Wednesday, 3 December 2014

festive fondue

There's nowt more festive than fundue.

In fact, for turophiles, you could argue that fondue is even more festive than a Christmas dinner which is really just a glorified Sunday roast with added trimmings in my book. And honestly, can anybody get truly excited about turkey? A bubbling hot vat of molten cheese on the other hand, is the stuff of sweet (albeit surreal) dreams... Fondue is the perfect cold weather treat; warming, comforting and with all the Alpine Christmassy connotations of snow dusted mountains, log cabins and roaring fires. From the teeny weeny forks, to the platters of meat and veg for dipping, it's the funnest option for a December dinner shared amongst friends. The twinkly lights come out, the temperature drops and the best way to start getting in the mood for magic is through the medium of fromage chaud...
oh yeah
There are plenty of decent fondue establishments in London, where you can get elbow deep in quality grease to your heart's content - from Spitalfields' Androuet or Shoreditch's stinky Walluc, to the cosily central St Moritz or (brand new this year) jaunty Jimmy's Pop Up at The Lodge in Balham, which has been getting rave reviews. And I will never forget the now sadly defunct Art du Fromage in Chelsea where I spent one unseasonably hot October evening sweating into a raclette press.

But a while ago I discovered the wonderful Cheese at Leadenhall Market and as far as fondue experiences go it's been my favourite to date.
In 2011 I met Lou Beegan, dishing out groundbreaking raclette sandwiches by the bonfire at food blogger Ms Marmite Lover's night market. Quite simply, it was one of the best things I've ever eaten - sourdough bread, pickles, potatoes and thick melted cheese spilling out from between the toasted slices. I was raving about that sarnie for days! Lou worked at Cheese, an artisan cheesemongers in the City. Desperate for more raclette goodness, I was gutted that the short lunchtime sandwich availability meant there was no way I could make the journey west from my workplace in time. However I soon found out that over the winter months, and - if you ask nicely and book ahead - during the evening, Cheese will happily fire up the fondue on request. So one particularly frosty night a group of us made the post work journey over for a cheese fest.
Shivering, we anticipated the toasty interior of a welcoming restaurant - and were a little taken aback to find a tiny shop with hardly any seating inside and a table set up for us outside (under the cavernous roof of Leadenhall Market but pretty much exposed to the winter chill nonetheless). Were they mental?  Well it turns out no they weren't, as we were swiftly given big woollen tartan blankets to wrap up in, glasses of wine and soon enough, pots of delicious bubbling fondue, which warmed us up in no time. And just like that raclette sandwich, which tasted so much better devoured outside, it's true that the fondue tasted all the better and more festive for being eaten al fresco. Ok we were in spitting distance of the Gherkin, and not a skier in sight. But Leadenhall Market has a beautiful olde worlde, Victorian feel, the vintage shop fronts all lit up with fairy lights and a huge real Christmas tree pride of place in the centre. Most fondue joints also absolutely reek of cheese - so eating it in the crisp cold air made a refresing change, and we skipped away feeling nicely full and merry, not overly hot, bothered and dripping with the dreaded cheese sweats.

The fondue is a very reasonable £15pp - one hot pot of cheese comfortably feeds two hungry cheese heads and comes with a generous amount of crusty bread for dipping. You can also order a charcuterie platter with various hams and salamis, for just £12 more. The wine list is extensive and reasonable priced, with a nice Merlot coming in at £24. Since my first visit, Cheese has expanded with plenty more outdoor seating and a couple of mini heat lamps to take the bite out of the air. However an extra pair of socks and hat and scarf are recommended to enable you to linger over your fromage for the maximum amount of time!

While you're there, you could also get one of the lovely expert Cheese team to advise you on some tasty purchases to wrap up for your Christmas cheeseboard or as gifts for friends.

Grab your furry earmuffs and go forth to fondue!

le spread




Tuesday, 18 November 2014

toad in the hole + spawn

November is all about #toadlife.

Jus' chillin', preferably on a fat boy, in front of a toasty fire, with hot tasty food, ideally washed down with something boozy and lightly spiced. I love the run up to Christmas, when comfort food can be guzzled down with wild abandon as we relish the first proper bite of winter. In January the guilt starts to creep in and Banuary bitches like to wag fingers and remind you of the millions of calories you've consumed in the preceding two months. Now, however, it's more than acceptable to start cooking up all those warming hearty dishes that light up the dark chilly evenings.

In honour of all things toad like, what better dish to try out on a wintry evening than a big ol' toad int' hole. I'm not usually a huge sausage fan, but enveloped snugly in billowy battery freshly made Yorkshire pud... Well, I'm all over it. Paired with a rich onion gravy and some roasted carrots, kale and broccoli for the health factor, this was a satisfying supper and a half. And pretty easy to make with hardly any ingredients required. Just buy some posh sausages and you'll probably have the rest of the ingredients at home. You could even sack off the Sunday roast and serve this up instead - you might get some complaints at first, but once everyone gets their helpings it'll be froggy fun all round, mark my words.

If Q4 is mainly about upping the eating ante, then of course there is always room for just desserts and with toads comes... erm... spawn?! As a child rice pudding was one of my favourite ever afters, preferably dished up with some of the lovely caramelised skin on top and a grate of nutmeg. So it was with this in mind that I cooked up a decadent version with cinnamon and double cream, the perfect sweet treat to round off a serious supper. Some slow stewed apples or plums would make a fantastic fruity accompaniment to your toad spawn, or you could go old school with a big fat jam whale swimming on top.

For go-to tried and tested recipes, Felicity Cloake is the mama. And it was with joy that I found she had wise words to offer on both toads and spawn, suggesting boozy additions of both ale to the batter and sherry to the pud. However, if you prefer your alcohol in your glass then the below recipes should serve you well. Both feed 4 comfortably.

Dive in...

Toad in the Hole + onion gravy

  • 100g plain flour
  • ½ tsp English mustard powder
  • 1 egg
  • 300ml milk
  • 8 pork sausages
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 onions, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tsp soft brown sugar
  • 500ml beef stock

    1. Make the batter: Heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Tip flour into the large mixing bowl and stir in the mustard powder with a good pinch of salt. Make a well in the centre, crack in the egg, then pour in a dribble of milk. Stir with a wooden spoon, gradually incorporating some of the flour, until you have a smooth batter in the well. Now add a bit more milk and continue stirring until all the milk and flour has been mixed together.
    2. The batter is ready: You should now have a smooth, lump-free batter that is the consistency of double cream. Roast sausages in the oven, in an oiled roasting tray, for 15 mins.
    3. Cook the batter: Take the hot tray from the oven, then quickly pour in the batter – it should sizzle and bubble a little when it first hits the hot fat. Put it back into the oven, then bake for 40 mins until the batter is cooked through, well risen and crisp. If you poke the tip of a knife into the batter in the middle of the tray it should be set, not sticky or runny.
    4. Make the gravy: Soften the onions with the remaining oil in a large nonstick frying pan for about 20 mins, stirring often, until they are golden brown. Sprinkle in the sugar for the final 5 mins. Add the spoonful of flour, then cook, constantly stirring, for 2 mins, so it coats the onions and there is no dry flour left. Gradually pour in the stock, stirring well to make a smooth sauce. Bubble for 4-5 mins to thicken, then season. Cut the toad in the hole into large wedges and serve with the gravy spooned over.
    Toad Spawn
  • 50g butter
  • 50g soft light brown sugar
  • 100g pudding rice
  • 1 litre full-cream milk
  • Zest of ½ a lemon
  • Bay leaf
  • ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 150ml double cream

  • 1. Pre-heat the oven to 140C. Put the butter in a large saucepan over a gentle heat, and, when melted, add the sugar. Stir and cook for a few minutes, then tip in the rice, and stir to coat. Cook until the rice has swelled slightly, stirring continuously, then add the milk and stir well to dislodge any clumps of rice and sugar on the bottom of the pan.
    2. Add the lemon zest, bay leaf, spices and a pinch of salt, then pour in the cream and bring to simmer. Pour into a greased ovenproof dish.
    3. Bake the pudding in the oven for about 2 hours (or an hour if putting it straight into the same hot oven you just cooked your toad in!), until it has set, but is still slightly wobbly. Devour.


    Thursday, 28 August 2014

    flesh & buns

    Hot, sticky flesh. Pillowy soft buns. Deep dark basement. Orgasmic faces...
    In the words of the Essex lot - #NAWTY.
    And that's exactly how I felt after being utterly seduced by the brilliant Flesh and Buns in Covent Garden. Nawty. But nice.

    Tucked downstairs in a cosy basement space on Earlham Street, opposite Belgo's and round t'corner from Urban Outfitters, it's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it den of deliciousness. The offspring of ramen joint Bone Daddies, I knew I was likely in for decent Japanese fodder at F&B's. And having sampled the yumminess of the small but on point Yum Bun, I also knew I liked BUN. (For those of you not aware of the delights of BUN, where have you been?) Oblong shaped soft steamed buns, which you can fill with meat, fish, veg and sticky sauce and stuff in your gob in an Asian inspired kind of fluffy doughy taco. Messy but satisfying. So I was more than happy to be handed a menu that was chock full of yummy bun fillings along with a fantastic array of other dishes. The fact I found it hard to choose, when usually I'm hard nosed and ruthless, is testament to the great range on offer - as well as the ubiquitous buns, there's other types of ceviche, tempura and sushi type tastiness. Everything is for sharing, with the main, more expensive 'flesh' courses enough for two to three people, and the menu suggesting two buns (£2) per person. We found two starters and two main dishes more than enough for the three of us.
    While we waited for our main course to arrive we nibbled on 'chips and dips', crisp rice crackers with avocado shiso and tomato jalapeno dips, Japanese versions of guacamole and salsa. We also played chopstick fights over crisp fried squid chilli spiked with pepper and lime.

    Then the buns arrived, fat and friendly in their steamer tower, along with perfectly cooked fillets of salmon teriyaki with pickled cucumber and a juicy crispy duck leg with sour plum soy sauce and beetroot pickle. Shredded succulent flesh, with crisp salad, crammed into buns and washed down with warm sake. Comfort food at it's best. 

    we bun tings
    We were all set to leave, when the table next to us were presented with a flaming fire pit. Like moths to a flame, all eyes were on the fyah. The waitress informed us that this was the S'mores dessert - big rectangular marshmallows on sticks (one each), with thin slices of green tea chocolate and buttery biscuits. Those who know me, know of my love affair with the Barrica choc ice. Well this is the choc ice's dirty cousin. OF COURSE WE WANTED IT! Salivating, we waited. And it did not disappoint. Mallows toasted over the fire, then sandwiched inbetween choc and biccie to make the most utterly sinful, gooey gorgeous dessert sandwich. A real treat to round off a superb dins.

    the good stuff
    Service was friendly, prices reasonable, and on the printed bill they even handily split the price for you between the number in your group, making it easy to pay and away; rolling like happy fat buns off into the wilds of the city. Flesh and Buns is up there as my favourite meal of the year thus far. Quality cooking, and fun to boot. Just make sure you book. And leave enough room for those heavenly S'mores...
    For more Japanese amazingness I can recommend Suzu in Hammersmith and Brilliant Corners in Dalston. Neither do steamed buns, but the former does great sushi classes and the latter does decent tunes and mezcal. Konichiwaaa.


    Friday, 1 August 2014

    coppa, london fields

    As London's skyline get higher, and evenings stretch longer, summertime rooftop drinking and eating has never tasted so damn GOOD. There's a plethora of places to pick from in the big smoke, from Netil House's glorious 360 roof terrace in Hackney to the refined insouciance of Boundary in Shoreditch to Kensington's tropical luxe Roof Gardens.

    Coppa Bar & Rosticcerianestled on high between the London Fields railway line and the fields themselves, is a little big gem with a mahoosive sparkle, that definitely deserves winkling out ASAP. Open Thursday - Sunday, serving a mixture of Italian charcuterie, meat, salads, cocktails and wine, it's the ideal locale for a long boozy sunset supper. (It's also got a canopy for any pesky showers that may threaten to rain on your parade).
    With a mixture of long bench tables spread with red and white checked tablecloths, and cute intimate beach style huts to sit in, coloured fairy lights twinkle overhead as hungry Hackneyites laugh, jape and chow down on strong Italo BBQ cookery...

    Summer nights call for summer punch and we set the pace with some bang tidy fruity Amaro Mule cocktails (Melletti Amaro, ginger beer, lime). The Rosemary Julep and Stella Spritz didn't go down quite so well with my companions, being a bit punchy for our tastes, so we ordered in a bottle of chilled red to go with our feast.

    And what a feast it was! Opting for the set menu at a very reasonable £25 a head, the courses just kept on comin'... Here's a tip - arrive hungry.

    Kicking off with a beautiful mix of pillowy chewy ciabatta, toasted almonds, plump juicy green olives, creamy buffalo mozarella, thick cloudy quality olive oil and thinly sliced meats with pickled samphire, it's fair to say we guzzled that antipasti like nobody's business. 

    When the tender BBQ chicken (roasted in Nduja and Rosemary & Lemon) turned up we had to slow the pace, and do our best to do justice to the meat and the four generous, fresh and zesty salads which came with: grilled radicchio, fennel and orange, potato and bean and panzanella. There were even patatine fritte, or salty fries, with ketchup & mayo to go with - an essential in my book.

    A zingy little pot of lemon sorbet at the end of the meal was an unexpected but welcome surprise. And as we all know, there's always room for dessert.

    Although the end bill was higher than we intended (our fault - those cocktails) the amount of lush food for dollar and good vibes atop that roof was well worth it. We were stuffed like pigs by the end, but the cooking is clean, tasty and healthy - which means you can drink more, right? And you could always come for balmy evening boozing, with a smattering of snacks to go with, rather than the veritable banquet we opted for.

    You can't book unless you're a group of six or more - but as long as you arrive early you should be just fine. Or do what we did and book a table for 6, then turn up with 3...naughty.

    With just the right mix of charm, cool and credible cooking, Coppa feel of some Italian rooftop action quick smart before the cumulonimbus inevitably come rolling back over...

    Monday, 30 June 2014

    chip n dip ting

    An array of nibbles + chilled glass of fizz + chitchat = makings of a good night in.
    Who doesn't like a bit of chip n' dip action with a side of booze?
    It's so easy to grab a bag of nachos or Kettle Chips and a few supermarket dips to munch on with your aperitivo - and they do serve a purpose, I won't deny. There's some 'world food' shops near me that do a lovely line in tzatziki. And I've got a soft spot for Sensations Thai sweet chilli crisps bathed liberally in red pepper houmous. But in general, shop-bought crisps or tortilla chips are way salty and greasy and the dips often thin, weak, vinegary or artificial tasting - making for sodium overload and that horrible 'full but not really full' feeling that gets you running out for a kebab when the party's over. So when my bezzie came over t'other night for catchups, proferring two bottles of fizz (pink and white), I went down the healthy route and made some substantial yet simple baked pitta chips and homemade dips.

    Guacamole, salsa and houmous are a delish dip tricolore that seem to go down well with msot folks and just work together. Super easy to whizz up, easily sourced, affordable ingredients and if you, like me, are lucky enough to live near a market where they do big bowls of avos or toms for a quid you may as well load up and make a huge batch as they all freeze incredibly well too. And then you're all prepared and ready to dip freely on demand whenever you so desire.

    Pitta chips are the perfect vehicle to transport your dips to lips. They're tasty but don't distract from the dip - and retain the structual integrity to stop any disappointing mushiness when scooping - a key factor of any chip worth it's salt (ahem).
    Allow a couple of breads per person. It's easier if you buy round pittas as they are easier to cut into chips - but strips would work equally as well.
    Just brush a baking tray and your breads with a tiny bit of olive oil, season with any spices or herbs you fancy and cut into triangles. Bake for 10 mins at 180C.
    Voila - crisp tasty chips, baked not fried and not overly salty (unless you want them to be!)

    Again, stock up on round breads and keep them in the freezer and you're all sorted for chip n dips round 2, 3, 4...

    All dip recipes will serve around 4 hungry people.


    200g canned chickpeas
    2 tbsp lemon juice
    2  crushed garlic cloves
    100ml tahini paste
    1 tsp ground cumin
    4 tbsp water

    Whizz up in a food processor. Season with salt and more lemon juice to taste.
    Add a drizzle of olive oil and scattering of paprika on top when serving.
    Holy Guacamole

    1 ripe tomato
    3 very ripe avocados
    Juice of 1 lime
    1 small red onion,
    1 chilli, deseeded
    Make just ahead of serving. Chop up everything very small, and mix with the mushed up avo. Add more chilli to taste, and a squeeze of lemon to stop it going brown. If freezing, do it straight away before it turns brown!

    My Salsa

    4 large vine tomatoes
    Small red onion
    2 crushed garlic clove
    1 tbsp white wine vinegar
    Squeeze of lime juice
    1 chilli, deseeded

    Chop up small and mix together. Add more lime or chilli to taste. Leave in fridge for at least an hour, to chill and absorb flavours.

    Serve in a pretty dish - my auntie makes glass, and I finally got the chance to give her beautiful handmade blue glass dip tray a whirl - along with some crudites (carrots, cucumber, peppers), olives - and some delicious chilled booze.


    Wednesday, 25 June 2014

    rotorino, dalston

    When the moon hits your eye,
    Like a big pizza pie,
    That's amore...

    A good Italian is a failsafe - perfectly cooked pasta or pizza tends to tick the box every time. But sometimes you want comfort food with a tad more finesse. Less molten mozzarella, more tender taleggio. Less giant pepper grinder, more artfully placed broad bean... (more on that later).

    Rotorino in Dalston is just such a place. Recently opened up on Kingsland Road, serving affordable small plates of modern Italian fodder, it’s a nice change from the gastro brunch spots, pubs and street foody pop ups that have tended to populate this middle stretch of KR. The interior is jewel like with colourful tiles and welcoming lighting, hitting the right side of ‘trendy’ without going down the tiresome filament bulbs and utilitarian chair route. Characterful whilst remaining classy, with a good mix of bar stools, low seats by the window, cosy booths and communal tables. We dined on a Tuesday and it was packed out - the hard surfaces did contribute to quite a loud, clattery acoustic, so don’t expect a quiet and peaceful meal. This is a lively joint.

    The name of the game is sharesies, as each dish is plenty big enough for two to share. However unlike most tapas style spots, the dishes were a lot heartier and more filling, so less is more at Rotorino. We opted for a fish dish, a meat dish, a pasta, a cheese and a side – plentiful.

    White fish and whitebait, fried in light as a feather batter with a wedge of lemon, was crisp and fresh. We were expecting squid as per the menu, and weren’t told they had run out which was a bit of a let-down as I'm a lover of fried squid. The white fish substitute, whatever it was, was beautifully done nonetheless.
    Sausage gnochetti sardi, slow cooked sausage and red wine pasta with breadcrumbs, came in a huge portion. The taste was slightly lacking although the texture was good with a nice little crunch. Overall not nearly enough sausagey or winey flavour, dill was an odd addition and I must admit I was put off by the maggot like pasta shapes. Slippery customers. All in all, more filler than killer and I'd try a different pasta dish next time.

    The favourite of the meal was roundly voted to be the pork and veal meatballs in a tomato sauce. Rich and flavourful, firm and packed with chunky pieces of quality meat, not overly minced. Could have done with more of that delectable tomato sauce  they were nestled in, but I believe real Italians don’t serve everything swimming, more’s the pity. Crisp fried potatoes with rosemary and garlic were a good vehicle for sauce mopping duties, and more like crunchy roasted spuds than your standard fries. I like all potatoes to come with some kind of dipping pot, and in the absence of an aioli style substance I opted for the waitress recommendation of a tomato and chilli relish. However this never materialised -another tiny grumble.

    The sweet section had nothing that really grabbed us by the hand – surely some kind of coffee based, tiramisu pud to round off the meal should be a no brainer, affogato at least.

    However the absence of caffeine based treats, cheese was the order of the day. Initially we ordered a piece of taleggio with broad beans. This arrived with no beans in sight, and no bread or crackers for smearing. Meh. Looking at the menu again, we realised that at £5 for one piece, or £7.50 for three pieces of different cheese, we may as well upgrade to the plate. Plus where the devil were those broad beans?! The upsized cheese plate came back, this time with some crisp wafer breads – and two massive fresh bean pods laid on top. Not quite the chunky bean chutney I was kind of expecting, and pretty nondescript on their own - but tasted good when munched with a bite of the taleggio. The other two cheeses, a gorgonzola dolce with fresh thin pear slices and a percorino sardo with chestnut honey, made for a delicious final encore with the last glug of vino.

    On average the dishes are about £6-£8 each, and the house red (the Statua) was yummy. Our thoroughly enjoyable dinner for two, with wine plus service, came to just shy of £60 altogether.
    Not every dish will blow you away, but you’ll certainly want to come again, both for the good vibes and to work your way through the rest of the menu… Rotorin-oh, ok then… I’ll come back and try the pigs head terrine next time.


    Friday, 23 May 2014

    dreamy kievs

    "Life's too short to kiev a chicken!"

    This was a workmate's response when I explained the lengthy process behind preparing and cooking these buttery breadcrumbed beauts at home from scratch. And it's true - it is about 3 hours of your life you won't get back... However, if like me, you have happy memories of childhood comfort meals (kiev, potato waffles, peas) and in adulthood you still succumb to the temptation of a gourmet buttermilk fried chicken piece (or ten) - then at least attempting to kiev a chicken at least once in your life is a no brainer and defo worth a shot. Not least for that satisfaction of cutting through a crisp crust to release the molten garlic lava within...

    I have been banging on about making my own chicken kievs for years, and finally got round to cooking them for friends. An extensive search of various recipes online gave me all sorts of different methods, but in the end I settled on Felicity Cloake's perfect recipe as featured by the Guardian.

    Let's face it, I'd never really considered how the butter gets in the chicken in the first place but it seemed a messy business... I knew that I didn't trust the 'make a pocket in the chicken' bit that most people seemed to advise. Any fool can see the garlic butter is likely to ooze straight out. Equally, messing about with mini fillets and using them to plug in the butter, was never going to work for me. My mate Mike suggested wrapping the chicken fillets in parma ham before breadcrumbing to stop the spillage, but I'm one of those philistines that doesn't like mixing meats so this was also a no no.
    Turns out the best way of doing it, is to butterfly the fillets and then batter tham out, good n hard, until they're really flat and thin. You can then wrap the meat tightly around a frozen tube of garlic butter, completely enclosing it, and pop the whole thing in some clingfilm and back in the freezer to harden. This means the kiev holds it's shape and makes the butter less likely to ooze through the meat. Done.

    The breadcrumbing thing was another messy business. I didn't want a greasy crumb coating my kievs, and using Japanese panko breadcrumbs worked a treat as they're much lighter and crispier than your average. Back out of the freezer the fillets came, dipped in flour, then egg, then panko, then flour, then egg, then panko - then back in the freezer again. At this point your hands are claggy and gluey and you begin to wonder whether this is really worth it. (It is). The more thorough your breadcrumbing, the less chance your butter will escape.

    I also knew I didn't want to deep fry the kievs, even though Felicity recommended it. Not only am I shit scared of vats of bubbling hot oil but I also preferred the idea of a slightly healthier, baked version. Plus I was making baked sweet potato fries to go with so I could lump them all on the same tray. So instead I lightly fried mine in a pan until golden brown and then finished them off in the oven for another 20 minutes, which seemed to work a treat.

    The result was special! A Friday night treat... Bon appetit.

    Makes 2
    2 chicken breasts
    50g salted butter, at room temperature
    2 garlic cloves, crushed
    2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
    1 tbsp tarragon, finely chopped
    ½ lemon
    2 tbsp flour, seasoned
    2 eggs, beaten
    4 tbsp breadcrumbs, panko if possible, seasoned

    1. Mash together the butter, garlic and herbs, and season with black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Form into 2 sausages, and wrap in clingfilm. Put in the fridge to chill.

    2. Butterfly each chicken breast by opening it out using a knife, and then put it between 2 sheets of cling film and bash with a rolling pin or meat tenderiser until about 0.5cm thick, being careful not to create any holes. Season both sides well.

    3. Put a sausage of butter near one edge of the chicken and begin rolling the meat up around it, tucking in the ends as you go (use some egg and flour as glue if they prove obstinate). Roll into a tight sausage using the clingfilm, and freeze for 2 hours.

    4. Put the seasoned flour, eggs and breadcrumbs into 3 shallow dishes and then roll the frozen kievs in each in turn, then again in the eggs and crumbs to double coat. Put in the fridge to defrost, which should take about an hour. Preheat the oven to 200C.

    5. Fry until golden brown then place in oven for around 15-20 mins. Serve with veg and potatoes of some description.

    Saturday, 10 May 2014

    #feaster sunday

    These days cooking a big family lunch or dinner is a pleasure I relish. The whirlwind of living in the big smoke means food for me is usually a quickly assembled affair, eaten out or cooked in giant quantities then frozen for ease. I should count myself lucky, as sooner or later, I imagine I'll be ground down by the monotony of big supermarket shopping for a family, churning out lovingly prepared food, devoured in seconds with no thanks (or was that just us?)

    However at the moment when I do get a chance to properly cook, I enjoy menu planning and spending a fair amount of time slaving over a hot stove. It's especially good when I go home to cook for my family, as we're not that numerous so it's all manageable - and often the ingredients I need tend to magically appear in the fridge so I swerve shopping duties...

    Anyway, for Easter Sunday this year I cooked a 3 course lamb roast for the fam. Knowing I would have spent at least two nights out on the razz previous and have depleted my brain cells, I needed to keep it relatively straightforward yet reasonably impressive.

    Here's my spring lamb Sunday lunch menu, which serves six, is super easy to make and should go down well with most palates. A seasonal starter, meaty main and chilled fruity dessert. You can prep the starter and pud the night before so on the day all you need to worry about is your meat which needs to go in just 1.5 hours before serving. Why not try it out this weekend...

    Aperitif: Hendrick's gin, mint, elderflower & cucumber cooler

    A decent bit of booze will make everyone happier, less fractious, more willing to forgive any delays on the food... This cocktail is light and refreshing and actually managed to convert a gin hater! Serve with some savoury snacks - posh crisps or cheese straws - to warm up the party.

    1. Fill a chilled highball glass with ice cubes, 50ml of Hendrick's gin and 20ml of elderflower cordial.
    2. Add two strips of cucumber (use a peeler to peel vertically) and two mint leaves.
    3. Top up with fresh tonic and stir.

    Starter: Roasted asparagus & parma ham spears with aioli

    Super easy but looks vibrant and is deliciou - allow 4-5 asparagus spears and 1 slice of parma ham per person. Wrap the asparagus spears in the ham the night before and arrange on a baking tray ready for sticking straight in the oven. Aioli for dipping can also be made the night before and chilled in fridge.

    1. Slice the ham into two lengthways so you get 2 long strips.
    2. Wrap half the asparagus spears in the ham, leave the rest plain (it's nice to get a mixture).
    3. Brush lightly with olive oil, season with pepper and roast at 180C for around 5 minutes.
      Serve with aioli (garlic mayo) for dipping.

    I used this recipe from BBC Food which was uber garlicky, so don't be tempted to add more cloves even if you're a garlic fan!

    • 3 free-range egg yolks
    • 4 cloves garlic
    • ½ lemon, juice only
    • salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 150ml/5fl oz extra virgin olive oil
    1. Blend all ingredients, except the olive oil, in a food processor.
    2. Pour the oil into the blender in a steady stream, until it forms a thick sauce.
    3. The mixture, once blended, should be vibrant and yellow in colour. Sprinkle paprika on top to garnish.

    Main: Roast leg of lamb with all the trimmings

    Using a leg with bone in makes everything so much simpler. I used a 2.2kg leg for 6 people, which was plenty.

    Leg o' lamb

    1. Mix 3 crushed garlic cloves with a small bunch of chopped rosemary, zest of 1 lemon and a glug of olive oil.
    2. Stab leg 4 times on each side and massage in marinade.
    3. Season with salt and pepper
    4. Cook at 200C for 1.5 hours which should give you a nice pink middle.
    5. Leave out of the oven to rest, covered in tin foil, for 15 mins before serving.

    Homemade mint sauce

    Finely chop 4 tbsp of fresh mint leaves, and mix in a mug with 2 tsp sugar, 1 tbsp hot water and 3 tbsp white wine vinegar. Season to taste.

    Spuds & veg

    1. Peel and chop Maris Pipers, then simmer for 10 mins in boiling water until just tender.
    2. Drain and shake them in pot so they go all fluffy at the edges.
    3. Tip into a roasting tray with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil at bottom (pre heated in oven for 10 mins).
    4. Add in some sliced carrots and parsnips. Slice these in 2, no smaller, as they shrivel up loads when they roast.
    5. Coat and season with sprigs of thyme, salt, pepper and a few whole garlic cloves.
    6. Roast in oven below the lamb, for around 45 minutes.


    This recipe is my failsafe and makes exactly 12 puddings. You want everybody to have at least 2 each innit. Make the batter in advance and leave in a jug to chill in fridge. It seems to make the puds lighter.

    • 140g plain flour
    • 4 eggs
    • 200ml milk
    1. Combine gradually in a bowl so there are no lumps. Season with salt and peps.
    2. Pour batter into a jug.
    3. Add a tsp of sunflower oil to each hole of a 12 hole muffin tray.
    4. Put in oven for at least 10 mins so oil is SUPER HOT (this is key to them rising!)
    5. Carefully take muffin tray out and pour in batter to each hole so it is nearly at the top.
    6. Cook at 220C for 20 mins (these can go in once the lamb has come out of oven, so you can bust up the temperature).

    Dessert: White chocolate & raspberry trifle

    After a stuffing main you want a light dessert. Trifle haters gon' hate. However they may be converted with this whipped up bad boy.
    • 175g/6oz white chocolate
    • 2 medium egg yolks
    • 25g caster sugar
    • 150ml milk
    • 85g/3fl oz double cream
    • 220ml whipped cream
    • 4 x 4cm thick slices swiss roll (bought or homemade)
    • 2 tbsp Kirsch liqueur
    • 225g fresh raspberries
    • a few fresh mint sprigs
    1. Put a 55g/2oz piece of the white chocolate in the fridge, (this will make it easier to grate later). Break the remainder into small pieces.
    2. Cream the egg yolks and caster sugar together in a large bowl.
    3. Pour the milk and cream into a small pan and bring to the boil. Pour on to the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time. Pour back into the pan and place over a moderate heat.
    4. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until it starts to thicken and add the chocolate pieces.
    5. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Cover the custard with a little icing sugar and piece of cling film to prevent a skin forming.
    6. Place the swiss roll slices in a large glass bowl and sprinkle with the Kirsch.
    7. Scatter with raspberries. Pour the white chocolate custard over the swiss roll and leave to set in the fridge, preferably overnight.
    8. Top with freshly whipped cream just before serving, and decorate with fresh raspberries and a few mint leaves.

    Thursday, 1 May 2014


    One night in Argentina...

    Not some sunny knock off version of Paris Hilton's sex tape - oh no. This was Cambalache (Spanish for bazaar), a pop up evening event we attended last night, bringing together Argentina's finest wines, food and entertainment to give a flavour of the country famed for it's gauchos and steaks.

    Given a heads up by the Nudge team, we managed to bag tickets for the two date event which sold out like hot empanadas. At £40 each, and encompassing wine tasting of 120 different varieties, a three course Argentian supper plus a cocktail and a beer this seemed pretty darn reasonable. Pop up, one-ticket-covers-all ventures can sometimes be a risky business for the punter - often disorganised, food and drink can be stingily sized and served cold and rushed, as organisers struggle to keep up with demand from the baying mob. However Cambalache was a very slick operation, a lesson in how to run an event, with good quality food and drink and importantly, more than enough staff on hand to advise and guide ticket holders round a little slice of Argy in London.

    Held at MC Motors in Dalston, the slightly grotty exterior belies the vast, light and airy atrium which lies inside. I have often walked or bussed past the venue and noticed the cinema style sign on the front, often with some witticism spelled out along the lines of 'Hipsters need love too' or 'Dirty Bertie's Thirty' so i guessed it was available to hire for weddings and parties. However it was clearly also a great location choice for the recreation of a bustling Argentine village, with artfully distressed and relaxed furnishings, exposed brickwork, windows to peer through, mirrors to gaze in and an outside area based on a San Telmo market, complete with chimichurri blending station, graffiti wall, Argentinian BBQ and street band.

    On arrival we were welcomed in by real LIVE Argentinians (oh yes), given a map of the event and soon sat round a 'campfire' on animal skin rugs with friendly gauchos - or the mate men as I nicknamed them - and learnt how the traditional yerba mate tea is brewed and drunk from the iconic calabash gourd. Bitter in taste, if you like green tea, mate's your mate.

    We then made a good stab at tasting the many and varied wines on offer, which is predominantly what the event is about. It's a chance to quiz wine buffs on their knowledge, and act like you got some yourself. From reading my illegible notes, I am pretty sure we were well impressed by tasty tipples from Familia Schroeder, Graffigna, Trivento and Vinalba. There's been a massive spike in Malbec drinking of late, especially in the States, and Argentine wines are in demand. The only thing missing was some kind of delicious meat and cheese platter to accompany our fine wines, but we made do with some palate cleansing, dainty pots of cucumber ceviche instead. It's safe to say that wine tasting is a slippery slope, and we were soon rhythmically tango twirling (or wobbling) our way outside to the asado to cash in our food tokens. Three different perfectly crisp and delicious empanadas to start, followed by tender lamb with roasted veg and chimichurri in a hearty, greasy sandwich, rounded off with some divine dulce de leche icecream courtesy of Ice Cream Union. Stomach lining complete.


    Luckily we had arrived early at the event just after 6pm, and booked ourselves in for some of the in demand experiences which definitely added to our enjoyment (and alcohol content).

    Wine and the Senses was a whizz through the mind boggling effect of touch, sound and sight on our tastebuds. Who knew that certain music could make wine taste sweeter, or stroking your finger on a piece of velvet (THE WRONG WAY!) make a drink taste less smooth. Blindfolded sipping and crunching coffee beans whilst supping red wine was a particular taste sensation.

    A Fernet-Branca tasting session was also a revelation. I had heard about this Italian spirit before but never sampled it. First off we had to guess all the components that made it up, set out before us in little glass bottles - not easy. Myrrh, camomile, saffron and aloe are all thrown into the mix with this unique, herby, sweet and thick liquor which Wikipedia quotes as 'tasting like black licorice-flavoured Listerine'. Nice. A small shot was enough to get most of us rolling on the floor and gagging.
    However the Fernet-Branca guy waxed enthusiastically about the black stuff and got us all on side, leaving us converted by the end with glasses mixed with coke and lots of ice. Turns out in this format, it's a bloody amazing drink!

    The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur, filled with tango lessons, super strong cocktails drunk to nice beats, learning (and failing) to play Argentine card game truco and meeting some absolute characters. Cambalache will no doubt return again next year, and I urge you to jump on those tickets quick smart as it's certainly worth the 40 bucks. You might even learn a thing or two in the process - if only, that the next holiday you'll want to book will defo be Argentina. And that in the absence of paintstripper Fernet-Branca is a less than sloppy second. Olé!