Ai-Mazing Cupcakes!

Black history month led me to the black owned Hackney market. There, I found a multitude of street vendors, selling soul food, cupcakes, Afro fusion meals, clothes, jewellery and even fragrances. Being in a space where I could relate to people in terms of culture and ethos was amazing, but that’s a story for another time.

The highlight of this market was a cupcake stand called AI Cupcakes. Now, I audibly gasped when I saw the array of flavours and designs stacked up. I spoke to the lovely lady selling them, and she recommended me to try the chocolate and hazelnut cupcake. This was their best seller, and for very good reason.

Two words.

The buttercream.

This impossibly smooth, rich buttercream had me reflecting on my life choices for weeks afterwards. I spoke to at least two other sellers at the market who raved about the buttercream as well. I can’t physically explain how delicious the hazelnut buttercream was. Shout out to their oreo flavoured cake, as well as the cheesecake flavour. Really and truly, it is very hard to come up with anything to say other than it was AMAZING. AI Cake House truly deserves to be one of the big players in the dessert scene. If you don’t believe me, go to black owned Hackney for yourself. You’ll probably see me there.

Thanks for reading, and have an ai-mazing day.

Find them on their website! https://www.aicakehouse.com/

You can find more of my reviews here, but browse the rest of the website for other food related writings.

A Royal Vegan Bakery

Being a lover of vegan bakeries and new eateries, I had to check out MOOKIND, a new vegan bakery on New Kings Road. Compared to its neighbours, the bakery stands out, as it’s bright green and smaller than the buildings around it. Despite that, I walked right past it because I was busy on google maps, looking for the place. Don’t worry, I understand the irony.

The environment was welcoming, a wide variety of vegan gelato to the left, and friendly faces standing behind an impressive selection of small cakes and cookies. I was stumped on what to get at first, as I wanted a box that reflected everything the shop had to offer. However, the staff suggested their favourite treats, some were even gluten free!

For me, the highlights were the banana loaf and the chocolate and hazelnut cookie. They were both so soft. I appreciated none of them relied on artificial sweetness, but let the flavours speak for themselves. The banana loaf was moist and moreish, so giving 3/4 of it for my family to try was a very emotional decision.

The almond and lemon cookie was also pleasantly surprising. I loved the balance of flavours, and the textures of lemon and almond pieces in the cookie worked well.

Their ethos was also great. The website says they focus a lot on sustainability and kindness. This really came through during my visit, and I felt very comfortable. They also had no problem with me filming, which is a massive plus.

Overall, it’s a lovely addition to the food on offer on Kings Road, and is a must for anyone interested in vegan food!

For people who don’t want to travel, they are also on deliveroo!

You can find their website here: https://mookind.com/

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

Ghana, and the Exciting World of Tomatoes

I’m not a tomato fan. Although this may suggest that I’m a picky eater, this is not the case. I will eat everything. Tomatoes however? Something about them makes me want to be sick and run in the opposite direction, to the extent that I don’t even eat pizza or ketchup.

And yet my favourite foods are jollof rice and light soup. I don’t know how that works. Both of these are tomato based Ghanaian dishes, and are well known outside the community. Every time I mention I hate tomato, someone asks “how do you love jollof so much then?” and it’s a valid question.

Today, I’m going to go into these dishes, and figure out what it is about Ghanaian cooking that makes tomatoes so delicious. (Spoiler alert, I think it’s the pepper and extremely long cooking time!)

A bit about Tomatoes

Tomatoes are produced in over half of the regions in Ghana, including the Greater Accra region, the Volta region and the Ashanti region. Approximately 440k tons of tomatoes are eaten every year, making up 40% of household vegetable spending. Due to rainfall and weather changes, production rates are seasonal, so Ghana also imports tomatoes from the UK and the neighbouring Burkina Faso.

Raw tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene. A 2007 study showed that the form of lycopene found in the human body is a bent version, while the form in raw tomatoes are linear. The study showed that cooking the tomatoes at a high heat and adding fat (eg oil) changes the form to bent and allows to be more easily absorbed into the body.

There are also different factors that can influence the flavour of a tomato. The flavours are defined by the varying ratios of acid to sugar, and growing conditions and type of tomato will have an affect on the taste. Small varieties (eg cherry) have a high concentration of sugar, and are therefore sweeter. Some varieties of tomato have high sugar and acidity content, and some varieties have a low sugar and acidity content. Soil, temperature and sunlight can also affect the flavour and the texture of tomatoes.

Popular varieties grown in Ghana include Roma VF, a hybrid tomato bred to resist disease. It’s a red meaty tomato that is good for sauces and canned products. Petomech is another hybrid seed, with thin skin but very firm fruit.

A lot of recipes in Ghanaian cuisine involve stewing down the tomato into a sauce or paste, and adding oil or spices. Therefore, it’s important to to breed tomatoes best suited for the job.

Jollof Rice

If you’re West African, this topic might be sensitive. Proceed with caution.

I’m going to talk about how I make jollof rice, and why I choose to do it. I’m not going to give exact measurements of recipes but a good rice to tinned tomato ratio I use is 1 cup of rice per one tin.

First of all, I blend a tin of chopped tomatoes with scotch bonnet, onion, garlic and bell pepper until smooth. Then, I cook off finely chopped onions with oil, tomato puree and some salt. I add the blended tomato to the pot and cook it off for a while. During this point, I add maggi cubes and hot curry powder. I don’t use ginger because I’m allergic. I like to cook this down for a long time, and I mean about half an hour, until this mixture goes dark. Once it’s dark and no longer tastes of tomato, I’ll add the rice.

I don’t wash the rice, or cook it before I add it to the sauce. I should also mention at this point I use basmati rice. Say what you want, but basmati rice is an incredible vessel and carries flavours well.

Once I add the rice to the oily sauce, I keep stirring, and leave to cook until it’s done! This makes a delicious rice, ready to be eaten with stew!

I don’t put vegetables in the rice by the way. This isn’t a primary school clean eating scheme; I don’t see the point of hidden peas.

Light Soup

If you know me, you know I’m obsessed with light soup. The peppery, soupy goodness is something that’s always on my mind. Always. I love light soup. I eat it with goat or chicken usually. What’s odd about this is that it’s a tomato based soup. Tomato makes up the main flavour base, and it’s enhanced by the flavours of pepper, maggi cubes (similar to that of jollof).

It’s a thinner soup, unlike a traditional tomato soup you’d get from Heinz or similar. Instead of thickening up the blended tomatoes and spices by reduction, it’s strained, leaving a thin but incredibly punchy soup base.

Sorry. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

An interesting thing is that Ghanaian food seems to use tomato as a vessel to highlight other foods. Even red sauce, which is a tomato sauce, doesn’t taste that much of tomato.

While dishes from other countries seek to use ingredients that highlight the tomato flavour, a lot of Ghanaian dishes use this as just a base, and build on it.

Thank you for reading, and have a lovely day.

My Family and Food: An Insight

One of the best things about having a job in food is that I can share it with my family. Whether that’s literal in the sense that we can eat the food I’ve cooked together, or sending photos and recipes to family members who can’t be there to try what I’ve cooked.

Usually after I cook something that I intend to post, I take a small portion for myself upstairs to my room, and eat while editing or writing. By the time I come downstairs, no matter how much I’ve cooked, the whole meal is gone. That probably defeats the purpose of food being for family togetherness but it’s a system that works for us. It would be a better system if they left me more food but that’s a rant for the whatsapp group.

Obviously, my mum was cooking and baking long before I was but the second I took an interest, it’s been a combination of backseat driving and at other times, complete refusal to cook because apparently I do that now. Think about how confusing that gets.

Imagine, I’m in the kitchen, cooking some dinner for everyone. I’m spending hours perfecting the flavours, the presentation while writing down the recipe so I can make it again. By the time I’m done, I’ve lost my appetite, but I still take a small portion to analyse critically while I edit the photos I took, and maybe write a piece. By the time I’m done, say two hours later, I’m actually hungry and I’m ready to have a full size portion. So I go into the kitchen, but all I see is a piece of broccoli. A half eaten piece of broccoli that my little sister has eaten and then spat out because she doesn’t like broccoli.

I don’t say anything, of course. I smile and thank my family for enjoying the food, and stare enviously at their plates filled with at least two portions and then retire upstairs and think oh where did I go wrong?

My mum is an identical twin and one of her favourite hobbies is to send pictures of my food to her sister, meaning that I will eventually get a call or text asking “Why do you never cook like this when I come over? Don’t I deserve this food too?”

It’s important to add that I haven’t seen my auntie in the flesh since 2019, so it isn’t like I’ve been withholding my cooking skills just to spite her. If you read this auntie, I am truly sorry. I’ll send you some chocolate to make up for it.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

Grandmothers, Guyana and Green Banana

I’m kicking off my black history month work with an interview with my mum and her twin sister, who talk about growing up with their grandmother, the smells of their childhood and their their interpretation of Guyanese culture.

Mum recalls her early childhood to be lively, playing outside with her cousins, the smell of freshly cooked rice putting a smile on everyone’s faces. Family members were constantly in and out during the day, and it would end with everyone sharing a meal at her grandmother’s house where she lived with her sister. Family parties were just as lively, soca and reggae music would be playing, and she would be greeted by a variety of “aunties” who may or may not be related to her. She recalls eating pepperpot at Christmas, and loving chow mein. Her sister remembered a lot more food, barley soup, souse (but only when it was hot!) and egg custard.

Growing up

Traditionally, you’d pass on the family recipes to your children, but as their gran was ill and the family didn’t have much money, actively passing culture down wasn’t as important as day to day living was. Thanks to a strong family support and trial and error however, they was able to remember the food and comforts of their childhood. Mum reckons she’s been semi successful in passing down Guyanese culture to us (her four amazing children, that is). Though she wonders looking back if she could have done any more. For both sisters, it’s less about culture and traditions and more about family. They take pride in the music they listen to (soca and calypso and others), and the food that they eat. They love talking about growing up, and the memories with their cousins and aunties.

Their gran was a lovely person. I had the pleasure of knowing her for the first 6 years of my life, and while she wasn’t as lively as she was when my mum was my age, she was incredibly caring and looked after me a lot. Mum and auntie both agreed she had an infectious laugh, steely determination and infinite wisdom. (As expected of a Guyanese matriarch, I think.) They lived with her growing up, and she was a central pillar in their lives.

And finally, the money question. I looked at her deep in the eyes, and said, “Mum, how do you pronounce this food?”

She replied quickly, no hesitation.

“Plan-TIN, obviously.”

I didn’t have to ask auntie over the phone, she just blurted it out unprovoked, “By the way, it’s pronounced plan-tin, not the other way, Zak.”

Let’s Cook!

We’re going to cook mum’s favourite food. Spinach and prawns with dhal, coley and rice. It’s a great dish, full of flavour and colour. Secretly I’m glad she didn’t pick something “modern” with lots of elements and techniques. Sometimes the best food is traditional, and this dish shows it. From my experience, the best food is comfort food, and Guyanese cuisine proves it. Metemgee and cook up rice are great examples of this, but me and mum and auntie share the same disdain for coconut. We eat hard food a lot at home though, so not all is lost.

Thanks for reading! Have a lovely day.

Dinner Pho Tonight

We decided to ignore the pleas of the younger children and order some takeaway other than chips and chicken. We decided on Pho District, a nearby Vietnamese takeaway with some really good reviews.

Special fried rice from Pho District
Hoian Special Fried Rice: As a person of colour, I don’t think I could go a day without rice, so obviously we had to order this. We all loved it. The rice was soft, seasoned really well, and was generally just moreish.
Crabmeat rolls from Pho DIstrict
Crab meat Square Rolls: I’d never had crab before so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I really enjoyed the rolls though, alongside the tofu, it was my favourite part of the meal.
Stewed Pork from Pho District
Stewed Pork: The pork belly was insanely soft and tender, and mum said the sauce reminded her of food she ate in her childhood. I guess Guyanese food has more in common with Vietnamese than I thought.
Fried Tofu from Pho District
Fried Tofu: The journey definitely made it so the tofu was soggier than it should have been, and the sauce in the package. Despite this though, the coating was seasoned really well and the texture of the tofu was great

In conclusion, it was a good meal and a lovely break from our usual choice in takeaway. As usual, I’d love to try it dine in but I wouldn’t be opposed to ordering it home again.

Thanks for reading and have a lovely day.

You can find the Pho District website here: https://www.phodistrict.net/

You can find my other reviews here: https://sixpalmtrees.com/category/reviews/

Little House on the Prairie (Fire)

If it wasn’t obvious already, my family really love burgers. We also really love takeaway. So, we decided to try out a burger place doing delivery only and give our opinions on it. We ordered from a place called Prairie Fire, which was more expensive than we were used to but we decided to give it a whirl anyway.

Prairie Fire takeaway box
The boxes they came in were really cool but we thought they were a little too big
Cheesy Chips
Cheesy Chips: For the price, we expected more, and we reckoned the cheese tasted artificial. Despite that, the flavour of the chips was bomb and they were cooked really well.
Hotdog
I’m not usually a fan of sausages like these but I was pleasantly surprised by this. The crispy onions on top were really good but unfortunately I am still not sold on mustard.
BBQ chicken wings
The bbq chicken wings were definitely the best part. The chicken was juicy and the sauce was good.
Pulled pork burger
The pulled pork burger came with a much needed sauce, considering the meat itself was a little dry and bland. Some of the meat was way too hard to chew but overall the burger wasn’t bad.
Hamburger
Now this cheese and bacon burger was the undisputed favourite. It was soft, juicy, and the cheese melted really nicely.

Overall, while the takeaway was pretty decent, I don’t think we’d buy Prairie Fire again, because we can’t really justify the price for the quality and amount of food we got. If I was in the area though, and there was a dine in option, I wouldn’t be against getting a cheeseburger, but It’s not something I’d go out of my way for.

You can find their website here: https://prairiefirebbq.com/

You can find my other reviews here: https://sixpalmtrees.com/category/reviews/

The Waiting Game

I love Ghanaian food. My Ghanaian genes allow me to gleefully take part in diaspora wars, namely Nigerian vs Ghanaian jollof and afrobeats vs dancehall. Though, this is where I admit I prefer dancehall and I say plantain the Caribbean way.

Anyway, I’ve been a fan of this specific Ghanaian restaurant called Asafo, ever since my favourite restaurant Elmina got closed down. They’re both in the south London area; Asafo being in Brixton and Elmina used to be in Norwood.

Ever since Elmina closed down, finding a restaurant that made rice as good as my family was very hard. I still haven’t. But after countless tries, Asafo is a good second place.

And finally, after 3 years, I could have it again. Sure, I could have just gone and bought some in the 3 years but for reasons, I decided against it. The excitement that came from seeing the tupperware was almost too much.

I had ordered jollof, chofi, fried plantains and of course, shito. Everything came packed individually, meaning the portion sizes were large. The jollof was just as I remembered it, spicy and delicious. The chofi was a mix of crunchy and soft, and the shito was the perfect amount of peppery. In conclusion, it was worth the wait. At first, I was nervous that I had over exaggerated how good the food was in my head, but I’m relieved that this wasn’t the case. In fact, the food managed to stand against my idealistic imagination, and that is the most important.

Of course, it can’t beat homemade family food but what can?

Thanks for reading, have a lovely day.

Food in Fiction

As many people know, fiction can heavily influence and inspire reality, whether people want to admit it or not. We might watch a really cool TV show and think “I want to be like them someday” or “I definitely don’t want to be like them.” We look at world-building and wonder at the tiny details needed to create such an interesting universe. Just little things that that make our universe more exciting. In fiction, food and cooking can be applied in the same way; looking at really good cooking and wanting to try that.

Today, I’m going to talk about some of my favourite fictional shows and movies about food.

Food Wars

Food wars is an anime about the most competitive and prestigious culinary school in Japan. Or in other words, my biggest dream ever. I watch the show, look at the animation, about how these kids dedicate their lives to cooking. I think, this should be me.

A steak rice bowl from the anime food wars

Without spoiling things, a main aspect of the anime is the fact that cooking is brutal. Kids get expelled for the tiniest things, including the smell of their shampoo, or cooking their ingredients a few seconds too long. And this is just a high school, so everyone is between the ages of 15-18. But cooking is their life. Every day is geared to them improving their skills and becoming the best chef they can be, but it is no secret that most of the kids won’t graduate from the school. Only the cream of the crop will be successful in the industry and this is the narrative the show tries to push.

Every time a student makes a dish, they explain it in depth, including the processes and the ingredients used. (It’s obvious this is done for the viewer; as sometimes the students would ask basic questions they would definitely know after years of top notch culinary education.) I like the way they break the methods down, though. Some of the recipe combinations the students cook are interesting, and aren’t something I would have thought to do myself.

A rainbow terrine from the anime food wars

Each character has a different skillset, and I really like how they’re explored in the show. While they’re pitted against each other, the show does a good job of explaining the strengths and weaknesses of each person.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I really like chocolate. This is a very important to know, because I rarely cook with it. I like Willy Wonka’s imaginative mind, as he comes up with interesting ways to revolutionise chocolate. The all edible chocolate room is a stroke of genius, and I often thought of ways to recreate that myself. On a much smaller scale, of course. The chewing gum meal and the lickable wallpaper are both inventions I don’t see myself enjoying but it reminds me to broaden my horizons.

The chocolate room from the movie charlie and the chocolate factory (remake)

It reminds me of my youth, and helps me to remember that interesting food isn’t always about haute cuisine. It’s also not just about being different for the sake of it. It’s about being creative and original, and fun most importantly.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

While the first one establishes the cloud that pumps out food, I much prefer the second movie. (Also the end of the first movie for reasons I’ll explain.)

Why?

The answer is very simple.

I love the sentience of the food. At the end of the first movie, the gummy bears, the pizza and the chickens all come alive to protect the food machine. It’s very funny but if you dig slightly deeper, it’s a bit scary. What would you do if lifesized gummy bears were trying to kill you? I thought about how scary it could be if it was a life action horror movie and then I regretted thinking that.

In the second movie, one of the main “enemies” is a cheeseburger with fries for leg and a lot of sesame seed eyes. Just your average culinary nightmare fodder, really. On the other hand, there were also really cute food animals. Such as the spring onion giraffes and the marshmallows.

I’m a pun lover so animal names such as “flamango, hippotatomus and mosqitoast” was bound to get me to watch the movie again.

Some of the food animals in the movie cloudy with a chance of meatballs 2

This is another movie that made me appreciate the creativity that goes into food. It’s less blatant than the other two examples but inspiration can really be found anywhere.

I speak more about my process here, with an example of how I apply my creativity to fine tune recipes.

Thanks for reading, have a lovely day.

Walks to Remember

As I type this, I have some burgers sitting out, ready to be cooked up. But I had a flash of inspiration as I remembered some of the really dumb things I’ve done back when I was working.

Not in the kitchen; obviously I try to be professional and give no one a reason to doubt me, but I mean my journeys there and back. While I don’t live in the suburbs, I live in an area of London with below average tube and bus connections for zone 2. I’ve had to change multiple times to get to somewhere considered “close”. As well as this, oyster fares like to slowly build up, and before I know it, I’m paying a lot of money for a relatively simple journey.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a massive fan of walking. I love to walk everywhere. I’m the annoying friend who considers a 2 hour walk a short journey. I don’t remember the last time I’ve taken the train anywhere north of the river. Granted, I don’t really go out, but given the option to, I’d definitely walk.

The best walk I had was after my first shift at Wembley stadium. I had taken the bus there, at about 6am, and by the time it was done, it was mid to late afternoon, and the weather was sunny, and the heat was more enjoyable to that of the kitchen. So I decided to walk back, using my vague knowledge of the bus route, and the very limited times I had gone there or to the arena next door for concerts. Being the type of person I am, I didn’t want to use my phone to track the route at all, to prove a point, so I called my mum to tell her my plan, put my phone on flight mode with my favourite music playing, and set on my way.

The same thing happened that does happen whenever I walk home from a shift after a while. The adrenaline wears off, and the physical tiredness sets in; carrying all my uniform and knives in an oversized rucksack that sticks to my back weirdly and makes it sweat. The music stops being upbeat, and I start paying attention to the lyrics and questioning my existence. Then coincidentally there’s a tube or a bus station that’s vaguely in my direction and I think, should I give up?

And then I think, there is no way I’m spending £1.50 to go one station. No matter how close it is to my house. And in the case of Wembley, I’d still have to walk at least another 20 minutes to get home. It’s just not worth it. And I walk away, knowing the ancestors would be proud of me.

When I get home though, mum always feels bad that I’ve walked for so long and she always questions me. I’ll say something like “oh it wasn’t that long,” and it turns out it was a 3 hour walk from Twickenham or something and the sun’s already starting to set. (I’ve done that by the way. Not fun. I took a really roundabout route to get to the station I’d use to get home but the line was going through part closures. You can guess what line I’m talking about; it never works correctly.)

For me, walks are a really good way to just reflect on stuff or even just zone out. I like listening to hype playlists and walking and pretending my life is more cool and dramatic than it actually is. A really nice place to walk is surprisingly Oxford street, but starting all the way in Shepherds Bush from Holland Park Avenue and finishing in Aldgate.

I said I’d walk to and from work just to prove a point, and I have to explain that I’m not proving it to anyone. I’m the type of person that likes to challenge themselves, but in a “bet you can’t” kind of way. I still have very childish tendencies, but I think that’s a good thing because my energy is usually 100, and I don’t think that challenges are too much for me.

(That’s something I discovered about myself on a walk home from uni, while listening to Beyoncé’s Homecoming.)