Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Weekend, Part 1...

Weekends, I have come to realise, are much like the buses that stop outside the gym and whizz my tired legs the 10 minutes up the road to my front door, the sofa with a well needed cup of tea. Not only because they are, after a week filled with Legs Bums and Tums induced torture (I am sure that bandana wearing demon-woman is trying to kill me), a very welcome break for said legs, bum and tum, but because no matter how many weeks you laze about in the park with a magazine and a bag of tortilla chips all on your tod, the excitement, and the visitors (like the proverbial bus) all seem to come at once.


 This weekend, was one of those excitement filled ones, with a house full of guests and time to do whatever the hell we wanted. Yup, bustling for attention was not just one visitor, not two, not even three, but FOUR suitcase toting sightseers, all after a bit of big-smoke glamour and, as is my custom, serious amounts of time spent sipping on cocktails and stuffing our faces.

The first through the door, a fully-subscribed member of my VIP guest-list, brunch companion of choice (as you can read here), was my boyfriend. The second was my mum. The third my Mum’s friend, affectionately referred to as ‘Auntie Kim’ (much to said boyfriend’s confusion), and the fourth my best buddie from uni who, when not sunbathing at her swimming pool in Dubai, is gallivanting around the world living the glamorous life of an air hostess. Yes. Very different people. Very different ideas; a sentiment summed up by the speed at which my boyfriend, the rose between four thorns, of course; escaped to the relative safety of the pub, football and some male company on Saturday night...


But, despite spending most of the weekend wishing I was Bernard with his time-travelling watch; I absolutely bloody love having visitors. Not just because I have someone to partake in my sharing bag of Doritos, but because it is the very best excuse to go to, and for the most part, eat at, some of my favourite spots in this wonderful city. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, (not forgetting any elevenses, afternoon tea or midnight feasts in between), I am suffering from a crippling addiction to seeking out hidden, remarkable little places that are dishing up the most amazing, exciting food (and cocktails/wines/G&Ts, of course) across the capital. I spend most of my time researching the next street-food sensation or scanning the Cheap-eats section of the Time Out website (this addiction, like most, is certainly not good for my bank-balance), endlessly searching for the next place to send my taste buds wild and entertain anybody willing enough to be my dining partner.
This weekend was no exception; it all began with, of course, a poacher hash and bubblegum mascarpone rich brunch at my old favourite M1lk, before moving on for creamy banana milkshakes and sour cherry studded, buttery custard tarts at cycle-mad cafe, Look Mum no Hands. This cafe-cum-bike shop, where the slate grey wheels and shining metal spokes of a myriad of racing bikes queuing up to be cured of their ailments in the onsite worshop, contrast strikingly with frothy, bright pink crepe paper pop-poms and polka dot bunting that hang from the ceiling; is, much like M1lk, forever busy. There is a lot to be said for a good queue, in my book.


So if you, like me, can bear the bustle for a table in a queue of lycra clad cyclists and scrunchie-sporting Shorditch trendies, this is a wickedly unique place to partake in a bit of weekend chillaxing. And despite being much too scared to jump on any bike that is not a Borris and confined to the borders of Hyde Park myself, it is one of my favourite spots for a quick coffee from the Square Mile Coffee Roasters, or lunch from their tantalising selection of fresh, colourful salads and golden pies and pasties. The perfect place to watch the Tour de France, you say? Well, funny you should mention it; starting from Saturday they have a big screen which will be broadcasting the whole shebang. Spot on.

Next up, after an afternoon of getting lost in between neon jelly shoes and crochet crop tops in Primark and getting caught up in a very rainy Gay Pride parade, was another very foodie destination- dinner at one of my very favourite spots in Central London; Soho’s favourite Lebanese outpost, YallaYalla.
A tiny cafe of houmous and halloumi filled heaven, this is, yet again, a queuing hotspot (how very English...), offering only just enough velvet cushioned benches to seat around 18 hungry diners. But it is worth the wait, and the squeeze; just get a bottle of Lebanese Rosé (who knew??) and drink from tumblers in the neon signed, sex shop strewn alleyway outside. Which is incidentally how I like to partake in all aperitifs. Not dodgy at all...*


But anyway, once you get inside, this place is the business. Yup, with overflowing plates of smoky, pomegranate strewn baba ganoush and creamy hummus crowned with the richest of lamb schwarma, teamed with charred, freshly rolled pitta and crunchy, neon pink pickles, the food more than makes up for the slightly shifty location. Follow with crispy balls of cumin rich falafel, vibrant fattoush spiked with sharp red wine vinegar, fragrant sumac and strewn with crispy pitta, golden halloumi with the saltiest black olives and the very best, garlic heavy, homemade Lebanese sausages fried with fresh tomatoes and torn flat leaf parsley, and you will be glad you stuck out the moments of unintentional eye contact as customers of the shop advertising ‘models upstairs’ go on their merry, if sheepish, way. The pitta, soft and steaming, arrives in drones, as the food (if turning up slightly sporadically, and often missing a few dishes) fills the tiny room with wafts of coriander, mint and harrisa. It is easy to over-order; the plates are small, but the lamb stuffed, fried pittas drizzled with pomegranate molasses and hunks of chilli rich, paprika coated fried potato make for a seriously filling meal.


We chose two dishes each, and had just enough room to sample the delectable ‘Damascus milk pudding’, a fragrant bowl of rose scented pannacotta-like jelly; sweet, creamy and crowned with jewel like pomegranate seeds in a bright red syrup. Not my boyfriends favourite, he tried it twice and on each occasion did a rather accurate impression of the Churchill dog having a pessimistic moment (Oh nooo, Oh no, no!), but it was a hit with the girls, if being a little teeny bit sickly. Maybe it had something to do with the pink...
Full, happy and slightly delirious from all that pitta, the (extremely reasonable) bill was paid and we too skipped down the unassuming little lane and into the throngs of drag queens and rainbow flags of the West End. Delicious, just keep tabs on what you order so you don’t end up shelling out for fattoush or falafel that never made it up the dumbwaiter and onto your table...


*(If all else fails, they have another branch just off Oxford Street...)

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Tasting the rainbow...

Evenings that stretch out in a pimms-fuelled blur of beer gardens, guacamole and tortilla chips, the constant quest for a sliver of ice-cold breeze to take the edge off humid, sleepless nights, passion fruit mojitos, sticky chicken legs on smoking barbeques, sugar dusted strawberries, raspberries, salted caramel ice cream; Summer is pretty bloody good.


And as midsummer reaches boiling point, it is time for my favourite sunshine induced bonus of all. It is, of course, food related (what a surprise), and namely the glorious manner in which shopping baskets are slowly transformed from a bleak array of tins and root vegetables that were a constant companion through the long, wet winter, into a glorious rainbow of vibrant, fresh and flavour packed fruit and veg. Piled high with glistening, post-box red tomatoes, bright green and yellow courgettes, seemingly polished, purple skinned aubergines and the leafy greens of the tenderest salad leaves, this, if you haven’t noticed, is the time of year that gets me  excited.

Yes, as the long, balmy nights call for full al-fresco dining operations to be deployed at every opportunity, what better way to make the most of all this amazing produce than keeping it simple and showing off all that deliciousness in all its glory. Yup, much to my sheer delight, a fridge full of summer vegetables makes throwing together a gorgeous plate of exciting, vibrant food is as easy as A, B, C. Aubergine, beetroot, calvolo nero that is...



Add just a few store cupboard essentials, a healthy glug of something extra virgin and plates brim with sunny goodness in no time. Big platefuls of sliced, rainbow tinged heritage tomatoes drizzled with nutty olive oil, a splash of sherry vinegar and a scattering of fragrant basil leaves, an array of jewel coloured peppers, courgettes and aubergines, cut into thick chunks and barbequed with lemon, thyme and garlic, the possibilities are as endless as the big blue sky.

But my Plat de Saison is without doubt this beautiful salmon fillet, steamed with summer vegatables, capers, lemon and fresh herbs, topped with a refreshingly minty crème fraiche dressing and a scattering of marjoram flowers. Neon pink rimmed radish slices, delicately steamed in tin-foil parcels (or ‘en papillote’ if you’re posh and/or French) alongside spring onion stems, asparagus tips, fresh peas and crunchy slices of courgette and fennel, contrast perfectly with the salty bite of capers and refreshing zestiness from the lemon; it is perfection- Quick, easy and healthy to boot.


And if you have never experienced the joy of cooked radishes before, go for it. Not only are they the exact shade of pink I like to paint my nails, adding a glorious matchy-matchy element to dinnertime, but just cooked they have a delicious crunch and a slight pepperiness that manages to enrich the delicate green vegetables without overpowering all those subtle summer flavours. I say let them out of the salad bowl and onto centre stage for once, you won’t regret it.

This is also my favourite way to celebrate the very end of the English asparagus season (which officially concluded on the 21st of June), just make sure you keep the parcels in the oven just long enough for the salmon to be just cooked through, and to retain the gorgeous colour and wicked crunch of the delicious fresh vegetables. The perfect contrast to the creamy, mint flecked dressing, and as always, the tailor-made partner to a bucketful of Sauvignon Blanc.

Summer salmon with crème fraiche and mint dressing

4 salmon fillets

1 bunch asparagus, woody stems removed, tips left whole and stems sliced

1 bunch spring onions, halved

1 courgette, sliced and halved

1 handful fresh peas

1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced, including leaves

Small bunch of radishes, sliced

2 lemons

4 tsp capers

Small bunch fresh herbs (mint, parsley, marjaram, chives, etc) chopped

Extra virgin rapeseed oil

Salt and pepper

For the dressing

1 tub crème fraiche

1 lemon, juice and zest

Small bunch mint, chopped

Extra virgin rapeseed or olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180oc. Arrange the prepared vegetables on square of tin foil, drizzle with the oil, a good squeeze of lemon juice and scatter liberally with salt and pepper.

Scatter with the capers and herbs, before topping with the salmon fillets. Drizzle with a little more lemon juice and oil and season well. Wrap the fish and vegetables in the foil to create a parcel, leaving a little room for everything to steam.

Place the parcels onto a baking tray and cook for around 20 minutes, or until the salmon is just cooked.
Meanwhile, mix the ingredients for the dressing, stirring well until smooth and creamy. Season well and serve a top the salmon and steamed vegetables. Add some crushed new potatoes, a drizzle of extra virgin oil and get in there. It’s as easy as that...


Thursday, 19 June 2014

M1lk is good for you...

Weekend brunch is my favourite mealtime of all time. Ever. Without question.


Yup, with ridiculously enormous papers strewn around me like the foundations of an ink covered fort, the unavoidable last minute scrabble in the depths of my handbag for an (almost always) inkless pen to fill the two clues I have any idea about in the cross word, sipping endless cups of rich, creamy flat whites; a few hours of glorious coffee and bacon fuelled rapture after a week of keyboards, boardrooms and boredom, is the absolute ultimate.

 Add the chance discovery of the utopia of what all weekend breakfasts should be in a cafe just a scenic ten minute stroll from my front door and you will begin to understand the enthusiastic manner in which I leap out of bed and into my converse of a Saturday morning. M1lk (note the trendy ‘1’), is the place. A Balham institution that sees queues longer than the line for the clean(ish) toilets at Glastonbury week upon week; it is a mecca of pillowy buckwheat pancakes, smoothies in oh-so-trendy milk bottles and a menu full of foraged, seasonal ingredients that I have not even the faintest idea how to pronounce.



On the corner of Hildreth Street market (where they buy all the seasonal fruit for their delicious pint o’smoothies), the light and breezy, delightfully mismatching cafe is strewn with tropical prints that hang on wooden pegs from a string across the huge windows, and is without fail, totally packed. With a bar scattered with icons of the virgin Mary, vintage books and slightly creepy looking doll’s heads, tempting yuzu and pistachio cakes and coconut flecked, fist sized lamingtons on candy hued cake stands; it is cool. Achingly so, a dead giveaway being the top-knotted waitresses that clearly have to pass a written exam on the history of Reebok classics and the theory of wearing your trousers just short enough to be questionable.

But, although the staff have without doubt been instructed on the trendiest way to describe the weekly changing pancake special (usually making an unannounced bob down next to the table, using lots of superlatives and peppering everything with a few essential ‘ok, guys’), it still manages to steer well clear of ‘try-hard’. I mean, when describing pancakes topped with such delights as blood orange jam, hazelnut popcorn brittle and vanilla bean mascarpone, a little bit of enthusiastic chirping is most definitely allowed, short trousers or not. Add to that elderflower clotted cream, green almond crunch, camomile flowers, nutella caramel and nesquik mascapone (say whaaa?!), and I think it’s fair to say that this place really is deserving of the well rehearsed speech.



It is the best. I have tried avoiding the queues and heading elsewhere, but to be honest, much like heading to the seriously less-clean loos at Glasto, it will undoubtedly lead to massive disappointment. If entirely devoid of any loo-roll related crises. Hopefully...

But seriously, how can you turn down rich, nutty americanos from the Workshop Coffee co., made in an aeropress and served with a miniature milk (sorry, M1lk) bottle of, well, milk? How could you judge that the winding queue of trendies and buggy toting yummy mummies is not worth the legendary ‘Convict’; a toasted proper English muffin stuffed with Burford Brown egg, Noen’s & Sons sausage patty, homemade poacher hash and hangover sauce is worth missing out on? Occasionally (and foolishly) compared to the notorious egg and sausage McMuffin down the road, don't even contemplate skipping the queue and missing out on this beauty. This is a McMuffin fallen from heaven. 


Last weekend, as my perpetually hungry boyfriends and I ventured the few minutes South to partake in our weekly M1lk ritual, I went for one of those tongue-twisting concoctions that make the pre-ordering nerves akin to waiting to be called in to your year 9 French oral. “Turkish baked eggs (I got that bit ok...) with...” and here is where I proceeded to jab at the distressed brown paper menu like a true Brit abroad (well, I am a Clapham girl now, after all). I got there in the end, but for this purpose must resort to inserting words copied straight from the menu, and still without any indication of what “kriskrainer and labne...” might actually mean (Could be a hot new DJ duo headlining the BBC introducing stage at Glasto , for all I know)...

As it turns out, my cast iron skillet of neon-orange yolked baked eggs arrived strewn with buttery, garlic rich sautéed spinach, an elegant blob of sharp Turkish yoghurt, salty hunks of fried sausage and strewn with a whimsical scattering of wild flowers. Word of warning here, by the way- from the sourdough with goats cheese and red clover honeycomb to the burnt butter eggs Benedict, many dishes come with a girly flourish of freshly foraged flowers much to every instagrammers delight and many the burly boyfriend's (including my army commando one's) dismay.  Said boyfriend, avoiding the rose petals and remaining ever the off-piste orderer (he fits in so well), went for charred English asparagus with miso butter and crisp, panko coated deep fried Burford Brown from the seasonable, forever evolving specials board.


As always, it was totally and utterly, 100%, grade A gorgeous. My side of the table, super soft eggs contrasted beautifully with the slightly sharp, creamy yoghurt and meaty mouthfuls of sausage was right on the money (which, I might add here, is not on the cheap side, but totally worth it). The asparagus, lightly charred and the perfect partner to the aromatic, salty miso and crispy shreds of nori, did what M1lk does best- showcasing foraged, seasonal and wonderful British produce in exciting, interesting dishes that never fail to be perfectly cooked, seasoned and enthusiastically delivered by the scrunchie wearing staff.


Wickedly good. And certainly not the place to implement my boyfriend's recent request that I try writing a less than totally positive review for a change. Yup, unfortunately (for him), M1lk, with all it's butternut, feta and sage baked eggs, burnt butter hazelnut cakes and edible sweet pea garnishes, is never going to be the place to bring out the negatives. It is just too. Damn. Good. 

Maybe my quest for pessimism will have to resort to that McMuffin after all...

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Mackerel-more...

One of the many outcomes of my particularly fragrant summer spent living the life of a fishmonger, (apart from a distinct diminution in jumper supplies after sacrificing the vast majority due to a very stubborn fish gut aroma- no way to make friends), was my slightly misguided dislike of mackerel. I know it sounds strange, and a loathing of 4am starts or spending significant amounts of time embedded elbow deep in giant barrels of ice would have been somewhat more appropriate, but no, it was the knock-you-between-the-eyes iron rich pong and slippery brown guts of the mackerel that got it.


I know, I know; with skin boasting delicate metallic patterns that would not look out of place on the catwalk, more health claims than the contents of many a super-model’s fridge, and boasting a price-tag about ten thousand times smaller than what Kate Moss demands just to put her slippers on; it is a crying shame that my eye, as it skips effortlessly from coral pink salmon fillet to bright red tuna steak, overlooks the oily, silver skinned gem of the fish counter time after time. So many mealtimes have been spent unassumingly missing out on all that iron-rich, versatile deliciousness, and now it has finally gone on long enough, I can no longer live on kale and spinach alone. Yes, my diminishing bank balance and desire for swishy, shiny hair without dishing out for a salon hair treatment, finally dictated earlier this week that it was time to face my fishy-fear.

Purposefully striding up to the fish counter, pocketing a packet of peppered smoked mackerel (try saying that in a hurry), I left with big plans for a giant bowl of something fishy and a conquering of the fear that has kept my iron intake down for so long. Now my hatred does have some exceptions, a big one being the old classic; soft, smoked fish disguised as a creamy mound of delicious, horseradish rich pate, sprinkled with capers, a smattering of cracked black pepper and just waiting to be spread on warm granary toast dripping with butter. Piled into a mismatching line-up of chipped ramekins, teacups, jam jars, etc. I have to admit that in this form, I have always had a bit of a soft spot for this silver swimmer. Talk about fickle...


But on this occasion, having neither the friends (sniff) nor the requisite lycra leggings and matching scrunchie combo to face recreating a 80’s dinner party on a school night, I wanted to try something different. Now I still went smoked, let’s not swim before we can paddle here, but I stepped away from the cream cheese and whipped up this super-quick, fresh and zingy Sicilian style smoked mackerel, sultana and olive spaghetti in no time. And, lo and behold, my trips to the fish counter will never be the same again.

Yup, as you may have predicted...

Mackerel. Is. Awesome.



And eating it like this almost sets it off the scale. Rich with super-ripe tomatoes, contrasted with a little sweetness from the plump sultanas and enough zesty lemon to cut through the oily smokiness of the fish, this dish made me see this slippery little character in a whole new light. A healthy, fresh midweek dinner, it’s the perfect way to use up leftovers lurking in the depths of the fridge too; chuck in those olives left over from Saturday night in front of the World Cup, a splash of white wine (if you have any knocking around after the tension experienced throughout said football match...), capers, chilli, toasted pine nuts. The list is endless. Just maybe leave that half can of Stella out on this occasion...

PS. Although my new fish de jour, mackerel is no longer considered as sustainable as it once was due to over-fishing, now gracing the ‘eat with caution’ list, denoting that it should only be eaten every so often. But stick to that, and every once in a while this super-fish, whether subtly smoked or freshly filleted and thrown on to the BBQ with a good smattering of rosemary and lemon sea salt, is not only cheap enough to leave enough in your pocket for a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, but unbelievably tasty too. I am converted. I may even go fresh next time...

Lemony mackerel spaghetti with sultanas and olives, serves 2

200g wholemeal spaghetti

Olive or extra virgin rapeseed oil

A splash of white wine

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 red onion, finely sliced

A large handful ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tbsp tomato puree

A small handful black olives

A small handful sultanas or raisins

1 or 2 fillets smoked mackerel torn into chunks

1 lemon

Small handful fresh oregano, torn

Small handful of chopped almonds, to serve

First, boil the spaghetti in salted water, leaving to cook for 10-12 minutes while you are making the sauce, until al dente.

In a small frying pan, gently fry the onion and garlic in the oil, until translucent. Add the chopped fresh tomatoes and fennel seeds, and fry gently for a few more minutes until the tomatoes begin to soften.

Add a splash of wine and leave the sauce to bubble gently for a few minutes. Stir in the tomato puree, the olives and sultanas, season and leave to reduce until you have a thick sauce (loosen with a little water from the pasta if it is getting too thick!)

Stir in the mackerel, the juice and zest of half a lemon, and the torn oregano.

Stir the pasta through the sauce, adding a glug of oil and a spoonful of the pasta water to loosen and sprinkle over some of the chopped almonds. DONE.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A Taste of the Limelight...


It’s a fact. A star-spangled truth that is written in our destiny from the moment we are offered free-reign of the dressing up box or let loose with the glitter glue; some people were simply born to be on the stage. I mean take Lady Gaga. Stood on a platform elevated a few feet above a crowd, she is a bonafide Superstar. Picking up a microwavable Spag-bol for one in Tesco covered head-to toe in neon green Kermit the Frogs on the other hand; stark raving mental. Katy Perry has fireworks that shoot sporadically from her diamante covered ball gown as teenagers in blue wigs faint at her feet, Jacko had the glove, Madonna the fishnets and Popeye-esque guns, Kim Kardashian has that face (and that arse...). Yes, for some, being in the spotlight is as natural as the contents of Gweneth Paltrow’s fridge. For a large proportion of the rest of us (including yours truly), however, the very thought of getting up and interacting with a goggle-eyed audience with a flesh coloured microphone glued to our face, is more akin to Gweneth slurping a Slush Puppy outside Primark. Not. Gonna. Happen.



Don’t get me wrong, I have had my fair share of moments in the (questionable) limelight. The first, a one line part in a local production of Jack and the Beanstalk in which I was given the confusing task of snubbing out an electric candle in Jack’s bedroom wearing a rather fetching night gown and cap combo, was more Victorian ghost than Gaga glamour. The next, unfortunately, involved a foam knife costume, tap shoes, a particularly awkward dance routine (looking graceful is difficult when stuffed inside a piece of cutlery...) and absolutely no lines. Not my finest moment, but somewhat ironically, the sheer delight my boyfriend gleans from that story alone is one of the main reasons he is still going out with me.

So, based on previous experience, and an annoying inclination to get extraordinarily blinky if even slightly nervous; it would not be completely honest to say that I was excited after being asked to get up on the stage and do a couple of cookery demonstrations at Flavours of Suffolk Festival this weekend. My reaction after I was also asked to host the Children’s Cookery Den for the entirety of the Festival? Well, the feeling was more, how should I put it, blind panic with a touch of mortal dread? Yeah, that just about sums it up...



Now we are not talking the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury here; more a (generously) pint-sized foodie fest in a field in deepest Suffolk, brimming with wonderful local producers dishing out tasters by the barrow-load, live music and street food galore. So not exactly O2, but for a girl who can’t even listen to recordings of her own whining voice (always a few octaves higher on tape than heard through your own ears??) and gets shaky fingers just thinking about a speech made in Year 7 about why London should host the 2012 Olympics (you can thank me later, Sir Seb); this field and that microphone was a pretty big deal.

But, as it turns out, although I was most certainly not born to be on the stage, I may be in danger of growing up just a little bit in love with it after this weekend. Working with the county’s best chefs who championed amazing local produce and awesome, accessible cooking at every turn, mulling over the joys of plump, ruby-red Suffolk strawberries and learning about the incredible work the North Suffolk Skills Academy are doing to give young people the chance to kick start a career in the kitchen (learn more here); proved that, yeah, being in the (sorta) limelight is not quite as scary as it might seem. Maybe Gwennie should nip down to Westfield after all...


The third outing for this wonderful festival, it was a weekend of sun, bustling marquees, miniature fingers stuck firmly in to pizza dough and burger patties, all topped off with more local foodies than you can shake a parmesan and rosemary bread stick at. There was manic wiping of white chocolate mousse from little faces, sun-drenched live music, hours spent vehemently tasting awesome local produce, many more spent glaring enviously at those sipping cold beers on bright blue deck chairs outside the Adnams mobile bar, but more than anything, it was about inspiring the chefs of the future to get in the kitchen. And it was the best. Stage or no stage, I loved it.

Even when it came to the dreaded cookery demonstrations, the part of the weekend that gave me nightmares in which all my clothes evaporated in public on more than one occasion; I found myself, strangely, in my absolute element. Whether it was bread tossing blackened corn salsa with lime and coriander and flipping homemade tortillas in the Kid’s Cookery Tent, or slathering amazing Pump Street sourdough in Hillfarm rapeseed oil and caramelised peaches in the Main Tent; I absolutely loved everything about my first time at Flavours of Summer Festival. Let’s hope it’s not the last time I cook with a microphone attached to my face. I’m sure Britney does it every night.



But enough of that, I think you probably get the picture, and seeing as this is (and I most certainly am) all about the food; I imagine you probably want to know exactly what I cooked?
 Well for the kiddies, it was time to get well and truly messy. Homemade fish fingers were teamed with smoky rainbow corn salsa, lime rich guacamole and freshly rolled tortillas; a healthy, simple creation that was an absolute hit with the little people. Over in the main Cookery Theatre, it was more of a civilised affair- think Pump Street Bakery bruschetta topped with chorizo, heritage tomato & cannellini bean stew, lemony fennel slaw and rapeseed oil aioli, or decked out with Suffolk Blue, honey and thyme roasted peaches and salted hazelnut brittle. All washed down with a miniature tasting cup of rosé sangria with peaches, Suffolk strawberries, thyme flowers and lemon balm. And, despite the third degree burn I sustained on the grill, it all went without a hitch.

Best. Weekend. Ever.


Chorizo & cannellini bean Bruschetta with lemony fennel and aioli

A few slices of stale Pump Street sourdough (or other thickly sliced, good quality bread)

Rapeseed or olive oil

50g chorizo, sliced

1 tin cannellini beans

1 lemon

A handful of ripe tomatoes, any size shape and colour you like!

1 tsp fennel seeds

½ tsp sweet paprika

½ bulb fennel, very thinly sliced (including the lovely leafy tops)

A few tbsp garlic mayonnaise or aioli (I used Hillfarm’s amazing rapeseed version)

Fresh marjoram (or oregano), to serve

First, make the chorizo and chickpea stew. In a large frying pan, fry the chorizo until starting to turn crispy and the beautiful smoky oil has been released. Add the fennel seeds, paprika and tomatoes (cut into medium sized chunks) and cook for a few more minutes.

Add the cannellini beans (juice and all), season well and leave bubbling away to reduce on a medium heat, stirring occasionally while you get cracking with the fennel.

In a bowl, combine the fennel, a glug of oil and a squeeze of lemon. Season well with salt and pepper and leave to one side. Easy squeezy.

Just before assembling, toast the sliced bread in a hot griddle pan or grill/toast until golden. Drizzle generously with oil and season well.

Spread with the garlic mayonnaise, top with the thickened bean and chorizo stew, a spoonful of the gorgeous fennel and scatter with freshly picked marjoram leaves. Dust with paprika, drizzle over another splash of oil and serve.

Blue Cheese Brushetta with Honey & Thyme Sticky Peaches and Salted Caramel Brittle

A few slices of stale Pump Street sourdough (or other thickly sliced, good quality bread)

Rapeseed or olive oil

100g Suffolk Blue, or other blue cheese

4 peaches or nectarines, sliced

2 tbsp honey

5 sprigs thyme, with flowers if you can!

50g hazelnuts

100g sugar

Firstly make the hazelnut brittle. Add the nuts and sugar to a small saucepan and leave on a medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally until the sugar has completely caramelised. Coat the nuts in the caramel using a fork and transfer to a plate covered in greaseproof paper. Sprinkle with sea salt and leave to cool and harden.

In a small bowl, combine the peaches with the honey, a splash of oil and the leaves from a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Season well.

In a small saucepan, cook the peaches on a medium heat until sticky and caramelised. When the brittle has totally cooled, chop roughly.

Just before assembling, toast the sliced bread in a hot griddle pan or grill/toast until golden. Drizzle generously with oil and season well. When the brittle has cooled, chop roughly.

Crumble the blue cheese over the bruschetta and top with the cooked peaches and a scattering of the chopped hazelnut brittle. Scatter over some thyme flowers and a drizzle of oil, et voila, bruschetta numero 2. complete!







Monday, 2 June 2014

Trattoria Treats...

I have a few bones to pick with Jamie Oliver. For one, why is it that I have cupboards full of pointless tins and jars bought simply for the kitsch packaging? What led me to become the owner endless mismatching serving bowls that I like to liberally drizzle with olive oil and artfully chuck torn leaves of coriander at? Why do I own more copies of his multicoloured titles and  matte-paged magazines than I do  pairs of matching socks? And to be quite frank, I would rather like to sue for the seemingly welded-on gratings of parmesan that looked proper rustic when scattered in the general direction of that bowl of spicy sausage rigatoni on Saturday night.


But, the truth is, although I spend more time elbow deep in washing up liquid for a Wednesday dinner for one than I usually endure for a party for six with canapés and petit fours; I can make no bones about it, I love that Jamie Oliver. Is it the palpable passion for food that seems to drip from his fingertips and pulse through every vein in his body? Or maybe the unrivalled way he takes beautiful ingredients and never fails to create a plate of food that is packed full of amazing, vibrant flavour and an irresistible, but never over-the-top twist? Is it because all his breakfast, lunches and dinners somehow manage to be simple, inspirational and accessible all at the same time? Is it because he taught me how ‘pukka’ was actually pronounced (thus making ‘Pukka Pies’ a much more appealing chippie option...)? Perhaps the amazing photos that make me want to search through every skip I come across for a piece of distressed wood to use as a background (much to my boyfriends despair)? The perfectly chipped enamel cups? The endless amounts of Sriraca chilli sauce and extra virgin olive oil?


Well yes, all of those things have some kind of weight upon my affinity with old (sorry, I mean super hip & trendy) J.O- But, most of all, it is because the way he so clearly feels about food is a near perfect reflection of how the same thoughts bubble and boil in my mind, non-stop. Like Jamie, food is my life. If you cut me in two, I would probably bleed homemade Arrabbiata sauce or foraged elderflower and lemon balm cordial. I think about food more than is probably healthy. OR conducive to doing anything else...

I mean, for goodness sake, I dream-cooked an entire wild mushroom and mascarpone lasagne in my sleep a few nights ago (don’t worry Mum, my head didn’t leave the pillow- fortunately the kitchen was still in one piece in the morning. Unfortunately, there was no lasagne...) But more than my bleary-eyed wonderings, I truly believe in the power of food. Not only to make your dreams that little bit more tasty, but, with the least cheesy intentions, to add true value to your life and that of those around you. To make our bodies healthier, out pockets heavier and our hearts that little bit lighter. Food is life. And I think Jamie believes in its magnitude almost as much as I do...

But enough of my fan mail; what I really meant to talk about before I got so ridiculously carried away, was my visit to yet another offshoot of Jamie’s unfathomable empire that really got my love of all things Oliver boiling over once more.


Jamie’s Trattoria, the distressed wood heavy, Bresola and Pecorino laden foodie heaven in leafy Richmond; is the next generation on Jamie’s bid to conquer the restaurant world. Based loosely around the Jamie’s Italian model (drawing on many of the fresh, authentic dishes prepared with the same amazing, flavour-packed ingredients used in Italian branches up and down the country, but with a very distinctive Trattoria twist), it takes inspiration upon the Italian love of gathering a big group of chattering family and friends around a scrubbed steel table decked out with delightfully mismatching chairs (Ok, that might be more Jamie’s style..) and feeding them up with beautiful, lovingly prepared grub. Digging in is the name of the game here; leave your food-sharing hatred at the door with your umbrella please...


With small-plate, sharing style starters including shaved courgettes with lemon, mint and ricotta rubbing shoulders with beautiful, almost plasticine-like matte green skinned Cerignola olives served on a bed of eerily smoking dry ice and platters of the most gorgeous fennel flecked salami; this is a joint where it is frighteningly easy to over order. After much deliberation, and one extremely drinkable coral hued negroni; we decided on the freshest pea, mint and baby mozzarella crostini, chorizo roasted with octopus, clams and butterbeans, and delightfully rich baked goats cheese with crispy pancetta and sticky green tomato chutney. All were divine; the freshness of the peas and mint cut with a little lemon contrasting perfectly with the creamy mozzarella, and the rich smokiness of the chorizo proving the perfect partner to the soft, perfectly cooked octopus and meaty butterbeans. I have not one complaint- It even managed to make my infamously plate-protective boyfriend share, which is nothing short of a miracle, to be honest.

 And the mouth watering food-fest did not stop there. Next up on my side of the table was the most delicious risotto marinara; crowned with soft, sweet crabmeat and the iridescent purple shells of the plumpest, meatiest mussels and finished perfectly with lemony strands of salty, vibrant green samphire. It was, and I am not just saying this, hands down the best risotto I have ever had in a restaurant. Which might be something to do with the fact that the only place I have ever previously ordered one was at the plastic table covered table of a Premier Inn restaurant (horrid, shockingly...), but I knew I could count on Jamie. Not a single stodgy, overcooked grain of rice in sight, it was an absolute winner.


My dinner date chose the special, a parmesan rich, creamy spaghetti carbonara, flecked with slivers of yellow and green courgette and salty, crustily fried bits of cured ham and salami from the display adorning the open-style kitchen. Again delicious, but I think my jump of faith with the risotto was the choice of the night. Particularly when washed down with a large goblet of zingy Trebbiano. Yes please.

By the time the paddle of puddings made it round to the table, I was happily too stuffed to eat any more. Although looking a blackberry fangipane tart and hazelnut chocolate torte in the eye does rather test a girl’s willpower. But resist I did, rounding off my incredibly satisfying dinner with a Trattoria coffee; a rich, syrupy concoction of espresso, hazelnut liqueur and lightly whipped cream. Just YUM.

 I think it’s safe to say that I was a fan...

Monday, 26 May 2014

Photo-ready Tea at The Biscuiteers, Notting Hill...

One of my favourite, and yet equally, most frustration-inducing parts of living in London, is without a doubt how essential the camera of my much dropped, truly battered phone is to my daily life. And most of all, a fundamental part of almost every meal time...


Much to my boyfriend's despair (he doesn’t even know how to pronounce instagram, let alone use it...) said phone is whipped out before anything passes my lips; breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, cake, midnight snack- Whatever the food stuff, it must be greeted with a filter, blur and hashtag before it vanishes into my hungry, not so patiently waiting mouth. It is just so damn tempting. And, it is not just me. Irresistible to many a foodie that is spied rearranging candles, artfully ruffling napkins and standing on chairs to get the perfect aerial view of their rapidly cooling food before they can even contemplate building that first forkful. In our world, a flat battery before the food arrives is what disasters are made of.


Yup, this is an obsession that has the capacity to become a serious problem; we halt conversation midway to snap our partners panacotta, grabbing their menu to get the perfect table shot before they have even read through the bread and olives section, all with a slighty crazed look in our eye and an evil glare just waiting for anyone who even dares to knock our elbow mid-photo. Yes, our obsession with instagramming our plates is not only pushing the boundaries of acceptable dinner-time behaviour, but a sure-fire way to wind up dining partners until you have to start asking for a table for one. No wonder some restaurants across the Atlantic have started banning this phone-foolery for ‘ruining the ambience’. But stop I will not, this is an addiction from which I don't want to be freed...


A couple of weeks ago, resisting all temptation to keep my phone in my handbag and see things with my eyes rather than the lens; I had one of the most photogenic days in a long time (since the speckled eggs and glistening hot cross buns of Easter, as you can read here). The phone was in more demand than ever; snapping bacon and cheese smothered burgers and strawberry shortcake concretes at Shakeshack, stormy skies and billboards in Covent Garden and a pop-art hued Miley swinging from a wrecking ball on a wall in Hammersmith; it just seemed to be that every which way I turned offered another photo opportunity.


But one of the most coveted photos of the day had to be the red and white stripped cake stand that graced the shiny glass table-top in the overwhelmingly cute, cartoon-kitch Biscuiteers shop and tea-room in Notting Hill. Adorned with perfect, razor sharp triangles of smoked salmon sandwich with lemon and dill cream cheese, the brightest raspberry and blueberry macarons and topped off with the amazingly decorated, intricate biscuits for which this place is famous; I would challenge anyone not to whip out their camera. Even if only for the fact that Adele (yup, the actual one) was sat on the table next to us icing a gingerbread man.


But enough about that (and yes, I did resist the snap-happy temptation on this occasion...) what I am really interested in is, of course the food. The super-cute tea has a decidedly British theme, with crisp, black pepper specked cucumber sandwiches cosying up to perfect squares of Battenburg and delicious, lemon scented angel cakes. Brownies crowned with iced underground biscuits, a bright red phone-box gingerbread and those crisp, fruity macarons; all washed down with as much English breakfast tea as you can handle, this was one sugar-rush I could most definitely justify.


Usually going for £40 for two, the tea was included in the Emerald Street Afternoon Tea deal; an absolute snip for half the standard price. Perfect, and with enough to spare for a little black and white box illustrated with the super-cute shop front full of leftover treats, it is well worth a trip, even just to ogle at the iced bacon rashers and yellow yolked sunny-side up eggs in the English breakfast biscuit selection, or to wait out for Adele...