Category Archives: Family Table

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast’s Michael Zee and Idli Recipe

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli RecipeWhen I asked Michael Zee, author of the incredibly beautiful cookbook and popular Instagram, SymmetryBreakfast, what inspired him each morning, to create such lovely meals? Well, I bet you won’t be surprised by his answer: “I love to cook a lovely meal for Mark to make breakfast a special moment for both of us.”

SymmetryBreakfast incorporates world cuisines, contemporary design and a story of love over the meal of breakfast. Featured in the Guardian, Washington Post, Telegraph, Bravo, and endorsed by Jamie Oliver, it is also a favourite account of Kevin Systrom, Instagram CEO and co-founder.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Dutch Puff

Michael studied photography at the Arts Institute at Bournemouth in 2003 and later went on to teach Art and Design in secondary schools in London’s East End. He then completed his masters in Museums and Galleries in Education and went to work in public programming at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

He now works on SymmetryBreakfast full time.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Tapioca Pancakes

Michael’s passion for cooking comes from his parents. His mixed English, Scottish and Chinese heritage. Weekends and school holidays would be spent working in his father’s Chinese and English chippies in Liverpool and teaching himself to bake for his mother’s sweet tooth.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Churros y jamon con cajeta–hurros with ham and caramel dipping sauce © Michael Zee / SymmetryBreakfast

Michael created SymmetryBreakfast for his partner Mark in their Hackney flat in 2013. Mark’s hectic job as a menswear fashion designer means late nights and weekends in the office. Early on in their relationship, breakfast became a sacred moment in the day and Michael started on his mission to make each meal as celebratory as possible. Over 1,000 breakfasts later, Michael still wakes up early to make breakfast for Mark, looking carefully around the world and at home for inspiration, taking a simple idea and making it beautiful.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli RecipeHis new cookbook, SymmetryBreakfast, contains over 100 recipes from around the world. The book takes an anthropological view of how food shapes culture and vice versa and how in the many different ways we break the fast.

The book has been published by Transworld (part of Penguin Random House) in the UK and Commonwealth, by PowerHouse in North America and by Shanghai Insight in mainland China.

Food People Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Kaiserschmarrn with redcurrants © Michael Zee / SymmetryBreakfast

How long have you been cooking?
Since I was about 5 years old in our family restaurant in Liverpool. It was a Chinese food and English fish and chip takeaway (very popular in Liverpool and probably nowhere else!)

What is your favorite food to cook?
Fresh pasta. It becomes such an event and is so much fun to do with friends, whilst having a glass or bottle of wine, one person turns the handle and the other feeds it through. You get in a huff when it goes wrong, but it’s pure joy when it comes out perfect.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Pastel de nata-Egg custard tarts © Michael Zee / SymmetryBreakfast

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Butter. If there isn’t any then something is wrong

What do you cook at home?
Absolutely everything from every country and cuisine possible.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Being British, I only have one Pyrex thing in my kitchen and it’s a measuring jug.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
All three in that order.

Your favorite cookbook author?
Ernest Matthew Mickler of White Trash Cooking . One of my favourite books ever, too, food with soul and humour.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Magic grits © Michael Zee / SymmetryBreakfast

Your favorite kitchen tool?
My santoku chef knife from Blenheim Forge

Your favorite ingredient?
Tea – its not just a drink! An Earl Grey infused gin or a tea smoked salmon are delicious and add excitement in so many ways. I have over 50 teas from The Rare Tea Company and I love that they can be paired in so many ways

Your least favorite ingredient?
Olives, can’t stand them.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Indian Slapjacks

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Doing the dishes. It’s a luxury to have a dishwasher in London. I’m very happy Mark loves doing the washing up.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
I love cooking Middle Eastern food. There are some fantastic shops and markets in East London that you can get fresh pistachios or pomegranate molasses easier than getting white sliced bread.

I also have a soft spot for French country cooking, things like Soupe à L’oignon or Pot-au-feu. I also have a deep love for Comte cheese and particularly love a Tartine au jambon et Comte

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
A Japanese Breakfast Gohan Shoku Salmon With Green Beans And Tofu

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
I’d prefer to say a pig rather than pork. I love crispy belly pork or char sui pork, but lets not forget jamon and a glass of wine.

Favorite vegetable?
Aubergine, or as you might call it, eggplant. Roasted whole on a fire and mashed with some olive oil.

Chef you most admire?
Jamie Oliver – he’s changed the way the majority of people eat in the UK for the better.

Food you like the most to eat?
Cheese, in every form

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Cassava Porridge

Food you dislike the most?
Dark chocolate, I also hate it when people pretend to like it because it’s somehow cool. Give me the cheapest milkiest chocolate any day.

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
None!

Recipe: Idli – South Indian fermented rice pancakes with masala chai spiced tea

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Idli-South Indian fermented rice pancakes with masala chai spiced tea © Michael Zee / SymmetryBreakfast

Makes about 20 idli

3 cups rice (long–grain is fine)
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1⁄2 cup water
1 cup black gram lentils (urad dal)
3 tsp salt
Oil for greasing the pans

Start in the morning of the day before you’d like to eat – as I said, some forward planning is required. In a bowl, mix the rice with the fenugreek seeds and cover with the water. In another bowl, put the urad dal and cover with water. Leave both bowls for a minimum of 5 hours.

The evening of the day before eating, drain the water from the rice but don’t discard it. Put the wet rice in a blender and add 1⁄2 cup of the water. Blend until you have a smooth batter, adding extra water, a little at a time, until it flows easily. Decant this into a large bowl and repeat with the dal (start with 1⁄4 cup of water this second time, as you should have some residual liquid in the blender).

Add the liquid dal to the rice with the salt and mix together using your hands. The bacteria on your skin will help kickstart the fermentation. Leave this covered overnight to ferment in a warm oven; I leave the oven light on. Depending on the time of year, this process will give different results, but you should have a huge, bubbling white mass.

The day of eating, give the batter a good stir. The consistency should be that of thick cream.

Prepare your idli pan by lightly oiling each of the sections with either a brush or a paper towel. Fill the bottom of the pan with water, making sure it doesn’t touch the idli holder. Ladle in enough batter to reach just beneath the edge; you’ll get some rise but not lots.

Steam the idli for 20 minutes with the lid firmly clamped on.

Remove the idli with a wet spoon, running it round the edge of each pancake. Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve with sambar and coconut chutney.

Leftovers can be transformed into idli fry, a delicious snack of deep fried idli served with a dip, chutney, or sauce of your choosing and a cup of tea.

– The End. Go Eat  –

All photos courtesy and copyright Michael Zee/SymmetryBreakfast

My Stepmother’s Filipino Chicken Adobo

My Stepmother’s Filipino Chicken was a popular post. I’m sort of rethinking how often I write these as I’m finding three times a week is a bit much.  Tell me your thoughts. 

I called my father to wish him a happy birthday. He’s hard of hearing now, so I’m screaming into the phone. He still doesn’t understand English very well. As a Filipino, who was in the U.S. Navy, he never quite assimilated. He did try, though. He married a Caucasian woman and then that went belly up. (I was a by-product of that first union.)

On his second try at marriage, he gave up attempting to be “white” and married a former Filipino beauty queen, Myrna. They had two sons. I lived with them in their Virginia Beach ranch home for a short while in my teens. It was the first time that I ate well. One of the great memories I have of being with him and his family, Myrna or her mother, Grandma, was cooking Filipino food: chicken adobo, pancit, lumpia, or guisantes (simmered pork and peas) for a family dinner. My father never used utensils when eating. He ate only with his hands and fingers; somehow, food never dropped onto on his clothes.

There was to be a party at the house. I think it was a birthday party, but I don’t recall. The morning before, about a dozen of my Dad’s friends, my tios or uncles – depending on whom you ask — all speaking Tagalog (the native dialect of the Philippines), came over and began digging a hole into the backyard. Into that pit, about four feet deep and eight feet wide, lined with banana leaves, a bonfire was started. By early afternoon the next day, and about three or four cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon later, the men were cooking up a whole pig over blistering coals.  Between slugs of beer, a discussion of basketball and smoking cigarettes, they took turns slowly rotating the carcass; occasionally, throwing water onto the pig, creating a delicious billow of white smoke. Its purpose was to create a crispy skin and succulent roasted meat.

Their wives – my stepmother along with aunts and tias, about a dozen women in all — gathered in the kitchen and dining room, rinsed vegetables in pots of cold water. Two ladies to a pot.  Carrots cut into matchsticks, tomatoes diced, and onions chopped. The smell of pig’s blood simmering with Thai chilies was perfuming the house. Sweet. Spicy. Earthy. It mingled with cigarettes and constant chattering.

Sometime around 2 in the afternoon, more friends showed up. No one knocked or rang the bell; they just greeted with hugs and kisses. The elders met on bended knees, and heads bowed. Their folded hands kissed in blessings.

Adobo

Chicken Adobo (Myrna’s recipe)
Quartered chicken, using only legs and thighs. (I used about 3 lbs of chicken thighs)

For every cup of soy sauce, use a half cup of white vinegar. ( I used two cups of soy sauce and a cup of vinegar. You might want to do a cup and a half of soy sauce.)

Bay leaves. About three of four. (I used four fresh bay leaves but dried is good too.)

Garlic. “…as much as you want,” she says. (I used a whole head).

A quarter teaspoon of whole peppercorns. (Myrna’s instructions, “Throw in peppercorns.”)

Place everything in large pot and bring to boil, about 20 minutes. Cover slightly with the lid not all the way on the pot. When it gets to boil, turn to low heat to simmer, cooking for another 20 minutes but check the chicken and baste with the sauce. Cook until chicken is cooked through, with juices running clear. Serve over rice. Make it fancy with chopped scallions.

Note: I do not know of a Filipino who uses sugar or fries the chicken after it’s been braised.

The End. Go Eat.

I8tonite: Charred Broccoli with Lemon and Asiago

I discovered Charred Broccoli with Lemon and Asiago absolutely tasty. Tasty enough that there aren’t leftovers the next day.  I now believe roasting is the best thing for anything even broccoli which I like but isn’t necessarily my go to. So, when in doubt — roast. (My new motto.)

I discovered the recipe in “Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals, From Our Restaurants to Your Home”, compiled by Union Square Hospitality Group’s Culinary Director, Michael Romano and written by Karen Stabiner, with a forward by Danny Meyer, chef and owner of the just mentioned company. (Yes, Danny Meyer of Shake Shack fame.) I briefly worked for him as a waiter at Union Square Café back in the late eighties. Written in 2013, the cookbook’s recipes are staff meals from his restaurants that are part of the said conglomeration. These establishments include some of the Big Apple’s gastronomically acclaimed: Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, The Modern and others. (Sadly, Union Square Café will be moving from its current space of 30 years to another area of Manhattan due to high rents.) Traditionally, staff meals are served at the beginning of the dinner shift and end of lunch.

El Teddys. Courtesy of I Loved New York

Truth be told,  taking all the romance out of the cookbook, along with the “familial” sappiness  — the  staff meals that we were given before or after our shifts came from leftovers that didn’t sell – too much chicken, Bibb lettuce getting ready to turn, fresh pasta that needed to be boiled so it didn’t go to waste.  Working at the now defunct Soho Kitchen & Bar (SKB), we were served pizzas and salad pretty much every staff meal.  The kitchen quickly needed to use up any dough from the day before and replenish with freshly made.  The salad was at least a couple of days old but it was still had a good crunch going on. At El Teddy’s, torn down in 2004 — we were allowed to eat any of the appetizers such as chicken achiote, machaca or steak arrachera burritos, any of the salads or the quesadillas which included huitlacoche (corn fungus), nopales and a puerco.  We could order as much as we wanted as the back of the house had already made the dishes with fresh ingredients for that day’s clientele. (We were eating yesterday’s.) At the Cajun/Mexican fusion of How’s Bayou – it was mostly leftover fried chicken, jambalaya, gumbo, day old enchiladas, reconstituted black beans, red rice and sometimes something green. (Not complaining about any of this. It was free food and truly delicious. The pizza at SKB was some of the best I had. I learned a lot about life, cooking, drinking and made some of the best friends ever while working in restaurants. I loved it.)

This brings me back to this recipe and cookbook…yeah, I don’t think any of the staff at my restaurants would have eaten this as “family meal”. It would have would have been sitting under the heat lamps drying out…but now that I’m older and definitely stockier — it’s pretty stellar stuff.

Charred Broccoli

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches of broccoli cut into trees with stems. Trim off about two inches from the bottom.
  • ¼ olive oil.
  • 2 lemons.
  • Several dashes of red pepper flakes.
  • Italian hard cheese such as asiago, pecorino or parmesan. Two to three cups grated.
  • Maldon salt, fresh cracked pepper. (Okay, you can use kosher….but I love the Maldon stuff.)
  • ½ cup of Panko bread crumbs.

Let’s make this puppy:

Preheat the oven to 450 – 475 degrees. Toss the broccoli, olive oil and breadcrumbs into a large bowl coating the broccoli really well. Spread into a single layer onto a baking sheet and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, charring the ends of the broccoli but not burning them.

While the broccoli is cooking, zest the two lemons into a large bowl and add the grated cheese stirring well until mixed.

Once the broccoli is cooked, toss the broccoli in the bowl mix with juice of a ½ a lemon. Serve.

The End. Go Eat.