Like a king

Breakfast is definitely something I grew into - I remember the torture of having to sit through breakfasts at the crack of dawn before school. I have to give my mum props for trying to make breakfasts interesting when I was growing up but for some reason, with the exception of Sunday morning breakfasts, they were more of a chore than anything else. I could never understand how anyone could stomach anything so early in the morning. Nowdays however, I've come to love the first meal of the day, whether it's with company or in comfortable solitude.

While breakfasts back in Malaysia tend to be more elaborate affairs (those delicious bowls of curry noodles!), over here I usually start the day with a bowl of my favourite cereal, the oh-so-addictive Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Cornflakes (which I highly recommend), and much to the chagrin of my housemates, sans the milk - because I'm just odd that way.

"Make sure you have a good breakfast"
Funny, how long it's taken me to fully appreciate those words of wisdom.

The unconventional.

"I just want the meat falling off the bone, you know?"

We've been having a bit of a chicken run lately, with the perfectionist in the house trying to get his roast chicken just right. I have to admit, the combination of ingredients that make up the marinade is somewhat unconventional as we have settled on an east-meets-west fusion of flavours.

Ingredients for the marinade:
Olive oil
Sweet soy sauce
Light soy sauce
Peri peri sauce
Hot sauce
Black pepper
Juice of one lemon
Fennel seeds
Mustard seeds

With the chicken in a large bowl, rub on some olive oil followed by the rest of the marinade ingredients (at your descretion) and allow the ingredients to work their magic for at least 45 minutes.
Pop the chicken into a pre-heated oven (to 220°C.), with breasts facing downwards. After 20 minutes, flip the chicken over so that the breasts are now facing upwards and roast for a further 25 minutes.
You have probably noticed that in the pictures, the chicken is resting ever so comfortably on a bed of potatoes. Seasoned with some salt, black pepper, basil and a dash of olive oil, roasting the potatoes with the chicken gives them a lovely flavour.
It's worth noting that this is not so much a recipe as it is a guideline because really, it's the discovery of the interesting mix of flavours that I really wanted to share this time.

A couple of things we picked up from all the experimenting:
1. The vinegar in the hotsauce helps tenderize the meat
2. Flipping the chicken over helps the skin crisp up evenly
3. Butterflying the chicken really helps with reducing cooking time

I love how something as traditional as roast chicken can be so versatile. While I tend to lean towards a sweeter marinade, ultimately it's really about whatever tickles your fancy.

Another fishy affair

It's been two years since we last sat down to a meal together, back in the days of blue trays, set mealtimes, long dining tables and frighteningly greasy food. For the past 4 years, birthdays have been somewhat of a joint affair, with the three Taureans celebrating our birthdays just days apart from each other. This year, the recently self-declared pescatarian chose (rather fittingly) Fishworks from the extensive list on Toptable as the setting for a much needed night away from the books and a surprise visit from a dear friend whom we had not seen for half the time we've known her.

7-9 Swallow Street

London W1B 4DE

Fishworks is the first of the row of seafood restaurants and oyster bars that are tucked away on Swallow Street, just a stone's throw away from Piccadilly Circus. With our collective weakness for seafood and the fact that we would get 50% off all food, Fishworks was a clear choice. Making a reservation seemed like the smart thing to do as we walked into a crowded restaurant - it appeared to have attracted the "after-work" crowd of women in smart dresses and men with their collars unbuttoned. Upon entry, one is greeted by the sight of a fishmonger standing behind a counter of fresh seafood, something that while provided testament to the freshness of their ingredients, didn't quite impress the portion of our party that had been to Billingsgate Market.

Potted Brown Shrimps - my pick to kick of the meal. I'd never had anything "potted" before so it did still come as a bit of a surprise (despite the name) that the shrimp came in an adorable little jar. I would describe it as a sort of buttery prawn pate which I discovered (while flipping through the Jamie Oliver cookbook that's a permanent feature on our kitchen table) is quite a traditional British dish.

Fishworks Cocktail with Crevettes, Brown Shrimps & Prawns

Goujons of Sole or Plaice with Tartare Sauce. Light, crisp and not greasy, this was beautifully fried.

"You can actually taste the pickle in it"
Hand Beer-Battered Fish & Chips. The Texan who had only been in London for all of 10 hours was eager to dig into some good old fish and chips. While it was in general a good serving of the traditional fare, extra props has to be given to the authenticity of the tartare sauce.

Smoked Haddock with Poached Egg, New Potatoes and Mustard Hollandaise

Fishworks Ocean Platter for Two to Share - a mix of hot and cold seafood, this satisfied every seafood craving. With a generous amount of oysters, mussels, cockles, clams, crevettes and cracked crab on the lower tier and grilled fillet of bass, prawns, squid, scallops, fillet of bream, organic salmon fillet on the upper deck, this was what made it all worthwhile. I particularly enjoyed the fillet of bream and squid which were very nicely marinated and cooked just about right.

Fruits de Mer - The shellfish classic of oysters, crevettes, cockles, clams, mussels and crab served with lemon & aïoli on a bed of ice. Not content with our huge platters, we decided that a large serving of shellfish was in order. I loved how fresh everthing was - the delicious mussels, the sweet crevettes with soft edible shells, the succulent crab.

A mixed selection of oysters, recommended by our waiter.

We created a ruckus, catching up over mountains of seafood and simply enjoying the fact that we could leave the stress of exams at home for a couple of hours. The food was definitely worth the rather long wait - fresh, nicely prepared and with 50% off as icing to the cake.

To cap off a glorious meal, Pattiserie Valerie's chocolate, strawberry and banana gateau.

Oh, how we spoil ourselves.

Quick meatballs.

"If you could be anyone in the world, who would you be?"
"Jamie Oliver"

That's Jason for you. With his trusty iPod in one hand and a packet of Hobnobs in the other, he entered the kitchen, eager to give one of Jamie's quick podcast recipes a go. At 42 Senrab Street, even exams are no excuse not to be a little adventurous in the kitchen.

"Meatballs, I'm making meatballs"

500g minced meat (beef was used in this recipe, but I reckon pork or chicken would work just as well)
Half a packet of Hobnobs
1 egg

Crush the Hobnobs until fine. (Note: Trying to do this using a plastic ladle may prove futile - use a rolling pin or a heavy bottle instead).
In a large bowl, mix the minced meat with the Hobnob crumbs and add rosemary, oregano, salt and pepper at your own discretion. (I personally prefer herb-laden meatballs)
Crack the egg in and mix well.
Roll the mixture up into little meatballs.

Heat some olive oil up in a large pan and fry the meatballs on low heat until cooked through. They would have turned a lovely golden-brown by then.

Once cooked, the meatballs go well with a whole host of things and can really even be eaten on their own. This time however, Jason made a sauce to go with them - a simple but pleasant mix of garlic, tomatoes and basil. A simple solution to sauce would be to pop open a jar of pasta sauce to heat-up in a pan. Give the meatballs a good toss around in the sauce and you've got yourself a scrumptious meal.

With Jason (and Jamie) in the house, who needs Ikea?

Nothing in between.

"You're crazy"
I remember a particular scene from my childhood in which I offered some Marmite on cream crackers to my cousin only to have her take a bite and call me crazy.

They say that with Marmite, things are black and white - you either hate it or love it. I fall into the latter category, having grown up on a generous dose of Marmite. As far as I can remember, Sunday afternoons at home were reserved for teochew style porridge, crispy fried fish, stir-fried tofu, braised pork and for me, a big helping of Marmite to go with it all.

After having moved away from the Sunday afternoon routine, I had forgotten how addictive Marmite can be - it's that unique taste that no one can seem to put into words. There's been a recent ignition of the love for Marmite, with Sapna and I slathering it on toast on a daily basis and me using it in my cooking.

Some people say that chicken soup is good for the soul. I say they haven't had a hot bowl of Marmite soup.

Crab curry, the Senrab Street way.

Crabs can be tricky business, as we found out a couple of weeks ago - the amount of slaughtering and cleaning involved turned everything into quite the operation. However, being such seafood lovers and with the anticipation of the dearly missed crab curry (it's not exactly something you can get easily in London), we quite willingly got our hands dirty.

Armed with a base recipe (once again provided by mum and dad), the girls set out to get the paste right while the boys (literally) tackled the crab.

With the resident strong-man in the house, the crabs didn't stand a chance.


2-3 kg crabs, cleaned and cracked
tomato puree
chilli sauce
soy sauce
2 eggs
salt and sugar to taste

30 gm (1 small packet) of curry powder
6 cloves of garlic
20 shallots
2 cm in length piece of ginger
2 teaspoons tumeric powder
2-3 tablespoons tamarind juice
chilli powder

Blend all of the paste ingredients until it achieves a nice consistency.
Heat oil in a deep wok and stir fry the paste until fragrant.
Add crabs to the paste and mix well, adding water so that they just cover the tops of the crabs. Cover the wok and let the fire work its magic.
When the curry starts bubbling, add tomato puree, chilli sauce and soy sauce. I would suggest adding a bit at a time, tasting at intervals so that you get the balance that you want.
Reduce the heat, cover the wok and allow to cook for a further 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
The gravy should thicken nicely but for that added thickness, break 2 eggs into the gravy and mix well.

We decided to add the tomato puree and chilli sauce to give it the sweet, tangy flavour that chilli-crab dishes have, making the curry more of a sweet chilli-curry hybrid. Deep fry some mantou buns and you've got a finger-licking good combination. Like most curries, this curry tastes even better the next day as the sweet flavours of the fresh crab would have really made its way into the gravy.

Har Lok

Growing up, Har Lok was one of my favourite prawn dishes - a treat that my dad used to whip up on special occasions. Being one of the more popular dishes in Chinese restaurants back then, the dish was also synonymous with nights out with family and friends. There are slightly different versions of this dish but they all fundamentally have that spicy, garlicky flavour.

This is dad's version (and perhaps quite biasedly, my favourite one) of Har Lok. The simple recipe takes all of 20 minutes to whip up.

Large prawns, cleaned
1 bulb garlic, chopped finely
Thumb-sized ginger, chopped finely
2 big red chillis, finely chopped
light soy sauce
dark soy sauce

With a bit of oil, fry the prawns in a deep wok until they turn a nice shade of light pink.
Add a sprinkling of salt, give everything a good mix-through and remove from the wok.
Fry the ginger, garlic and chilli until fragrant.
Throw the prawns back into the mix and add light and dark soy sauce (I personally prefer to use the thicker, sweeter variety) as well as sugar - all to taste.
When the prawns are cooked through (and this should happen fairly quickly), dissolve a bit of cornstarch in cold water and add to the gravy.
Stir well, let the mixture bubble for about 2 minutes and you're ready to go!

Of names we cannot pronounce

A night in with take-out, a boardgame and the Nintendo Wii is hardly your conventional 21st birthday celebration but I suppose, we were never conventional to begin with anyway. At the request of the birthday girl, we did away with the restaurant bookings and bus rides to have a mini Lebanese buffet delivered right to our doorstep.

Hungry House is every students dream - a collection of takeaway menus on one website so food a click away. The best part of it all is that payments can be made by card (which solves the issues with liquidity that we always seem to be facing) and the website also offers 10% off orders occasionally. The chosen Lebanese restaurant was one that had already been tried and tested by our boys and came highly recommended.

Nina's Taza Express
322 Burdett Road
London E14 7DL

We left the ordering in the capable hands of Dominic, who seemed to know his way around the menu pretty well - and he ordered up a storm. A variety of Mezza dishes, the Lebanese equivalent to tapas covered every inch of our dining table.

Wark inab b’zeit - vine leaves filled with rice, tomato, mint, parsley and onion, cooked in lemon juice and olive oil. At first glance, we thought that the parcels had to be unwrapped before eating but upon closer inspection, we realised that the vine leaves were soft and edible. This was definitely something new for a lot of us and the mix of flavours did leave us quite bewildered as we struggled to identify the ingredients. Tangy and minty, this definitely makes for an interesting dish. While we all enjoyed it, it's perhaps not for the less adventurous.

"How do they make potatoes taste this good?"
Batata Hara and Fried Vegetables - potato cubes sauteed with garlic, coriander, sweet pepper chilli, topped with fried vegetables.

Kibbeh Shameyeh - Deep-fried lamb meatballs mixed with cracked wheat and onion, filled with sauteed minced meat and onions. With their crisp, slightly flaky exterior and warm filling, the meatballs reminded me somewhat of the yam puffs one gets at dim sum restaurants. I liked that they didn't just consist of meat, but a nice crumbly mixture of ingredients.

"Who knew falafel could be so crunchy?"
The classic falafel - deep-fried bean and fine herb croquettes served with tahine sauce.

Bastorma - thin slices of smoked beef fillet covered with special spices.

Maqaneq - home-made Lebanese mini sausages flambéed in butter and lemon.

We were introduced to Halloumi Cheese (featured in the picture, behind the meatballs and potatoes) which I immediately took a liking towards. Mild, with a hint of smokiness from the grilling, it was the perfect accompaniment everything else. We also enjoyed the Foul Modammas (boiled broad beans seasoned with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil) and Jawaneh (charcoal-grilled marinated chicken wings served with garlic sauce).

It just goes to show that with the right company, you don't need a fancy restaurant or an elaborate night about town. Of course, good food doesn't hurt either.

Happy birthday, Anu!