Category Archives: food

Salted Caramel Tart with a Lankan twist

I’ve just returned from a very last minute week in Sri Lanka – aka the motherland. My dad’s family were the patrons of a temple in their home village (Kondavil in Jaffna) and the temple has recently been refurbished (in all of the colours) so my dad wanted to go for a pilgrimage. Now, I haven’t been to his (or mum’s) home towns since the mid-80s (you know, war) so I volunteered to go along with him. I know, I’m a saint, it was such a chore heading over to 31c, sunshine, beaches etc etc…

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It was a hugely emotional trip for many reasons – not least because of my current generally emotional state (see previous post). But rather than go into that, instead, I’m going to sing the praises of my new favourite ingredient that I brought home – palmyra jaggery.

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So as you probably know, jaggery is unrefined sugar made from plants with a considerable amount of sucrose – usually sugar cane. But palmyra jaggery is made from the sap of the palmyra tree which grows in abundance in Jaffna. Mum had asked me to bring some home and being a sucker for packaging, when I saw it, I decided to get some for myself too (see pic below – it’s in a case made from palmyra fronds). And what with it being mother’s day yesterday (in the UK, don’t panic, rest of world) I thought it’d be nice to make her something with it because she inspired me to buy it. In terms of flavour, the palmyra jaggery has a really rich deep taste, almost coffee like. Or cinder toffee.

And then I thought, god, this would make an amazing salted caramel which naturally took me to thinking about the lovely popcorn cheesecake recipe by Rosie Birkett. But given I’ve made that about 680 times in the last twelve months (because it’s AMAZING, go on, try it), I thought I’d try something different.

I found a recipe on Great British Chefs which I modified a little because life’s too short to weight out grams of eggs (and I wanted to incorporate the jaggery, obviously). But the original recipe is here if you fancy making it (it also gives you a great option for what to do with seven left over egg whites. Mine have just gone in the freezer). Also this is possibly the tastiest sweet pastry recipe I’ve ever tried – but don’t do what I did and trim it before you bake as it’ll collapse on itself and you’ll have to try and fix it in the oven with a spoon. Hence the slightly wonky base.

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Salted Caramel Tart with Palmyra jaggery – serves 10-12 (or 8, if you’re hungry buggers) 

For the pastry base:
NB this makes enough for two tarts but can be frozen so you’ve got the best pastry on hand all the time – honestly, it’s delicious.  

  • 400g plain flour
  • 180g icing sugar
  • 130g ground almonds
  • 4g salt
  • 240g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2 eggs, beaten

For the filling:

  • 140g caster sugar
  • 500ml of double cream
  • 100g palmyra jaggery (or any jaggery or dark muscovado)
  • 7 egg yolks
  • Pinch of salt

Method

Prepare the pastry first – this probably needs to chill for a minimum 5 hours so you don’t end up with a fat bottomed pie.

Sift together all the dry ingredients and then add the cold butter. Using your fingers, rub the ingredients together till it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Then pour in the beaten egg and stir till the mix comes together. If it’s a little wet, add a tablespoon of flour at a time, till it comes together and away from the sides of the bowl. tip onto a clean surface and knead briefly then pat into a flatish disk, wrap in clingfilm and put it into the fridge.

For the caramel filling, melt the caster sugar over a low heat. You may need to swirl the pan to help things along but try not to stir it too much – it may seize. Once the sugar has melted, add the double cream and stir to bring together. Then add the salt, remove from the heat and set to one side to chill.

Meanwhile, grate the jaggery into a large bowl and beat in the egg yolks. Pour over the warm double cream mix whilst continually beating. Then add the pinch of salt. Using a fine meshed sieve, pour the mix through into a clean bowl and leave to cool. Once the mix is cool (30-40 mins), skim off any bubbles from the top of the surface, cover and put into the fridge.

You can do all of this up to three days in advance.

When you’re ready to prepare your tart, remove the pastry (well, half of it) and caramel mix from the fridge and bring to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 150c and prepare a pie tin (I did mine in a 20cm springform cake tin as I couldn’t find a pie tin – worked just as well…) Lightly flour a surface and a rolling pin and roll out the pastry to a thickness of approx 5mm and then line the tin, taking care not to rip the pastry (if you do, simply patch it up with any excess). Make sure you’ve got enough to hang over the edges of the tin – this is where mine collapsed and created a wonky base.

Put it back in the fridge for 20 mins to firm up again, then line the base with greaseproof paper and baking beans, pop onto a baking sheet and put into the oven.

Once the sides are golden, remove the baking beans/paper and put back into the oven for the base to cook and colour (approx 5-10 mins). Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10-15 mins. Meanwhile, reduce the heat to 100c.

Once the base is cooked, pour the salted caramel filling into the tart case and put the whole thing back into the oven. The tart is cooked when the filling barely wobbles when you shake the tin. It will take at least one hour depending on how accurate your oven is, but check it after 40 mins, and then every 15 mins after that.

Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin. Serve with a drizzle of cream or a random selection of macarons, praline and ice cream if you want to be all Great British Cheffy. Or just eat as is.

 

Saving bread by making bread 

As part of my plan to not spend unnecessarily in 2017, I’ve been looking for ways to cut down on our food waste too. We have a terrible obsession with bread. We love it in all its assorted and varied forms. But there are only two of us and buying a loaf a week seems to end with a few slices being thrown out each week. Which is wasteful but I really don’t need any more breadcrumbs in my freezer. And those are alongside naan breads and pitta bread and parathas and any other Indian bread you can think of. 

So with a bit of time on my hands this afternoon and a craving for my Sri Lankan curry favorites (Jaffna chicken curry and paripu), I decided to explore how to make my own naan bread. And it’s surprisingly easy. Well, this version is, I didn’t want to buy anything new with which to make these so just used what was in the fridge and store cupboard. So here it is. I may also share my paripu (Sri Lankan dhal, basically) recipe as it’s perfect comfort food, only uses one pot and can be frozen. But that’s my next post.

Easy Naan Bread

  • 250g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp Caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 130ml milk
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil

Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Then mix the milk and oil in a jug and pour into the well. Stir together until the dough comes together and then knead for approximately 8 mins, till the dough is smooth. Oil the bowl and put the dough back in to it and leave it to rest in a warm place for 30-40 mins. 

Preheat the grill to medium and put a heavy tray to heat at the same time at the top of the grill. Take the dough from the bowl and split into six roughly equal pieces. Roll each one out into tear drop shapes (if you can, as you can see mine are less than perfect!)

Cook on the hot grill tray for a minute or two on each side, till they’ve browned. Remove from the oven and brush with melted butter. 

Serve warm with your favourite curry. 

Brunches and lunches, 2

Oh my, it’s been over a week since I posted again. Sorry ‘baht that. I’ve been a little emotionally unstable but nothing a lot of cake and a vat of wine won’t fix. Please feel free to send both of those things to me.

I’ve not been at home much over the last 10 days so there hasn’t been a huge amount of cooking done (there have been two occasions of Papa John’s wings though, which was delicious but probably not something to talk about here. But for future reference, if you’ve maybe had too many vats of wine, you should try the plain roasted wings and add your own sriracha – it’s the perfect cure. Washed down with a Tango, obvs).

There has however, been a lot of lovely brunches and lunches on which to report, so I’m going to do that RIGHT now.

First up, lunch at Blixen. As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m currently working in an office again and as luck would have it, my office is actual spitting distance from Spitalfields (see what I did there?)

Squid stew, Blixen

Now, I’m very old and I’ve been in London a significantly long time and I remember when Spitalfields did not look like it does now. And whilst I could rant about gentrification taking all the personality out of London (which it has and if you agree, check out the Save Soho campaign which is totally doing the right thing), right now I mostly want to talk about the awesomeness of Blixen, the latest offering from the people behind The Riding House Cafe and Village East. I went the week after it opened, with my darling friend Chris, who works just around the corner. At the time, I was suffering from a gigantic cold and cough and feeling a little sorry for myself (unusual, right?) and so I decided to have a Good Times juice of pear, pineapple and ginger and a warming squid, chorizo and chickpea stew with saffron aioli. Chris had some sort of salad because he’s weird and healthy and was delighted to be sitting across from my snot streaked face. The service was lovely, the stew was the kind of dish that seemed really simple but perfectly balanced and just gorgeous and the decor was understated elegance – loved every bit of it and cannot wait to return (this time to try the cocktails which I’m sure, based on their other restaurants, will be incredible)

Kale salad, blixen

Chris (and his darling husband, Neil) were my brunching partners this weekend too. I ventured south for the first time in years (for those of you outside London, there’s a huge north south divide – the Thames only serves to divide the capital) to meet the boys for brunch. The weekend just gone was the Rugby 7s. I don’t really know what this means and nor is it relevant, apart from to let you know that the Rugby 7s has a theme and this year’s theme was either galactic or out of this world. So I get on the tube in the north-west ‘burbs and half way through my journey, I find myself sitting opposite Pikachu. At about 10am. Which was weird of itself, but shit got weirder at Clapham North, where I made my way to street level to meet the boys and ran into The Avengers. Followed by a couple of unicorns. Followed by human Minecraft characters and then more Avengers and people in shiny all in one bodysuits which left nothing to the imagination and some spacemen. I reckon 95% of the population of South London was in costume. Honestly, this is why I don’t go to south London – it felt like I’d had some sort of acid flashback.

After that confusing start, we wandered down to Brickwood, a newish brunch venue that the boys have been raving about. And rightly so. Again, the boys are both on this health kick so had avocado on (gluten free) toast and bacon so I decided to make them drool by having the brioche french toast with syrup and bacon and orange blossom creme fraiche, all washed down with a couple of the best americanos I’ve ever drunk (and I say that having had Americanos from The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs in Spitalfields, which are also good but they don’t come with brioche french toast. Just sayin’).  FYI, the coffees in the main pic are piccolos from the Dept of Coffee – not americanos, which just aren’t that photo worthy. Whilst I doubt I’ll get back there again soon (flashback still too raw), if you’re in South London and looking for a brunch venue, check it out – worth it.

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Other fun meals of note included a trip to Ottolenghi in Islington a few weeks back where I had an amazing broccoli salad with salmon. Doesn’t sound that impressive but tasted AWESOME. And a trip to Maltby Street Market at Ropewalk with the lovely Charlotte where we drank gin at 11am and then had scotch eggs and chocolate brownies from Bad Brownie. And when I say chocolate brownies, I mean a glorious oozing salted caramel brownie and a maple bacon brownie. Those were quite some brownies. I may never recover.

Bad Brownies (good brownies) Scotch Eggs

I did also take a fancy pants trip to Roux at the Landau but that deserves a post all of its very own. I love Michel Roux Jr. Turns out, I don’t love rabbit though. And my mum reminded me of a story about that, but I’ll share that in the Roux post. It’s a goodie.

I am continuing to stuff my face because it’s my most favourite thing to do and I’ll keep you posted on places of note. Would love to hear your Spitalfields/Shoreditch recommendations though – I’m going a bit snow blind from all of the choice around there…

Mother’s Day baked treats: weird scones and goat’s cheese cheesecake

It’s Mother’s Day so to those of you that are mums (which I’d say is some) and those of you that have mums (which is all) – Happy Mother’s Day! My mum is awesome – I obviously didn’t think this when I was in my pre-teens/teens/early 20s but in recent years, I’ve realised just how much she does and how much she put up with from me during those rebellious years, so thanks Mum! As you’ll see from the picture below, I am also turning into her. It really does happen to us all.

me and mum

Also, did you know that Mother’s Day is an official holiday and not a Hallmark one? I overheard some ladies on the train on the way back from Birmingham talking about it – they said it was government created so that women working in war offices got a day off to see their mothers. Isn’t that nice? Of course, this could be utter nonsense but, heck, I bought it!

This year, my sister and I are doing an afternoon tea for mum at home so I decided to make some scones. For some reason I decided to play around with an old classic. Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet cookbook calls for using plain yoghurt instead of eggs and milk or buttermilk. I love Dan’s recipes so decided I’d try this out. Not entirely sure why, I had eggs and milk in the fridge but only fig flavoured yoghurt. I think I was sucked in by the time I made a spiced cranberry bundt cake using strawberry yoghurt instead of plain yoghurt and it came out really well (apart from sticking to the tin which I blame entirely on lazy assed greasing) so figured now bad could this be? The answer was quite bad. Whilst they’re an OK scone they’re a little weird and strangely green. Note to self: stick to what the recipe calls for if you have it in the fridge. I made a second batch with eggs and milk and they are absolutely delicious.

Not fig scones

Last weekend I made a goat’s cheese tart as a starter but totally got my numbers wrong and ended up with five spare goat’s cheese logs. The husband doesn’t really like goat’s cheese so I decided to make a goat’s cheese cheesecake as mum loves cheesecake and I hate waste. I also really like slightly savoury sweets and goat’s cheese has that lovely tang that I thought would work quite well.

I found a recipe on The Guardian website as part of their “10 Best” series which is really awesome if you are bored of using favourite ingredients in the same way. I slightly modified it to use up other ingredients in the cupboard. Would love to hear what you’ve made for your mums today.

Goat’s cheese, honey, cinnamon and ginger cheesecake with a hint of chilli

  • 200g biscuits. I used a tin of Lucifer’s from Fortnum and Mason – these are ginger and chilli flavoured and delicious. I also added in about 6 digestives to dampen the chilli hit
  • 80g butter melted
  • 400g goat’s cheese
  • 180ml honey
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1.5 tsp ginger
  • 150g sour cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

Bash the biscuits till they resemble fine breadcrumbs (or do this in a food processor, makes life so much easier if you have one) and then pour over the melted and slightly cooled butter. Spoon this into a 20cm loose bottomed cake tin and press flat. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. At this stage, turn the oven on low – I was at gas mark 3, which is about 160C. Bake the base for 15 minutes and leave to cool.

If you, like me, have the type of goat’s cheese with a rind, you’ll need a food processor again. If it’s just the soft stuff, you probably won’t. I put my goat’s cheese with rind into the food processor with the honey and then blended it for about 5 minutes till it had turned into a lovely soft paste. Turn this out into a bowl and stir in the ginger and cinnamon. Add the sour cream and stir till it’s all combined. Beat in the eggs, one by one, and then add the vanilla extract and salt and stir till it’s all combined.

Pour the topping over the base and put back into the oven for 40-50 minutes until the edges are set and the centre is still a bit wobbly. Leave to cool in the tin, then move the tin to the fridge and leave for a few hours (or overnight) to fully set. Don’t do what I did and press too hard on the centre – I’ve had to top it with raspberries to cover the big hole I’ve made in the middle. Ooops. Don’t tell my mum. The one on the Guardian website calls for a simple drizzle of honey, which looks incredible and absolutely wouldn’t work with a gigantic finger shaped hole. But the raspberries don’t look too bad. Do they?

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My first attempt at a supperclub (of sorts)

I’ve always loved cooking for people – be it a gift of brownies or a jar of granola or a full on Christmas dinner, making and giving food is a true sign of love. I blame my mother entirely.

Over the last ten days, I’ve had two very significant meals – one that I arranged myself in order to kick start my positive 2015, and one that may actually change my life.  More on the former below, the latter will come when I can talk about it more!

In a nutshell, we moved to suburbia and felt a little like we’d retired. It’s so lovely and quiet but quite the shock from being in zone two to zone four. It’s taken us a while but I think we’re finally approaching a level of comfort with it and what’s been particularly nice is having people come and visit and stay with us, now we have the space. And it means we can do significant entertaining which is also nice. So we’ve hosted a lot of dinner parties and Sharknado fests and Avengers evenings in onesies and quiet cocktails do that ended at 4am (and weren’t actually that quiet – sorry neighbours) which have been awesome.

neil and vinnie 5

However, for ages we’ve been toying with the idea of hosting an actual supperclub, one where we plan a menu (three courses and all from scratch) and budget it and cook it all to a timed fashion and where the wino matches wines from his shop. So back in January, to kick start my year with a few changes, we decided to invite a bunch of our nearest and dearest to partake in our food and booze and tell us what they thought. And to decide if this is something we want to do semi-regularly.

Firstly, I am super impressed with the established supperclub owners who do this monthly, weekly or more often than that. My feet STILL hurt from being on them all night long. I’m totally wiped out. I had a week of panic dreams in advance about the sorbet and people getting food poisoning and serving raw meat. But my god, it was fun.

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So the menu – what we’ve realised is most supperclubs have a theme, be it regional foods or comfort food or seasonal or something. So, I went with spice – I love spices in all courses, particularly puddings. I think people are scared of trying things they don’t know so stick to basic spices and herbs but it’s so fun to try new things and combinations. A few years ago, I came up with an idea for the Periodic Table of Herbs & Spices with my then client, Bart Ingredients. It’s a great way to understand what flavours work together and how to replace one spice with another if you don’t have something in your cupboard.

The menu was still being thrashed out at 9pm on Friday night whilst we were moving our dining table into our front living room but the final menu was this:

Starter

Fennel, chilli, honey roasted beetroot and garlic, thyme, sage roasted tomato tart with goat’s cheese, served with a fennel and blood orange salad and a savoury granola

Thanks to lovely Neil for this photo
Thanks to lovely Neil for this photo

I made the beetroot and tomatoes in advance and kept them in the fridge – made life on the day so much easier. The tomatoes particularly were great – I sliced the base of each tomato and put a sliver of garlic into it, then sprinkled fresh thyme, ripped up sage leaves, olive oil and salt and pepper on top of that, roasted in a low oven for about 45 minutes till they went all squishy.

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I spread the base of the tart with a combination of cream cheese and mint, layered finely sliced beetroot on top of that, piled the tomatoes on top of that and finished with slices of goat’s cheese and a twist of freshly ground black pepper. Then baked in the oven for 15 minutes, till the cheese got a nice golden colour.

Tarts pre cheese
Tarts pre cheese

The granola had been made a week prior to that as it keeps fresh for ages and was sprinkled over the fennel and blood orange salad before serving. For savoury granola, use egg white instead of honey or syrup to get it to stick together – makes for lovely clumps of granola. The granola was mildly spiced but I think it could have used more.

Main

Cumin and coriander crusted pork loin served with roasted garlic chickpea mash and chilli tenderstem broccoli.

The pescetarians got fennel crusted cod

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I marinaded the pork loins (which were pre-prepared by the butcher) in the roasted and ground cumin and coriander seeds, with a little bit of olive oil and a few finely minced cloves of garlic overnight then pan fried for a couple of minutes on each side, then roasted on a bed of apples until the core temperature reached 68-70C. Use a meat thermometer. I have learned that life is too short to soak your own chickpeas but it really helps with managing the budget. For a couple of quid, I made enough mash to serve everyone twice over. Roasted garlic is the best thing ever. We served the pork on the mash with a topping of quick fried coriander. Our guests raved about the broccoli – just blanched for a minute then heat some olive oil with chilli flakes, add the broccoli and pan fry for a few minutes.

Again, thanks Neil :-)   @neilejohnson
Again, thanks Neil 🙂 @neilejohnson

The fennel crusted cod was also marinaded overnight in fennel seeds, olive oil and black pepper then pan fried.

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Dessert

Gingerbread with cinnamon chocolate brownie bites and soil, served with pomegranate and blood orange sorbets and a orange cream 

Guess who? See more of his lovely pictures at Instagram @neilejohnson
Guess who? See more of his lovely pictures at Instagram @neilejohnson

I made two each of trays of gingerbread and brownies which was far too much but lucky I did as I had burnt corners on every tin! The gingerbread was Mary Berry’s recipe, my own brownie recipe (not the cow pat one) but removed the chillis and upped the amount of cinnamon. The sorbets could have been a nightmare – the pomegranate one was a delicious magazine recipe but so confusing. Basically, you need to whip egg whites to soft peaks, make a sugar syrup with cinnamon, leave it to cool, add the pomegranate juice then fold in the egg whites. But egg whites don’t fold into liquids and I don’t have an ice cream maker so after a LOT of panicking, the wino suggested I put the whole lightly frozen layered thing into a blender and blend it all together. So I did. He’s a clever fella. It did separate in the freezer, but I churned it every two hours (dedication) and it came out really well. I made the blood orange sorbet and the orange cream as back ups but because it was all so good, I served it all. And then brought out the burned bits of brownie and the remains of the sorbets and everything got eaten. Safe to say, dessert was the best course.

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Luckily a lot of this could be made in advance so the only actual cooking during the evening was the tart, the pork loin and the cod. But it did mean that I was cooking for a few days in advance, working out what to cook when and how to keep it best fresh.

All in all, I really enjoyed doing it – as you can see from the pictures, I really need to learn to plate up properly, so I’m going to focus on doing that better in the future. If you’re thinking about doing your own in the future, its worth considering having an extra pair of hands on the night because it’s a lot of hard work on your own. My wino was amazing though but I’d even consider one other person just to help washing up etc. I reckon if we do this again, it’ll be in a few months, to allow my feet to recover. Let me know in the comments if you want more info when we do our next Stories and Bon Bons Spice Saturday! Thank you to these beautiful people for being my first run guinea pigs and for the beautiful flowers that now fill my home (I sincerely hope you enjoyed it… and don’t have food poisioning!)

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Breakfast and lunch and breakfast and lunch again

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been spending a lot of time breakfasting and lunching in places other than my own house and instead of boozing and stuffing a burger in my face on the tube on the way home. Sometimes I’m so proud of myself it is difficult to not know why minions aren’t strewing the street in front of me with rose petals as I walk. Man, that would be some fine times.

Anyway, here are a few of my favourite places to stuff my face with sensible breakfast and lunches. Well, I say sensible, french toast features quite heavily in my breakfast chows so you know, artery clogging but not responsible for gigantic hangovers. Possibly just a sugar crash or two.

Kopapa Café

I love Kopapa. It serves beautiful and elegant dishes that use interesting flavours and spices. After a particularly gruelling early start to a Tuesday morning, I decided to treat myself to lunch there. The menu is varied – you can get fry ups (eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, black pudding etc etc) but I’m sure they’re far from bog standard. There’s also more interesting options such as avocado toast with chilli, goat’s cheese, mint and lemon oil or chorizo hash with sriracha chilli sauce. Or even a good looking fruit salad, that I did suffer slight food envy pangs about  but as I wanted a treat, I sacked off all pretence of eating healthily and had spiced banana french toast, grilled bacon, orange blossom labne, tamarind raisin relish and orange vanilla syrup.

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Other than the nuts in the banana bread (which I know are a normal inclusion in banana bread but I have a weird hatred of nuts in sweet things) it was delicious. The labne was a little bit tart but by simply ensuring you had enough of the syrup in the mouthful, it worked so well. Couldn’t taste any tamarind (or raisins, weirdly) but there was definitely relish on the toast.

My only complaint was that as a solo diner (breakfaster?) I had my Kindle out and was reading whilst I ate. Seeing me pick up my Kindle, despite having at least half a slice of french toast left, one over zealous staff member started clearing my plate away. But I soon grabbed it back, muttering curses under my breath. She never came back to my table again. I wonder if these two things are connected? Also, I had to reign in the crazy when a man walked in who was the spitting image of Muvatu from Zoolander. Really wanted to know if it was ironic or high fashion but don’t think I could have coped with either answer, so instead I giggled at him from behind the safety of my Kindle. I’m bad people.

At £15 for two coffees and breakfast, it was a little on the steep side, but you do get a lot of food for your money and I probably didn’t need to eat again till dinner time. But that would have been ridiculous, so I did.

The Riding House Cafe

I worked around the corner from The Riding House Cafe when it first opened and still love going there. One of my favourite times there was arriving before my dear friend Cat and ordering a bottle of pink fizz. Ah, the laughing she did when she got out the picture of her baby scan to announce her pregnancy, leaving me to drink the whole bottle myself. We also had a lovely time there with another good friend and his then new, now well established other (and definitely better) half. So, I’ve had some lovely times at RHC. It was with the same dear friend Cat that I went to RHC again recently, this time for a much more sensible breakfast (and no booze).

It’s a much more ‘normal’ breakfast menu at Riding House than at Kopapa. Eggs Benedict, kedgeree, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. Still, if something works, why change it?

I had the challah french toast (does twice in a fortnight make this an addiction? I fear so) with maple syrup and a side order of bacon. Cat had the smoked salmon scrambled eggs which looked amazing. I should probably say here that a side order of bacon is more like an actual side of a pig. I assume this is for the table to share but given Cat doesn’t eat meat,  it was all for me. And ever so nice it was too. However, whilst the breakfast was lovely, nothing really stood out. It was just good – no complaints but also nothing to rave about (apart from the size of the bacon side). With a couple of coffees and a juice, the bill was around £25 for two. And a lovely place to while away a couple of hours gossiping with a buddy (despite the mildly terrifying squirrels taxidermied to look like they’re running up the light fittings). And forgetting to take photos. Sorry about that.

Bone Daddies Ramen Bar

A couple of years ago, ramen took over London and you could barely turn a corner without splashing into some bone broth and or being chased by noodles. And with the ramen came the ramen bores, talking about the ageing on the bones, the quality of the broth, the right combination of noodles/egg/meat/veggies etc. And whilst I agree it’s an artform, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert. However, when Bone Daddies opened a couple of years ago at the end of Soho’s sex alley and Berwick Street market, I thought I’d give it a go. Mind actually blown. And whilst there are plenty of other places that do great ramen, it’s always Bone Daddies for me. Any place with cock scratchings on the menu has to be good, no? I generally go for the Tantamen ramen but I’ve tried a few and they’re all good. And definitely good value for money. So go, get your ramen on.

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The Ivy Market Grill

Back when I first started working in London, which was a very long time ago, The Ivy was the place to be seen (and to celeb spot). Yet for me, on a minuscule first job salary, it had to be an very infrequent treat. The Ivy at it’s original location is currently being refurbed (and the original fixtures and fittings are being auctioned by Sotheby’s, which I’m pretending to not know because I really want one of the chairs but definitely cannot afford it, Maybe I’ll go for one of the napkins instead?) The Ivy Market Grill has opened not far from the original location, offering the same sort of menu and the same dining experience. I popped there for a quick lunch with a buddy and we both just had main courses – no wine, no desserts, nothing. The risotto was one of the best I’ve eaten, pea and asparagus with goat’s cheese. Neil had the chicken salad. Our bill was £30. Quite steep for a quick lunch but definitely worth every penny so maybe save it for a treat.

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Recipe: Kale, Asparagus and parma ham pancakes

I’ve realised I’ve a tendency to post recipes after the event which probably isn’t that helpful. So festive treats after Christmas and Valentine’s Day three days late. In keeping with that trend, here’s what I made on Shrove Tuesday. Which is known as Pancake Day in the UK so guess what we ate?

My niece and nephew came over at lunchtime as it’s half term and we decided to make big fat fluffy American style pancakes, drowned in maple syrup. Because they’re 10 and 5, a plain pancake wasn’t nearly good enough so they attacked my cupboard of weird things I’ve used to decorate cakes with in the past and decided that we should make half with neon sugar and the other half with chocolate chips. What they hadn’t realised is a) mixing neon sugar into the mix would make the pancakes a gorgeous sludgy green colour and b) the chocolate chips were 70% cocoa solids. So they put neon sugar on top of their maple syrup to make them look pretty and my nephew left half of his chocolate chip pancake because even with syrup, the taste of the chocolate was not nearly fun enough. You live n learn, eh? It’s OK, I took them to Shaketastic the next day for brightly coloured milkshakes so all is forgiven.

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After that much fat pancake-ness at lunch, I decided that it made much more sense to be a little bit more sophisticated for dinner with the wino. My adult pancakes (which sounds decidedly filthy) recipe is below. Really quite delicious – and made far too much so we have stuffed pancakes (also wrong) in our freezer for another day.

 Parma Ham, Kale and Asparagus pancakes

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For the crepes (makes about 8 crepes)

  • 30g butter, melted and cooled a little
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • 325ml milk

Whisk together the milk and the egg then pour it into a well in the flour. Stir till smooth, then add the butter. I then pour this back into the measuring jug as it’s easier to make the pancakes. Heat a nonstick frying pan (whatever size you’ve got), pour in a couple of tablespoons worth of batter and swirl the pan so you get thin layer across the bottom. Check the bottom to see when it’s cooked by lifting an edge with a palette knife then flip (or just turn them with the palette knife if you’re not feeling fancy). Once both sides are cooked (literally 30 seconds per side), remove and repeat till the batter is finished.

For the filling

White sauce

  • 25g butter
  • 25g plain flour
  • 600ml milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter over a medium heat then add the flour and cook through for 2 mins. Remove from the heat then add the milk, slowly, whisking all the while to ensure no lumps remain. Once you’ve added all the milk and it’s silky smooth (mine wasn’t) return to the heat and bring up to the boil, still stirring. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, till the sauce has thickened up. Turn off the heat, add the salt and pepper (don’t add too much though as the filling is quite salty) and leave to one side. At this point, preheat your oven to about 170C.

The filling

  • 300g kale, thick stalks removed and finely chopped
  • 6 asparagus spears (I should really start measuring asparagus by weight but this is so much easier), sliced
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 4 x slices of Parma ham

Blanch the kale for a couple of minutes in boiling water to soften its flavour. I also blanched the asparagus – accidentally – but it helped cut down on the cooking time and didn’t ruin the flavour so feel free to follow my mistake. Drain and leave to one side. In a frying pan, heat a tsp of olive oil and add the garlic – don’t let it brown so add a pinch of salt to it.

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Add the vegetables and Parma ham and lightly fry it all together for 3-4 minutes. Once your vegetables are cooked, add them to the white sauce with 50g of blue cheese and stir it all together so you have a big unctuous mess of vegetables and sauce.

Now grease a baking tin well. Take one pancake and spoon a small amount (say 1.5 tbsp) of the filling onto it, not getting too close to the edges. Fold in the short edges then roll the pancake around the filling so you’ve got a neat package of pancake stuffed with vegetables. Repeat this process until all your filling is used up. This amount of filling was right for six of the pancakes. I also had some slices of Parma ham left over so put those into the pancakes too, under the filling.

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Arrange the stuffed rolled pancakes into the baking tin and sprinkle over 50g of parmesan. Bake for 15 minutes until the parmesan is golden and crispy.

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Remove from the pan and eat whilst hot with a green salad (which we didn’t have but I’d imagine it’ll help to cut through the white sauce and the earlier lardy pancakes we ate.)

If I do say so myself, they were delicious (although I probably could have cooked the pancakes a few seconds longer as they looked quite pale and I’d maybe reconsider the garlic as with the Stilton it was all quite a party in my mouth for days afterwards) and definitely something I’ll be making again for an easy midweek supper, even if it’s not pancake day. However, right now, I think I’m going to give up pancakes for Lent as I’ve definitely overindulged.

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