Tag Archives: brownies

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.

Brickwood

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…

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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Chocolate Orange brownie cake (or a baked poop?? You decide)

My father in law turned 70 this weekend so we’ve been celebrating with the family a lot over the last few days. He had quite a traumatic injury last spring involving his bike, his leg and a truck so it’s been a hell of a year for him and was good to be able to spend time with him and see how he’s recovering.

Birthday boy

We went to a lovely party with his friends on the Sunday, where his long term partner who is an amazing cook, put on a spread that included no less than two pies, a deboned, stuffed chicken, about 43 salads and beautiful home baked bread, followed by an incredible four desserts – my favourite was the chocolate Amaretto cherry tart, the husband could have happily drowned himself in the St Clements trifle. Yums.

Cherry chocolate amaretto tart and baked cheesecake

On Monday, my sister in law hosted a gathering just for the immediate family and she asked me to make a cake. I was more than happy to oblige and decided to make a orange chocolate brownie cake, with a little dusting of orange flavoured icing sugar on top. How difficult could this be? I can bake brownies, as my slutty brownies post (hopefully) proved.

Lordy, everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong and I ended up with a cake that looked like this.

Oh dear

Yup, a gigantic baked cow pat. Or, as I fondly referred to it, a turd cake.

Clearly, a dusting of icing sugar, orange flavoured or not, wasn’t going to polish this turd so I ended up making an orange butter cream icing instead which I think made the whole thing a little too sweet but it looked so much better. And they all seemed to like it and the brownie bit actually tasted fine so this is why I’m putting the recipe below. Maybe you’ll have more luck with it, I think I was just having an off day. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.

Chocolate Orange Brownie cake with orange buttercream icing

So much better

Brownie Cake Ingredients

  • 175g butter
  • 175g dark chocolate (at least 70%) + an additional 100g all chopped into chunks
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 70g plain flour
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • Zest of two oranges

Method

  • Preheat oven to gas mark 4
  • Grease and line a 20cm cake tin, ideally with a loose bottom or springform to make it easy to remove the cake
  • Melt together the butter, 175g of chocolate, sugar and orange zest over a very low heat until it has all combined and you can’t feel any grains of sugar.
  • Add a pinch of salt and leave to cool a little – use this time to whip your egg whites into soft peaks
  • Once the butter/choc/sugar mix has cooled a little, whisk in the egg yolks and the remaining 100g of chocolate
  • Gently fold in the flour until all combined then fold in the egg whites, taking care not to lose any of the air in them
  • Spoon batter into the prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes until the top bounces back when you touch it
  • Leave to cool

A note here – when I started mixing the flour into the batter, I noticed that there was a layer of oil that just wouldn’t combine with anything. Didn’t want to put too much flour into the mix but did probably add an extra 10g or so – it didn’t help, I believe this was the start of my turd cake problems. Because of this the egg whites didn’t fold in correctly causing the “natural” pattern as seen on the cake above. 

Whilst the cake cools, prepare the icing.

I had already put aside 200g of icing sugar with the zest of two oranges to give it that orangey flavour but if you don’t have that, it’s just as easy to add the zest to the butter to make orange butter cream

Orange buttercream icing

  • 100g butter softened
  • 150g icing sugar
  • Zest of two oranges
  • 3-4 tbsps of orange juice

Method

  • Beat the butter till it’s light and fluffy – much easier to use an electric or stand mixer for this
  • Add the orange zest and icing sugar and combine
  • Slowly add the orange juice a spoonful at a time until you have a consistency you’re happy with

If you’re better at icing than me, this may look good piped – at this point I was running out of time and flustered at the state of the cake so I simply used the dump and spread method.

Despite appearances, this cake tasted much better than I thought it would so do give it a go – and if you’re cleverer than me, please explain why it looked like a poop? Thanks awfully!

Deliciously slutty brownies

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I work in Camden (you can read my Camden musings here) and right across the road from my office is a fantastic creative space called The Camden Collective that hosts pop up stalls from up and coming designers and foodies. It was my favourite place for presents last Christmas – I’d say at least 30% of Mr Bon Bon’s presents came from there. And I’ve recently treated myself to a lovely bracelet and earrings and all sorts of other accoutrements. Basically, I love it.

I may have mentioned earlier, I fancy myself a relatively OK baker – I once had a pop up bakery with some friends (awesome fun, bloody hard work) and the main thing I learned through that was it’s so much better to make a bloody good cake than it is to bake a crap cake and cover it with glitzy icing. I’m sure I’ll write again about my particular hatred for cupcakes but I hate cupcakes. Hate the icing to cake ratio. Hate the cutesy girliness of it all. Hate that it turns grown women into jibbering wrecks. It’s a cake for crying out loud, it lasts minutes and shouldn’t cost a fiver. In fact, Sophie Heawood said it best right here.

So, last Christmas, when popping by Camden Collective for an amazing Black Sheep coffee, I happened across Dub Plates Kitchen and her fabulous slutty brownies. In a nutshell, she’d taken a brownie and made it incredible with toppings and a pie base. I have dreamed about this brownie and so, a couple of weeks ago, with #CakeFriday at work and my niece and nephew staying for the weekend, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try my own version of slutty brownies. Rather than a pie crust base (mostly because I’m hugely lazy and couldn’t be bothered to), I decided to make a biscuit base (like on a cheesecake) and used all sorts of stuff that I had in my cupboard as the toppings. And I made them in muffin cases, because I thought that’d help them bake more evenly, not because I had any cupcake desires. Have I mentioned how much I hate cupcakes?

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The basic brownie recipe was inspired by one for chilli chocolate brownies, on the beautiful Del Sole blog. I didn’t chilli them this time though. Recipe below, with some pictures. If you make them, I’d love to see how they turned out.

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Slutty Brownies – makes 15-20 muffin sized brownies

For the base:

8 x digestive biscuits
5 x ginger nuts
50g butter melted

For the brownies

200g unsalted butter
450g dark chocolate
150g strong flour
6 large eggs
400g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt

Toppings:

Whatever you like really – I used mini-marshmallows, Smarties (although the colour ran so maybe try M&Ms), Maltesers, salted pretzels and honeycomb but if you like nuts and chocolates, peanuts or walnuts could work well. Next time I’m going to try wasabi peas, I think that’d be a rare treat.

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Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees and line a muffin tray with cases

Crush the digestive biscuits and ginger nuts to crumbs. Mix in to the 50g melted butter and spoon a couple of spoonfuls into each muffin case. Set aside to cool.

In a pan on low heat melt the butter. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir the chocolate until fully melted. Set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl combine eggs, sugar, salt and spices and mix with a electrical whisk for 5 minutes or until the mixture falls from the whisk in ribbons.

Fold in the melted cool chocolate into the egg mixture. Do so gently to avoid deflating the air in the mixture.

Sift the flour in the mixture and fold in with the spatula.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases – 2-3 tablespoons per case as it will rise a little. Grab a handful of whatever toppings you’re going for and throw them onto the top – the thing with slutty brownies is that they don’t have to look perfect, they just need to taste delicious.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes until the top of the brownie is a little cracked.

Troubleshooting

If you go with the loaf option, turn the heat of the oven down – I didn’t and ended up burning the top whilst the middle was a little undercooked

Smarties lose their colour in the heat – maybe try M&Ms

If you don’t like toasty marshmallows, then add them onto the top halfway through the cooking time