Experience not objects – Recipease (Jamie Oliver) Thai cooking class

Recipease Thai Dinner feast

You can tell it’s Jamie Oliver themed because there’s an entirely-unnecessary wooden board

At some point I may have mentioned that my New Year’s resolution was to spend more of my money on experiences rather than objects.

My friends clearly heard this, because in the rash of birthdays that happens around this time of year a lot of the presents exchanged have been experience-based.

The first one for me was a cookery lesson of my choice at “Recipease”, a vaguely Jamie-Oliver-related small chain of cafe/shop/school places. I picked the “Thai dinner feast”, mainly because it was 2 hours and 3 dishes and I wanted to get my money’s worth.

I’ll copy the recipes from the official end-of-lesson recipe book, and annotate where it differed.

The kitchen before we made a mess of it

The kitchen before we made a mess of it

Hot and sour soup

Ingredients
1 litre stock (I am obviously not going to make my own veg stock)
2 small green or red chillies
2 medium shallots
1 small piece ginger (about 2cm)
4 small tomatoes
150 g oyster mushrooms
8 each king prawns (shell on) (we only got one each! also – shell on is messy and pointless)
50 ml Fish sauce (this is a LOT of fish sauce and yes we did use a lot)
2 dessert spoons Palm sugar (I asked about substitutions here because I’m pretty unlikely to go and buy palm sugar – any brown is good, light muscovado nice for caramelly flavour)
3 Limes (juice) to taste
Coriander (stalks and leaves separated)
2 strips spring onions, thinly sliced

Put your stock into a pot and bring to a boil, turn the heat down to low then simmer
Cut the shallot in half, remove the skin, then thinly slice
Cut the tomato in half and remove the seeds. Put the seeds into the stock, then slice the
tomato flesh into strips
Peel the skin from the ginger, then julienne it (thin strips like matchsticks)
Using a pin prick the chilies with small holes. Throw this straight into your simmering stock
Peel the oyster mushrooms into strips using your fingers
Peel the prawns keeping the tail on. The shells can be used in the stock for flavour then
discarded before eating
When the stock is simmering add in the fish sauce, lime juice, coriander stalks and palm
sugar. This is added to your taste. Don’t be shy with these ingredients, these will help you
get your sweet, salty and sour flavour. Adjust to your taste
Your stock can now sit until you are ready to prepare the soup
Ten minutes before serving the soup, remove the prawn shells
Heat the stock then add in the sliced ginger, shallots, tomatoes, oyster mushrooms and
peeled prawns.
Simmer until the prawns are cooked. This will only take 3-4 minutes
Adjust the flavour to your taste; Salty(fish sauce), sweet (sugar), hot (chilli), sour (lime
juice). For an extra kick, add a tiny amount of shrimp paste
Portion out the soup and garnish with thinly sliced spring

Apparently salty is the opposite of sweet, and sour is the opposite of hot, so taste and balance.

Sticky beef

A drizzle of Vegetable oil
2-3 teaspoons Cornflour
600 g minced beef
3-4 teaspoons chilli and garlic paste (just chillis and garlic bashed up in a pestle and mortar)
3 shallots, thinly sliced
2 dessert spoons Palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
Fish sauce, to taste
Rice vinegar, to taste
Small handful Basil and mint leaves (we only had coriander)
3 strips Spring onions
Small handful chopped cashew nuts (we didn’t have any of these, possibly due to allergies?)
Lime wedge on side
Cooked Jasmine rice
Sauté greens (broccoli and pak choi quickly fried in the same pan as the beef with a bit of oil and fish sauce)

Put the beef into a large bowl, then add the cornflour and using your fingers coat every
lump of beef with the corn flour. Don’t be tempted to use too much cornflour
Heat a large sauté pan and add in the oil
When the oil is hot add in the crumbled beef mince and on a medium heat cook the beef
until it is golden brown all over and slightly crispy
Add in the chilli and garlic paste and cook for 30 seconds, then add in the thinly sliced
shallots and sweat till soft
Add in the palm sugar, fish sauce and rice vinegar – taste the beef and adjust the flavour to
your taste. You are looking for an even balance of sweet, salty, sour and hot
When you are happy with the flavour add in the roughly chopped mint and basil leaves and
half of the sliced spring onions sauté till the herbs are mixed in well
Add your cooked jasmine rice to the middle of the dish, the sticky beef to one side and the
sauté greens to the other
Garnish with sliced spring onions and lots of fresh coriander with a lime wedge on the side

Results

Both were very tasty. The third dish was a coconut rice pudding made with the leftover rice which I’m not going to talk about here because

  1. I didn’t make it at all
  2. I don’t like sweet coconut

The soup was nice but didn’t feel like I was learning much (apart from the salt/sweet, hot/sour opposites, which I’ve yet to test) because I quite often make Asian-y broth soup for dinner anyway. I’ve just tried to find a link and apparently ‘ve never blogged this even though it’s one of my staples, so expect it soon!

The chilli beef was very nice and crunchy/crispy. We weren’t given a lot of advice over how much chilli to use, and apparently shop-bought chillis can be very variable in heat. Using mince and cornflour seemed like a great idea, and easier than trying to get steak strips exactly cooked enough. I’ve bought pak choi before and not known exactly what to do with it so I was pleased there too.

The afternoon was well-run and the chef giving the instructions was entertaining and good at speaking. I’d definitely recommend.

Review: Body Shop Ginger Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

TL;DR – it works if you use it right

Body Shop ginger shampoo banana conditioner

Banoffee pie with ginger biscuit base anyone?

Longer version:

Dandruff is one of those yucky things that are more embarrassing than they should be. It’s not contagious, it doesn’t make you smell bad, but for some reason it’s really embarrassing. Maybe because it’s on your head. Maybe because it’s caused by a fungus (although I’m not sure how many people precisely know that). Or maybe it’s because everyone is secretly worried that they might have a little bit of it.

Skin constantly renews itself, which means that you’re always shedding skin everywhere. Your scalp is made of skin and is no exception. So when do you call it dandruff? I’ll have to get a bit gross here – when it starts being chunky – sorry, I told you it was gross.

So, does this stuff work? Yes. My scalp no longer has giant flakes of whiteness falling off it – or in my case stuck in my hair as curly hair tends to trap the “bits” (yep, gross again).

The important thing to remember is that this is medicine for your scalp, not just shampoo for washing your hair. So get in the shower, wet your hair, rub this in til it foams up, massage it into your scalp a bit, then do everything else while leaving it in contact with your scalp. Rinse, condition (conditioner is not magic, it’s just to make your hair easier to detangle afterwards). Repeat every 2 days or so.

I picked the banana conditioner because it’s silicone-free and therefore curly girl friendly, and also because I want to smell like a dessert. That’s a lie, I don’t even like ginger biscuits. It does seem to “go together” though and I have been strongly conditioned (pun unintended, it’s the only correct word) to feel that I need my shampoo and conditioner to “match” somehow.

Happy hair, or some other hair-based salutation :-)

Making a train more like a plane

Now that I’m not commuting all the time, I want to make the times when I do take a longer train journey pleasant.

And who knows better about making a long journey bearable than the people who run planes?

Trains and planes are pretty similar in many ways. You sit in a seat, next to someone who haven’t chosen. You can walk about, but it’s discouraged. You can go to the loo, but it’s uncomfortable.

The major difference that I’m addressing here is that on planes, people bring you stuff. They may pretend that it’s because you might get hungry or thirsty, but really I think it’s just too distract you. “Everyone” hates airline food, but you always eat it. Or at least open the packets and fiddle with it.

I’m talking about the good kind of plane of course.

My instructions for making a train more like a plane

Basically this boils down to – get yourself some good technology, and go to M&S at the station

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Wasabi peas!

The snack they give you when you reach cruising altitude

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The pot of fruit was the most expensive individual item

The actual food

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I suspect that Percy Pigs contain an ingredient that will in future be banned for being addictive

The sweeties

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This one was not bought at the station

The entertainment system – especially good now that BBC iplayer lets you download shows to watch later.

And there you have it.

Chinese Dumpling Soup (cooking for one)

Now that I’m not commuting so much, you’d think that I’d have more time to cook, but it’s difficult to summon the same motivation when the only person who will say “yum, thanks” is you.

The shorter commute also brings the pub-dinner dilemma. Previously, if I went for even one drink (don’t laugh, it is theoretically possible that I might have just one drink), I knew I’d be home “late” so I may as well either eat at the pub or choose from one of the options available at King’s Cross. As a side note, the options at King’s Cross are really quite good now. Living under half an hour away, I can kid myself that I shouldn’t get pub dinner because I’ll be home “before I would have been home if I’d left on time, before” (do you follow?). Then I stay in the pub, discover that the food options on the Northern line are much less interesting than those at major train stations, and get home starving.

You don’t have to have been in the pub to make this, you don’t have to only be cooking for one, you don’t even have to be in a rush.

Things you need to keep in the house
Frozen Chinese dumplings
Tomato juice
Soy sauce

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I bought these at the Chinese grocer

Things you can compromise on
Vegetables – you can use pretty much anything you have lying around

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I try to always keep carrots and celery around for dipping in hummous

Your source of other flavour – chilli, garlic, ginger, onion, etc

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This might work, might not, I picked it up when I bought the dumplings

Method
Fry veg that need frying (e.g. onions)
Add tomato juice, other veg that need to be made softer, heat up
Add dumplings, simmer for a bit (the packet says to boil in water for 10-12 mins)
Add soft veg (e.g.  peppers) near the end
Eat from a large bowl with chopsticks and a spoon and soy sauce and plenty of napkins.

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Big bowl of red. Very dark soy sauce is best

10 things I learned while flathunting

Random building giving advice

Random building giving advice

I looked at 10 houses/flats while searching. I don’t know if that’s a lot. I do know that I had two weeks where I didn’t get home before 10 any night (moving cities means long trains after evening visits). In the words of one colleague, I “caned it”, seeing lots of places and getting it sorted relatively quickly. I do highly recommend spareroom.co.uk – it’s a little like online dating but that’s a good thing, you can filter by number/age/gender of flatmates and other useful things as well as area and price.

I got turned down by a few places (there’s a lot of competition) and turned down a few myself, but I like to imagine that in each place I learned something new.

I haven’t actually thought this through entirely, so I hope it will work out.

HOUSE 1 I learned that I was going to be OK with the whole “sharing” thing, after not having done it for a few years.

HOUSE 2 I learned that some people think it’s a good idea to set up a visit without checking if the rest of the housemates are going to be in.

FLAT 3 I learned that it is possible for people to be “too quiet” for me to think I’d enjoy living with them (previously I had only considered “too loud” to be a potential problem)

FLAT 4 I learned that some people genuinely never eat on the sofa

FLAT 5 I got the details of a good pub quiz (although I haven’t yet tried it)

FLAT 6 I learned that giving 23 year olds the benefit of the doubt (they might not act that young really) is a waste of my time

HOUSE 7 I discovered that sometimes people build houses with huuuuge living/dining rooms and tiny kitchens

FLAT 8 I learned that some people are not competent when it comes to ticking or not ticking the “this flat has a living room” box on the website. If someone is using it as their bedroom, it’s not a living room.

FLAT 9 Is the one I’m now living in – I’m sure I’ll learn many things… No comment ;-)

FLAT 10 I learned that having a dining table is very important to me (sadly the website didn’t have a checkbox for that)

New house, new me?

Not just a new house (flat, technically), but a new city.

After over two years of commuting, I’m moving to London. And of course I have a lot of ridiculous ideas what I’m going to do with the extra time and the new location.

I will…

- Walk to work sometimes, if it’s sunny (it’s just under an hour’s walk)
– Find a new gym and go there more than once a week. The only reason I don’t go much now is because I don’t get home til late. Uh-huh.
– Be tidier in the new (smaller) flat
– Eat more healthily and/or give up sugar and/or eat more vegetables and/or stop eating crisp sandwiches and/or eat more fish or something
– Spend weekends going for walks in the park, or visiting museums. Even though evidence suggests that nobody does this

Er, yeah. Totally going to do all that. Because it’s not just a new house, it’s a total personality transplant…

New Year’s Resolution

My new year’s resolution is to spend my money/time/energy on experiences rather than objects.

They say they money can’t buy happiness, but if you’re going to try, this is the best way to go about it.

I did just spend some money that I got for Christmas on sheets from The White Company (in the sale of course). They are technically objects, but compared to the five year old sheets from Tesco that I got as a student they also count as an experience.