Tag Archives: tomatoes

North London Sundays (and eating WAY too much)

Twice a year, my husband and a bunch of other middle aged, not at the peak of fitness, mates play cricket in Regents Park. They love it, it’s literally the highlight of my husband’s year – I reckon, given a choice he would take two afternoons of cricket over an all expenses paid trip to, oh, I don’t know, Costa Rica. (FYI, if anyone wants to send me to Costa Rica, I’m well up for it).

One year, early in our courtship, I drove Marcel to cricket, and stood in the drizzle for maybe six hours watching them play and then went to the pub with some of the cricketers and listened to them reliving their every move from the cricket match. Whist I was stone cold sober because I was driving. Have I mentioned I find cricket quite tedious? Even though I’m a good Sri Lankan gal.

I’ve since learned that life’s too short to spend hours pretending to care about cricket, so this year, with the first of the two matches this summer approaching, I realised that my dear friend Alex was also playing, which meant that his girlfriend Katie would be free. Now I’ve known Alex for a decade (ish) and whilst he’s great (mostly), Katie is one of those truly awesome, clever and beautiful women and as she’s relatively new in my life, I figured it’d be the perfect opportunity to get to know her better (and let our men folk do that cricket nonsense). And of course, because we love them, we’d turn up to watch, maybe one – definitely not 5 – hours of their “glory” on the field. Pitch? I literally don’t know or care.

So we booked a table at the York & Albany which is spitting distance from the Hub in Regents Park.And one of my favourite places in London (introduced to me by another gorgeous, clever, funny friend, Sarah who bloody moved to Bristol a few years ago and I miss her madly and often. I should really go to Bristol more often :-))

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Thankfully Katie likes a drink, so we started off by ordering a bottle of prosecco before we’d even contemplated the food. Now, I was still a little hanging from the Secret Cinema thingie (turns out you can drink a lot in Tattooine and the space booze makes your hangover last for two days), During those two days, I think everything I ate was either beige (toast, humous) or brown (chocolate). Not a green thing or a red thing or an fruity thing passed my lips. By Sunday however, I was feeling up to a breakfast smoothie (yup, those are still rearing their heads on occasion) and then headed out to meet Katie for lunch.

The reason I mention the hangover is because we had our prosecco and a bread basket (obvs – we’re not carb free fools) and I decided that I needed something light after two days of hangover eating, so ordered the cod. Despite there being what looked like an AMAZING Yorkshire pudding with the roast beef. And Katie’s roast chicken looked incredible. And to go with my cod, I ordered a rocket and tomato salad. Have I mentioned, I don’t really like tomatoes before? Well I don’t. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking other than I needed green things.

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York & Albany is a Gordon Ramsay venue so we knew the food would be good and it was. Not mind-blowing but good, honest food. One of the reasons I knew I was going to love Al’s girlfriend was the first time we met, she ignored starters because she knew she’d want pudding. My kinda gal. So we ordered two – a lemon posset with an earl grey granita and shortbread. And a chocolate brownie with salted caramel ice cream. Jesus wept, they were awesome. That salted caramel ice cream blew my mind.

We naturally had a cocktail with which to wash down our puddings and then we headed over to see the last bit of the cricket and drink more prosecco. Apparently Marcel’s team beat Alex’s team (I honestly have no idea what was going on).

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At some point, a few hours later, we found ourselves a little peckish. The incredible sportsmen we are married to/dating were also hungry so decided we’d head to Q-Grill in Camden, one of my favourite locations and home to some of the best macaroni cheese I’ve ever had.

Q-grill specialises in grilled meat so probably not the best place for a veggie – thankfully none of us are. I have a big love for fried chicken so ordered the buttermilk chicken with seasoned fries (which came with deep fried pickles – delish), Katie had the same but in a bun form, the boys had burgers and one of the other cricketers had pork cheeks with cheesy grits.

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I honestly don’t think I could have walked another step after eating that much that day, so thank the lords for Uber. Here’s to many more lovely ‘ladies wot lunch’ lunches. Possibly not with ‘stuff your face’ dinners on the same day though

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.

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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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