Wednesday 1 December 2010

Desert Island Ingredients...

Following on from my last post about some of my favourite cookbooks....and I realised that I left out one that I use just about every day:

this is an absolute bible for bakers who need lots of frequent inspiration...I can't recommend it highly enough really!

Anyway, now that I've rectified that omission, I thought I'd start a new debate: what are the ingredients you'd take of you were stranded on a desert island? Of course, we'd have to assume that there were decent cooking facilities there and that the island was well-stocked with meat, fruit, vegetables & fish...! I really mean those 'storecupboard' items that tend to be used most often in your kitchen!

I'll start:

Lemons - totally indispensable as far as I'm concerned! I use them such a lot...sweet, savoury, to season & sharpen up dishes galore.

Chilis - I'm fairly addicted to their heat & add them to lots of dishes that don't list them as an tomatoes on toast, sauteed broccolli, minestrone soup. I don't think I could live without them.

Similarly, black peppercorns - Paul & I are renowned for reaching for the pepper grinder immediately. I just love it's flavour & gentle heat.

Coffee. Just one cup. Black. Every morning. But it has to be real...

Rice - every type, every colour. I could eat it at every meal - if I wasn't eating....

Pasta! Spaghetti, preferably. i don't know why but I'm not really a 'shapes' person. Bizarre!

Tomatoes - so versatile, so delicious. I could sun dry them, eat them raw...

And I'd have to have a pulse of some kind.But I really can't choose between chickpeas and black-eyed beans. So I'd have both!

Of course, normally I'd be adding Maldon salt to my list. But I'm assuming that I'd be able to make my own by using the seawater that laps the shores of my incredible restaurant-kitchen-type island!

So let me know your thoughts...I know that I'll think of a few more necessities as soon as I publish this post, but I think I've included the ones that are most important to me!

It's so cold here right now, although we seem to have been bypassed by all but a smattering of snow so far. I'm eating far too much. Every cup of warming tea has to be accompanied by a slice of madeira cake, every glass of wine by a handful of smoked almonds. But I'm telling myself that I need the extra calories to keep warm!

If it's cold where you are, wrap up well and eat plenty! xo

Friday 19 November 2010

From my kitchen bookshelf....

My good friend Rami recently posted on his great blog Hummus Boy about his recent clear out of little used or outdated cookbooks. This set me thinking about my own collection....and I warned him that I would shamelessly steal his great idea for my own blog, so here I am! I recommend reading his post first, though, if you haven't already...

I've been collecting cookbooks for years and years. And unlike Rami, I am incapable of thinning out the vast numbers, however sorely it needs doing. I keep them all. From the 1980's decadence (and, lets be honest, ridiculousness) of Antony Worrall-Thompson's Menage a Trois cookbook (yes, it's a signed copy....yes, I ate there...yes, I left hungry, although not poor as my first boss was paying!) to the 1970's splendour of Graham Kerr's Galloping Gourmet...I've never cooked a thing from it, & keep it purely for sentimental reasons as this wonderfully entertaining man was one of my first crushes (blush)....

I have great classics: Robert Carrier, Elizabeth David, Patience Gray, Florence White, Marguerite Costa, Delia (of course).

I have ancient books handed down from my great-great grandfather,Robert, my great-grandfather, Walter & my dear grandad, Keith - all of whom were bakers. These include 'All about Gateaux', German patisserie manuals like 'Praktische Konditorei-Kunst' (Practical Cake & Confectionery Art) printed in 1913 (still useful today for decorating inspiration!) and my treasured copy of 'The Complete Confectioner or The Whole Art of Confectionary, Made Easy with Receipts for liqueures (sic) home-made wines &c' printed in London in 1808.

These jewels sit alongside frankly ridiculous volumes such as Food & Friends by the late, great actress Beryl Reid (?) & the 'No Cook Cook Book' complete with fab 1960's line drawings of useless women opening tins (badly!)

So, you see - my tastes are wide-ranging, eclectic & perhaps not discerning enough in some cases. But keep them I must.

What books do I actually use? Well, setting aside those I've mentioned in this blog already, and obvious ones like early Nigella, Ursula Ferrigno, Susan Branch, Peter Gordon, Madhur Jaffrey, Claudia Roden (well, they're obvious to ME anyway!!) I've picked some other favourites in use a lot of the time:

spending a lot of time in Australia has led me to discover much more about the fabulous Maggie Beer & her sometime collaborator but equally amazing Stephanie Alexander. All of Stephanie's books are great - I particularly like those in diary form for their candid look at the reality behind running a food business. I've picked this one of Maggie's because of it's beauty and the way it's divided into seasons(although, of course, being Australian Summer & Winter are the wrong way around for us in the Northern Hemisphere!) Sumptuous writing and wonderfully Aussie. She & Stephanie are national treasures!

This & 'Real Fast Food' are my favourite of Nigel's books. He has a very strong 'voice' when writing, which is amazingly sensuous & evocative in it's description of food and the experience of eating. Great stuff.

Deborah Madison. An absolute pioneer in the field of interesting, non 'hemp & hessian' vegetarian cooking. The Greens Cookbook & Vegetarian Cooking for All are seminal tomes and I love them both. But The Savoury Way is my favourite!

The Silver Palate books - Julee Rosso & the late, but great, Sheila Lukins brough the USA to my kitchen in the mid 1980's when it was still a mysterious, far away place. Slightly dated but I find it invaluable for basic American recipes, entertaing tips and sheer readability.

Possibly out of print, this one, but still available second hand. Sarah Leah Chase ran a catering business and shop on Nantucket Island in the 80's and this book from 1990 is a seasonal wonder, I find. Packed with unusual and inspiring recipes for Thanksgiving, Christmas and the cold weather each side of the year, I'm looking at it constantly right now. Makes me feel hungry!

I'll finish for now with a recent acquisition. I'm always picking up strange flours when I see them - things like kamut, buckwheat and I use a lot of spelt too. It's hard to know whether it's ok to just substitute them for regular wheatflour and still get good results. This book explains them all - how to keep them and how to use them, with a section specific to each flour. It produces interesting and delicious cake, breads and pastries...wholefood without being too worthy! A good addition to my huge and ever expanding culinary library.

I'd love to know your particular favourite (s) too....such an interesting subject, I think!

have a great weekend xo

Monday 8 November 2010

Les Deux Salons

On Saturday lunchtime, we tried a newly opened restaurant in Covent Garden that we'd read many good things about....Les Deux Salons ....we weren't disappointed.

It was opened less than 3 weeks ago by the team behind Arbutus & our great favourite Wild Honey, and the food is recognisably that of the great Anthony Demetre...

The space looks beautiful, much bigger and less intimate than the other two restaurants -it reminded me of The Wolseley. Smoked glass mirrors, french globe pendant lights, glamorous staircase and wrought a beautiful long curved bar, one of my favourite features at Wild Honey.

We changed tables straight away - the first one had a large pillar obscuring our view (very important for nosey people watchers like us!) but this was no problem for the charming Polish waitress who served us so cheerfully and we were very happy after the switch! Beautiful, rough french linen covered the tables....a basket of good bread was brought straight away together with chilled tap water - wonderful when you don't need to ask for that but still, sadly, fairly unusual in London.

My only slight gripe would be with the menu. Not the choices, but the fact that it was printed and laminated. I just have a thing about it. It suggests to me that the same dishes will be on offer next time we visit...I so much prefer a daily changing menu and the excitement it brings.

 However, I had no complaints with the food - a salad of quinoa, broccoli, preserved lemons & bitter leaves was beautifully presented and deep in flavour. I adore preserved lemons and they lifted this dish from a simple composition to something special.

Fresh orecchiette pasta with pecorino, artichokes and pine nuts was delivered to the table in a covered copper pan....and was rich and light all once. I shared a side order of winter greens too, which I stirred in to finish up the rest of the delectable, citrussy sauce.

I also, of course, had room for dessert (I ALWAYS have room for dessert....!) and chose Tarte au Citron (without the chantilly cream, which I  think masks the flavour) which is one of my very favourite puddings. This one was wonderful - so, so lemony, with a crispy and wafer thin base and a slightly crunchy bruleed top. I had to bash the back of Paul's hand with my teaspoon to stop him 'testing' too much!

It was good value too. We always try and guess the bill, and Paul (the champion at this game usually) was over by almost £25...a lovely surprise! We will definitely be back, perhaps with a few friends who we know would enjoy it. Wild Honey is still my favourite in the group, but it's great to see such a beautiful and accomplished opening in these straitened times.

Les Deux Salons - recommended. 7.5/10

Friday 29 October 2010

mmmmm Melbourne

I arrived home from Australia yesterday with plenty to think about and lots of new inspiration & enthusiasm for baking. My suitcase was so crammed with jars of spices, muffin papers, tubs of lemon myrtle leaves, friand cups and mini loaf tins that I actually had to leave some clothes behind at my sister's house!

I was stopped by the x-ray machine operator at Sydney Airport on Wednesday afternoon. They were concerned by the jars of 'unidentified powder' in my hand I removed the offending Jordanian Za'atar and once they'd checked the contents we had a discussion about it and I ended up giving them a recipe for a chicken & preserved lemon dish....we parted friends!

Last weekend, Esther and I flew down to Melbourne for a long weekend. Neither of us had been there before and it was as wonderful as we'd hoped. I didn't really get to experience any restaurants (I'll save that for my next trip with Paul) but Saturday morning was spent at the awesome Prahran Market a short walk from our hotel...

a huge hangar-like building housing the most amazing variety of food stalls...every cuisine under the sun seemed to be cheese, fresh pastas, fruits & vegetables, nuts, spices, sweets, chocolates, pastries....a chinese stall captured our attention for a good half hour, the myriad unfamiliar ingredients were mesmerising....I was only sorry that I couldn't buy any of the superb produce as it was so tempting to imagine inventing & cooking all sorts of new dishes. I'll post more about Prahran soon when I've trawled properly through my copious photographs.
Within the market area, there were also world-class coffee shops such as Market Lane

with it's menu of world coffees to choose from, all freshly roasted, ground to order and smelling so was almost impossible to choose. But my old favourite, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe won - introduced to me years ago by that master Coffee Man, Charlie Massey at Hill & Valley Coffee.
It was smooth, deep and superb with a fat, crusty almond croissant as we rested our weary feet....bliss!

Also within the market complex was Essential Ingredient. I just love food stores like this - similar to New York's Dean & Deluca....

Essential carries a huge and beautifully presented range of everything foodie...from french copper pans of every size to miniature pastry brushes (yes, I bought 5...) and from imported silver dragees to preserved hibiscus flowers, this store was like a temple to cookery. Often vastly overpriced too...but I forgave it because of it's sheer beauty & size. There is also a cookery school on the first floor, offering myriad courses and special days dedicated to specific techniques and ingredients. Our very own
Yotam Ottolenghi featured there earlier this year, and the very best Australian & world chefs regularly make appearances. Definitely somewhere to visit if you're ever in Melbourne.

We only really scratched the surface of this diverse, vibrant city last week. There's so very much more to see and I know that I'll be back. I miss it already.....have a great weekend!

Sunday 3 October 2010

Delicious Down Under.....

On Wednesday I'm once again making the epic trip across the world to see my beloved sister and her family in be honest, I can hardly wait!

I'm baking every minute of the day at the moment in order to fulfil my customers' cake needs while I'm away, and it's hard work. I have to leave shortly to make 40 trays of brownies before we meet friends for lunch (I'm leaving Paul behind, so want to make time for him too!) I will be so pleased to finally get on the plane, get some magazines out, plan my movie-watching schedule and relax for 23 hours...uncontactable & in a bubble of lost hours...

I thought I'd muse on what I'm most looking forward to, foodwise, when I get there . Australia is a fabulous foodie heaven, full of amazing fresh produce and fresh flavours...there's so much to enjoy!

a 'long black' coffee at The Coffee Club on Mooloolaba Beach front is a must in the morning....

perhaps a raspberry friand (or two).....

fish and chips on the beach with my niece and nephews the night before my birthday (a family tradition!)

and lots of new discoveries too....I love the asian foods there and Esther and I are going for a long weekend to Melbourne (a first for both of us) where, knowing us, noodles will feature heavily.

It's going to be fantastic.

Anyone else heading towards or in 'Australia Fair' & visiting Sydney (and who doesn't want to visit Sydney?) should try and drop in on the month long
Sydney Food Festival. There are events all through October, but next weekend (9-10) will be extra special with demonstrations by many amazing international chefs including our own Marcus Wareing, Rick Stein very favourite....Yotam Ottolenghi. It should be fantastic and I'm only sorry that my trip doesn't allow me to be there.

I'll talk to you soon, from 12,500 miles away.....have a great week xo

Sunday 19 September 2010

Wild about Wild Honey...

So last weekend found us in London again. We usually prefer to eat out at lunchtime when we're there...often better value, easier to find a good table and it leaves the evening free for other sipping a world class margarita outside The Providores and watching the world go by, for instance!!

Wild Honey is one of our favourite lunch spots....

it's on the site of the former Drones club, and the panelling makes it look a little 'clubby' still...but it's a polished, beautiful space with a wonderful bar...which is where we always prefer to sit. Paul and I are both people watchers...a polite label for 'nosey'...and always fight about who gets to sit looking at the wall over the other person's shoulder in restaurants and who gets to look out at the room! So sitting side by side, able to see who's coming in & out, who's sitting down and being able to look out of the window at the same time as eating fantastic food is our idea of heaven!
The set price lunch menu (2 choices) at £19 is incredible value for this standard of cooking. Anthony Demetre and his team have perfected the art of simple presentation mixed with incredibly intense flavours and beautiful combinations. On this occasion I had a bowl of white bean soup...I can taste it now! The light broth was so deep and perfectly seasoned that I feel as though I could eat it for every meal a the moment. All I really needed...but I also had a salad of hazelnuts, sheep's curd, syrupy figs and bitter leaves which left me feeling light and virtuous but replete at the same time. Wines are served by the 250ml carafe, so you can choose a different one with each course if you want to...I chose a Gruner Veltliner, sparky & flinty and difficult to find a good one outside Austria. I always jump on it in a restaurant that knows wine well...and Wild Honey is one of those. The staff are always extremely efficient yet friendly, which is my ideal combination. It's somewhere we'll always go back to. A lot is made of their sister restaurant, in Soho, Arbutus. It seems to attract most of the accolades. We've been and it was fine. But for me, it's Wild Honey every time.

Afterwards, wandering around Soho...which is a favourite Saturday afternoon pastime...we visited the much-talked about new bakery Cox Cookies & Cake in Brewer Street. Opened by the designer Patrick Cox, it's on the site of a former sex a dark ,hot (they hadn't had air conditioning installed yet!) glittery box of a space...handsome young men in studded leather aprons serve amazingly decorated cupcakes from a perspex topped counter. At a price. A HUGE price (to me, also a professional baker as you know...) A selection of 4 regular sized cupcakes (no prices on display) came to £14.50! But they were a present (I imagine that is what most of them will be, I can't see people buying them to take home themselves..) and therefore it really didn't matter too much!

Good luck to them I say! But I'm not sure that I'll be back....soon, anyway!

Enjoy your week xox

Friday 20 August 2010

Sloe Cooking

We're coming into the most abundant time of the year...the hedgerows,trees and fields are starting to bow down under the weight of the fruit they hold. I've just come back from a wonderful walk with Alice in our favourite place. We met my parents, sister, nephew and my Mum & Dad's dogs, Jojo & Ivy. My father is the most knowledgeable person I know on all things wild...flora and fauna. He spent the time pointing out edible mushrooms, wild marjoram bushes, the best blackberry places,wild raspberries, hazelnuts...I'll be back with proper collecting bags!

On my way to meet them, I found lots of wonderful sloes, with their vivid blue bloom,all ready for picking:

luckily I had a clean plastic bag in my pocket and I quickly filled it with the gorgeous bounty!
So now, my task is to prick each one with a long pin and pile them into jars to fill with caster sugar and vodka. Then I'll leave the jars in a cool, dark place and turn them over once in a while. By Christmas at the earliest, we'll have a deep ruby red liqueur to sip on frosty nights...and the shrivelled, alcohol-soaked fruit are wonderful stoned and added to brownies (NOT for general consumption!) and served after dinner with coffee. Mother Nature gives us so much for free if we know where to look, I'll be searching out more treasures in the months to come.

The cake I was trying to think of in my last post turned out to be a Spiced Honey Cake...gorgeous. Today I've made a Fresh Lime Drizzle Cake, a Raspberry Vanilla Sponge, Toasted Pecan Brownies, Banana Blueberry Cake and Spelt, Cinnamon,Raisin Muffins. Time for tea and to look forward to the weekend.

In complete contrast, my friend Rami is in Thailand with his family and is posting the most wonderful stories of their meals there....I am enjoying reading them so much as I sit in windblown, autumnal England!

Happy Weekend! xo

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Beautiful Soup!

The days are beginning to feel a little Autumnal now. Yesterday was beautifully hot, but there was a cool edge to the wind and the garden is looking a little ragged and faded. Today is overcast and I have to stay in as the attic is being insulated...lots of crashing going on overhead!The Farmer's Market in Marylebone was wonderful on Sunday - stalls piled high with the new season's corn cobs, English plums, bunched ruby beetroot and apples, but still there were late Summer bouquets of old-fashioned deeply scented roses and wonderfully warm-greenhouse-smelling tomatoes, the best of two was hard not to buy everything!

Today I've decided to make a soup for lunch, thick with vegetables and pasta and sprinkled with pecorino cheese just before serving.

Cavolo nero cabbage is something I always buy when I see it. Trim the leaves from the tough stalks, wash & chop into thick ribbons and cook immersed in the tomatoey broth of the soup. I also love it cooked in olive oil, chili and garlic and stirred into pasta.

yellow courgettes - just because I adore their sunny cheerfulness against the red and dark green of the soup, cut into dice.
I try not to use tomato puree from a tube in this soup as I find it can be a little metallicand overbearing, but the tomatoes are so ripe and full flavoured that they need little help anyway. I stir in some orzo pasta, the kind that looks like little grains of risotto rice, to thicken the thin broth and add their unique, silky 'mouth feel'.
I have a chunk of Pecorino to grate roughly on top of each bowlful

plenty of ground black pepper, roughly chopped flat leaf parsley - and that's it! Along with the white sourdough loaf that I also bought, which I'll toast and drizzle with some grassy extra virgin oil and sprinkle with a little Maldon salt flakes....absolutely delicious.
I'm also making several batches of Triple Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies today, and then I have to think of a big cake to make for the coffee shop tomorrow....I'll let you know!

Hope you're having a gourmet day too....xo

Sunday 1 August 2010

Return to disappointment....

Today we decided to go out for lunch (as we often do on a Sunday) and we drove in beautiful sunshine back to the village I was born in.

I only lived here until I was 6, but it holds many happy memories for me, even though the village - in common with so many small English places - has changed from being the vibrant little community with shops & post office that I remember to a purely residential place...the butcher and hairdresser now estate agents, the chemist, grocers and newsagents all private homes. But my first little school still stands on the village green, the pond is the same one I used to 'fish' in with a bamboo pole & piece of useless hanging string, and if I close my eyes I can almost see 2 tiny girls, their newborn sister in a pram, running over the harebells to play on the common by the church.

Before I drowned Paul in all this nostalgia, we stopped for lunch at a gastropub we've been to before. It's part of a small chain, we know & like the others but this one has been disappointing before so we thought we'd give it another try to see if it's changed. Sadly not. It's a beautiful, ancient building that has been renovated and decorated beautifully and sympathetically....authentic low beams, flagstoned floors, mismatched chairs, tapestry rugs and muted colours on the walls. The staff are young, efficient and friendly, there are newspapers to read and dogs are welcome (they have their own jar of biscuits on the bar) What's the problem, you may ask. In short, the most important thing....the food, of course! The menu looks and reads wonderfully (almost the most frustrating thing, it promises so much!) All the right things : Local ham hock terrine with home made piccallilli, locally reared roast pork, Organic smoked salmon with caper berries and horseradish creme fraiche....mmm. But everything was slightly wrong. I ordered 2 starters (something I often do at lunchtime) homemade hummus and pumpkin seed flatbread for my first dish, poached pear, walnut & blue cheese salad with wholegrain mustard dressing to follow., with a side order of unusual beetroot fritters with horseradish.Perfect.

The flatbread was certainly homemade, looked good (chargrilled in stripes, a nice touch) but SO oversalted - and I'm someone who loves salt - that it was almost inedible. And the hummus. My friend Rami would have had a fit of apoplexy! I don't think there was much tahini in it, no garlic, minimal lemon juice and a strange, bitty texture....almost separated. I've thought long and hard about the taste and what was wrong. I honestly think that they hadn't cooked the chickpeas.....soaked, yes, but if they'd seen boiling water I'd be very surprised. So weird. I'm just hoping (3 hours on) that there will be no toxic effects - although I obviously didn't eat much.
Salad next....really just an assembly dish, no real skills involved. Pear, blue cheese & walnuts with watercress and mustard dressing. No walnuts. Anywhere. I called the waiter over. "I think they may have forgotten to add the walnuts to my salad?" "yup, highly likely" he laughed and went to the kitchen, returning with a small bowl of nuts fresh out of the packet. Somehow the magic was lost! The beetroot fritters - more tempura really - were the best bit of my meal, although the batter was chewy and slightly tough instead of being crisp and light. The beetroot quarters themselves were lovely and the horseradish went perfectly with their earthy blandness. Hardly a meal, though.

We didn't have coffee or dessert (we wouldn't usually at lunchtime anyway) but left unsatisfied and frustrated. Great looking building, good location and such a dearth of  other good eating places in this very affluent area so close to London..... but so badly let down by lack of attention to detail and poor kitchen skills. At a time when even wonderful places are having to think of new ways to attract and retain customers, it seems a big mistake to actually repel them like this. We won't be back in a hurry.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Great Meal....

at Great Queen Street...

We went to the theatre on Saturday afternoon ( you can read about that here if you want!) and walked to Covent Garden from Marylebone - a gorgeous thing to do in the sunshine. We arrived about 90 minutes before the performance...just enough time to find a little place for a bite to eat and a glass of something refreshing. We've been to Great Queen Street (which, handily, is in Great Queen Street....) a few times and always enjoyed it. The cooking is rustic and beautifully thought out....fresh, unusual ingredient combinations, shared slow-cooked dishes on Sundays, wines served in chic unfussy french tumblers, efficient but informal staff....all the things we love really. We never thought we'd get a table (all the chain restaurants were packed) but, happily (for us) there was no problem at all. We could hardly believe our luck!

As we had a tight schedule, we had a combination of small plates and asked for them all at once. I had a Ticklemore (a hard goat cheese) Peashoot, Mint,& Lemon Salad with fried crunchy breadcrumbs AND a plate of cheese & biscuits (well, I didn't have dessert & shared the cheeses with Paul!) which came with home made oatcakes and a wonderful pile of sharp/sweet chutney. I also treated myself to a Margarita - still served in a tumbler, beautifully rimmed in salt (several I've had lately have omitted that - to me-essential step!) All just gorgeous. I could have stayed there all afternoon had Jeff Goldblum not been calling me from the Vaudeville Theatre (and you just CAN'T ignore Jeff!)

I'd highly recommend Great Queen Street or it's sister restaurant The Anchor & Hope in Waterloo (if you can ever get a table!) Particularly wonderful when shared with good friends, they are London eating at it's best....and London eating, I'm pleased to say, is very, very good!

Monday 19 July 2010

Comfort over style....

I woke up this morning at 2.15am....that dark, lonely time of night when it seems you're the only one awake in the world. I have a really bad cough at the moment, the kind that sort of strangles your throat at intervals and makes you cough until your neck & stomach muscles hurt & your eyes run and sting. I went downstairs and took some medicine, had a glass of water...but when I went back to bed it all started again. I knew that Paul had a really busy day today, so I took my pillow and went to sleep on the sofa downstairs (the upstairs bed is covered in books and I didn't have the energy to move them about!) Alice was pleased to have a companion and I slept until 5, propped up with cushions....

Of course, I had to bake this morning but when the first deliveries were over I came home, walked Alice & then decided what to have for lunch. It was a really hot & humid day today....little knots of gnats buzz in patches over the water butt...a day for salads and cool cucumber sandwiches. But I was tired, my eyes swollen, my throat sore. I just didn't feel like anything beautiful, pure and summery. Actually there was only one thing I did feel like, and it's what I had in the end:

baked beans on hot, brown, buttered toast. Perfect. Comforting, warming and nostalgic all at once.
It may not have cured me, but I certainly felt better.

I now have a pot of Beetroot & Tomato Soup with Preserved Lemon bubbling gently on the hob. My dad gave me a bag of his wonderful homegrown vegetables yesterday, and this seemed a good way of utilising some of them (we had his roasted new potatoes, cabbage with cumin seeds & garlic & more beetroot baked with feta & a little pomegranate molasses drizzled over last night)

Style reigns in our kitchen once more....but, every now and again, there's nothing like a bit of comfort eating to give your soul a little hug.

Monday 28 June 2010

The Delectable Lake District!

We recently returned from a wonderful week in Cumbria - the Southern Lake District to be exact. I'd never visited this part of Britain before and left wondering why I'd let so many years go by without seeing it. It's truly an amazing place - not least for the quality of local produce and food in the area. It is the only holiday we've been on where we've walked (literally) miles every day - up hill too - and actually put weight ON! It was worth it, though. I would heartily recommend the area for a gourmet break that would be hard to surpass in the UK, combined with the most beautiful countryside....true foodie heaven!

Highlights were:

The Angel Inn in Bowness on Windermere, which was a lovely mile walk from where we were staying (this walk helped burn at least SOME of the calories....)

Especially good for a wonderful brunch on Sundays....lovely Bloody (or virgin) Marys, friendly staff and gorgeous food!

The Drunken Duck at Barngates, Ambleside
which boasts one of the most amazing views I've ever seen from it's garden tables. Unfortunately I forgot to take my camera!! The bar was cosy and just modern enough but with plenty of tradition intact.

 Great wine selection too!

The Samling is a super- luxurious hotel with fantastic service. We only went for dinner but were bowled over by the beautiful interiors, superb food and little extras like the canapes served to us in the garden overlooking Lake Windermere while we mused over the menu...

The service was young and friendly but impeccably professional too.

Finally, my favourite (I think - so hard to choose!) It was extravagant and total luxury but we had a truly wonderful evening at Gilpin Lodge
It helped that we were joined by our great friend David and his new partner - we always laugh so much when we're together and the wine flows - ahem - generously! But everything about Gilpin was superb. Service - immaculate, lovely french and local waiting staff with a touch of humour too! The restaurant was so beautiful,-there was also a zen-like garden (although sadly it was too chilly to sit outside)

We sat in the conservatory

at the far table in this picture.

Of course, the food is what made it an unforgettable experience. David is a restaurateur with two successful businesses and, as you know, I've been in the professional food world for a long time too....but the two of us are still waxing lyrical over this meal, especially the pre-dessert we were given. This was a shot glass of intense, deepest purple blackcurrant mousse topped with an aniseed granita. It may sound a little strange, but it worked so well that I was surprised to see my 'real' pudding arrive, so happy was I with that little piece of heaven in a  glass!

We could have eaten out every night, easily, but restricted ourselves to these 4 divine places as our wallets, livers & waistlines wouldn't have stood much more.
It wasn't only the restaurants & inns that were marvellous either. There were superb independent butchers, grocers...and a family-owned supermarket chain called Booths which supports local producers and has the most fantastic range of goods.

Truly a region to be savoured in more ways than one!

The English Lake District - 10/10


Thursday 27 May 2010

All Cakes Considered....Review

I have so many cookbooks that it's almost ridiculous....although I justify buying more and more because baking IS my job (and I can claim back the tax, YAY!) Where baking books are concerned (as opposed to more general cookbooks) I am quite choosy, however. I bake 6 days a they really have to say something new and give me inspiration.

I saw this book when we were in the US last year and made a note of the title(far too heavy to buy there and bring home!) American books are usually my favourites for baking ideas as I find the cakes are just the kind my customers expect - tall, beautiful & unusual. A little bit different to the normal coffee shop offerings.

The first thing that attracted me was the fact that it's published by my VERY favourite company, the San Francisco based Chronicle Books. Their titles are always beautiful, well laid out and in a wonderful format (smaller than average) and I can spot them anywhere!

Melissa Gray has produced a gorgeous book,packed with unusual recipes that I couldn't wait to try. As I write, the smell of her Key Lime Cake is wafting it's way from my oven. Mmmm!

The author works for National Public Radio and, every Monday, brings a different cake into the office for her co-workers. This book is a collection of the recipes, often accompanied with a little story about where the cake idea originated. She writes in a contemporary, witty & chatty style that I find very appealing - she feels like a friend.

Most importantly, I've made many recipes...stand outs include Cinnamon Almond Coffee Cake, ATF Gingerbread, Banana Cake with Chocolate Frosting & Triple Chocolate Orange Passion Cake...they are all delicious & they ALL WORK first time.

There are also cookie & pie recipes and great, informative sections on ingredients and equipment that would be really useful for someone who doesn't bake so often (or isn't too familiar with American ingredioents etc)

This book is at the front of my shelf and I use it regularly when I need a new, zesty idea to stun my customers. Highly recommended to all who love baking!

Friday 14 May 2010

Turning Japanese

Every month or so, three girlfriends and I get together at each others houses in turn to eat, chat & have a glass of wine. We are all so different, with very different lives & opinions - which makes it so much fun! Recently, I've noticed that at each brunch or dinner the host has encountered a longer & longer list of dietary requirements from her wheat, no dairy, no red goes on!

As it was my turn to host last night, I decided to bypass all the problems and go Japanese - it was a huge success! We chatted over drinks while we waited for everyone to arrive, nibbling wasabi almonds & rice crackers. One of the girls turned up in a kimono top, which she looked gorgeous in despite her decidedly UN-oriental auburn hair & freckles!

I cheated on the starter by serving a platter of store-bought (but very good quality!) sushi....we ate from square white plates and I put a little crackle glazed green bowl of tamari/brown rice vinegar dipping sauce in the centre of each. This was perfect for grazing and talking - and washing up afterwards, as we mainly used our fingers!

For the main course I prepared Crispy Black Pepper Tofu and Soba Noodles with Edamame, Broccolini, Green Beans, Bok Choy & Enoki Mushrooms. WOW! The tofu recipe was again from my wonderful new book Plenty and was absolutely stunning. Every bit went which was quite a feat with 3 committed meat eaters! And for dessert I prepared a plate of fresh pineapple & mango with a lime & chilli syrup which we ate with jasmine or roasted rice genmaicha tea.

I would definitely recommend this if you have to cook a special meal for people with allergies or dislikes. It was so easy to prepare in advance, the kitchen was clear and I had plenty of time to enjoy the company of my guests

Sayonara for now! xox

Sunday 9 May 2010


This week I bought the new and very eagerly awaited book by Yotam Ottolenghi

I loved the first Ottolenghi cookbook so much that I couldn't wait to plunge into this one!

It's lived up to expectations so far, I'm happy to say. Unusually - since it's author isn't one - it's a totally vegetarian cookbook, which is fantastic. The cuisine of the Middle East (Yotam is Israeli) is one of my very favourites....and the book also has Far Eastern influences, which makes for mouthwatering descriptions & photographs! I can't wait to work my way through it, but wanted to share the first recipe I made with you to give you an idea of the wonderful flavours you can expect! I made a few changes (as always - I can't resist tweaking!) to the recipe below, but I'll give you the original first and then let you know what I did slightly differently. But I'd urge you to try it - especially as the weather gets warmer, it's the perfect outdoor lunch food!

Lentils with Grilled Aubergine
from 'Plenty' by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 4

2 medium aubergines
2 tbsp top-quality red wine vinegar
200g small dark lentils (I used Puy)
3 small carrots,\peeled
2 celery sticks
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
1/2 white onion
3 tbsp olive oil + extra to drizzle
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp  each roughly chopped parsley, coriander & dill
2 tbsp creme fraiche ( or natural yoghurt)
salt & black pepper

Cook the aubergines first. If you have a gas hob, put them directly over 2 moderate flames and cook 12/15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs until the f;lesh is soft & smoky & the skin burnt all over. Alternatively, pierce with a sharp knife in a few places, put on a foil lined tray & place directly under a hot grill for 1 hour turning a few times until completely deflated & the skins are burned and breaking.

Remove from the heat, cut a slit down the centre of each & scoop out the flesh into a colander avoiding the blackened skin. Leave to drain for at least 15 mins, then season with plenty of salt & pepper & 1/2 tbsp vinegar.

While aubergines are grilling, place lentils into a medium pan. Cut one carrot & half a celery stick into large chunks and throw them in with the bayleaf, thyme & onion. Cover with plenty of water and bring to the boil. Simmer over a low heat until the lentils are tender (about 25 mins) Drain in a sieve, removing and discarding the onion, carrot, celery, bayleaf & thyme and transfer lentils to a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the vinegar, 2 tbsps olive oil and plenty of salt & pepper and set aside.

Cut the remaining carrot & celery into 1cm dice and mix with the remaining oil, the tomatoes, 1/2 tsp brown sugar and some salt. Spread in an oven-proof dish and cook in oven at 140 degrees/Gas Mark 1 until carrot is tender but still firm.

Add the cooked vegetables to the warm lentils, followed by the chopped herbs and stir gently. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Spoon onto serving plates, pile some aubergine into the centre of each portion and top with a dollop of creme fraiche. Finish with a trickle of oil.

The things I tweaked:

I used sherry vinegar (didn't have red wine)
Instead of cooking the vegetables in the oven, I sauteed them in olive oil until softened slightly, adding in the aubergine flesh and an extra  finely sliced half onion....then I piled it all into a baking dish and mixed in the herbs (substituting fresh mint for the coriander as there was none at the market) and added some good feta cheese broken into rough chunks. I then drizzled the olice oil over the whole, ground some extra black pepper and baked in the oven at 180 degrees for about 15 mins. I omitted the creme fraiche.

Looking at my tweaks, I'm wondering if I did, in fact, make a rather different dish in the end?? But the inspiration was wholly there thanks to Ottolenghi! And that, surely, is the point of a good cookbook? To inspire the creative passion in us and drive us to produce wondrous food...and this truly was!

A highly recommended book. Enjoy! xoE

Saturday 3 April 2010

Lunch at the TownHouse

We just walked back from Easter Saturday lunch at The Dean Street Town House in London's Soho. I'm SO full, wanted to write about it straight away while it's fresh in my mind. The restaurant is fairly newly opened and has received a lot of press recently. It's owned by the same company that run the amazingly luxurious Babington House hotel in Somerset...and every attention has been paid to the detail, look and feel of this gorgeous space. We sat at one of the round tables (like the one pictured above)...really comfortable, velvet upholstered chairs, beautiful linens and cutlery.
There's a special vegetarian menu (always a welcome bonus!) and it was hard to choose from the delicious sounding selection....most of which came in small or large portions, so you could mix & match the menu as you liked. I decided on Goat Curd, Beetroot & Chicory Salad to start....absolutely gorgeous, jewelled with pomegranate seeds, fresh & delicate...then a Chanterelle & Onion Tart with side orders of jersey royal new potatoes & purple sprouting broccoli. The tart was flaky & light with plenty of onion and the wonderful flavour of the wild mushrooms permeating through.
We drank a bottle of our favourite wine in the world...Isabel Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand...not often found, always ordered when we do!
I had the most divine dessert too....Peanut Shortbread with Salted Caramel Ice cream. Oh my. The shortbread was rich and salty with the crunch of peanuts and soft chocolate contrasting the texture from the middle....and the ice cream was a taste I could happily die eating!

The service was slightly slow to start with, but once we got talking to the friendly Aussie sommelier it soon thawed out. A great place to people watch (such interesting types in Soho!!) and they're open all day, including breakfast & afternoon tea. You could even get a room and stay after dinner (I always judge a place by the standards of it's bathrooms....and this one was just beautiful, all black & white with blood red velver chairs & antique mirrors....)

The Dean Street Townhouse: a feast for the stomach & the senses in Soho  8.5/10

Monday 15 March 2010

Mother's Day Delights

Yesterday was Mothering Sunday here  in the UK, so I created some delights for the local coffee shop to sell on Saturday morning (they're closed on Sunday!)

The first was a Salted Caramel Cake. I have to be VERY careful with this, to get it made & delivered as soon as possible because I absolutely crave it! The combination of sweet & salty is irresistible to me....I love salted peanuts & chocolate more than most things edible. Not good for the waistline, great for the soul (in extreme moderation!)

The recipe is adapted, once again from Baked's 'Sweet & Salty Cake'. The difference is that I make my own, failsafe, gorgeous, soft dark chocolate cake instead of theirs (and if you have a favourite recipe, try doing the same here....)

then I made a salted caramel by boiling together approx 1 cup sugar with 2 tbsp cold water (remember never to stir the mixture or it will crystallise...shake the pan if necessary instead) until golden brown and smelling toffeelike. You need to wait until it's on the edge of burning to give the right taste, but only on the edge - watch it like a hawk! Remove from heat & add 1 cup heavy (double) cream. Be careful as it will spit! Then stir gently until it melts into a beautiful burnished sauce. Add about 1 tsp sea salt flakes (I always use Maldon) and leave to cool, but don't refrigerate.

I also made a whipped milk chocolate frosting a la Baked by placing 1lb (500g) good quality milk chocolate broken into pieces in a heatproof bowl....heating 1 cup heavy (double) cream with 1 tbsp light corn syrup until just boiling, then pouring the cream mixture over the chocolate. Leave for a few minutes then stir gently. The chocolate should have almost melted, and should finish by the time you stop stirring! Leave to cool, stirring occasionally. When no longer too warm, whisk in (I use a hand held electric whisk) 1 cup (250g/2 sticks) very soft unsalted butter. It will whip into a glorious, shiny, pale brown delight!

To assemble the cake, cut in the bottom layer on a serving dish or cake board....drizzle bottom layer with salty caramel....spread caramel with half the frosting...sprinkle lightly with salt flakes (trust me, it's divine!)....then top with the remaining layer and this time reverse things so you spread the frosting over first, the drizzle that with caramel....and finish with a final sprinkle of salt. You can add other decorations - I put some pastel sugar flowers around, as it was Mother's Day - but it's beautiful left alone too...

Et voila! Now get it OUT of my sight........please???

I also made some pretty little Vanilla Cupcakes, which gave me a license to sprinkle the sparkle...which I love to do!

I know that Mother's Day in the USA & Australia isn't until maybe you could try these recipes out, just to perfect them in good time, of course!


Saturday 27 February 2010

Marble Cake, Birthday Cake....

I made this gorgeous Sour Cream Marble Cake for our local coffee shop yesterday. Sadly, because it was an order, I can't show you inside! But the batter tasted so gorgeous...
I glazed it with a simple dark chocolate ganache. It made a really big, tall cake that would be wonderful for a special tea or birthday party - I can just see it with gold candles all over it!

It's adapted - once more - from Baked. I can't recommend this book highly enough, constant ideas & surprises. The original recipe was for a bundt cake, but my customers prefer plain round ones so that's how I made it. It probably took an extra half hour to cook this way, but I'll reproduce the recipe as it was originally and leave it to you!

Sour Cream Marble Bundt Cake
{from Baked - New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito}

For the chocolate swirl:
6oz good, dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

For the sour cream cake:
3 1/2 cups all purpose (plain) flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup/2 sticks unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
16 floz (about 450ml) sour cream
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Grease the inside of a 10"(23cm) bundt pan & preheat oven to 350 degrees

To make the chocolate swirl, melt the chocolate over simmering water (again, I used a microwave but carefully!) and when completely smooth, whisk in the cocoa powder, remove bowl from heat & set aside

Sift flour, baking powder & soda & salt together and set aside.

Cream the butter until smooth (I use an electric hand mixer but a stand mixer - or wooden spoon if you're strong! - are also good) Scrape down the bowl & add the sugar, beating until the mixture is smooth & fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating each in well & scraping down the bowl in between. Add the sour cream & vanilla and beat until just incorporated. Add the dry ingredients in three additions, scraping down the bowl in between & only beat until each addition is just incorporated. Don't overmix.

Pour 1/3 of the mixture into the chocolate swirl bowl & mix gently to make a smooth chocolate batter. Spread half the remaining cake batter into the prepared pan, then dollop the chocolate mixture on top of the plain, leaving some plain batter peeking through. Pour the remaining plain mixture on top & pull a butter knife through the whole lot, swirling gently to create a marbled effect. Bake in the centre of the oven for approx 1 hour, rotating the pan halfway through. Check by inserting a skewer or cocktail stick into the middle of the cake - it should come out clean when cooked!

Cool in the pan,on a wire rack, for 30 minutes then loosen the edges with a knife and invert onto the wire rack before leaving to cool completely.
I made my glaze from about 1 cup dark chocolate, 1/4 cup double (heavy) cream & 1/4 stick butter which I gently melted together over a very low heat until shiny & smooth. Again you could do this over simmering water or in a microwave.
This morning I went over to a local restaurant that I supply - Annie Bailey's to build an 18th birthday brownie cake for a party at lunchtime today...
It takes quite a while to build one of these, using chocolate sauce as 'mortar' - but I think you'll agree it's worth it. I love the roman numeral candles especially (found on our Autumn trip to the States) and the long thin ones are sparklers...
Wish I could see it all lit up....but after a quick cup of coffee with my friends up there, I was off home!
No more baking today....time to relax!
Enjoy your weekend xox

Thursday 25 February 2010

Polpo - Venice in London!

One of the nicest restaurants I've been to recently is this new one in London's Soho district.

Polpo is the most Italian restaurant I've ever visited outside Italy itself. It's small and takes no reservations in the evening - which may be a problem for some - but on a freezing cold Saturday in January it was just the place for us! We sat at the zinc topped bar, just to the right of the entrance. From here, you can feel the buzz and hum of the whole restaurant and get to chat to the friendly barstaff (the day we were there, a lovely Canadian girl who was really knowledgeable about Italian wines....very handy!) The menu , beautifully printed on the rustic paper mat in front of you, is the same throughout, whether you are at the bar or a more formal table...and changes regularly, sometimes daily according to what's good that day. It's made up of 'little dishes' or cichetti - the Venetian version of tapas, I suppose, together with more substantial meat or fish and what looked like amazing desserts including my favourite 'Affogato' or espresso poured over vanilla icecream. We got no further than the cichetti however, this time., You order as many as you like, when you want them...highlights for us were a divine white bean & sage puree on charred sourdough toast & 'sarde in saor', a Venetian speciality of fresh sardines, soused in an oniony sweet/sour vinegar marinade and served at room temperature. But it was all really, really good! Very reasonably priced too, especially for London. We left pleasantly full and just over £40 lighter...including tip.

Polpo has everything the best Venetian baccari do, except the amazing views and the Grand Canal outside it's door. But with a couple of glasses of good, chilled Prosecco and a plate of wonderful food I hardly noticed!

POLPO - bravissimo!  8.5/10

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Sweet treats for dark days....

This is the Burnt Sugar Cake I made looked and smelt delicious! I actually called it 'Caramel Cake' for the customers as the British don't like the word 'Burnt' I've discovered (even though I think that Burnt Sugar sounds intriguing & delectable!) I must write about the psychology of food & menu writing one of these posts - it's a fascinating area!
Anyway, whatever you want to call it, the cake is adapted from a recipe in another favourite book: Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott.

I use this book a lot for ideas and the cakes always turn out brilliantly - moist (I hate that word, but can't think of another that describes so well!) close textured and tall!

Burnt Sugar Cake
{adapted from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott}

First make a burnt sugar syrup by heating 1 cup sugar & a tbsp cold water in a heavy pan until the sugar melts & turns a rich, golden brown colour. DON'T STIR the mixture, just shake or swirl the pan if you need to, or it will crystallise! When it's a good colour, pour in (carefully, it will spit & hiss!) a cup of boiling water & stir with a wooden spoon to create a smooth, brown syrup. Remove from the heat & allow to cool.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees & line a 10" baking pan with parchment (sides & base)

3 cups all purpose (plain) flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 sp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
1 cup/2 sticks/ 1 250g pack butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 eggs

In a large bowl, beat the butter & sugar at high speed until well mixed. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary. Pour in 1/2 cup of the cooled burnt sugar syrup & beat well. Add the dry ingredients & milk/vanilla alternately beginning with a 1/3 flour mixture, then half milk/vanilla etc. Beat only until each mixture is incorporated. Scrape batter into pan & bake approx 1 hour. I set my timer for an hour, but then turn the cake tin 180 degrees & bake for another 15 mins or so, testing with a skewer to check it's done in the middle. Ovens vary so much in strength! Cool in the tin for about 15 mins, then turn onto a cooling rack until completely cold.

Caramel frosting:

3 3/4 cups icing (confectioners) sugar
1/2 cup burnt sugar syrup
1/4 cup/1/2 stick/1/4 pack butter, softened
2-3 tbsp evaporated or regular milk (I used double/heavy cream)

Beat first 3 ingredients in a large bowl until incorporated. Add milk or cream a tablespoon at a time to make a smooth, spreadable frosting. Add more sugar or cream to adjust the consistency until just right.

Split the cake into 2 layers, use half the mixture to frost inside & the rest for the top. I drizzled a little reserved syrup on top to decorate, but you could also use fudge bits, butterscotch chips- or leave it plain!

A lovely cake to eat with a cup of strong coffee to cut the sweetness.

My other creation, baked this morning, was my own recipe for

Cookies & Cream Muffins
{recipe by Rachel Lucas!}
makes 9 large muffins

300g self raising flour
150g sugar
200ml whole milk
100ml sunflower or other tasteless oil
2 free range eggs
2 tbsp cocoa (unsweetened)
1 tsp baking powder
4 Oreo cookies, crumbled
Icing (confectioners) sugar to sprinkle

Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius & line a standard muffin tin with paper liners.

Combine all dry ingredients in a  large bowl. Whisk together milk, oil & eggs until well combined. Pour wet ingredients over dry & mix lightly with a fork until incorporated but still craggy & lumpy. Don't overmix or the muffins will be tough! Divide mixture between cases, filling right to the top. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate the pan & bake for 10 minutes more. Dust with icing sugar & serve while still warm - although they're also good when cold!
As with all muffins, they're best eaten the day you make them.

A really quick & easy recipe - about half an hour from start to stomach if you have all the ingredients to hand!

So I hope you try at least one of these recipes. We sure need something to get us though the final, dark, wet, cold days of the Northern hemisphere winter! Soon it will be time for light, healthy food again - but for now I say: Eat cake, drink tea & be cosy!

Enjoy your day & your sweet things xox