A little glimpse of Marrakech

I had plans of coming back from Marrakech and writing hundreds of words about it but to be honest, i think the pictures just say it so much better than i ever could so, on the whole, i’ll let them speak for themselves- with maybe just a little help from me.

The smell of smoke whilst we sat and ate here was overwhelming. Everything was so fresh and after a slight miscommunication we ende up with a selection of all these different skewers which we cooked over coals right next to us. The greenery around the front is called epinard which translates to spinach, although is unlike any i’ve ever seen. Its cooked and chopped and made into some kind of dip with oil and lemon and spices and is utterly delicious. I wish i’d been able to get a more concrete recipe as it’s something i could eat daily. When eating at the stalls in the main square you’re often presented with a plate of this and a plate of a pulpy tomato salad thing, that and some bread and you’ve got yourself a cracking little lunch.

One of the spice shops. I may have gotten a little carried away and almost definitely got ripped off but it was such a great shop. I wish we had more like this here.

A lovely man selling Tangias. They’re clay pots filled with stew that are often cooked in the embers of the big communal bread ovens. Many people still don’t have their own ovens and so will fill up their tangias and drop them off at the oven in the morning, collecting them in the evening in time for dinner. Failing that, you can buy them from vendors like this.

As someone who loves olives, it was incredibly difficult to walk past shops such as this one and not stop and buy everything in sight. The sheer abundance is what really draws you in but, for once, self control won out.

Some pastries. There were little tables dotted around everywhere as well as men with carts full of sweet things wandering through the market. They would stop outside the food stalls where you’d stopped to eat so you could have dessert without having to leave the little stall you were already at, such a great idea.

The french influence is very apparent as there’s bread everywhere, even in little cupboards on the side of the road.

The most amazing wholesaler we found, all things bowl and plate.

Tagines and plates and bowls, to be honest i’m quite impressed i didn’t come home with more than i did.

On first glance i thought these were bowls of butter but they’re actually huge bowls of cous cous.

Whilst I was there I also had the great opportunity to go into the kitchen of our riad and watch Hind, our lovely cook as she cooked dinner on two of the days. As a result of this I’ve returned with some great recipies which will, no fear, be appearing on here soon. All i need to do first is get a better idea of the actual amounts of spices as it’s all by eye at the moment. As soon as that’s sorted, up they shall go.

Advertisements

Florentines

Tags

, ,

I’ve been meaning to post this for weeks now as they would have made the perfect little stocking filler or gift to take to a christmas drinks party. Sadly i’m a little disorganised/was super busy/it was bloody christmas so you’re only getting it now. Oh well, better late than never and all that jazz. Anyway, a few weeks ago my friends mum asked me to make a whole load for her to give to dinner party guests as a little gift. By a whole load i mean 85 so it was fairly hectic on the week before christmas. Having not made florentines for a really long time, i kind of underestimated how long it would take me to make 85 given that i only have a regular home oven so there were a few moments of cursing but on the whole it was worth it. It was also quite handy as they’re my mum’s favourite so i snagged a couple for her stocking, which was very well received.

The mix itself is pretty quick to put together, and provided you don’t have to bake quite so many, the whole lot should be a fairly stress-free experience. I would recommend having 2 oven trays for this as that way you can have 1 tray in the oven whilst you’re preparing the other.

Florentines- makes about 20-25

  • 115g caster sugar
  • 40g butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 15g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 90g double cream
  • 100g flaked almonds
  • 50g pistachios
  • 50g glace cherries
  • 50g mixed fruit
  • 25g crystallised stem ginger
  • dark chocolate

First things first, preheat your oven to 190C/375F. Lay the flaked almonds out on an oven tray and put in the oven until golden brown.

Put the butter, sugar and flour in a pan and – without stirring – cook until a light golden caramel. If you need to, you can swirl the pan, just don’t stir it or the sugar might crystallise. If that does happen, a little splash of water might rescue it.

Once it’s nicely golden, take off the heat and add the double cream in 2 goes, stirring to prevent lumps forming. Rough chop the pistachios, glace cherries and stem ginger and add to the almonds and mixed fruit and stir it all together.

Stir everything through the caramel.

Brush an oven tray with melted butter and then dust with flour to prevent the florentines from sticking. Dollop teaspoons of the mixture onto the tray, spaced about 2.5cm apart and flatten slightly with the back of the teaspoon.

It will look like it’s not enough mixture but i promise you, it spreads like crazy so don’t be tempted to put more. Now all you have to do is pop them in the oven and bake until golden brown. Once they’re done, leave to cool on the tray for a couple of minutes to firm up before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat until all the mixture has been used up.

Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie (a bowl set over a pan of boiling water). You don’t have to use dark chocolate here, you could use milk, or even white, whatever you fancy/have knocking around the kitchen cupboard. Using a pastry brush, brush the melted chocolate over the flat, underside of the florentines and leave to set.

These store really well in an airtight container as long as you keep them somewhere cool (if they last that long).

Apple cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting

Tags

, , ,

So, i know it’s january and we’re all supposed to be detoxing and drinking nothing but wheatgrass but frankly, i’m not very good at that. My official excuse is that i have a friend staying but that’s not entirely true, i just got the urge to bake and we happily had all these ingredients in the house so i thought i’d just go for it. What’s even worse is that i made these whilst i was waiting for my brioche to prove for my maple glazed brioche doughnuts. I told you i wasn’t doing very well with this detox malarke. I am planning on a seriously healthy eating kick after our friend leaves as i’ve had a solid few months of indulgent eating and drinking but we’re not there quite yet.

You ideally need to use something like a bramley apple as otherwise the flavour may not show through as much as you want. Also, if you don’t like the idea of a lemon cream cheese frosting you could add cinnamon instead, or even just the plain cream cheese. Have a little play around and see what you like.

  • For the cake:
  • 200g soft unsalted butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 apples
  • For the frosting:
  • 60g butter
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 200g cream cheese
  • zest one lemon

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with cupcake cases.

Cream the butter and sugar together, i would normally do this all by hand but my butter was cold and i was in a rush so into the kitchenaid it went. Add one egg and incorporate, then 1/4 of the flour and incorporate. Continue doing this until everything is combined. Peel, core and chop the apples and fold through the cake batter and spoon into the cases.

Pop them in the oven for 20-30 minutes until they’re golden brown (if you’re unsure, a skewer poked in the middle should come out clean). Depending on the type of apples you use, you might notice that there seems to be juice bubbling round the sides – fear not, this will absorb back into the cakes a they cool. Cool on a rack whilst you make your frosting.

Using an electric whisk on a medium speed, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the cream cheese and lemon zest and turn the mixer up a little. Mix until smooth. Chill until needed and then pipe or spoon onto your cupcakes. Eat, and don’t feel guilty.

mulled cider

Tags

,

I love winter. I know that sounds bizarre but I really do, I love the heat and I love being tanned and in shorts and flip flops but there’s something so much more enchanting about winter. I must say though, my love is not unconditional, I love the winter when it’s cold but crisp and sunny. When I can wrap up in big coats and furry hats and not feel guilty about that sneaked mince pie as I know all evidence will be well hidden for a few months. All good feeling goes swiftly out the window when it rains however. I bloody hate the rain. Luckily for me though, we haven’t had much so far (touch wood) so winter’s in my good books at the moment. For me, one of the very best things about winter is that we can now start to mull things. Is there anything better than a cup of something warm and spiced (and boozy) when it’s cold outside? I think not. Whilst we spend most of the year chilling our wine and putting ice in our gin and tonics in attempt to make them cold and refreshing, this time of year that’s the furthest thing from our minds. The snow hasn’t quite made its way to london yet but I don’t think it’ll be long before it’s settling around us in a pretty, and very inconvenient blanket. When that time comes, I think the best thing to do is to venture no further than your nearest supermarket (or better yet, get everything now and have it in the cupboard ready to go), mull some cider and curl up inside. Preferably by the christmas tree whilst watching love actually. But maybe that’s just me.

I know mulled wine is the far more traditional drink but mulled cider is so much lighter. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mulled wine, I really really do but last year, whilst wandering around borough market in the snow, I chanced upon a mulled cider stand and I’ve never looked back. Also, let’s be honest, we are a country famous for our apples and our cider and it seems truly silly not to embrace that. I must admit to not being the biggest fan of cider normally, it’s not a drink I would ever order but heat it up, chuck in some spices and it wins me over every time, I guarantee it’ll do the same for you. For some reason it’s something that people seem daunted by, finding it easier to buy their mulled cider/wine ready made. But once you see how easy this is you’ll never feel the need to do that again.

Mulled Cider

  • 2 litre bottle dry cider
  • 75g soft brown sugar
  • 2 apples, cored and finely sliced
  • 1 orange
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • zest 1/2 a lemon (in strips, not grated)
  • a slug of rum (optional)
  • 1 star anise
  • knob of ginger

Take your cider and pour into a heavy based saucepan. Stud the orange with the cloves and pop into the pan, add all the other ingredients except for the apple and put the pan over a low heat. It’s very important not to let the cider come to the boil as that will evaporate off all the alcohol, which is not really what we’re after here. You want to get it hot so that all the flavours can infuse but not simmering.

Whilst that’s happening, core and finely slice your apples

And add them to the pot once everything else has been getting cosy for about 30 minutes. If you put them in right at the beginning, they’ll have completely fallen apart by the time it’s ready.

All thats left to do now is sit back and wait. I find that about another 30 minutes will usually do it but obviously the longer you leave it, the more spiced and delicious it will be. And that’s it, all you need to do now is ladle it into some glasses, curl up and enjoy, in front of a fireplace if possible.

Beetroot Bread

Yes, you read that right, i made beetroot bread. You’re probably thinking i’ve lost it, that i’m well and truly off the rocker now but you know what? it’s goooood. i’m not entirely sure why but the other night the idea popped into my head and, try as i might, i just could not dislodge it. And i’m so glad i couldn’t, i think this is something i’m going to be making again and again. I think it stemmed from the thought that carrot and courgette works in cakes so surely beetroot might work in bread. Anyway, after a little investigation i discovered that people have used beetroots and other root vegetables in bread in the past when flour was expensive and scarce. I had to test it out and, after a little tweaking and a couple of moments of panic it came out really well.

It’s not an overwhelming flavour, but the delicate sweetness of the beetroot is definitely there and makes the bread totally unique. I’m already planning on what to do with it as beetroot is great with so many things, from bruschetta with wild rocket and goats cheese, to canapes with smoked salmon and dill to scooping up hunks of beef stew, it’s a winner. It’s also a good way to cram in some extra veggies which is always a bonus and it manages to make me feel less guilty about eating bread with everything. I don’t know whether it’s the cold or something else but there’s just something so comforting about bread that i seem to be constantly finding new ways to factor it in to a meal.

These little babies are what got my mind spinning so, with them frmly in mind and with some fresh yeast in my fridge, we were good to go. My mum came up for a visit so i got a delivery of veggies from the market and for some reason it makes me so much more keen to get straight in the kitchen to start playing around. Don’t they just look so much more tempting?

The other great thing about this is that you dont have to worry about peeling and chopping the beetroot. If you just trim of the leaves and boil them whole then it’ll keep in more of that colour which will make your bread look so much prettier!

Right, so here we go, one recipe for beetroot bread, now bear in mind that this makes quite a big loaf so if you don’t want so much you can easily half the recipe or, even better, make the full recipe and divide the dough into 2. When they’re cooked, simply pop one in the freezer and then you’ll have one handy for next time you want one (which you will).

  • 6 smallish beetroot (you want 200g of cooked peeled beetroot)
  • 480g plain flour
  • 20g fresh yeast
  • 20g caster sugar
  • 10g salt
  • 30g melted unsalted butter
  • enough water to bring everyting together (use the water you cooked the beetroot in)

First up, trim the leaves off your beetroot, pop them in a pan and cover them with water. Boil them, with the lid on, until they’re tender.

Once they’re cooked, allow them to cool in their liquid and then slip the skins off, discard the skins but remember to keep the cooking water.

Pop the beetroot into a bowl and give them a good mashing. If there are a few little lumps left, it’s not a problem, it’s quite nice as it means you’ll have little jewelled flecks of it running throughout your bread.

Next up, mix the flour, salt and sugar through the mashed beetroot, you might want to smoosh it up a bit to make sure it’s fully mixed. It should end up looking a bit like this

Now make a well in the centre and add the cooled, melted butter, the fresh yeast and enough of the beetroot cooking water to bring it all together. Knead it for 5-10 minutes until it’s smooth and even in colour, it might still be a tiny bit sticky but that’s ok. Form it in to a ball, place into an oiled bowl, cling film and leave in a warm place until it’s doubled it in size.

Once it’s doubled, punch the air out of it (sooo satisfying) then reshape on a tray and allow to rise again.

Pop the bread into a 180C oven for about 25/30 mins until it’s lightly brown on the top and sounds hollow when you tap it.

If you’re still a bit unsure, feel free to stick a skewer in the bottom, if it comes out clean, your bread is ready.

All that’s really left to do is eat it. Have some when it’s warm out of the oven, you won’t regret it.

 

An ‘uh-oh’ chicken pasta

It starts off so well, you have such good, wholesome intentions. You’ll roast a chicken and throughout the course of the next few days you’ll make it in to countless different gourmet meals. Now i’m queen of the roast chicken, it’s so handy to have in the fridge for salads/sandwiches/tarts/pies, oh the possibilities go on for hours. This week however, things didn’t go entirely to plan. By this i mean i may have forgotten about it a little bit. A chicken once you’ve roasted it will last in the fridge for about 4 days so you’re not too rushed but i was at day 3 and knew day 4 was unlikely to wield many successful results, so into the kitchen i ran. This was also because i had the sudden realisation that Alex would surely be back from work soon and, upon peeking in the fridge, saw not a lot to inspire. Therein lies the ‘uh-oh’ moment. Just over half a chicken and not much else, what to do? Well my hunt through the cupboards revealed a can of plum tomatoes, some red onion, some garlic and some pasta. I think you can see where i’m going with this. And so the plan was made. I’m not pretending this is anything groundbreaking here but it turned out to be surprisingly good so i thought i’d share it in case you ever have one of these moments, as no matter how bare the fridge, i think these ingredients are usually to hand in most kitchens. The other thing to say is please please please buy a decent chicken, preferably organic but at least free range. We’ve gotten into the somewhat ridiculous mindset that we need meat every day, every meal even. It shouldn’t be about quantity, it should be about quality. I completely understand that there are financial issues here but surely 1 organic chicken a week is better than 2 battery hens? They’ll taste better, they’re better for you and, well, battery farming is something we should be trying to avoid. So please, try it, for me?

The ‘uh-oh’ chicken pasta

Leftover roast chicken (i had 1/2-2/3)

1 medium red onion, finely sliced

2 garlic cloves finely sliced

500g short pasta

1 can plum tomatoes

Overflowing handful frozen peas

1 chicken stock cube (preferably organic)

1 bay leaf

Chilli powder

Shred all your of your chicken off the bone and get a big pan of salted water on the boil (you do want a big pan as if it’s too small the pasta won’t have the space to move around and it’ll end up claggy). In a separate pan, fry the onion and garlic until soft but not coloured in a little oil, then add the chilli powder- i used about a tsp of hot chilli powder but it’s totally up to you.

Tip your can of tomatoes into a bowl and scrunch them up between your fingers until they’re a pulpy mush.

Then add them to the pan and add the bay leaf. Fill the empty tomato can with water and add to the pan along with a chicken stock cube. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer.

Add the shredded chicken and the peas and simmer until the sauce has thickened a little and everything is piping hot.

Whilst everything is simmering, cook your pasta according to the packet instructions, then drain and toss through the sauce. Make sure you do this in the pan so that everything is nicely coated and hot when you serve it.  All you need to do now is dish it up and top with some grated parmesan and you’re good to go. Crisis averted.

Crumble rumblings

As you probably noticed, last week there were some general grumbles about blackberries and the system going down for a few days. This obviously wasn’t the best timing for them as it coincided with the launch of the new iPhone and the sad death of Steve Jobs, driving those who were undecided firmly into the apple camp. Glitches or no glitches.

It also got me thinking, why on earth is technology named after fruit? Something as highly functioning and complicated as computers and phones seems in direct contrast with the humble simplicity of fruit, no? Anyhow, after all this negative press i decided to get back to the roots of things, back in the word where apple and blackberries are the best of friends and nowhere is this more obvious than in the crumble. It’s getting to that time of year when things like crumbles almost become a necessity to ward off the cold, and with friends coming over for dinner, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to whack one out.

Apple and Blackberry Oaty Crumbles

Filling:

4 Apples

1 Punnet Blackberries

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 tbsp red wine

Topping:

6 tbsp flour

4 tbsp oats

1 tsp caster sugar

1/4 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp unsalted butter

This is so easy and so quick so no excuses from anyone on this one please. First up, peel and core your apples and chop them into chunks about the same size as the blackberries. Toss them in a bowl together along with the sugar and red wine and give it a shake up.


Next up, for the topping, put all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut the cold butter into cubes and rub it into the dry ingredients like you would do with pastry. Divide the fruit between 4 ramekins and top with the crumble mixture.

Pop into a 180C oven for about 20-30 mins until the top is crisp and golden and the inside is bubbling up round the edges. And that is literally it, all that needs to be done now is to serve them up with a nice dollop of vanilla whipped cream and you’re good to go. Now you don’t have to but i had just purchased some rocket shaped lolly molds so i had to try them out. We happened to have some apple and ginger juice in the fridge so i just used that and hey presto, instant ice lolly. It wasn’t really necessary but it definitely added and element of fun to the dessert proceedings.

The Harwood Arms, a truly dreamy local

There’s something about the sun in London that makes you lazy, i think it’s that fact that it happens so rarely that makes you want to do nothing other than laze like a cat, sprawled under a tree somewhere. You dream of ice cold glasses of pimms and picnics in the park (which never focus as much on dainty sandwiches and strawberries as i’d like) and it’s the only time when the city seems to smile. Everyone seems desperate to cling onto the last hours of sun, knowing that soon, there’ll be nothing but dull grey skies to look at. Sadly i haven’t seen as much of it as i’d like as i’ve spent the week frantically unpacking and cleaning the flat but now that we’re settled in to the flat nicely (apart from the sofa, hurry up ikea) we thought it was about time to venture out and discover some of the local retaurants. First on our list was The Harwood Arms, as, somehow, we’ve managed to move somewhere where our local pub has a michelin star. This obviously had absolutely nothing to do with the appeal of our flat whatsoever….
Anway, on sunday, with the sun shining, off we toddled round the corner to sample some of our local’s delights, and i have to say, delights doesn’t even come close.

Frst up, we went for a round of the specal cocktals, Alex and i opting for a gin fizz and Genie, the earl grey martni.

The gin fizz was the resounding success of the two choices, a thirst-quenching blend of gin, elderflower, mint, lime and cucumber, all rounded off nicely with a good splash of soda. Just the ticket for such a hot day. The martini was good but took an absolute age to arrive due to the tea needing to brew and it was unanimously decided that, whilst good, it probably wasn’t worth the wait.

Talking of waiting, the bread we were given whilst we waited for our starters was seriously worthy of note, so much so that Alex has already requested i somehow try and recreate one of the breads, a kind of dense, seedy sodabread.

Whilst our staters weren’t speedy to arrive, when they did come, they were so delicious, i would have waited all day for them, definitely our favourite course of the day. Being a sucker for game in all shapes and forms, i went for the partridge and parsnip soup, which came with the delightful surprise of a large crouton topped with a parsnip puree and a perfect little partridge breast.

This was one of the best dishes i’ve had in a very long time, definitely something to return for.

Something else worth going back for and one of those things you wonder why no one has done it before was the snails. Perfectly cooked before being added back to their shells along with tender braised oxtail and a parsley crust, they were the best snails i’ve ever had and a great introduction to them if it’s something you’re a bit iffy about trying.

Alex went for the special, which i must admit i’m struggling to remember the exact details of. I remember a poached duck egg yolk and bacon, chantarelles and a griddled spring onion (ok, so i got some help from alex here), and i remember it being good, but not as good as the other two dishes.

Again, the main courses didn’t exactly fly out of the kitchen but i was fairly thankful for that as my soup was quite filling and i was glad to have some time to let it go down. Also, i don’t think any of us were going to complain after the success of the first course, we were just excited to see what would come next. Luckily we, and especially me, weren’t let down.

I was the only one who went for a meat option but i think that’s definitely the way forward. The fish was good but the meat was infinitely better. To be honest, i was lost the moment i saw the words ‘slow cooked lamb shoulder’. You can keep your legs and your racks, give me a bit of slow cooked shoulder and i’ll just about love you forever. Especially when you add a little pearl barley and a bit of black cabbage, i’ll be a happy girl.

Alex again went for the special, this time it was the gurnard. The main reason for this choice was that it was accompanied by a razor clam, something that will lure him in time and time again. This was basically the snazziest fish finger you’ll ever eat. That isn’t meant as a slight, i’m all in favour of revamping the classics, especially things we loved as children but should probably shun as adults in favour of ‘proper’ food.

Genie also went for fish, in her case, the roasted cod with seasonal vegetables. The fish was well seasoned and cooked so that it was still moist and tender, the crispy mini croquettes providing a great contrast to the delicateness of the fish.
As full as we all were after this (genie and i had to sadly hand over the remains of ours to a very willing Alex), pudding was a-calling. I had already espied something on the menu when we very first arrived that i pretty much knew from the get go would be mine come pudding time, and, lo and behold it was. There’s something about doughnuts that conjours up childhood memories and sheer indulgence and a feeling of whimsy that may explain my sheer unadulterated joy at the mere mention of them. This is especailly true when they’re dusted with cinammon sugar, filled with fig jam and served with sour cream. Who in their right mind could resist that?
Oooh it was good, as you can see though, it was fairly sizeable so once again, Alex had to be called in to help. The only thing that wasn’t good was the figs themselves. I don’t know what had been done to them but where they should have been jammy and sticky and rich, they just had a slightly odd taste and a rather unappealing texture.
Alex went for the lemon and blueberry eton mess. Now i’m distinctly unfussed by the blueberry as a fruit, finding that most of the ones we get here are flavourless and rather soggy in texture. Alex is the polar opposite, actively loving the blueberry and likely to order anything it’s found nestling inside. I have to say, somehow, these were the most blueberryish of blueberries. Tasting just as they were supposed to taste and being accented and heightened by the lemon, all swirled through a mound of pillowy cream and perched atop a sliver of blueberry jelly. A very satisfying end to the meal on both fronts.
Sadly the sun has now faded and the sincere march towards autumn has begun. However, i’m comforted by the fact that though the warmth might not still be here, luckily the Harwood Arms is still just around the corner, waiting for us to come back. And come back we shall.


The return, the move and the resolution

It’s been a busy busy month, i know it’s no excuse, i’ve been totally useless but i’m making a resolution to be better, more reliable and to post at least once a week. This is my aim, and by golly, i’m going to try and stick to it. Once we’d sorted everything out for our flat, you know, all the fun stuff like references and deposits etc, we decided that the only sensible thing to do was have a quick escape to the bahamas for 2 weeks. This was partly because Alex had left all of his winter clothes there and was concerned that he would freeze to death on our first cold day. The main reason of course was that England was miserable and we wanted to go back and see everyone before locking ourselves into jobs that would keep us away for a considerable amount of time. So, on the 10th of september, off we flew, we landed in the afternoon to be greeted by hayls, tarquin and a very much needed rum dum (one of my all time favourite cocktails and a nassau staple).
The first few days were a haze of jet lag and trying to see everyone all at once, but after a few days, we settled back into our usual routine of having big dinners every night. It was as if we never left. I know i should have documented more and posted whilst i was away but somehow i never seemed to get around to it. One night however i did decide it was time for a bit of Indian and so embarked on a particularly yummy Madras curry (well, my take on it at least) with some garlic and coriander naan, neither of which i’d ever made before. This definitely will be repeated on here before too long so dont worry, you won’t have to wait long for it. Sadly all too soon it was time to come home. We landed on Monday morning and had to move into the new flat on tuesday morning so that first day was very hectic, shoving everything we might possibly ever need into bags and boxes, loading up the lorry and the car and off we set for London. It took me a full day to unpack the kitchen, this is probably not normal. Needless to say, it’s a very well stocked and well equipped kitchen, and the dishwasher is already very loved.

However, before i went away, i did remember to photograph one of my little forays in to cooking. It was my friend sarah’s birthday on the 8th September and a cake was in order. Now last year year the cake was a little more elaborate, consisting of layers of caramelised pears and chocolate mousse and other delicious things. Things went a little pear shaped (sorry, had to) when we decided to pipe on the top after we’d had a bottle or two of prosecco, be warned, this is not a good idea, it looks like a 3 year old has done it. Anyway, this year, we decided something simpler but a little more well done was in order, which leads me to the following cake. It’s nice and easy but it’s delicious and looks impressive once it’s decorated properly.

I didnt want to make huge one so this is technically a half recipe for the cake batter, if you want it bigger, or if you can’t be bothered to cut the sponge in half then just double it, if you do, i’d also make more ganache as you wont have enough to cover it with the amount i’ve reccomended here.
So, here it is:

Genoise sponge filled with fresh berries and robed in dark chocolate ganache

For the sponge:

2 eggs
60g caster sugar
60g plain flour
10g unsalted butter, melted

As always, first things first, preheat that oven to 180F/350C. Then butter the cake tin, put a circle of parchment paper on the bottom, butter the parchment and dust with flour, shaking out any excess. For the sponge i would really reccomend you use either a stand mixer or at least a handheld electric whisk as this will take forever if you try and do it by hand. Put the eggs and sugar into the mixer and whisk until they are light and fluffy and doubled in volume- don’t panic, you can’t really overwhip them. Next, detach your bowl from the stand mixer and gently fold in your flour, making sure you really get it all out of the bottom, next up, fold in the melted butter, if you drizzle this round the edge of the bowl it’s easier to fold in, not sure why, it just is.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and and bake until golden and a skewer comes out clean when you give it a poke, this should take about 20/25 minutes. Once that’s done, unmold the cake and leave it to cool on a wire rack, hopefully it’ll come out looking like this

if it doesn’t, well, never mind, you’ll be covering it up anyway. Cut the cake in half, horizontally and leave the two pieces on a rack.

Next up, make the ganache, basically you just need equal parts double cream and dark chocolate. For this sized cake i used 100g of dark chocolate and 100ml of double cream, this did just about cover it but it was a bit of a stretch, to make things a lot easier, do 150g/150ml, you’ll thank me. This also means that if you have any left over, you can dip some spare strawberries in it….. If you you want to do things properly, you melt the chocolate in a bain-marie (a bowl placed over a pan of simmering water, not touching). You bring the cream to the boil then take it off and let both the chocolate and the cream cool to 40C before combining in 3 stages. Feel free to do this, really do. However, i can’t be bothered with the frankly unneccessary washing up, so i do it this way. Break the chocolate into small pieces, bring the cream to the boil, pour the cream over the chocolate, stir. Doesn’t that seem like a better plan? I think so.
Once you’ve made your ganache, leave it to cool until it’s spreading consistency. Meanwhile, prepare your fruit. The amount you use is totally up to you, as is what fruit you actually use. I like a mix of strawberries and raspberries as they’re really good with chocolate but you could really use anything. I think i probably went through about half a punnet of each, i cut the starwberries into chunks and the raspberries in half but they could be left whole just as easily.

Spread a thin layer of ganache over one of the cut sides of one of the sponges and top with your choice of fruit:

Top with the other half of the cake and cover the whole thing with ganache. It’s best if you do this in 2 layers, so do a thin one just to cover everything and then chill it in the fridge.
Once the 1st layer has set, do the top layer more carefully, to smooth it out once you’ve covered it, warming your palette knife will help. Pop it back in the fridge to firm up again and then all you have to do is decorate it. I used some melted chocolate and some cream whipped with vanilla.

After all that hard work, i think it’s probably best to cut yourself a big slice and enojy with a healthy dollop of whipped cream, don’t you?

the butchers hook

I think you’ll all agree that flat hunting is a fairly stressful experience, especially when you’re a little anally retentive and have a fairly specific list of what you’re looking for, in my case this ran to enough outside space to build a clay oven (i can see that you’re thinking i’m off my rocker, and, whilst that may be the case, you know you’ll be begging to be my friend when alex and i are churning out the freshly baked pizzas so don’t even try and deny it). Another thing that was fairly high on my list was a dishwasher. Now i love my boyfriend to bits and he is a fantastic chef but i can honestly say that i have never met anyone more messy when cooking. He manages to use every single bowl, plate, knife, spoon and board we own and as a result, him, me and no dishwasher isn’t a pretty sight.

So on Tuesday, Alex and i hopped on a train left the quiet solitude of the country and headed for the big smoke. The morning was spent traipsing around some fairly unsatisfactory flats, we couldn’t seem to find anything that had both a nice kitchen and some outside space, it was always one or the other and i was beginning to get a little annoyed (i’m not known for my patience). Seeing as we had an hour or two to spare before our next viewing we decided to grab some lunch. We were in Fulham so decided to amble up the road to The Butchers Hook, just opposite chelsea football stadium. Don’t worry, it’s not a footbally pub, it’s a foodie pub, you’ll be more likely to find people sprawling on the big communal table reading a paper than chugging beer and chanting football songs (although they do have a pretty good selection of beers on tap). This is one of my favourite restaurants in Fulham, it’s got such a great atmosphere, really warm and cosy in the winter but with outside tables in the summer. It’s also got a really nice wine list and a knowledgeable staff who are happy to recommend something if you can’t make a decision, something that frequently happens to me and i have to say, i’m yet to be disappointed. Anyway, given that it was the middle of the day and we still had more flats to view we steered clear of the wine as there was a fairly strong chance i’d get tipsy and get carried away with some extravagant flat way out of our budget. Luckily there was no reason i couldn’t eat some yummy food.

Neither of us were particularly grabbed by any of the mains that day so we decided to share some small plates instead. They have a changing daily menu for lunch and dinner as well as a blackboard of specials that are available all day long, we mixed and matched from both.

First up we had a beef carpaccio, more because alex had been deprived of such things in thailand than anything else. Now i have to say, i wasn’t blown away by this. It wasn’t that it was bad, just woefully underseasoned, i’m not sure alex cared at this point though, given that it had been so long since he’d had one.

Next up were some whiting goujons (liking the sustainable fish there guys). These were a hit with both of us, meltingly succulent fish encased in a featherlight tempura batter they were crisp and crunchy with a good squezze of lemon and served with one of the best tartare sauces i’ve had the pleasure of eating in a while. Very light and punchy and fresh with a nice zing from the capers, we couldn’t get enough of it.

We did also have to get a bowl of chips as i had the craving, and also because i know they come with aioli and a bowl of sea salt which is frankly too much for me to resist. And they weren’t bad, although they could have done with being a little crispier.

We also had a welsh rarebit as alex had never had one before. In case you don’t know what this is, it’s basically cheese on toast except the cheese is mixed with ale and mustard before being spread on toast and grilled, usually then being finished with a couple of cheeky splashes of worchestershire sauce. Neither of us were 100% sure on this one. Alex just thought it tasted like fondue, i liked it as long as i had some of the salad with it, without, it was a little overpowering in taste and was seriously rich. In short, i would not have wanted a whole one.

Last but by no means least was the crowning glory, something i could quite happily have eaten a whole plate of (except it was really rich so i probably couldn’t have). I was a little confused that it was a starter as it was deep and full and i’m not sure how you’d eat a main course afterwards but this is the only fault. It was spectacular. Confit pigs cheek with dauphinoise potatoes and rocket. Di-vine, so divine that as you can see, i felt the need to split the word up for a bit more impact. Now it may not look like much but trust me, it was a good-un, i’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll be sitting prettily on the menu next time i’m in there too.

Be it a quiet lunch or a big noisy dinner with friends, it’s somewhere i’d definitely recommend, they also do a fantasticly fantastic steak with a glass of wine deal for something silly like £13.95 on sunday nights as well as a daily special with a drink for about £8.95 for lunch/£10 for dinner. Now doesn’t that sound like it’s worth a visit?

www.thebutchershook.co.uk

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, after a couple more days hunting, on thursday we finally found our flat, and it somehow manages to tick every single thing on my ridiculous list.