Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Panettone and Hidden Chocolate Bread & Butter Pudding

Christmas time yields countless gifts, not least of which is the flurry of foods you only end up eating at this time of year. Like memories of ripe fruit from childhood, the recollection of these festive flavours is preserved in semi-perfection over the intervening year due to their short window of consumption. Like the Christmas tunes flooding the airwaves from the beginning of the month, they are welcomed in our house with open arms… (Though after a few weeks of these, you are happy to wave them off again.) Mince pies, pigs in blankets, turkey and stuffing, Christmas pud, Kirsty McColl & The Pogues… I love them all.*

In my perfect gingerbread house, the super-soft pillows would be made of rich, aromatic panettone. Light, buttery and filled with candied peel and dried fruit, choirs of (Italian) Christmas angels might have conceived this celestial sponge. A Christmas hit in our house, the BSG and I love it with Nutella for breakfast, a hot drink at teatime or a glass of sweet liqueur later. Quite frankly, it doesn’t stand a chance of lasting more than a few days. Should hell freeze over and stale leftovers remain once Christmas is over (fresh works too in case you can’t wait), then it makes the best bread and butter pudding out – a sneaky one to slip in just before any January detoxing…

For extra festive, sprinkle with icing sugar before serving and lace the layers with a few shakes of Gran Marnier for grown-ups.

Merry Christmas!




You need (Serves 2)


2 small round ovenproof dishes of ramekins, buttered

A couple of slices of panettone (whatever you have left, cut into rounds)

A few squares of good dark chocolate.  Green & Black’s Maya Gold works.

1 egg

160 ml whole milk

1 tablespoon caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grand Marnier (optional)


Preheat the oven to 160C. Lay your panettone pieces in the buttered dishes and tuck a couple of squares of chocolate in amongst the layers. Beat the egg and other ingredients together in a bowl and pour evenly over the bread so it comes up the sides. Sprinkle the tops with brown granulated sugar if you like, for a little extra crunch. Put a dish on the oven shelf, with the 2 ramekins inside it and carefully pour boiling water into the larger dish so it comes at least halfway up their sides. Bake for 20-25 minutes until just set.

Serve with creme fraiche or yogurt to cut through the richness, with the essential Christmas clementine on the side.


*Give amazing little sprouts a chance: they’re not just for Christmas, but for the whole winter.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Pot-roast pheasant with butternut squash, Savoy cabbage and onion

The BSG is a game lover. However, after a bad experience with a sinewy, over-exercised rabbit we picked up in Lincoln a few years back, I haven’t been able to separate that gamey taste from a tough-as-old-boots food memory, so I’ve shied away from it somewhat.  So the prospect of three pheasants in our fridge, ready for the eating, filled me with dread. They say you must face your fears, so I thought I’d tackle mine head on…

When I asked the BSG what to do with it earlier that day, I received a very casual one line email: just bung it in a pot with the veg we’ve got left in the bowl and some stock and wine and cook for about 45 minutes. Easy.

OK, I thought, I can do casual, even though all I could think about was overcooking the damn thing, its stringy carcass languishing in thin, insipid juices. I made sure we had emergency freezer supplies, just in case…

But actually, what resulted was really rather good – helped by a pleasantly mild-tasting bird – and I’ll be doing it again. Not to mention easy; the very definition of a one-pot wonder. Two of us ate well, so figure that this recipe would serve three… It is easily multiplied, but increase the cooking times.



You need:

1 onion, roughly chopped

2 bay leaves

3 juniper berries

1 large glass red wine

1/2 pint of stock

1 whole pheasant

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1/2 a butternut squash, deseeded, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces

1/4 savoy cabbage, sliced

a lump of beurre manié: half softened butter and plain flour (optional – or add flour to the onions at the beginning)


Preheat the oven to 190 degrees.

In a heavy based lidded pan, sweat the onions in a little oil over a medium heat until they start to colour. Add the bay leaves and juniper berries – plus a tablespoon or two of plain flour if you want to thicken the sauce.

Deglaze the pan with the red wine and add the stock. Sit the pheasant in the pan amongst the onions, add the butternut squash pieces, garlic and season. Put the lid on the pan (I added a foil cartouche as well because I thought I ought to but I’m not ever really sure what this does. It just felt right).

Put into the oven for 45 minutes or so, turning the bird over halfway through (again – this just feels proper as I always do it with my roast chicken to keep the breast moist).

Remove the pot from the oven. Check the bird is cooked then rest it on a board and take out the squash from the pan whilst you reduce the sauce over a good heat – here you can whisk in the beurre manié to thicken if you like. Season to taste. Return the squash to the pan and add the cabbage. Put the lid on the pan and let this all cook for a further 7 minutes.

Carve the pheasant breast, joint the legs and serve in a bowl on top of the vegetables with plenty of sauce poured over, like a stewy soup (yes, you’ll need a spoon too).

For extra pleasure, I recommend mashing the squash into the gravy with the back of your fork. Watch out for lead shot – it’s in there somewhere and your molars will thank you for it.

Game on…

Monday, 7 October 2013

Nigel’s Chocolate Muscovado Banana Cake

It’s rare that a banana is allowed to sit for long in my fruit bowl, let alone languish for long enough to go black. Which is, I suppose, where I went ever so slightly wrong with my version of Nigel Slater’s banana muscovado cake, dubbed ‘the best cake in the world’ by my sister-in-law, Rosie. Being mum to a two-year old, Rosie gets cake thrust at her by virtual strangers in most social situations, so I reckon she’d be a bit of an expert. Besides, any excuse to make banana bread, right?

This cake erred towards the bitter because I didn’t have the patience to wait for the bananas to freckle and darken or permeate the kitchen with their ever-so-slightly-binny note. However, heed the words of St Nigel, people: you have to let the fruit go black so it can sweeten. Perhaps if you have a two-year old or willing accomplice, get them to hide a bunch somewhere around the house for a few days. Oh and next time I’d probably use a dark chocolate less intense than 70%. But otherwise, it is tremendous – and just keeps getting sweeter and squidgier as the days go by. Like them bananas, this cake won’t be around for long.

DSCF0313 DSCF0315




250g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

125g softened butter

235g muscovado sugar

400g peeled ripe bananas

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

100g dark chocolate



Line a non-stick loaf tin with baking paper (we’d run out so I greased mine and the cake came out fine). Preheat the oven to 180C.

Sift the flour and baking powder together. Using an electric mixer (plastic blade on my Magimix) cream the sugar and butter until fluffy and coffee-coloured.

Mash the bananas in a bowl until lumpy. Stir in the vanilla extract. Beat the eggs and add them to the butter and sugar mixture. If it curdles (mine did), just add a bit of flour.

Chop the chocolate into small pieces and fold them with the bananas into the batter. Follow with the flour, gently.

Scrape into the tin and bake for fifty minutes (mine took about an hour). Check to see if its ready with a metal skewer: if its moist but clean then the cake’s ready. If you need to cook it for longer and there is still wet mixture on the skewer, return the cake to the oven and cover with foil for the rest of the cooking.

When its out of the oven, leave the cake in the tin for 15 minutes, then loosen with a palette knife and lift (or turn) it from the tin. Leave to cool a bit longer and then peel off the paper. Serve in thick slices.




Original recipe from The Kitchen Diaries II by Nigel Slater, published by Fourth Estate, 2012.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Elderflower Panna Cotta

 The BSG, Dad and I enjoyed The Rolling Stones’ Glastonbury set yesterday evening from the comfort of the sofa: with a great view, warm, dry and utterly relaxed in the knowledge that a trip to the facilities wouldn’t require a 45 minute commitment. I may have mentioned before that the BSG is allergic to camping, so this may be the closest we ever get (though I am working on the tipi boutique hotel idea. If a bunch of 69-year olds can headline a festival then I figure I’ve got some time)…

In the festival spirit (and because it is that time of year in Norfolk) we spent the morning in the hedgerow foraging for elderflowers. To reach the lofty, dinner-plate sized ones we had the added bonus of my dad, who you could say was the human equivalent of a cherry-picker. We divided the haul of foamy flowers; half went into making a cordial (for which the recipe is here) and the other half was destined for our pudding: elderflower panna cotta.

elder3  elder2

What emerged after the setting stage resembled something you might encounter in the murky fathoms of a frozen Siberian lake or the farthest reaches of space. This is because I didn’t have any ramekins... Appearance aside, it was Jagger-smooth, fragrant and nursery-food comforting, backed by its band of sweetened mashed strawberries and slices of yellow peach. When it’s not quite warm enough for ice cream, this is rock and roll, with extra flower-power.

Elderflower Panna Cotta

Serves 6

10 dry elderflower heads (choose the perfectly creamy, open ones – and ABOVE waist height for obvious reasons)
1 large pot (600ml) Double Cream
300ml natural Greek yoghurt
2 tablespoons caster sugar (or to taste)
Leaf gelatine

Shake off any stubborn residents from the elderflowers and place them flora-down in a bowl (there will be smaller bugs within but these can be strained out later). Avoid rinsing them as this will lose flavour.

Heat the cream and sugar in a pan until the granules have dissolved and the cream is just starting to scald. Pour the warm cream mixture over the elderflower heads and cover the bowl with cling film, then go and do something else for a couple of hours (like, say, watch Laura Robson battling through to the next round at Wimbledon)…

Strain the cream mixture through a j cloth and sieve into a clean measuring jug. Whisk in the yoghurt so that the liquid makes a pint. Follow the instructions on the gelatine packet for a pint of liquid (mine was four sheets), soaking the leaves in water for a few minutes. Meanwhile, gently heat the cream mixture in a saucepan until warm. Squeeze out the gelatine leaves and stir into the cream until dissolved. If any bubbles have formed, you can tap these out now.

Line your ramekins or container with clingfilm and pour in the cooling mixture. Refrigerate for a couple of hours until set. Turn out onto a plate and slice if necessary.

PS: there were all kinds of analogies swimming around my head about elders and betters while I was writing this post - dads and Rolling Stones and all that - but for some reason none of them caught. Suggestions on a postcard please…


Monday, 10 June 2013

Bird of Smithfield

By its name it could be an age-old London song, an ancient boozer or a character in a lost Dickens novel; Bird of Smithfield sounds like it’s been around for a while. Conversely it hasn’t, and by some fluke the BSG and I have paid it a visit during its first few weeks. We’ve even beaten the website – we feel a little bit cool. Usually, we’re a couple of years down the waiting list.

I love this part of London, where ex-Ivy chef Alan Bird has chosen to make his nest: not wholly inhabited, primarily a working place with a market’s heartbeat. Strangely enough, my first job after university was in the building next door and I spent many happy fag breaks leaning against these windows, gazing at the market across the road. I think this used to be a pub, its façade now spruced with paint, the old carcass expertly crafted into a townhouse furnished with pieces of mid-century furniture, carefully considered artwork and repeats of a lattice pattern seen on the website that I very much hope is a deliberate reflection of the giant honeycomb glass-brick wall on the side of the market building opposite. (If it isn’t, it’s what my school art teacher would coin a ‘happy accident’.)

I suppose it’s like visiting parents with a new baby, when is it too early? Don’t you want to give them a bit of time to figure out which end does what, settle into a routine together, find time to wash their hair? This place has had a dodgy review in the press and perhaps this is - back to the baby analogy again - down to a few teething problems with the staff. We did notice a couple of moments. However, with 5 floors to stretch themselves between, each one with a unique feel, it’s bound to take time.

We’d stopped in the bar downstairs and had a cocktail – plus of course a snack, hot, battered chunks of perfectly cooked cod with homemade tartare sauce: delicious. As is our wont, we’d studied the menu in depth for a few days prior yet were still unsure what to order. We climbed the stairs to the small dining room with our charming host as if we were looking around her very stylish townhouse. The small roof terrace above us clinked, a gaggle chasing the last of the suns rare rays with rose.

photo2 photo

In a rare role reversal, the BSG uncharacteristically plumped for a starter of crisp soused vegetables with a crispy hen’s egg, while I tucked into crumbed pork cheeks with green sauce – all of which garnered enthusiastic thumbs up and much humming with mouths full. His plate was as prettier than anything I have seen recently. I ought to mention, too, the warm sourdough loaf with nursery yellow butter I managed to devour most of. The BSG showed rare reserve; he ate rather like a bird on this occasion - me, more like a horse.

The natural order of things was restored with the mains (and my glutton’s guilt allayed); the freshest slip soles with sweet brown shrimp, cucumber and sea beets for me, pork belly with turnips, apples and watercress for the BSG. Mine was a true taste of all the best bits of the sea; sweet, salty, with lemon and pepper notes plus a light hint of mace. The BSG’s pork belly was deep, savoury and perfectly foiled by the turnips. Gilding the lily perhaps, we asked for triple cooked chips and creamed spinach on the side, the unwashed spinach being the only let down.

The list of desserts read like a roll-call of favourites. I couldn’t resist the call of the rhubarb trifle with Bird’s custard, as much for the chef’s wit as anything else. It was everything trifle should be: a cinch to eat; soft, sweet- sour on different sides of the tongue with the added bonus of crunchy praline almonds on top. By comparison, the BSG felt a little disappointed by his plum Bakewell Tart, but by this stage I was happy to share.

In twitching terms, our fellow diners were of the common corporate variety, but the BSG and I felt that with time this place will become a stronghold for a variety of species; foodies, friends, as well as rare fourth daters in the mood for something low-key and special. Chef Bird’s food is on song, in our humble opinion.


Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Violet Hour

The sky overhead looms with helium-balloon clouds, threatening rods of rain one minute and spilling golden pools of sunshine the next. I shut my eyes and I am on a rooftop in a New York twilight with my sister, sipping a cocktail I made especially…

It’s made with my current favourite soft option (sorry elderflower, but take a break), violet cordial; an acquired taste that reminds me of my grandmother’s penchant for violet creams from Fortnum’s. In your early evening tipple, a splosh of this will add a little extra garden to the botanical notes gin lends and goes extremely well in a vodka and tonic too…or at any time with sparkling water, fresh from the Soda Stream.

I can’t think of a better reason to bring on summer… and wonder if Jay Gatsby would approve.

The Violet Hour

The measurements are up to you (it’s a party after all)but you need:

1 dash Monin violet cordial
1 shot Absolut Citron, vodka or gin
Tonic water

Violet Hour

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Lemony Quinoa with Shiitake, Chicken & Coriander


They say that much like there’s a book in everyone, there’s a marathon in everyone. Well I’m not at all sure who ‘they’ are, but ‘they’ omit a major sub-clause: that many books and marathons should stay firmly put.

Our friend James is running the London marathon this year. The thing that most surprises us about this is the fact that it will be his first. Seriously, he is ALWAYS on a run. Another surprising development is that he has asked us for some advice – not with the running element you understand, but the nutritional one:

What to eat on marathon eve?

Of course, this required extensive expert research so I embarked on my Googling post-haste. Results? NO to anything too heavy, nothing wildly experimental, spicy or likely to make you vom (shellfish etc). It’s too late for carb-loading (exactly what it says on the tin) which you should have been doing for the last few days, so perhaps not too much of that simple starchy stuff. YES to lean protein, complex carbs and vegetables: light but filling. Presumably too, I thought from my now-expert perch, not a dish that would take an age to knock up for someone preoccupied with zenlike mental preparation, with laying out the double-layered anti-blister running socks, the lime-green Lycra number that wicks away sweat - or the novelty giant hand costume.

Gah! It all sounded so worthy and boring, I was stumped…

I turned away from the computer and sought solace in the cookbook library. After an extensive peruse I lighted upon this wonderful dish, from the gorgeous Around the World in 80 Dishes by the multitalented photographer David Loftus (How he had time to compile his own BOOK as well as everything else he manages I don’t know, but we are pleased that he did). If Phileas Fogg had eaten this well, it would have taken him a lot longer to get home.

This recipe has totally cured me of my mistrust of quinoa (something I also thought sounded worthy and boring). It is easy to put together (once you’ve done some dry toasting of sesame seeds and quinoa), it’s balanced, fresh and delicious. It hails from California and you can almost feel the golden sunshine as you eat it (plus, Californians are COOL). The BSG and I had it for a very happy supper (he was on a marathon cook-up for his recuperating sister) last week, and again this week, subbing the chicken out for crisp-skinned baked salmon.

Try it Jimbo – it should keep you light on your feet. And if you don’t manage it in under 3 hours, don’t go blaming me – it’s a silly idea anyway.

Mr Loftus’s friend Domenica Catelli, whose recipe this is, says that it feeds 6 skinny Californians.
Divide by two to sate two greedy Londoners (with some for lunch)
….or one worthy marathon runner.

Lemony Quinoa with Shiitake, Chicken & Coriander

350g quinoa
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
110g shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 organic chicken breasts cut into ¼ inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 litre vegetable stock
2 medium courgettes cut into ¼ inch pieces
Juice of 2 lemons
3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Small bunch fresh coriander
Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle

Toast the quinoa in a dry pan, then rinse it under running water and drain (I would also toast the seame seeds now if you need to and keep them to one side).
Heat the oil in a medium pan, then add the onions and garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the shitake mushrooms and cook for a few minutes more.
Add the quinoa and the chicken, season with salt and pepper and add the stock. Bring to the boil, cover the pan, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes, until the ingredients are well combined and the chicken is cooked through.
Remove the lid, and add the courgettes , lemon juice, sesame seeds and three quarters if the coriander. Turn off the heat underneath the pan, replace the lid on top and leave for 2 minutes more.
Finish with the remaining coriander and a drizzle of good olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

TIP: toasting the quinoa in a dry pan brings more depth to the flavour

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Pappardelle with Chicken Liver Ragù

Chicken Liver Ragu

I feel very lucky have grown up in a happy clan of 4 close siblings. There aren’t even five years to separate oldest (moi) from the youngest (H).

Obviously, between supermarket shops, school runs, on-tap medical assistance and missions across the house as peace envoys, Mum and Dad needed a hand occasionally. When my amazing grandparents weren’t available that help came thanks to a series of nannies, most of them memorable, though not always for the right reasons. One crashed the car and told me not to tell anyone…another used to stick her smelly feet in the bath my younger brother and sister were in and make them wash them for her. (Of course, we weren’t entirely blameless. At one stage, I’d say we were turning them over at a rate of one a month; the Von Trapp kids had nothing on us.)

However, in my book of nanny-villains, the worst of the lot made the very small H sit in front of his lunch for such a long time that he was still sitting there when Mum came home that evening. (I remember H being rather stoic about the whole ordeal; he’d managed to smuggle the bit of blanket that went everywhere with him to the table). Needless to say, she wasn’t there to apply the same rules to breakfast the next day.

But what, you may ask, was so bad that he couldn’t finish it?

Liver: normally edible in our experience, but she’d utterly nuked it. Not to mention the crinkled, sad peas scattered around the plate. Bad enough sitting there, tough grey like the sole of a shoe, H’s offal only got more… er… offal (sorry, irresistible) as the afternoon wore on. I’m not even sure how the 3 of us had managed to get ours down… Perhaps we’d conspired with the dog.

A whole 25 years later, I hope H has managed to get over what must be a crippling fear of liver at lunchtime. If he hasn’t, the BSG and I think we’ve found the remedy.

We think this is one of the best pasta sauces we’ve had outside a restaurant. You can find it in the marvellous Bocca cookbook by Jacob Kenedy (the best argument for the onset of summer I can think of):
Serves 2  (or 4 as a starter)

200g chicken livers
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ small onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
150ml dry Marsala
100ml white wine (we used some leftover rose that was in the fridge)
1 tbsp chopped rosemary
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
40g butter

Heat a wide frying pan over a high heat until very hot and smoking. Toss the chicken livers in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of the oil and some salt and pepper, then pour into the hot pan making sure they are in a single layer. Fry for a couple of minutes without moving, until well browned on one side. Turn and fry the second side for 2 minutes, then transfer to a plate to cool. When cool enough to handle, chop the livers finely, and keep the juices.

Sweat the onion, celery and garlic in the rest of the oil with salt and pepper in a small saucepan over a medium-low heat. When very soft (after about 10 minutes), add the chopped liver and its juices and fry for a couple of minutes until heated through. Add the Marsala and wine and cook at a very gentle simmer until the sauce is very thick (almost like a pâté) with a little oil risen to the surface, for at least an hour. Add about 100ml of water during the cooking if it starts to dry out. Stir in the rosemary and remove from the heat.

Cook 200g dried or 260g fresh pasta according to the pack and re-heat the sauce in a wide frying pan. Drain the pasta, keeping a bit of the water and add to the sauce with the parsley and butter. Cook everything together for a few minutes or until the butter has melted and the pasta is well coated. Serve with grated Parmesan.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Ratty Spanish Eggs

Ratty Baked Eggs

A couple of months back, I had breakfast at Providores on Marylebone High Street with my friend Esther, she of the highly-addictive Recipe Rifle. Spurred on by her advice (I wasn’t going to argue with a pregnant lady) and a few reviews I’d read, I plumped for a cortado – my new favourite coffee – and Turkish eggs, baked in spicy tomatoes and swimming under hot chilli butter and yogurt. They were utterly delicious and if you’re a fan of soldier-style dipping I urge you to go along and try them.

Crawling my way over the threshold after a rare hour in the gym yesterday lunchtime I was famished, yet devoid of inspiration. Honestly, I would have just eaten four pieces of toast if I’d been really stuck... However, with one egg left in the carton and a bowl of leftover ratatouille to finish off I decided to put them together.

This is more a formula than a recipe could be applied to various mushes; stews, bolognaise sauces, curries etc. Just dollop a couple of spoonfuls of whatever’s left over into an ovenproof pot or ramekin, make a comfortable nook for the egg in the middle with the back of a spoon and crack the egg into it. Drizzle over a little oil and a spice of choice – here it was paprika as I was feeling a little Spanish (Madonna’s La Isla Bonita happened to be playing on the radio). Oh, and some scrapings of a heel of Grana Padano before baking it at about 190C for 12-15 minutes or golden and slightly inflated on the top.

I ate mine with toasted wholemeal pitta, sliced into soldiers - or rather, soldados - to dip. Rather a smug working-from-home lunch I thought, when it could have so easily been Heinz Cream of Tomato...

Monday, 18 March 2013

Chelsea Snail Buns


We had grand plans for yesterday, but then the weather reverted to recent form, so we ensconced ourselves in the brilliantly local and cosy Parlour for breakfast (more about that soon), watched the mizzle draw across the window like a lace curtain and shortened our agenda. Better to be realistic, surely, when the elements are winning. I mean, how long can it last…?

The result of our brainstorming over coffee, Bircher muesli and unlimited toast with lemon curd: a spell of long-overdue exercise in the gym and a batch of home-baked Chelsea buns.

I probably should have consulted baking legends Paul Hollywood and Dan Lepard on the bun formula, but yesterday I thought I’d ask my Panasonic bread-maker manual. A great hulk of white plastic, there is nothing pretty about this gadget, which lurks on the counter – in fact it may be even too large to call it that – it is, rather, an appliance. When we bought it four years ago we were told that we’d never use it, that it’d be on Gumtree within a month or in the attic gathering dust until our grandchildren found it.

Always in the back of my mind lurks a desire to prove the naysayers wrong, so as a consequence, this weekend was a particularly pleasing one. We kicked off on Friday with homemade pizzas (made with wholemeal bread flour in the absence of white), especially thin and crispy, the crust bubbled in spots, slathered with a tomato and anchovy sauce and combos of our favourite things. Thank you, bread-maker, for your 45 minute bout of kneading and pummelling to elastic-y wondrousness (honestly, I wouldn’t want to be a lump of dough in that thing).

Flicking through the machine’s manual, largely ignored but for aforementioned pizza dough and our favourite loaf recipes, its pages stuck together in places, I lighted upon the Chelsea Bun formula. Slightly daunting, the prospect of having a whole batch of these in a tin in the kitchen when they are supposed to be a one-off treat a safe distance away at the baker’s. Clearly there would be a time limit on optimal consumption too… which amounts to a few hours after baking as it turns out (they’re becoming more and more bullet-like as today continues, sorry BSG, but they could be gone before you get home).

This soft enriched dough resembles a starter as it is airy – in short, it has a beautiful life of its own, so don’t beat it about too much as you roll it out. This will mean it’ll spread nicely in the tin. As well as the fruit and spice mix ‘spread’, I certainly recommend adding a little diced stem ginger. I am not sure that there won’t be marmalade and chocolate chips in there too, next time. Baffled as to why the dough Catherine wheels were meant to sit together in a sandwich tin with sides, I now understand. On my low baking tray, they were prone to unravelling, rather than keeping the goodies inside their coils as they baked and rose into one another. The results were no less delicious, but perhaps more ‘garden path’ than ‘garden party’ Viennoiserie.

Practice makes perfect, I suppose, but this first attempt has left a tantalising enough taste in our mouths to want to try again. Next up, hot-cross buns. Why on earth not? It’s nearly Easter, after all.

If you have a bread maker (which makes super light work of creating the perfect conditions for your dough) the formula is below, from the gospel according to Panasonic. If you don’t have a great placcy lump dominating your kitchen (besides the fridge, of course), try Paul Hollywood’s recipe out for size.

Chelsea Buns


½ tsp yeast
250g strong white flour
1 tsp sugar
25g butter
tbsp milk powder
½ tsp salt
1 medium egg
100 ml water


15g butter
100g mixed dried fruit, stem ginger, chocolate chips, etc
50g soft brown sugar
1 tsp mixed spice

Once the dough is ready (you want to use the dough setting, whatever yours is), knead it lightly and roll it out to an oblong 26 x 20 cm.

Melt the butter and brush it over the dough. Mix the topping ingredients together and scatter evenly over the top, pressing the fruit in a bit. Roll it up from the long edge and cut into 8-10 slices.

Arrange these in a greased sandwich tin so they fit neatly and prove in the oven at 40C until doubled in size (approx. 20 mins).

Bake in a preheated oven at 220C for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool on a rack and drizzle with glace icing.


IMG_2919  IMG_2920

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The River Café

The BSG and I managed to sneak our way into the perennially popular River Café on the first sunny day of spring, thanks to an amazing winter lunch offer (on ‘til 22nd March, if you’re asking). We’d mused over a visit for some time, but couldn’t quite swallow the prices. However, this deal and the fact that it was my birthday seemed the perfect opportunity to sample for ourselves the much-vaunted seasonal ingredients, painstakingly sourced and treated with simplicity and respect. Not bad for a place that started out as a staff canteen for Richard Rogers’ firm of architects next door. Lucky them.

Its list of cheffy alumni that have worked under co-founders and superwomen Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray has clout to equal that Cambridge-footlight dream class of Thompson, Fry and Laurie: Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Stevie Parle, April Bloomfield, Theo Randall, Sam and Samantha Clark (and many others), so we both conducted a mental audit of the cast working smoothly and diligently behind the very visible pass. If this was a school it’d be out of the league tables - no doubt many of the current crop will go on to be stars as well.

Cooking in full view – YIKES.. I’d certainly have dropped something. If nerves ever jangled or tempers rose, they didn’t show. In fact, you could almost smell the quiet authority that extended to each plate smoothly winging its way out to the tables. Everyone was busy doing their own thing on this tight ship – the BSG and I supposed that someone was in charge of pasta, another veg, fish and so on. The friendly waiting staff pepetrated this feeling of zen, were relaxed and efficient and ever so slightly über-cool…though of course they all made that look effortless too.

The day was utterly perfect, especially considering it was a Monday; the warmth of spring sunshine on our backs a foil to the chilly breeze that blew off the river. Once we got inside, lemony light spilled through the large windows across our table; cue Prosecco with fresh blood orange to wet our whistles. What followed a basket of bread and gorgeous, grassy olive oil was a series of perfectly simple dishes; including fennel salami and chicken-liver crostini, a plethora of exciting leaves we’d never heard of, fresh sardines, gum-bubble thin filled ravioli (the best pasta I have EVER eaten), sweet scallops with Castelluccio lentils , slow-cooked fennel and monkfish with salsa verde. A lot, you may think – and you’re probably right – but for some reason it felt light and healthy due to the freshness of the flavours (until we got to the lemon tart and polenta cake, that is). It was beautifully simple: there were no ground-breaking cooking techniques to distract from the food, so it was just as well that the headliner ingredients were on form.

This restaurant is a classic, an institution, a favourite - exactly what a dream canteen at work would be like (albeit work would have to be a merchant bank). Like the Rolling Stones live in concert - rather than a 2-hour late, squeaky Justin Bieber surrounded by gyrating backing dancers and tedious smoke effects - it continues to stand the test of time, taste and wallet. In short, it could prove ruinous come April and we don’t give a damn if it’s AT ALL trendy, but the BSG may well make The River Cafe a habit. Once a year. If we save.

Spring has sprung. Yippeee.


Monday, 11 February 2013

Flat Iron: no boobs

It’s enchanting, I’m sure, to hear your toddler utter new words and grasp associations. Less enchanting, perhaps, when said small person points at their pregnant mother and says ‘big boobs’, then at their dad and says ‘small boobs’. Ouch.

We pondered this and many other adorable things kids get up to with our Negronis at the workbench bar in the very-new, very-cool Flat Iron on Beak Street, with our friend G and the ready-to-pop Mrs/Dr G. She is so nearly there that I was quietly saying prayers last week that it wouldn’t happen at the table. Fortunately, she is a brilliant doctor so would no doubt deal with the whole thing whilst we all stood around with hot water and towels whimpering/passing out. It’s definitely true that these later stages of pregnancy are miraculous; her hair had a salon-fresh look and positively bounced, her eyes twinkled even in the near darkness*. These shiny outward signs of course belied a great deal of discomfort, not to mention a violent hankering after a glass of wine. Flat Iron is a no reservations kind of place, but half the fun is in the waiting, in their very lively bar in the basement. I hope it will be the only waiting the Gs have to do this month…

Vegetarians, take heed: Flat Iron does meat. Steak. Really well. (Not like that – though they made a concession for Mrs/Dr G.) The Flat Iron is the American name for the Butler’s steak, cut with the grain from the shoulder of the animal.  It can be tough if treated in the wrong hands. Turns out these are the right hands; after an amuse-bouche of popcorn cooked in beef dripping, the steaks came sliced on the diagonal on their own little boards, and beautifully seasoned; the BSG didn’t reach for the salt or pepper throughout. Each of us was equipped with a little meat cleaver instead of a knife (they might need to electronically tag these covetable things as they may go the way of the Quaglino’s ashtrays…) These were purely aesthetic but rather useful for trowelling on the amazing peppercorn sauce (you could choose between this, Béarnaise, horseradish and Fred’s Sauce, a tomato/Tabasco delight.)

If you’re going to master and serve only one thing, then each accompaniment has to be perfectly done. No complaints there. When I say that the chips carried the initial aroma of a McDonald’s bagful I mean it as the highest possible compliment. They were savoury and crisp. The creamed spinach was so good we ordered another dish of it, and a baked aubergine dish barely touched the sides. A little French glass of lamb’s lettuce with sharp, nutty vinaigrette offered a few mouthfuls to cut through the richness of it all.

In our enthusiasm, we felt it only right to cram in a pudding. And golly I am glad of it. The BSG tucked into a freshly baked doughnut** filled with rhubarb cream; if a test of enjoyment is measured by residue on the face then I’d venture that it passed. The rest of us plumped for the salted caramel mousse, expertly squirted into our glasses by our lovely waitress who then advised that we sprinkled it with salt (explaining its presence on the table). DELICIOUS, fun and light, and the perfect end to an immensely exciting evening (though thank goodness no baby arrived).

We left Flat Iron feeling thrilled and inspired. Needless to say, the BSG is on the hunt for an old soda canister to recreate the extraordinary pudding theatre at home (stand back - he rather fancies a savoury cheese soufflé version, coupled with blowtorch to brown the top) and I am pondering dream doughnut fillings; peanut butter and raspberry jam, anyone?

flat iron1  flat iron 3

* Excuse the dingy photos, it really was dark in there.

**They serve doughnuts in the bar downstairs where you can gorge on them before you have your supper… Why the heck not? If my 7-year old self ran a restaurant, I’d have definitely made this rule.

Friday, 25 January 2013

A bread and butter pudding for the snow

Bread and butter: so simple, yet the stuff of childish dreams. As delicious-sounding in literature as any cake - especially when drawn from a wicker luncheon basket and laid out on a cloth with jam, or cold chicken and roast beef. Milly Molly Mandy and Billy Blunt gobbled all theirs up on their fishing excursion and it’s little wonder – all someone has to do is say those three words together and I am thinking of teatime (and forever of Grandpa, lord of the tea table with his packet of plain chocolate digestives – neatly secured each day with an elastic band).

Clearly, bread and butter pudding has less to do with butter than it does with bread (not to mention the eggs, sugar and milk) but the very fact that those two happily-wed words are in the recipe makes it a winner in my eyes. Last September on the eve of a friend’s wedding I was lucky enough to be party to his pre-wedding family dinner and thereby to the most fantasmical (that’s fantastic with an extra O) pudding. Although the portion control didn’t exist and my bowlful could have felled an adolescent elephant I nobly ate my way through, amongst the dairy every which way, a warm wedge of white chocolate and whisky bread & butter pudding. INCREDIBLE.

After a long walk on Saturday, or feet crumping through the fresh snow making dreams of mountain adventures, we felt we deserved a treat. This pudding, crisp on top and snowy light within was perfect foil to the conditions. It’s adapted from a recipe that uses croissants (which may be amazing – but I felt somewhat superfluous. After all, we’re supposed to be on some sort of regime until February)… I went in heavier on the whisky – on a medicinal bent you understand  -  yet lighter on the sugar, as we were all chilled to our cores and because white chocolate is sweet enough, thank you.

This is dedicated to my dear, pudding-partial Grandpa. He would have loved it, crowned with plenty of cream. He might have even had a second helping too.

Whisky and White Chocolate Bread & Butter Pudding

500ml milk
500ml double cream
A few drops of vanilla essence
3 eggs
5 egg yolks
150g caster sugar
8-10 slices of white bread, crusts removed and cut in half into triangles
25g sultanas
25g butter, melted
175g white chocolate, smashed into little pieces in its wrapper
4 tablespoons whisky
55g  marmalade (didn’t have apricot jam, but the extra orange taste is a winner)
icing sugar, to dust


Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Pour the milk and cream into a pan, add the vanilla essence and bring slowly to the boil.
Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl with the egg yolks and sugar and beat together until pale and fluffy. This bit is actually quite important as your pudding will be light rather than stodgy.
Lay the bread over the base of an oblong ovenproof dish, slightly overlapping each piece. Sprinkle with the sultanas and pour over the melted butter.
When the cream mixture has reached boiling point, take it off the heat and allow it to cool slightly. Add the egg mixture and white chocolate to the cream and stir well. Leave for a few minutes to let the chocolate melt, stirring occasionally.
Add the whisky to the cream mixture and strain it all through a sieve over the bread. Let the bread soak it all up nicely, before covering the dish with foil.
Bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes, or until almost set.
Remove from the oven, coat the top with the marmalade and dust with icing sugar. Either brown the top with a cheffy blowtorch or place under a grill or into a hot oven for a few minutes before serving. Wait if you have to - it must be warm, not hot.

bread and butter pudding

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Simon Hopkinson: The Good Cook

There’s a third person in our marriage – no, not in that way - but I get that distinct, jealous ‘playground feeling’ about the BSG and his new best friend, Simon.

I am to blame, I introduced them – he and his Roast Chicken and Other Stories and whatnot, he with his simple flavoursome ways and his ‘no-fuss approach’. The BSG is waxing lyrical. The Good Cook by Simon Hopkinson; the best book he’s ever used? Probably.

Although we’re not on a January detox as such, we are attempting to conduct some kind of regime on weeknights. But let’s be realistic; this time of year calls for warmth and January gets such a bad rap, so we can’t be all alfalfa sprouts, quinoa and miso, can we? After a memorable Hopkinson dish of poached chicken, hot cucumbers and saffron sauce last year we looked once again to The Good Cook for inspiration in pared-down culinary chic – the food equivalent of a scrubbed bare wooden table: frugality and comfort all in one.

On Sunday we had pan-fried duck breast with sweet and sour onions and a week’s worth of spinach (something about having to forgo hard carbs makes the BSG incapable of portion control in other areas). It ought to have been calves’ liver according to the recipe but we couldn’t find any and duck has that same, sweet irony note. It was - I reluctantly conceded - absolutely delicious and we didn’t miss the obvious carbs. The star of the show was the warm oniony relish (like the rest of my family, I certainly relish a condiment). The key, according to my culinary love-rival? Make sure you cook them super slowly. Whatevs.

Simon H: 1, moi: 0.

On Monday was his extremely straightforward Tandoori chicken legs and wings with a BSG-special daal and raita.

Simon H: 2 (but who’s counting…?)

Supper on Tuesday was astonishingly quick – griddled chicken breasts over a crunchy salad dressed with a sweet mustard emulsion, the consistency of Salad Cream (though the BSG was quick to point out, MUCH nicer than that). SH advises sunflower oil, a lot of Dijon, a squeeze of lemon, a teaspoon of caster sugar and salt and pepper. Delicious.

A hat-trick for Hopkinson.

You can find the full sweet and sour onion recipe here on the BBC website. Pretty scrummy, I must admit. If these shenanigans carry on much longer, I may just pack up my beloved Salad Cream and push off.

grilled chicken salad

Monday, 7 January 2013

Come Back Chicken and a Big Apple

As food goes, there’s nothing more homely than roast chicken. It was the first thing we cooked in the box-fresh oven in the new kitchen and the last thing we laid on for my sister and brother-in-law last Friday night, hours before they jetted off to a new chapter in New York. I had been desperately flicking though my mental rolodex of ways to make them stay and failing that, I settled on a dish that might remind them to return home one day…

We managed to cram in a decent enough amount of wine as well – not so much that it got too emotional – plus some passion fruit creams in little espresso cups from my Christmas copy of Kitchen Diaries II, speckled with the seeds and soaked in a pool of golden juice, which accompanied my teaspoon with every mouthful, right to the bottom.  Once blasted Banuary is over, I am going to give it a bash with other fruit as it was particularly delicious and super easy.

Passion fruit creams

What’s below is NOT rocket science obviously but how I do my roast chicken which, the BSG tells me, is pretty good. The basic formula will take on almost anything throughout the year; fresh herbs such as sage or tarragon, or wild garlic in the cavity, spices like Ras-el Hanout or Harissa and yoghurt rubbed into the skin and sit proudly alongside any salad as well as lasting you through the week. Good for the diet and the budget: what better friend could you ask for right now?

Basic Roast Chicken

You need:
1 chicken (free-range. One of those happy Woodland-roaming ones will do – not sure of the weight but should cost you between 6 and 8 pounds)
1/4 lemon
½ onion
Fresh thyme sprigs (optional)
Olive oil/butter
Salt & pepper

Remove the chicken from the fridge 10 minutes before you need it to bring it to room temperature and then place it in a roasting pan. Heat your oven to 190C. Slice the top quarter off a lemon and squeeze it over the top of the chicken before putting it into the cavity with the thyme sprigs and the half-onion. Drizzle the top and legs with oil or smear with a few knobs of butter. Season generously with salt and lightly with pepper before putting into the hot oven.

Cook for 20 minutes, before taking the tray out and turning the chicken over breast-side down (be careful here!). This should do some basting for you and ensure that everything is as juicy as possible. Return to the oven and cook for another 20 minutes before turning the chicken back over, spooning some of the basting juices over the legs. The onion, lemon or thyme may fall out at this stage, but they will go towards making lip-smacking gravy as they cook away in the tin. The skin should crisp up and brown in this last 20-30 minutes.

After between an hour and 5 minutes and an hour and a quarter’s cooking time, the chicken should be done, but to double check, insert a skewer between the leg and the breast to see if the juices run clear. It is almost always an hour and 10 minutes for me, but ovens vary. Lift the bird out and set onto a board, covering with foil if you like. It does well to rest for 10 minutes while you make the gravy; it will be juicy and easier to carve after resting.

For the gravy: drain off as much of the clear fat from the tin as you can, squeeze the remnants of the lemon quarter with the back of a spoon and keep any bits from the onion in there which have caramelised but not burnt, discarding the rest. Put the tin over a medium heat and scrape the sticky brown bits loose – they will be packing valuable chickeny flavour. Add a knob of butter and melt it. You can add a tablespoon of plain flour at this stage and cook it lightly, for thicker gravy. Add some hot or boiling water – about an espresso-cup’s worth – and a slug of white wine, smear it all together and simmer for a few minutes. Taste, adding more water and seasoning if necessary.