Tate Britain

I’ve always heard good reviews of the restaurant inside the Tate Britain but it’s not somewhere I’d ever actually gotten around to going to. It’s always somewhere that has appealed to me as well as i absolutely love the Tate Britain, for me it’s one of the most relaxing places in London and somewhere where, unusually for me, I don’t mind being alone. Unlike the restaurant at the Tate Modern which is casual and usually packed full of tourists, the restaurant at the Britain is fine dining and tends to attract a predominantly british crowd. I probably still wouldn’t have made it had it not been for my mum wanting an amble around the gallery itself in the morning. I was supposed to be meeting her at 10 for a relaxed morning, strolling around the current exhibitions but the last nights festivities may have gotten in the way slightly (Brekke was headed back to Norway and i think we finally crawled exhausted into bed at about 7am). As a result, i didn’t make my morning of culture but did manage to arrive just in time for lunch (surprise surprise) and boy am I glad i did.
Nestled away in the basement, it’s a beautiful room, the walls covered in murals by Rex Whistler make a gorgeous backdrop and a nice change from the usual stark walls you find in a lot of restaurants. The light boxes on top of the pillars that run the length of the room add to the atmosphere as it gives the impression that the ceiling is floating, unsupported over the dining room. The menu is the brainchild of Paul Newbury and is aimed at being seasonal and british, focusing on local ingredients. We ordered from the A la Carte menu but it did take some deliberation as the set lunch menu also looked pretty tempting. It’s really reasonably priced as well, 2 courses from just £16.50 and for a mere £31 you can have 3 courses as well as matched wine for each course. That sounds pretty bargainous to me.
I just couldn’t resist the siren song of Beef Carpaccio though, hence the A la Carte option and i’m glad i succumbed, i was just what i needed to kick start my tastebuds. The most melt-in-the-mouth tender fillet of black label Devonshire beef rested under a perfectly punchy mound of celeriac remoulade and the truffle oil was just the earthy note it needed to really pull everything together. i wish there had been more, it was divine, although i will admit that the beef was lost a little compared to the remoulade. But, oh, the remoulade. I could have just eaten a bowl of that and been happy.

Mum went for the Pea Panna Cotta with shaved turnip, pea shoots and mint oil. I was glad she opted for this as i was tempted by it aswell so i was pleased i had the chance to try it. This was yummy but remarkably strong in flavour for something as delicate as a pea and i’m not sure i could have eaten a whole one. Indeed, mum didn’t manage to finish all of hers. I love the idea of it as a dish though, so with a few tweaks, it’s something i think i might be trying before too long. Also, it’s just so darn pretty, like summer on a plate.

After that, we both went down the fish path, for me this was mainly because i saw samphire in the dish, something i struggle to resist when it’s in season. As anyone who knows me will tell you, i’ll normally go for the meat option but i was feeling the need for something altogether lighter and fresher that day. After what felt like an hour, i finally settled on the pan fried cod with samphire, courgette and caper/herb sauce. It was perfect for the mood i was in. Bursting with flavour from the capery sauce, the cod was cooked to perfection although the fillet was definitely rather large, i didn’t quite manage it all. The samphire was just what i wanted, salty, just a little crunchy and tasting of the sea. Something worth returning for.

Mum went for the catch of the day, fillet of pollock with a salad of broad beans and baby leeks with semi dried tomatoes in a butter sauce. I didn’t actually try this but she was very impressed, pretty much wiping the bowl clean which is always a good sign. She went for the wine match on this one, a crisp reisling which, although isn’t a usual choice for her, complemented the fish nicely.

If you’re looking for something different then give it a whirl, after that meal i even managed a little wonder round, the gift shop…

A cosy lamb stew

As you may have noticed, ‘summer’ is not really living up to it’s promises. When most people think of summer, they think of beaches, long, warm evenings, picnics and pimms. They do not think of drizzly, chilly days and the desire to curl up in front of a fire. Sadly this is what is presented to us this year. This sorry excuse for a July is not in my good books seeing as it has only left one summer-like trace. Do you know what that is? Hayfever, cronic bloody hayfever. Not amused. As a result of this, i’m not feeling particularly enticed by the usual fair-weather fare of salads and general light eating. On the good side, my friend Brekke is over from Norway for a visit, and down staying with me in the country. Whilst we were perusaling aorund Waitrose, we both decided that a bit of comfort food was needed, namely a stew. Now i know this is more of a wintery dish, but seriously, it’s kind of cold. With that in mind we decided lamb might be just the ticket, and maybe some chorizo and a little bit of rooty veg and before we knew it, we were off. I will say one thing though, if you’re tempted to make this dish, or indeed any lamb dish, please try and buy british lamb. We have some amazing lamb in this country, especially near me where there’s dorset lamb a plenty and yet so many people still insist on buying lamb flown all the way across the world from New Zealand. Absolute madness. Obviously if you’re reading this in New Zealand (i can be optimistic can’t I?) you might want to buy the lamb from there but you get the idea. So home we bounded with our arms full of goodies and after eating a quickly thrown together antipasti style lunch, consisting of rillette, cheese, bread and salad, we got down to the business of a stew. As we ate our stew, we talked about the joys of stews (yes, i’m strange but this is the benefits of having equally food-geeky friends). They’re a meal that requires you to put so little in and yet you get something so satifying at the end of it all. There really is no excuse to not cook when it’s this easy. And it’s cheap, so don’t go giving me that either, there’s really nothing stopping you when it’s this easy.
Right, let’s get going. This will serve 3-4 depending how hungry (and greedy) you are.

Lamb and Chorizo Stew with Celeriac and Chantenay Carrots

1 small shoulder of lamb on the bone
1 white onion
1 small celeriac
4-5 inches of chorizo, peeled of the casing and thinly sliced
2 handfuls of baby chantenay carrots
1 can peeled plum tomatoes

Chop the onions, don’t worry about making them small and neat dice, just a rough chop is fine, sweat them in a little olive oil along with the baby carrots. Chop the celeriac into 2 inch dice and add to the pot along with the sliced chorizo.

Whilst this is sweating away nicely, in a separate pan, heat a little oil and sear the lamb on all sides until it’s golden brown. Once thats done, pop it in the other pot, trying to make sure you have half the veggies on top and half underneath the lamb. Add the can of tomatoes and just enough water/ chicken stock to cover the lamb, season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 3 hours with the lid on. This is why this is great, you can wander off and do what you like for a few hours, catch up on some paperwork, have a nap, go for a walk. Personally we used the time to bake a cake and some brownies- more food, surprise surprise. Also, fear not if you totally forget about this bad boy blipping away, if it cooks for 4,5,6 hours, it’ll be none the worse for it. The desired effect is that the meat simply falls off the bone in shreds, once it does that, you’re good to go. Strain the liquid into another saucepan and reduce it by about half. Shread the lamb, discarding the bone and the fat and add it back into the sauce along with the veg. All that’s left for you to do is plonk the pot down on the table with a hunk of crusty bread and let everyone tuck in.

Now, as Brekke pointed out, this is far from being the sexiest plate of food, but a bowl of this and a nice glass of red wine and suddenly you won’t be so troubled by summer’s elusiveness. So if you’re finding yourself getting a little grumbly, try this and i promise you’ll suddenly feel a lot less whingy. I would reccomend that you don’t then eat a massive brownie though, there’s a bit of a food coma situation going on here right now.

A little spanish temptation

Ok, so i know it hasn’t technically been that long since i got back from Nassau’s sun-filled shores but England was grey and chilly and i was getting withrawl symptoms from the warmth, So when mum proposed a little trip to spain i jumped on it and soon enough i was filled with dreams of sun, sea and sangria. We had a little gander at flights and before we knew it, we were up at the crack of dawn and Marbella bound. After a couple of days relaxing by the pool and having dinner at home, we decided to venture out to our favourite little tapas bar,  La Taberna del Pintxo. Tucked up a little back street, slightly away from the busy, tourist-filled front line it’s the most charming little place. The outside tables are big old barrels surrounded by high stools and are a great place to sit and watch the world go by although i  must say, sometimes it gets a little ovewhelming with people bustling past all the time. It gets busy though, don’t be surprised if you sometimes have to wait for a table. I always think this is a good thing however, there’s nothing worse than an empty restaurant in terms of atmosphere and no one flocks to a bad place so i think it’s always a good sign.
This is maybe not the right place to go if you’re a picky eater, the whole premise of this place is that you just sit and relax with a drink and the friendly staff bring around plates of tapas. On the whole the staff speak some english although there is definitely some guesswork involved a lot of the time, but my advice would be to trust them, it’s almost unheard of for something to come out of their kitchen that is not utterly divine. Indeed, it’s the place i most look forward to going to every time i’m in Spain.

One of the first tapa to come around was the old favourite, tortilla. Basically it’s just onion, potato and egg but somehow the spanish manage to make it utterly delicious, i think vast quantites of scrummy local oil probably have a lot to do with it.

Next up, came something involving crab, we’re not entirely sure what it was but apparently it was very good.

There was also a delicious ham, cheese and oregano toast, to be honest i’m sold on pretty much anything with oregano but this was really moorish and surprisingly fresh tasting.

There was a chicken with a barbequey sauce, i didn’t try this one but was informed that it was very juicy with a really nice, tangy sauce

A seriously good little glass of gazpacho which is something i drink by the gallon anyway when i’m in Spain as it’s just so refreshing. This one was made even more special by the addition of little chunks of serrano ham and manchego.

A scrummy little croissant filled with cheese and something which i can no longer remember, i just remember that it was good and i wanted more but they’d run out!

Then there was the cutest little mini lasagna. Now i have to say, this is obviously not the most traditional tapa and i admit it wasn’t my facourite but i love the idea of it, i’m thinking it’s something i want to do myself so watch this space.

There were plenty of other tempting little morsels to be had as well but i forgot to take photos of them all. One of my favourites was the croquettes de jamon, creamy and fluffy and hammy. yum. Bite-sized hamburgers, quesadillas and tarts topped with quails eggs were also floating around and whilst i didn’t have any, they also do little puddings including a mini flan had by mum which definitely made me pretty jealous.
This is a great little place to go and relax of an evening, sit with a glass of wine and chill. The other great thing is that you can take as little or as long a time as you want, you can luxuriate for hours or be in and out within 15 minutes, eat what you like and then at the end of it all, the waiters simply count up your sticks and hand you the bill, which is usually lower than you’d expect for the amount of food you inevitably eat there.

A few days later we popped up to la canada, a shopping centre up the road and, after doing a little shopping for the boyfriend i decided i was in fact pretty starving and wanting some breakfast/brunch/lunch. There wasn’t a great selection of restaurants so i picked a little cafe and thought i’d make do. And was really pleasantly surprised. Usually any place that has pictures on the menu scares me a little but this may just be the exception that proves the rule. They had loads of pastries and ice creams as well as salads and pizzas, but that wasn’t what caught my eye. One page of the menu had what was simply called Spanish brunches. The first one was what caught my eye, a relatively simple combination of bread smeared with tomato and topped with serrano ham served with tortilla. It really exceeded my expectations, the kind of thing that would really only be good in spain as the ingredients were all so fresh and full of flavour. Definitely something i’ll be bearing in mind for future lunches.

As you’ve probably noticed by now, i have a bit of a thing for breakfasts, brunches and the like and this next one was no exception. It’s not somewhere i’ve ever been before, a sweet little place called Pasion Cafe in San Pedro but my friend Sophie used to work there and as i was having breakfast with her, she suggested we check it out. I slightly tweaked what was on the menu to make it more me and was glad i did, it made the whole thing a lot lighter and fresher than it would otherwise have been.

Scrambly egg with grilled bacon and tomato and some avocado on a seedy bagel. It was supposed to have cheese instead of avocado and poached egg instead of scrambled but i liked it this way, it made me feel a little less guilty as well which is always a good thing.

We had some other really good meals whilst we were there, including a very memorable paella in a flower filled square in Marbella which lasted about 3 hours but was such a gorgeous setting that it was worth every minute.

And a scrummy pepperoni and red onion pizza at the ever popular Picasso’s in the harbour in Puerto Banus. You always have to queue down the pavement as there’s a no booking policy but it’s worth it once you’re in there with the pizza that always arrives hot and fast and the friendly efficient staff. If you have room try the brownie sundae which will make you feel guilty as hell but i think you’ll find it’s worth it. For a more virtuous approach, the melon is really good, perfectly ripe and served with juicy strawberries, the perfect finish to a fairly unvirtuous meal.

Just a few little gems to try out if ever you’re in the area. One of my purchases whilst away was a giant paella pan and it’s making me want to rustle one up as well as some little tapas so if that sounds like something i might be able to tempt you with then keep checking back soon as i think it’s only a matter of time before the lure of it all draws me back in…

Back off the slack

Well as you’ve probably noticed, the blog has been a wee bit neglected as of late so apologies for that. My love flew away to thailand and with him seemed to go my deisre to cook, but finally, i’ve stopped bumbling around and got back down to some cooking. Now, in all honesty, this is partly because i no longer have a resident Alex whipping up delicious Asian creations for me on a daily basis and the cravings are getting BAD! I needed a chilli fix, pronto. Also because the boredom of the countryside struck and i needed something to do. Since my return, mum has been asking for one thing and one thing only, cheesecake. It’s her big weakness so one of those was in the works today as well. Her favourite is the plain, new york style cheesecake so that’s what we went for. The good thing about this kind of cheesecake is you can basically please everyone. Make up one of these and then you can make up some different compotes or sauces and plonk them all down on the table and let everyone help themself, voila you have several differnet cheesecakes for the price of one. It’s also just a good base recipe to have as you can use it as a starting block and add a whole host of flavours and it’ll completely change it. For example, add some lemon juice and zest or some grated cinnamon, swap out the ginger biscuits for another flavour, anything you want really. I will admit, this isn’t the speediest thing to make, whilst the actual making of it is easy and has hardly any ingredients, you do have to fiddle with the oven temperatures a bit. You also have to show super-human self control not to eat it straight away as it needs to chill in the fridge over night, i know, i know, you really won’t want to but it’ll be worth it, i promise. This cheesecake serves 6-8


25g unsalted butter
70g biscuits (i used ginger ones)

300g full fat cream cheese
85g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
75g 0% fat greek yoghurt

First things first, preheat the oven to 180C/160C if you have a fan oven 350F. Then melt the butter and crush up the biscuits, either in a food processor or in a bag with a rolling pin- this way is good for taking out some frustration. Combine the melted butter and the crushed biscuits and press into the bottom of a springform cake tin lined with parchment, bake the base for 10 minutes and then remove from the oven.

Turn the heat up to 220C/430F.

If you have a kitchenaid stand mixer then use that, if not then grab out an electric hand whisk and a bowl and get to work. Put the cream cheese in the bowl and beat on a low speed, gradually adding the sugar, mix until combined. Then add the the vanilla extract and eggs, one at a time, mixing slowly until combined and scrape down the sides. Lastly add the greek yoghurt and mix until everything is smooth and glossy, the mixture will be quite runny, don’t worry, it’s supposed to be.

Pour the mixture over the biscuit base and cook for 10 minutes before turning the oven down to 110C/230F. Leave the door over for 3 minutes to get the temperature down, and cook for 25 minutes.

Turn the oven off and leave the cheesecake in there for 2 hours, run the knife around the outside of the tin and then put back in the oven for an hour and a half.  It’ll be a bit jiggly in the centre but thats what you want, anymore and it’ll be overdone and just crack.

After that, get it nestled nicely in the fridge and tuck it in for the night. In the morning you can finally indulge, cut a much anticipated slice and enjoy.

Spicy Thai-ish Meatball Noodle

So, i don’t know if this is technically thai but it’s damn good, and honestly, when something is this yummy, i’m not sure you’ll really care how authentic it’s origins are. I was jonesing for something spicy and soupy and noodley and this just ticked all the boxes. I’m not entirely sure where the idea for this came from, i guess it had something to do with my brother not wanting shredded chicken – my go to meat for spicy noodle soups, in part because it’s something i usually have knocking around the fridge. It’s so easy to just roast or poach a chicken and have it in the fridge to chuck in salads, sandwiches, soups, pastas, anything that takes your fancy really. So, banned from chicken, i went to rummage in the fridge and found some minced beef i’d bought the day before to make chilli, spicy meatballs seemed like they might be the way forward, and after receiving the thumbs up from the frere, that’s just what i did. And it was good, by cooking the meatballs in the stock it took on a deep beefy savouriness that was just delicious and so satisfying. Combined with the heat of the chilli and the freshness of a bit of coriander and i had something i’ll be making again and again.

For the Meatballs:

1/2 carrot, finely diced
1 clove of garlic, finely diced
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
6 finely diced coriander stalks

1 spring onion, finely diced
2 thai birds eye chillis, finely diced

450g lean (10% fat) minced beef

Fry the 1st four ingredients in a little oil until soft and then combine with the beef, chillis and spring onion. Smoosh everything up together so that you have a nice, even distribution of all the ingredients. Roll the mixture into balls about the size of large walnuts and fry on a high heat until they have a nice dark colour, you might need to do this in batches. Drain the meatballs on kitchen roll and set aside until you need them.

For the soup part:

2.5 litres of chicken stock
4-6 kaffir lime leaves, depending on the size
2 galangal chips
1 1/2 inches of fresh ginger, roughly sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
20 thai chillis, bruised (just bash them a bit so they can release their oils)
4 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp shaoxing rice wine
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1/2 tsp palm sugar

4 bundles ramen noodles

to serve:
coriander leaves
chopped spring onions

This is pretty easy i have to say, you pretty much just bung everything into a big pot and bring it to the boil, then simmer for about 20-30 minutes until you like what you’re tasting, removing the lime leaves about halfway through. Add the meatballs and simmer for 10 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through. Now, for some reason, my chillis were just not doing it for me heatwise (i think waitrose are having a couple of blah batches at the moment) so i added 10 dried red chillis to the mix after the soup had been on for 5-10 minutes. Obviously you don’t have to add this many chillis, it’s completely up to you, depending on how spicy you like things, but, as they say, some like it hot.

Whilst all this is blipping away, cook the bundles of ramen noodles in boiling water for 4 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water.

Plating up is simple, put a nest of noodles in the bottom of a bowl, add some of the meatballs and ladle over some over the strained soup. Top with coriander leaves, sliced spring onions and some diced chilli (i fished out some of the dried red ones that had softened in the soup and chopped those up). All you need now is a spoon and a fork and to curl of somewhere and slurp greedily away, this is not a delicate little meal, it’s a great big bowl of comforting deliciousness, so just go for it.

oh the joy of good ingredients

So apologies, i know i’ve been pretty slack with the whole cooking/blogging/ much of anything since i left Nassau but i decided it was time to get back down to it, so when i returned from London on Friday afternoon, off i went. We were heading to a friends house for the evening but Alex wanted a snack as we hadn’t really eaten that day so i had a rummage through the fridge and got cracking. It didn’t take long before i landed on the idea of a bruschetta/crostini kinda thing. These are something i make a lot, varying the ingredients depending on the season, what i have in the fridge and, most importantly, my mood; leading Alex to declare me the ‘queen of crostini’ the other day. Now, not meaning to brag (well, maybe just a little) but i think this one in particular definitely gets me closer to that kind of title. It’s yummy and it’s scrummy and you might love me just a little bit after trying this. Obviously if this doesn’t really grab you then just mix it up a little, you could swap out the herbs, use a different cheese, whatever you like really, that’s the whole beauty of something like this. I know that it’s basically just random stuff on toast but if you use some proper ingredients and are nice to your bread, treat it well etc, then what you end up with is so much more than the sum of it’s parts. This recipe will make 2 decent sized crostini, serve one with a salad for lunch. I had some really yummy bits left around the fridge, perfectly sweet cherry tomatoes from the market, a herb and chilli marinated feta from a great little deli stall and thick cut smoked bacon from the butcher. I know you’re probably getting annoyed with me rambling on about it already but honestly, buying good ingredients will make more difference than i can say. Don’t believe me? just try it and see

Crostini with tomato, bacon, feta, basil and topped off nicely with some fried quails eggs

2 pieces of bread, get some nice stuff, sourdough, ciabatta or just a good granary will all work well
2 rashers of smoked back bacon
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
5 basil leaves
1/4-1/3 of a block of feta
1 clove garlic
4 quails eggs

First things first, get yourself a frying pan on the hob and get it heating up, fry the bacon in a tiny bit of oil until it’s all nice and crispy, especially the fat, you really don’t want chewy fat in something like this. Once it’s done, remove the bacon onto some kitchen roll and chuck the halved cherry tomatoes into the pan, adding a tiny bit more oil if necessary. Cook until just soft and remove. Add the bread to the pan, this is such a good way of toasting bread as it means that it soaks up all the delicious flavours from the pan as well as getting golden. Once it’s nicely coloured on both sides, rub the toast with a cut garlic clove, it’s amazing how much of a difference this makes (you need to do it whilst the toast is hot though). Chop up the bacon into little strips and toss with the tomatoes and crumbled up feta. Tear up the basil and add that to the mix along with some salt and pepper. All you need to do now is fry up those quails eggs and assemble. Simply pile up everything on the toast and top each one with 2 quails eggs. Done and dusted, now tell me that’s not good?

Hmm, now what next? Well i got back the following day and was greeted by some pretty sad looking broccoli. It was looking at me as if to say “if you don’t use me today, tonight i’m going to die and then you’ll be sorry”. Obviously I couldn’t let that happen, so i decided to make some soup, specifically, Broccoli and Stilton soup. This is an age old combination and there’s good reason behind this, it’s luscious and rich and velvety smooth. What more do you want from a soup? So it might not be the most summery combination but when you taste it, i’m not sure how much you’ll care. Also, lets be honest, you know as well as i do that we’ll have at least a handful of crappy, rainy days during the summer so make it on one of those days if you can’t bear to do it when it’s sunny. It also is really quick and takes very few ingredients to make. All good so far so here it is.

Broccoli and Stilton Soup

1 small onion, diced
1 small garlic glove, thinly sliced
knob of butter
2 new potatoes (or 1 small normal, it’s just for a bit of body) thinly siced
1 medium head of broccoli
100g stilton
500ml chicken stock

Start by sweating the onions and garlic in a knob of butter until they’re soft and translucent but don’t let them get any colour. Add the stock and the potatoes. Divide the broccoli into florets and stalk. Peel and trim the stalk and then finely slice it. When the potato is nearly cooked, add the stalk, and after a minute or so, add the florets. Cook until the broccoli is just cooked as you want it to stay vibrant and green. Crumble the Stilton into the soup and stir to melt it in. Allow to cool a little bit and then blend. Top with a little extra crumbled stilton if you like (i like) and serve on it’s own or with a hunk of crusty bread.

Later on that evening, my mum and her friend were coming round for dinner so Alex and i decided to cook something relaxed and simple. In short, something that would ensure that we weren’t tied to the stove all evening frantically stirring and chopping. As the sun had decided to show itself we wanted something light and tasty and roast chicken with a big bold salad seemed like something that would fit the bill nicely. And it did indeed. Now, we found a chilli, garlic and pepper salt in sainsburys by Jamie Oliver so we used that but if you don’t have any then don’t worry.

Roast Chicken with a Big Summery Salad

For the chicken:
1 chicken
1/2 a peach
1/2 a lemon
3 garlic cloves
small bunch of thyme
salt and pepper
Jamie Oliver chilli, ginger and pepper salt
2 rashers bacon

1 red pepper, quartered
2 tomatoes, thickly sliced
2 mushrooms roughly chopped
1 onion roughly chopped into about 8

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Stuff the chicken with the 1/2 peach, 1/2 lemon, garlic cloves and thyme. Season inside and outside with salt, pepper and the chilli/ginger/pepper/salt if using. Put a roasting tin on the hob and get some oil hot in it. Sear the chicken on all sides until lightly golden. Remove the chicken and add the pepper, tomatoes, mushrooms and onion to the pan before setting the chicken back on top. Lay a slice of bacon over each breast and pop that sucker in the oven. After 15 minutes, or once the bacon is crispy remove the bacon and set aside and dot a knob of butter on each breast. Roast until the juices run clear when you poke it, about an hour or so. Make sure you stab it in the thickest part of the leg as this takes the longest to cook. Once it’s done, make a little tin foil tent over the chicken and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whilst the chicken is in the oven, get on with the salad

2 peaches, sliced
1/3 cucumber
15-20 cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 block of feta, crumbled
1 roasted red pepper (use the one from under the chicken)
2 bacon rashers (again the ones from the chicken)
2 big spring onions or 3 or 4 normal ones
1 bunch asparagus
800g-1kg new potatoes

Lightly pan fry the peaches (no oil) until they soften slightly, this won’t take too long. Halve the cucumber lengthways and finely slice, do the same with the spring onions. Peel and trim the woody ends of the asparagus, wash the new potatoes. Boil or steam them both (bear in mind that the new potatoes will take longer, depending on how big they are) until just cooked. Quarter the new potatoes. Once the chicken is done, chop up the bacon and red pepper and then toss everything up together in a big bowl and dress with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

After we’d all had a little rest, we rolled right on into dessert, which is, in fact, the first of many gooseberry recipes to come as I bought a fairly obscene amount the other day (but more of that next time). Anyway, one of goosebery’s bestest friends is the elderflower so i thought, simples, lets get those to together for a little reunion. This cake will serve 8 people and is a great tea time cake as well as a dessert as it’s light and refreshing. I used a standard sized, fairly shallow cake tin here so if you’ve have one then use that. This is a really easy cake to make, the cake batter itself i’ve been using in some form or another since i was about 4 so even if you’re not a baker i think you’ll be ok.

Gooseberry and Elderflower Cake

150g gooseberries
1-2 tsp elderflower cordial depending on how strong it is
100g soft butter + extra for greasing
100g caster sugar
100g plain flour + extra for the tin
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 180C (i put it in the same oven as the chicken). Butter your cake tin and then dust lightly and evenly with flour, tap out the excess flour. Halve the gooseberries and arrange as many as you can get, willy nilly over the bottom of the cake tin. For the cake batter, cream the butter and sugar together. Add one egg and combine followed by half the flour and repeat with the other egg and rest of the flour. Stir in the elderflower cordial. Pour the cake batter over the gooseberries and even the top. Add the remaining berries and push just under the surface. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly golden and a skewer/knife comes out clean. Serve with lightly whipped double cream to which you’ve added a little vanilla extract.

the homecoming

Well we’re back from Nassau, back in my rather chilly homeland of England. When informed upon landing that the current temperature was 12 degrees, we both visibly winced. It was quickly decided that the only way to sustain ourselves was slight hibernation and some delicious food. Obviously this is all a tad over dramatic but when you get off the plane and it’s a good 40 degrees less than when you got on, it comes as a bit of a shock to the system.
After a measly little nap we motored up to london for the evening for dinner with alex’s sisters. We got off the train and jumped straight in a cab to Itsu sushi on Draycott Ave. Now originally i wasn’t thrilled about this choice as i was tired and grumpy and wanting something a little more comforting than raw fish, however, once we got inside and were seated next to the little conveyor belt, needless to say, i changed my tune. I love this kind of sushi place as i’m someone that gets pretty serious food envy, with this wondrous little system you can preview everything before making your decision (well decisions as obviously you get a few tasty little morsels). There were five of us, so we just got a big selection and everyone dove in, from tuna sashimi to gyoza, duck crystal rolls to yellowtail snapper sahimi, miso soup, squid, chicken and coconut soup, finishing everything off with a couple of big bowls of edamame. Now my love of edamame is verging on an addiction, they are, i do believe, the perfect pre-dinner pick/drinks party nibble. The healthy alternative to the crisp if you like. They’re also stupidly easy. Even if you can’t cook, you can do this. All you have to do is get some edamame beans in the pods, boil or steam for a few minutes until tender, toss with some good salt and you’re good to go. We had one bowl of the regular salted ones and one bowl tossed with chilli and soy and other yummy things ( i wasn’t paying that much attention, i was too busy eating). The duck crystal rolls would have been vastly improved by some decent hoi sin sauce, what we were presented with was thin and pretty insipid, not great. The miso soup however was awesome, i could easily have wolfed down several more bowls had i had room. We were all feeling a little virtuous at dinner so the wildly exciting drinks were endless rounds of green tea. This was definitely needed however as the combination of several weeks boozing in Nassau, combined with some rather mean jet lag meant that i was feeling lethargic, dehydrated and generally not too healthy.
After dinner i obviously scuppered this though when we were whisked off for drinks at the newly opened Playboy club. It’s still in it’s first week but so far so very good, the restaurant will definitely have to be sampled before too long but i would advise to steer clear if you’re on any kind of bikini diet. It’s not exactly what you’d call a healthy menu, good for the mouth, not so good for the waist. The real crowning glory however is Salvatorre’s, the ground floor bar. He’s a world-renowned barman and one taste of the cocktails and you can see why. I went for one of his signature cocktails, the Spicy Fifty, a perfectly balanced blend of vanilla vodka, elderflower, honey, lime and chilli. Definitely something i would recommend.
The next day it was off to Marylebone, our old stomping ground and location of Alex’s favourite pub. After running in, eager to see some familiar faces, only to be greeted by a girl we’d never seen before, i dragged a rather dejected Alex for brunch at Providores on Marylebone High St. It’s a great little fusion restaurant with a new zealand influence. A cosy, relaxed tapa room on the ground floor and a more formal restaurant on the 1st floor. I always head for the tapa room, especially at the weekend (we used to live 5 minutes round the corner) as their brunch menu is great. Having the usual brunch items as well as things for the more adventurous, those who are bored with the usual eggs benedict routine. If you do go for the standard – as i did because they use such high quality ingredients that it raises the bar, you won’t leave unsatisfied.
So, as i said, i went for the the Tapa room fry up, scrambly eggs, bacon, slow roast tomatoes and mushrooms, all on a nice bit of crunchy sourdough. This was all yum, if a little under seasoned. I’ll tell you what wasn’t though, the Boston baked beans. Dear lord, way too much smoky bacon and way too much molasses. The result was a bit of a sickening smoky mess. Not so successful. Nor was Alex’s i have to say. He went for the turkish style eggs, a delicious sounding combination of poached eggs, whipped yoghurt and a hot chilli butter. Sadly the end result was distinctly under-whelming, the yoghurt being so overpowering that in the end it was really the only thing you could taste. Our friend Mark come to join us just after we ordered and his banana and pecan french toast with bacon was a real hit though. A distinctly on and off meal, definitely not as good as the last meal i had there by a long way, i guess a lot can change in 5 months. I will say this though, whilst we stuck to tea this time, they do a Mango Bellini that is out of this world so if you find yourself there you should definitely try one (or two, or three)….

We headed back to the country for a couple of days to recouperate but sure enough, tuesday rolled around and we found ourselves back on the train and london bound once more. The evening passed in a haze of Mexican food, margaritas and champagne (along with a couple of others thrown in for good measure) and before we knew it, we were waking up, bleary eyed and in need of something to sustain and soothe and set our sights on The Breakfast Club in Soho.

This was mainly because, whilst perusing the menu the week before, i espied a cheese and marmite toastie. Now, i definitely am a lover not a hater, firmly believing that many things can be improved by a loving lash of marmite so this was right up my street, especially when i’m not feeling my brightest.I also love that it does brunch every single day until 5pm. Excellent. Don’t worry, there’s also a regular menu from midday onwards if you’re not a brunch obsessive like us and in the evening you can bring along the booze of your choice and merrily consume to your hearts content.

Now that, a fruit smoothie with hangover boost (why don’t more places do that by the way?) and a shared plate of potato wedges with aioli (which was actually a bit weird, kind of sweet) and a was feeling like a new person.

Alex went for eggs benedict – no surprises there then and informed me that you could tell everything was super fresh which is always a good thing, especially as we ordered just before they stopped doing breakfast.

After all this we just relaxed for the evening, deciding that venturing out was simply not on the cards. Nothing like breakfast followed by an early night, totally the wrong way round and just what we needed that day.

The next day brought with it some delights of it’s own. Firstly, coffee and homemade alfajores with a friend followed by dinner at As Greek As It Gets, a restaurant in Earls Court that i’ve been meaning to try for over a year. Now, just in case you’re thinking “what the hell are alfajores?’ fear not, i’d never had one before either but my god are they something i’ll be having again. Made by my friend angelina, a fellow cordon bleurian, they’re 2 shortbread biscuits glued together with Dulce de Leche (surely the best kind of glue ever?) and then the outside rolled in coconut. Utter heaven, and something i’ll definitely be making before too long (or begging at her door for more).

After that, as i said, we headed off for greek food, something i never get enough as there seem to be so few good greek restaurants. I find this so strange as it’s something that almost everyone that tries it falls for but just never seems to be around. We decided to go for a selection of starters and skip the mains, mezze style, as there were too many tempting options to narrow it down any further.

First out there was Halloumi which was grilled to perfection and finished with just a squeeze of lemon juice, simple and moreishly good. Although, as you can see, the garnish left a lot to be desired.

Alex ordered an Avgolemno, a traditional chicken, egg, rice and lemon soup which i really wasn’t a big fan of. I usually like it but this one was just a bit insipid, some more lemon and some seasoning would have gone a long way. It kind of tasted like bland chicken rice pudding. Does that sound appealing? No, not so much.

There were also some very good garlic pitta breads with tzatziki and a dip of whipped feta and chilli which was so good we actually packed up what we couldn’t eat and took it with us! One of my favourite dishes to arrive was a spicy sausage cooked with onions and aubergine, soooo tasty, i actually didn’t share this very well.

Next up it was the turn of some broad bean fritters and squid stuffed with feta, peppers and onions. I liked the fritters, Alex didn’t. I don’t really like squid, he thought it was good. It’s all a matter of taste when it comes down to it but overall it was a pretty scrumptious little meal.

Last but not least were some courgette fritters topped with a little grated kefalotyri cheese. These were cooked so perfectly that the inside became perfectly creamy and fluffy whilst the outside was still crunchy. Finished with a squeeze of lemon and it all came together nicely, especially when i added a little salt.

Overall, although there were a couple of things we weren’t crazy about – me with the soup and alex with the croquettes – on the whole we had a pretty good meal. it’s somewhere i’d definitely check out again if i was in the area, i’d just maybe make a few menu substitutions. When it comes to the wine though, beware. Alex had a carafe of rose which was not good, i’d reccommend you go for a non-greek option if you want rose unless you like it cloyingly sweet as this one really was. It’s also pretty good value so it’s somewhere you can just pop into if you’re feeling lazy and not worry about breaking the bank.
I’ve finally got down to some cooking this week as well so keep your eyes peeled as there’ll be new recipes up soon.

A cobbled together cobbler

For some reason i’ve recently had a bit of a craving for plums. I’ve been deliberating on how i want said plums for a while now but eventually came to the decision that i thought a cobbler was the way forward. This was helped by Hayley screaming out “cobbler!” when presented with the options before her but still, i was happy with the outcome of this decision. In case you’re not 100% sure, a cobbler is basically as crumble topping all bound together with some liquid (usually buttermilk, milk or yoghurt). I went for a combo of plain yoghurt and whole milk, partly because i felt like it and partly because i couldn’t find any buttermilk here. This is such a good dessert, it’s something you can just throw together, bung in the oven and 45 minutes later you’ll retrieve something jammy and sticky and crunchy and generally just scrumptious. I think plums are a really overlooked fruit as well, they’re often not thought of as a very inviting fruit, often being overlooked in favour of a juicy little berry of some kind but my god they’re good. Especially if you get them when they have the perfectly sweet, just yielding flesh against the contrast of the sour skin. I always prefer a slightly sour fruit to something that’s all sweetness, for instance my favourite fruit is a gooseberry. It’s an old english fruit that’s becoming increasingly difficult to find and usually culminates in a last minute panicked rush to my local fruit farm when i realise the season is approaching and i haven’t yet reserved any. As there’s not a huge demand any more, they don’t really get grown on a large scale so they’re pretty hard to find and sell out fast. This year i’ve had to dispatch my mum as i’m away but keep your eyes peeled for a lot of delicious ways to use them up once i’m back in the good old english counrtyside.
The other great thing about a dessert like this is how far you can stretch it, if you end up with far more people than you thought then you can just give them 1/2 a plum instead of a whole one and tah dah, double the servings. Very handy indeed.

So anyway, off we go
Plum Cobbler:

10 Plums, halved with the stones removed
1/4 cinammon stick
tbsp sugar
a good slosh of plum wine – roughly 4 tbsp

200g flour
100g butter
1tbsp sugar
75g yoghurt – i used low fat probiotic
50ml whole milk

Another good thing about this kind of dessert is that it doesn’t need a lot of refined sugar if you get good ripe plums, most of it is naturally occuring fruit sugars. And thats always a good thing isn’t it?

So, off we go. Place the plums, halved and stoned in an overproof dish in a single layer, they want to be kind of snug in there, grate over the cinnammon and sprinkle over the sugar and give it all a good toss around so that theres some on all the plums, slosh over the plum wine, or whatever you’re using and that’s it for the filling.
By the way, plum wine is available from most asian shops but if you can’t find any, or even if you can’t be bothered to go and look, you can use something else. Red wine, fruit juice or even water would work but obviously the plum wine’s going to be the best.

For the topping, rub the butter into the flour and sugar until it looks like wet sand, just like you would do for shortcrust pastry. Add the milk and yoghurt and stir it all up. Dollop a little on top of each plum half like this

and then bake in the oven at 180C/350F until the top is crunchy and golden, like this

And serve. Doesn’t that look good? I was origionally going to serve this with some homemade custard but i got distracted so ended up just going with ice cream and actually think it was better than the custard would have been. The ice cold creaminess was perfect with the sticky, jammy plums. We went with vanilla but cinnamon ice cream would be reeeally good too, maybe just leave it out of the filling (the cinnamon that is, not the ice cream).

For a cheeky tipple that night we decided it was about time we had some g&t’s, the first ones of the summer and very welcome they were too. For me it has to be Hendrick’s, an artisanal gin made in scotland, it’s truly delicious, dangerously so in fact, one just never seems enough. Luckily for us they had it in Nassau so i went for it, in an attempt to convert Hayley to it’s joys as much as anything else. I like mine with a slice of cucumber, something my grandad always did, back in the days when he still drank, so i suppose for me it also conjures up fond memories of gin and tonics on the patio in florida watching the sun go down. Any drink that can do that is fine in my book and as an added bonus, it tastes fantastic, the freshness of the cucumber cutting through the spicy richness of the gin. Yum yummy yum. I also believe that you should have gin and tonic in a short glass, i’m not entirely sure why, i just like it that way. Don’t forget, you need lots of ice, it’s not a drink that fares well at room temperature. I ususally go with about three slices of cucumber per glass, if you put it in the bottom of the glass and bash it a bit it’ll help let out the flavour a bit. Then add the ice, as much gin as takes your fancy at that particular moment and top up with tonic and you’re good to go. Now all you need is a patio and a sunset. Enjoy.

A soup here, a pretzel there

So it’s been a while since i posted anything, i’ve been pretty damn slack recently, what with going off to harbour island for a few days and then the birthday extravaganza weekend, it’s been fairly hectic.
I was planning on catching up when i was in harbour island but the combination of there being no internet anywhere other than the bar (you can imagine how conducive that is to anything constructive) and the whole place just being relaxing beyond words all amounted to me lounging around reading cookbooks and not really doing much of anything, apart from maybe a walk along the beach. In short, utter bliss.
For a start we were staying the the quaintest little hotel, right on the beach, falling asleep to the sound of the sea, cliche maybe, but it’s idyllic for a reason. On top of that, when we arrived, one of the first things to grab my attention was the bookshelf entirely devoted to cookbooks, from huge tomes by Marco and Gordon to random tiny battered old books about sorbet. This was my kind of place. I have a fairly unhealthy obsession with cookbooks, often driving my mother to distraction by insisting that i need just one more, never mind the hundreds already lying around the house; or my boyfriend by the stacks that often litter our bedroom floor. Oh well, it’s better than drugs i guess (that’s my argument anyway, that and the fact that they will usually benefit this obsession by my instantaneous desire to test things out).

After that came the birthday weekend, obviously involving a fairly staggering amount of over-indulgence, be it booze or food. Ranging from mussamum curries and caramelised pear and chocolate mousse cake to spicy, creamy corn and fake american cake – something that is my serious guilty pleasure. Combine that with enough beer, wine and champagne to sink a battleship, sun and boats and you have a seriously good weekend on your hands. Not forgetting of course the fact that it was mine and Hayleys birthdays on the 12th. Anyway, with all of this drawing to a close, yesterday we got back down to some cooking.

As i’m leaving Nassau on Monday, Alex and I have been given a list of demands by our friends of what they want cooked before they once again have to fend for themsleves. With this in mind, yesterday was Tarquin’s choices, well some of them at least, namely french onion soup and pretzels. I’m not entirely sure where his sudden desperate urge for pretzels came from, all i know is i got a drunken message requesting some be made. So, off we went.

Lets start out with the french onion soup. I love this soup, it’s so comforting and hearty enough to make a full meal if you want it to. It’s also really easy and cheap to make so you really have no excuse. This one serves 8 as a starter or less as a main.

French Onion Soup:

Now you don’t have to use all these different types of onion but i like it as it gives a better depth of flavour. All in all you just want to make sure that you have about 1kg of onions.

200g red onion
500g white onion               
1 large leek
10 pearl onions
2-3 shallots
Tbsp sugar

100g unsalted butter
2 cloves of finely chopped garlic

200ml white wine
50g plain flour

2 litres beef stock – then better the stock, the better the soup
30g pancetta or smoked bacon, blanched for 5 mins. This just means, put in a pan of water, bring to the boil and boil for 5 mins.
1 bouquet garni (basically parsley stalks, thyme, bay leaf tied together)

Up to 100ml sherry

1/2 baguette
400g finely grated gruyere cheese

Finely slice all the onions, i know it’s a pain and i know your eyes will sting but it’ll be worth it, there’s no place for chunky bits of onion in this soup. A good tip is to chill your onions, if they’re really cold (from the fridge, don’t try and be clever and put them in the freezer) it slows the release of the chemical that stings your eyes so you won’t be sobbing all over the place.

Toss 1/3 the butter into a big saucepan with a little splash of oil and then add all the onions.

Cook them over a medium-low heat until they begin to take on some colour. You want them to start going golden but what ever you do don’t burn them, it’ll ruin the whole soup. Once they’re starting to colour, add another 1/3 butter and keep cooking them until they’re a deep caramely colour. Once they’re almost done, add the last 1/3 butter and crank up the heat. You want them to end up looking like this.

Now i know that this takes a little while, and yes, technically you could just whack the heat up and do it faster, BUT, for one, the chance of burning them increases quite a lot and also, you just can’t get the same flavour, it takes time to ease out the sweetness, so just try and be patient.
Once the onions are done, add in the finely chopped garlic and after a couple of seconds, deglaze the pan with the wine. Basically that just means, throw in the wine and stir and scrape the bottom so that all of the delicious caramelised bits come unstuck as they’re full of flavour.
Once the wine has reduced down to almost nothing, stir in the flour. Add the beef stock, blanched pancetta and bouquet garni and simmer the whole lot together for 30 minutes.

The little thing you can see bobbing around there is a tea strainer/herb infuser. I love this thing, you can get them from most cook shops and they’re so useful as it saves you fishing around at the end trying to dig them out, you just put the herbs inside and plop it in.

Anyway, after it’s blipped away for a while, skim any scum off the top if any has formed and remove the bouquet garni and pancetta. Season with sherry, salt and pepper. You might not want all the sherry so maybe add half and taste it and then add the rest if you want it. I just plonked it all in and it was yummy but it’s up to you.

Then comes the best bit. Slice the baguette into slices about 1cm thick and toast in the oven until they’re golden. Plonk a few into your bowl of soup and then cover with grated gruyere, you want a decent amount (although i shouldn’t need to tell you that) and then place under a hot grill until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Now all that’s left to do is eat and enjoy. Which you will, i promise.

After this was made and sitting on the side, ready to be devoured later, we moved onto the pretzels

Soft American Pretzels:

360ml warm, not hot, water
1 tbsp sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt
7g dried yeast
625g plain flour
55g melted, unsalted butter

2.5 litres water
200g baking soda

1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp water

I’d like to start off by saying that this will be 100 times easier if you have a KitchenAid or some other kind of stand mixer with a dough hook. If you don’t you can do it by hand, it will just take longer.

Put the sugar, salt and water in the mixer bowl and sprinkle over the yeast. Let them sit there for about 5 minutes until the yeast is making everything into a bit of a foam party and then add the flour and butter.

Mix the whole lot up together on a low speed and once it’s all incorporated, turn the heat up to medium until the dough is smooth and coming away from the sides of the bowl. If you’re doing this by hand then you need to just bring it it together and knead it until its smooth and no longer sticky.

Either way, you then want to form the dough into a ball, place it in an oiled bowl and let it nestle up somewhere warm until it’s doubled in size, that should take you about 50-60 minutes. Whack the oven on to 230C/450. Rub a smidge of oil on to whatever surface you’re planning on forming the pretzels on and tip the dough onto it. Cut the dough into 8 and roll each one into a long sausage. Mine were about twice the length of alex’s shoe but that probably doesn’t help much so i’ll show you. About this long:

After you’ve done that, make a U shape and then fold each end over to touch the bottom, then place them on a tray lined with either a silmat, or an oiled piece of parchment paper.

Now they may not look so sexy at this point but they’re going to puff right up so it doesn’t matter too much at this point. Next up, bring the 2.5 litres of water to a boil with the 200g baking soda, the water needs to be a big, fast, rolling boil, not just a couple of little blips. Pop each pretzel in the water for 30 seconds, i did it one by one but it’s up to you.

Place the pretzels back on the trays and brush with the egg/water mixture and sprinkle with sea salt. Now comes the fun bit, this is where you can get creative with toppings, just sprinkle them right over the top. We did a load of different ones- poppy seed, cheese, thyme, rosemary, ground cumin and coriander, ras el hanout, harissa. They were delicioso, however, there were some stand out favourites, namely the harissa, the thyme and the cheese, the consensus was also that combining the cheese and the thyme into one amazing pretzel would have taken the crown. Pop them in the oven for 12 minutes until they’re puffed and golden and you just can’t wait to rip into them. Transfer to a cooling rack.

The great thing about these is that you can totally tailor them to suit your own tastes, herbs, spices, cheese, you could add some chopped up ham if you want. It’s a great thing to do if you have people over as well as everyone can just add whatever they feel like and then it’s only a 12 minute wait.

Roasted vegetable and goats cheese quiche

I was pretty tired on Monday evening and all i wanted to do was curl up in front of a movie with a big creamy bowl of pasta. Sadly, this was not to be. After an extended and heavenly break from the gym whilst we were in Boston and then over the weekend, me and Hayls were finally dragging ourselves back to the gym. As we always get back just before dinner, i needed something that i could prep mostly in advance and then just get Alex to finish off. Quiche is what popped into my mind, namely a roasted vegetable and goats cheese quiche. It’s something that feels indulgent and comforting but when you pack it full of veggies and have it with salad it’s actually not too bad. And it tastes good, which is what we’re really after.It’s also light enough for spring, as much as I love hearty, rich dishes that make you dream of curling up by the fire, it’s no longer so appealing once it’s hitting 90 degrees so we have to go for something that still gives you the comfort level, just minus the stodge. The other great thing about a quiche is that you can really put absolutely anything in it. It’s a good way to use up scraps of whatever’s knocking around your fridge looking lonely and a bit neglected, you just swathe it in a coat of cream, egg and cheese, and there you go, you’ve made something pretty damn luxurious.
Having said that, you do still have to think of what will taste good together, i wouldn’t recommend hurling in absolutely everything that’s hanging around the veg drawer and hoping for the best as you might just end up ruining it.

This will feed 4-6 as a starter or light dinner

For the pastry:
200g plain flour
5g salt
100g cold cubed butter
up to 60ml water (although i often find you only need about half that)

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl and rub in the butter until it looks like wet sand. Add enough water so that the dough forms a ball, then flatten out into a disc, cling film and put in the fridge to chill for about 30 minutes (or longer if you need to). Everyone usually says to put it into the fridge in a ball but it chills much faster and more evenly if you flatten it.

When it’s ready, preheat the oven to 180C/350F. then roll out the pastry and line your tart case. Prick the base all over with a fork and then put it back in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Once it’s chilled out in the fridge again, line with parchment paper and fill with baking beans or rice, anything that will weight it down basically. I am aware that i’ve used tin foil here but we’d run out of parchment so i had to make do with this. The point of pricking the base and then weighting it down is to stop the pastry shrinking down the sides of the tin, which it just loves to do. This is called blind baking and if you skip this step you’ll just end up with a sad, heavy lump of pastry in the bottom of the tart tin and there’ll be nowhere for the filling to go. That doesn’t sound so tempting does it?

Blind bake it for about 20 minutes until the sides feel like they’ve set and are starting to lightly colour – about 20 minutes

Then pop it back in for 5-10 minutes until the bottom isn’t looking doughy anymore. And that’s the pastry done, not so difficult. Shortcrust pastry is the easiest one to make as it’s the most forgiving. If your pastry tears as you’re rolling it out or filling the tart tin, it doesn’t matter. Simply rip a bit off from somewhere else and patch it, it’ll forgive you and, once the filling is in, no one will even be able to tell. Alex had to do it on this tart when he rolled the pastry out for me as the dough had been in the fridge for quite a while and was really cold when it came out. Although the crust is all uneven, as you can see, it doesn’t matter, it’ll still taste delicious and it proves that it’s homemade. Throw the word rustic around a little bit and no one can say a word about what it looks like. Anyway, on to the filling….

4 tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 red pepper cut into chunks
Half a big red onion in chunks
1 leek, chunked again
8 spears of asparagus
3/4 head broccoli, broken into florets and boiled for about 6 minutes
250ml double cream
1 egg
70g soft goats cheese

3 fresh red chillis
4 cloves of garlic.

Ok, first things first, preheat the oven to 160C/320F. Snap the ends off the asparagus- grab hold of each end and bend, the asparagus will snap naturally where the sugars have built up and therefore just leave you with the good bit. Then chuck the tomato, pepper, leek, onion and asparagus into a roasting tin, add a glug of olive, some salt and pepper and give it all a good shake about. Bung it in the oven for about 30 minutes until everything is just beginning to caramelise.

Next up, deseed your chillis and slice them, and, whilst you’re at it, slice the garlic too, then fry it all in a pan until the garlic is very lightly golden.

Next, whisk together the egg and double cream, and now, i think we’re ready to put this bad boy together.
Put the roasted veg mix, the chilli, garlic and broccoli into the tart case. Make sure you get a spatula and scrape out the roasting tin as there’s lots of yumminess to be had in there. Pour over the egg/cream mix and give the whole lot a little stir around so everything’s nicely coated. Press it all down so you have a fairly even layer and then dot over the goats cheese so it ends up looking like this.

Pop it in your still hot oven for about 30-40 minutes until the filling is set and the top is golden, if it starts to colour too much on the top, whack a bit of tin foil over it. Hopefully, it’ll end up looking something like this.

Cool on a wire rack for 10 mins and then transfer onto a board or plate to serve.I like to just plonk this down on the table with a big green salad and a bottle of wine and just let everyone help themselves. This isn’t supposed to be anything snazzy, just relaxed and tasty, which is just how it ended up. It’s also such a nice way to eat if you’re just with a group of friends, there’s nothing worse than having to have a big formal meal when you’re just feeling tired and lazy and it also gets everyone talking. In short, it’s a bit of midweek perfection. So if you fancy a change one night then give it a whirl.

And we’re back to cooking

So as great as it was having endless great meals in Boston, i was getting serious withdrawals from cooking. This quite often happens if I’ve been away for a while, it starts like a little itch and seems to grow until i’m fidgety and desperate to cook something, anything in fact. Well unfortunately (or fortunately given that his food is delicious) Alex has the same reaction to being out of the kitchen for extended periods of time and he tends to win so my cooking has been a little thin on the ground since our return. There have been a few dabbles however.

Firstly, a couple of days ago the weather was gorgeous so I decided to make the most of it and slap together a quick alfresco lunch. There’s something about warm weather that makes me desperate to eat outside. I think it probably has to do with growing up in England, a country not exactly blessed with an abundance of warm days. Whenever it was warm enough we’d eat outside, salads, sandwiches, a roast, we weren’t fussy, we’d gather it up and head into the garden and somehow it made the whole affair more special, more of an occasion. In the evenings this was usually accompanied by candlelight, little tealights flickering in jam jars and big citronella candles to keep away the bugs. Now granted, there’s a pretty high percentage of warm days here but it doesn’t seem to stop me.

I wasn’t in the mood for anything too complex, just something quick and fresh. so finding asparagus in the fridge was a dream. Now i must admit, i have a fairly ridiculous fixation with asparagus, i eat it almost every day when it’s in season so i wanted it fairly simple for my first run at it. For me there are very few better things to do with it than to quickly cook it – in this case i simply boiled it – before tossing it in some good olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar and sprinkling with sea salt and pepper. I decided to make it even better and top it with some slivers of delicate Pecorino that our amazing friend Andrea brought us back from Italy. Lets be honest, what isn’t better when topped with cheese? Very little.

To accompany this I added some fennel salami which Alex found in the local supermarket. Given that the salami section had replaced a pretty unappealing cold cut counter, i was excited to test it out. I must say i was impressed, although it didn’t have the strongest taste of fennel, it was nevertheless yummy. It has to be sliced super thin for me though, i’ve never been a fan of it when it’s thickly sliced, the texture’s just too chewy.

This piled on a plate with some pitta bread and hummus seemed like a pretty good starting block.

I wanted something salady too though so I went for the classic Caprese- mozzarella, tomato (in this case Black Russian heirloom ones) and basil. I usually add either spring onions or chives for a slight oniony flavour but i hadn’t been food shopping so that was a no go. As it’s such a simple salad, everything in it has to be great quality. Another good tip is to place the chopped tomatoes into a colander in the sink and sprinkle them liberally with salt. This ensures that some of the moisture is drawn out and the flavour of the tomato is concentrated, making the whole salad taste better.

To finish it all off we had some fresh baked french bread and some cheese, for no other reason than we wanted some, nothing else. All in all it was pretty satisfying, lots of different things going on, and when coupled with being able to sit outside in the breeze, it was lovely.

Later that day, the bug still not satisfied, i decided to bake some bread. This is something i love to do, it’s so therapeutic. Plus, there are few better smells than that of baking bread, it’s so comforting. It’s also far more simple than most people think, once you’ve mastered the basic loaf there are so many things you can add to it – cheese, seeds, nuts, spices – whatever you feel like. Best to start out with the basics though.
I felt like brown bread that day so i grabbed my scale and got started. It’s important to use 50/50 white and wholemeal flour as the texture will be far too dense if you use all wholemeal. If you can get hold of fresh yeast then use that (you can get it behind the bakery counter in Sainsburys if you’re in the UK and it’s super cheap). If not, dried is fine.

For one loaf you’ll need:

250g wholemeal flour
250g white flour
30g melted unsalted butter
10g salt
20g fresh yeast or 7g dried yeast
300ml lukewarm water
20g sugar

Put the sugar, salt and flours into a bowl, don’t sieve the wholemeal flour as you’ll separate the husk which you want, and add the yeast.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add it, along with the water to the dry ingredients

Mix together until it has formed a ball and then tip out onto a worktop and begin to knead

Knead the dough until it’s smooth, then put it into a bowl,

cover with cling film and leave somewhere warm and cosy until it’s doubled in size about an hour, then punch it (seriously) to knock all the air out and form it into a ball again, this time on a floured tray and put it back in that same place until it’s doubled in size again, about 45 mins. It should be pretty comfortable there by now. Once it’s looking like it’s nearly done, preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

If you want to, i did, you can make some cuts in the top and then dust it with flour just before you put it in the oven. Cook it for about 30 mins, until the outside is crisp and sounds hollow when you tap it. Leave to cool on a wire rack and then tuck in.

The weekend passed pretty uneventfully on the food front so come monday morning i was back on the baking wagon. To start out with, i decided to make a crumble. We had people coming over for lunch and i was given a 30 minute dessert warning, somehow i didn’t do what i usually do and panic and crumble popped into my head. Once you have a basic crumble topping down, you can pretty much go anywhere with it, you can change up the fruit, add spices, nuts, whatever. For this one I just went simple as i was limited on time.
This will serve 4 greedy people:

1 punnet strawberries
2 punnets blueberries
zest 1 lemon
1tsp caster sugar
175g flour
75g butter
75g sugar ( i used demerera for this one)

Firstly, preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Chop the strawberries into small chunks, so they’re not much bigger than the blueberries and sprinkle over the zest of a lemon and 1tsp caster sugar. put into an ovenproof dish.

Next make the crumble topping, rub the butter into the flour until it looks like wet sand

Stir through the sugar and sprinkle the topping over the fruit.

Pop into the oven for about 30 minutes and take it out once the top is getting crispy and the fruit is jammy and bubbling up the sides. This one’s such a crowd pleaser and it’s so easy to do. You can either just serve this with a scoop of shop-bought ice cream or you can go the extra mile and make some creme anglaise (custard) to go with it. This takes seconds but it’ll impress everyone so if you can be bothered, i’d recommend it.

250ml cream
60g caster sugar
60g egg yolk
vanilla pod/ vanilla extract

Put the cream in a saucepan and heat until it just starts to bubble round the edges then add the vanilla and remove from the heat. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy looking.

Pour half the hot cream onto the egg mixture and whisk before adding the whole lot back into the pan and stir over a low heat until it reaches coating consistency. This means that if you draw a line though the mixture on the back of a spoon, it holds, like this

That’s it. you’re done, all you need to do now is either serve it straight away and gobble it all up or, if you’re not eating it straight away, pour it into a jug and put a piece of cling film directly onto the surface to prevent a skin forming.