

The fact is we often buy more than we need. And if we aren't buying more than we need, we are throwing away stuff we could use. Take the humble cauliflower; I generally trim off the lovely florets and throw away the rest. I reckon most people do the same. However, my mum uses the leaves to add veggie content to her dhal (and very tasty it is too!), Delia suggests grating the stalk to add to salads and a mate of the Hairy Bikers suggests using the stalk for soup.

I believe that although none of us want to look like we grub around for the last penny, we do like the idea of getting something out of nothing. This is where my idea of using all your old veg lurking in your fridge to make some stock comes in.

What?! I hear you say. I can just use cubes. Yes, you can. But generally the cubes are overly salty and interfere with the taste of whatever dish you are making. Most of us already get more salt in our diet than we need, so cutting extra out would be a good idea. Besides, what I am suggesting you do involves 5-10 mins prep time, 1 hour cooking time and then you have the wonderful reward of tasty homemade stock. Use it to make what you like; soup, sauces, risotto, casseroles and stews.... What's more, it's yours; your own creation. A little piece of kitchen art that is all your own.

So this is what you need:

Bare minimum ingredients (base):
1-2 sticks celery
1 onion (I used red, but often use the regular white ones)
1 tsp whole peppercorns (optional)
2-3 dried bay leaves
Parsley stalks (you will have used the leaves already for other things)
1 tomato
1 carrot

You can then add any old veg hanging around: as long as it's not rotting, it can be past its best:
Leftover thyme
Leftover sage (be sparing – it's a strong flavour)
Cauliflower stalks and/or leaves
Broccoli florets and/or stalks
Spring onions
Cabbage stalks/core/outer leaves
Leftover leeks/onions etc etc

I will just say that you don't want to add something starchy because it will make your stock cloudy and starchy with a foam on the top. Not really what you want for, say, a broth or risotto.


Cut things like the onion, carrot and tomato or anything large in half to allow the water to leach out all the goodness.

Put all the ingredients into a big saucepan and just cover with cold water.

Put on a high heat and bring to the boil.

Once boiling, stir thoroughly, put on a low simmer, add a lid and cook for 45mins to 1 hour.

Allow to cool. Strain into another container. Refridgerate.

If you are really green, put the used veg in your composter.

The stock will keep in the fridge for at least a week.

Enjoy the thrifty fruits of your labour!

How to make baked camembert

Hello gastronauts!

**Photos added on 24th August 2013**

When out and about I have seen many nice foodie pubs and suchlike serving a platter to share with crusty bread, salad leaf, chutney and camembert baked in its box. It's a wonderfully rich, scrumptious starter which may not be virtuous, but sure is DELISH!

So, how do you make it? Well, I tried it a couple of times to disastrous results. I cooked it too long, I dried it all out. Botch job city!

Then one day, I did the unthinkable. After eating a lovely baked camembert in Cirencester, I ASKED the chef how he did it. Did he tell me to f*** off and keep his trade secret? No sirree! He shared the secret that I share with you now...

Pre-heat the oven to 150 deg C. You do not want the oven too hot or the camembert can become rather dry.

Unwrap camembert of any plastic wrapping, and discard it all.

Cut off the top layer of rind of the camembert (the biggest mistake I was making was trying to keep the rind on - it just causes the whole thing to dry and extends the cooking time).

Replace in box, put on baking tray (not preheated).

Bake in the oven for 7-12 mins (it is done when you can see it is melting).

I tried it and it worked!

Here are my top tips:
Buy a camembert with a wooden box. Don't buy one in cardboard.
Don't forget to cook it in its box or the whole thing disintegrates into an oozy mess.
Top with fresh thyme to give a lovely fragrance and flavour. (Before you bake, by the way!)
Onion chutney or jam goes best with this.


Originally posted by Snigdha on her Facebook page on Monday, 28 June 2010 at 11:15.


I hope that this recipe shows you that if you like a dish in a restaurant or cafe, the chef will often be happy to tell you how s/he made it. After all, if you don't ask, you don't get!

The very lovely Lorraine Pascale (model turned chef extraordinaire) who presents the BBC's Baking Made Easy has a different take on this. 

She uses a hotter oven (200°C), cuts a cross into the Camembert rather than slices off the top (much less wasteful, so recommended) and cooks until 'soft and gooey'. 

Sadly she did not give a time. 

She also serves this with roasted garlic. She takes a whole head of garlic with top sliced off. She then takes a roasting tin, adds butter, olive oil, salt and pepper, honey, rosemary and bay leaves, then adds the garlic cut side down and bakes for 40-45 mins. 

Sounds divine!

Welcome to Snig's Kitchen

Hello Readers!

My name is Snigdha, I live in South London and have a passion for food, cooking, eating and drinking. I would like to share that love with you through this little blog. I want to cover the full range of home cooked food, restaurants dining (up and downmarket), cafes/snack shops and humble street stalls.

I am person who came into cooking later in life and after having something of a phobia about cooking. It was all so scary – I'd burnt things, undercooked them, made lumpy sauces – basically I'd got the whole thing totally wrong. It was too difficult!

My mum is a great cook. She makes wonderful banquets of Indian food for her visitors. Eight, ten dishes – no problem. I wanted to learn from her. But she cooks very much like a lot of Indian people; by feel. She instinctively knows what is right. She never follows a recipe. So I observed and tried to learn from her. However, this could not give me an understanding of HOW MUCH of anything had to be used for a dish. And with Indian food, this could be a problem. Too much chili powder – dish uneatable. Too much water or yoghurt in a curry – dish too bland to give any pleasure.

Cooking classes at school were even worse! We had teacher who was obsessed with using time efficiently. We didn't just have to cook a dish competently, but we had to use each minute to its full, having drawn up a 'time plan' first. Frying onions for 10 mins? Well, you should be cleaning up all your utensils at the same time as the frying is taking place. OK, Miss, will do! Dash to sink and wash up. Onions meanwhile frying in hot pan. Result? – onions not tended to, onions burn, dish ruined.

Then I went to university and had to look after myself. My initial plan was to survive like many students on instant noodles, packet food and the like. Thankfully, I was saved by my friends Hannah and Chris and learned to make stir fries, simple curries, pasta sauces, and stews and survived my 3 years eating food well above the muck served in the refectory. (Sorry, refectory!) But I still had a lot of fear of things going wrong, and was only willing to make 'safe' dishes which I knew were within my abilities. Again, I was saved, this time by my husband (a very good cook) who gave me some simple foolproof skills and most importantly, confidence.

So if you are an aspiring or insecure cook, if like me you've had lots of disasters, these are my top tips to kitchen success:

  1. Read the recipe thoroughly when you shop and again before you start cooking
    This one is pretty obvious, but not following it can really make you come a cropper. You might spend time making a lovely stir-fry which needs to be enjoyed hot, and because you've not read ahead, you get to the last line which says 'serve with steamed rice' and damn! You've not thought about what you'll serve it with! The rice will take 15 mins and by then the dish will be cold. Or you could commit the schoolboy error I did when hosting a tapas night for some friends – I intended to make pickled cauliflower. I finely sliced a whole cauliflower only to discover that the dish should have been prepared 3 days in advance! Oh dear! Now what was I going to do with all that sliced cauliflower?
  1. Prepare all your ingredients before you start cooking
    Some of us can multi-task, and some can't. It's an unfortunate fact that if you are doing something you feel a little anxious about, you are not going to be effective in multi-tasking. So if you are still a little unfamiliar or stressed out about cooking, don't increase that stress by leaving yourself the task of ingredient preparation whilst trying to cook at the same time. Do all of your peeling, chopping and measuring at the start, and whilst it may all take a little longer, you won't make any mistakes.

  2. Put some good music on whilst you are cooking
    Cooking is time consuming, and sometimes a little stressful. Until you are familiar with all the processes involved, you probably won't find it very enjoyable. Don't worry – with persistence that enjoyment will come! Until then, help the time pass by and lower your stress levels by listening to music while you cook. I'd advise against TV as it could distract you and lead to burnt food!

  3. AWA
    In Hollywood, many actors during a read-through exasperate their directors by trying to be creative and changing the lines. The director will advise them “AWA!” or “as written, a&*hole!”. The first time you make a dish, make it as the recipe calls for. Don't make any amendments until you've tried it from the original recipe. The original recipe (if it is of any repute) ought to have been tested a few times, so the balance of flavours should be pretty good. If you make it the first time, and perhaps its a bit bland or too strong flavoured, make the amendments next time, knowing what the final dish actually tasted like. And of course, don't make amendments lightly when baking bread/cakes/biscuits: those items are based on fixed ratios of fat to flour to rising agents etc – unless you really know what you are doing, you may spoil the final result by meddling.

  4. Always use an electronic timer
    I can't take credit for this tip – it comes from my husband. You may think that you can just time your cooking by feel. If you remain alert and keep an eye on the clock, perhaps you will be fine. But some things are just ruined by overcooking; pasta is soggy and nasty if overcooked, garlic when burnt is bitter and will spoil whatever it goes into. You will often find you are trying to do something else, like cooking the sauce, when the pasta is boiling. Can you really keep an eye on the clock for 9-10 minutes at the same time? My experience says NO! Make life easy for yourself by using an electronic timer. You'll never make a mistake for the smallest of outlays.

Those are my top tips. Do you have any of your own? Do share, we can all learn something new from each other in this wonderful world of food and drink!