Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My very own Sourdough

Dear Readers,

Please take a moment to appreciate my little bread of heaven.

I baked it in my heart-shaped Le Creuset pot. Who knew you could do that? I certainly didn't. And look at how magically it turned out. I may be in love. It even has a hard crust on it which I have never (never!) achieved before. Heaven I tell you. I got the tip and the base for the recipe from the book Vegetarian by Alice Hart. I am trying to eat more consciously and so I am trying to eat more vegetarian. Plus, I'm a student which means that meat is for special occasions. But I have no idea how vegetarians eat, hence the book. It's a book that tells you how to make things like oat milk and labne. It has beautiful pictures and is very step by step. Super practical. I haven't tried anything else yet, but based on the success of this recipe I'd say I'm well on track for more.

Now, I can't actually share the recipe with you because I altered it and didn't note the changes. (Like converting grams to cup measures.) I apologise. I had no idea I'd get so excited about the finished product and need to share it with you immediately. I've already eaten two slices. It's a good thing I made some brownies or else I'd be eating my way through this loaf all night! Brownie recipe will also follow soon. Promise.

In the meantime, buy Alice's book and give it to someone for Christmas. It's lovely and then you'll have the recipe too...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bea's of Bloomsbury

So I went off to London this past week, only for a mere two days but it was ridiculously lovely being there. I was up in the Bloomsbury area which I love and know fairly well. And I had to stop for lunch at this place called Bea's of Bloomsbury. I would never have found it had I not known it was there - it's tucked down a street that I hadn't frequented before and which felt slightly out of the way of normal tourist London. (Although it was actually around the corner from our hotel which we found out walking back...)

There are other venues now too, including one at St Paul's which I intend to visit later in December. I bought the book Tea with Bea soon after I moved into my current space because I don't have very many cook books with me and I like to keep them around for inspiration. This one is beautiful and filled with things to make (soon!). So obviously I had to visit the original shop and sample the goods.

It didn't disappoint.

We visited the Friday after Thanksgiving so the lunch menu was filled with Thanksgiving staples - turkey, stuffing, brussel sprouts, beans, carrots, pumpkin pie. I had the turkey, sausage stuffing, beans and carrots and the Princess had a salmon sandwich on baguette.

Both lunches were filling, satisfying and flavoursome but the sausage stuffing won the day as best dish. I could have eaten a vat of the stuff. And because we were only together for the day, and it being the day after Thanksgiving, and us feeling in a holiday mood, we had dessert too. Let's be honest, one doesn't visit a teashop and not sample the cake. I had pumpkin pie to round of my Thanksgiving excess and the Princess had chocolate Guinness cake (which is in the book). The pumpkin pie was smooth and spicy and the cream cut out the sweet. The chocolate Guinness cake was dense and rich. We couldn't finish either of them.

The teashop space is tiny and you need to act quickly to get a table in amongst the London lunch rush. But it's totally worth it. Even the coffee is good. And, like I said, I'm definitely going back for more.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

London Town

Tomorrow I'm heading off to London for a few days. My sister is flying in and we're spending all of 24 hours together before she heads off to Europe for 3 weeks. She's insisting we go to the ATP tennis finals so we're doing that but I'm insisting that we do other things - many of which revolve around food. I shall report back at the end of the weekend. Along with the recipe for these amazing cocoa brownies I made this afternoon.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What to do when your oven collapses

My oven died yesterday. Well, actually, technically it was the microwave part of the oven that died (and not a little over dramatically at all). I just wanted some popcorn and the microwave decided to do that lightning-crashing-scary-pre-blow-up-thing and I had to run back and halt the process before there was smoke and electrical fires and all. I live in a flat with an over-sensitive fire alarm (that I am sure will one day save my life) and I would hate to have dragged everyone else out of their Sunday afternoon dozing to stand in the cold whilst the firemen sorted out my dodgy oven. I prevented that. See, I am a kind person.

But I still don't have an oven. The maintenance guy who appeared a short while after the initial spark drama first insisted that I show him what happened (which meant switching the microwave on again with the same lightning-crashing results) and then said I'd have to make popcorn the traditional way! At least he found the whole thing amusing. Then another maintenance guy appeared this afternoon and after testing out the oven again (yes, seriously, evidence of sparks, fire etc need to be witnessed by several people more capable than me) he declared he'd be back with a new one in half an hour. That was 2 and a half hours ago. So I am now housebound with no oven or microwave.

And I have a craving for apple crumble. But I'm sure there'll be a nice post about my new oven somewhere in my future that will feature apple crumble. Until then I'm eating toast (I had the foresight to bake bread on Friday) and heating soup up on the stove - yes! you can still do that. (Although it requires the washing of an extra pan...)

And last night I made surprisingly good pasta. It wasn't the macaroni cheese I had in mind but rather a terribly student-like feast of shallots, tomatoes, chickpeas, green beans and peas with a ridiculous amount of parmesan. One of those pasta sauces that includes everything in my fridge that needs using up and isn't in fact a sauce at all, more a collection of cooked vegetables tossed with pasta. I've become conscious of food wastage (more so than I ever was before) and so the beans had to be included. I was going to throw in some chorizo for good measure too but I ate it as a snack whilst the pasta was cooking. So it's true. I can cope for a few days without an oven. Well, one day so far. My cravings for microwave popcorn and apple crumble will have to wait. Patience. (I'm sure I'll learn something from it.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chocolate Chip Ginger Cake

I finally (finally!) went out and bought a mixing bowl yesterday. And some measuring spoons. And the most awesome measuring cups I've seen in ages. Look! They're matryoshka dolls! How cool?

So I can finally get baking! (So long as it fits into my tiny oven in the tiny rectangular baking tin I have.)

The Christmas magazines are out already. What I love about Christmas, well one of the many things I love about Christmas, is that I get two Christmas issues of the magazines I love. One in November and one in December. It's brilliant. And it's totally put me into a festive mood. (I bought mince pies on Friday. There's no going back now.) One of the great things about this time of year is the excuse to make my house smell like Christmas. All ginger, cinnamon, clove goodness which never smells quite the same at other times of the year. It's why I bake Christmas cake. There's only about 2 people in my family who actually eat it but I feel compelled to bake it every year regardless because of the way it makes the entire house smell. It's still a few weeks from stir-up Sunday but such was my craving for ginger-spiced goodness that last night I decided to try out a recipe for chocolate ginger cake.

The recipe comes from one of my favourite books, Feast, by Nigella. It's the only book that made the packing cut and I'm very pleased it did. I use it for inspirational purposes and if I'm having a bad day I leaf through it slowly and salivate over all the wonderful things it contains. One chapter is called the Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame and I mean, who couldn't love a book with chapters like this one? The ginger cake is dense and sticky and contains surprise pieces of chocolate which elevate it above a regular ginger cake - in my opinion anyway.

Using the oven proved to be quite an adventure and I burnt  the one half of the top of the cake by accident - that is, I didn't obey my instincts and cover the top of the cake with foil when I smelt burning sugar. (Clearly one half of the oven is much much hotter than the other.) It's surprisingly tasty despite the burnt side, which I'm willing to overlook. It's perfect with tea - I had a sneaky slice for breakfast this morning - at any time of day. I suspect it will become a regular feature in my repertoire, particularly because I think it'll make a great base for things like sundaes and trifles. Oh the possibility.

Oh and a side note: Nigella uses scale based amounts in her recipe but I haven't yet bought a scale. The measuring cups were a big step in the right direction but a scale is an investment... So, I guesstimated the amounts (below) adjusting to what I thought was correct. (The butter measurement I used with the help of the markings on the butter wrapper.) It worked out okay for me but if you're fearful, consult the original article. I also made half the amount she does because I have a mini oven and a mini baking tray.

Chocolate Chip Ginger Cake
Adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson

90g butter 
1/4 c demerera sugar
1 T caster sugar
1/2 c golden syrup
1/2 c black treacle
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a rectangular baking tray (28cm by 22cm) with baking paper.
Heat the above ingredients in a saucepan until melted then take off the heat and allow to cool.

1 egg
1/2 c milk

Mix these together and set aside.

1/2 c plain flour
2 T cocoa
1 t baking powder

Sift these (if you're so inclined) into a bowl.

Once the sugar mixture is cool, mix in the egg/milk mixture and then pour this onto the flours. Whisk until smooth. The mixture is very runny and pourable.

Mix in 100g dark chocolate chips. (I just chop up some good quality dark chocolate because I dislike chocolate chips - they tend to be poor quality chocolate.)

Pour the mixture into the lined baking tin and bake for 30 minutes until risen and cooked through. Allow to cool in a tin before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Slice and enjoy.

Friday, November 11, 2011


This last weekend I hopped on various trains to make my way to the city of Bath.

I met a university friend there and we proceeded to have a fabulous weekend, sightseeing, shopping and eating clotted cream. The city itself is spectacular. It's walkable and pleasant, the buildings are beautiful and there's a river. (I love places with a river.)

On Friday night we found a tiny little Italian restaurant where we sat under the chef's nose and ate kidney bean soup, calamari, goat's cheese with the most spectacular grilled foccacia and cheese ravioli with pesto. On the Saturday we stopped for tea at Sally Lunn's (a Bath institution) where I had a Sally Lunn bun (like a brioche) with cinnamon butter and clotted cream.

Our bed and breakfast fed us spectacular poached eggs on toast and scrambled eggs with salmon. In between we walked the length and breadth of the city, seeing the Royal Crescent, the Roman baths, Pulteney bridge, and the abbey. We stopped at the various independent bookshops, Kitchens cookware shop and other quirky independent shops where it took all my will power to not blow my budget completely. It was Guy Fawkes on Saturday so we watched the fireworks display from the bridge. Oh for more weekends like this one.
The city provides free walking tours with knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides.
The gardens leading to the Royal Crescent are lovely and people are growing things in the oddest places.
Autumn is in full swing
Reflections in the Roman baths
Fireworks on Guy Fawkes

Thursday, November 3, 2011


I did warn you that this was not a week of culinary heights or delights. I apologise. Sort of. As I said yesterday, I visited the Sutton Bonnington farmer's market and one of the things I did pick up was a 'small' loaf of rye sourdough. I say 'small' because their small is the size of a normal loaf of bread. I shudder to think of the size of their regular bread. This loaf will last me weeks. Well, if it wasn't so good and I didn't now have plans to eat it at every meal, it would probably last weeks. I'm always dubious about new bakeries. Yes, I am a bakery skeptic. (Except in Paris.) I find I tend to be disappointed a lot. The pastries are never as good as they appear and the bread is stale before I've had a chance to sample it properly. My new find at the farmer's market (Elizabeth's Patisserie) definitely got the bread right. The sourdough sliced through like butter and toasted to equal perfection. And it had the most insane texture - all silky and smooth but in a bread-y way. I don't know how to explain it properly. You'll just have to believe me.

So for dinner last night, all I could manage to conjure up was scrambled eggs on toasted sourdough. But it was a dinner for kings and made me decidedly happy. Suffice to say the rest of my diet this week will be centred on sourdough.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Farmer's Market

I've been off food all week in a I-can't-really-be-bothered sort of way. The only thing I've felt like having has been orange juice and bircher muesli. Hardly culinary heights. I blame the illness. When I'm sick all I want to do is crawl into bed and speak to no one, unless they're bringing me dvds and more orange juice. However, today, finally, I started to feel better. Not quite normal but better. And I knew there was this farmer's market happening so I decided a little trip in the fresh air would probably do me good.

The farmer's market is located at Sutton Bonnington, the agricultural campus of the University of Nottingham (where I am slaving away reading about food...) I love a rural scene and the drive to Sutton doesn't disappoint. The farmer's market takes place the first Wednesday of every month and is actually quite good. I'm always worried that I'm going to be disappointed at markets but I was pleasantly surprised at this one. If I wasn't going away this weekend I would have stocked up of veggies and apples and cheese. Instead I browsed happily and ate lunch.

You can tell autumn is in full swing. The apples are out in full force as are pumpkins and squashes. The meat selection on offer was good, with sausages, lamb, beef and meat pies all available. I had a fantastic lamb burger with fried onions for lunch - proper market food. There's also chocolate, honey, Mediterranean (olives, baklava, vine leaves), bread (I brought some sourdough because I think I might have eggs on toast for dinner - like I said, this week is not a culinary heights week), cheese, Indian and cider.

 Items are reasonably priced and some stalls are organic. Others like the market garden vegetables aren't officially but they try to grow in a chemical free way. I shall definitely be a-visiting in December.

Friday, October 28, 2011


So last week I went on a trip up North to the mighty city of Edinburgh and some of its rural towns. I was there for a wedding but spent a few days getting reacquainted with one of my favourite places. I've already told you about the fantastic breakfast I had at Urban Angel here. I didn't mention it but I went back for the exact same thing again the day after. It was that good.

I also had to stop by Peter's Yard at the Quartermile and have coffee with a cardamon bun. It's the classy version of my usual choice - the cinnamon bun - and is every bit as good. The perfect elevenses choice. (My sister would be so proud of my embracing hobbit like eating habits.)

More coffee is to be found at Artisan Roast on Broughton St. Superb flat white makers and general coffee loveliness in the tiniest of spaces. Finding good coffee in Scotland is something of a trial - people here seem to think milky, watery coffee tasting mulch is good and I mostly just avoid the stuff but I will go back to Artisan Roast again (and again and again) because the coffee is fantastic. The tiny shop is warm and welcoming too and makes for a good escape from the ever present Scottish rain.

I also sampled the latest cupcake bakery to hit Edinburgh. Bibi's comes originally from St Andrew's where it has a cult like following. It's store, on Hanover St, is all pink happiness and there are a number of different flavours on offer every day. I selected red velvet. It was good but not bowl-me-over amazing. The sponge was a little dry for my taste but the icing was nice. Other flavours we sampled included mocha, peanut butter, oreo cookie and vanilla.

Last on my list of things to eat was haggis. I know I know. Many of you have run away from the computer in disgust already. But, I confess, I actually like haggis. Its spicy, meaty goodness is the perfect feel good food against the cold. I had mine in a pub which is possibly the best place to eat such fare, with a large cider to wash it all down.


Look what arrived in my postbox this morning! Too exciting and just in time for Halloween and the Day of the Dead.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


How much do you love poached eggs? I love them most because I find the proper poaching of an egg to be beyond my skill level and patience. Finding a proper poached egg is rather challenging though and it's even more challenging finding a poached egg enrobed in a good hollandaise. However I succeeded in finding both last week on my trip up North to the lovely Edinburgh. I had a few places and items on my list that were must do's but a trip to Urban Angel was definitely at the top. And I'm glad to say they did not disappoint.

You can choose the accompaniments to eggs Benedict at Urban Angel, and you don't have to have it with the traditional ham. I had mine with crispy bacon. And a side order of roasted tomatoes so that I could pretend I was being healthy. So winning. The whole thing would have made a nutritionist have a heart attack but it was so good I can't help but think it should be included as part of a balanced diet at least once a month. I now have the incredibly difficult task of finding something similar to satisfy cravings here. Or alternatively making frequent trips to Edinburgh when the craving becomes overpowering.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Potato Salad

Potato salad seems to be a dish of some controversy. I don't think it needs to be, it's just that people seem to have very strong opinions about it. Like whether the mayonnaise needs to be home-made. Or what herbs to include or exclude. Whether there should be raw onion or shallots or spring onions. If you should include eggs. The potato salad. It's a minefield.

I don't often eat potato salad. It wasn't something that featured a whole lot in my childhood and it's featured even less since then. It reminds me of summer Sunday lunches where everything is cold and eaten off paper plates in the garden, and you spend half your time trying to a) sit elegantly on the grass without tipping your plate sideways and b) warding off the dog who's doing his damnedest to push you over. I can't really think of a good reason why potato salad is such a non-event in my life though. It's super easy to make, requires few pots and pans and is decidedly satisfying in that way that dishes made solely of carbohydrates always are.

This particular salad occurred to me last week when I bought a bag of baby potatoes and then promptly wondered what to do with them. They've been skulking in the back of my cupboard every since, waiting for me to remember to buy mayonnaise. (Sorry but life is short and my skills at this particular moment do not stretch that far...) I like my potato salad still slightly warm so that the mayonnaise is almost melting into the potatoes. I also like it with a lot of parsley (flat-leafed), some shallot, finely chopped and some salt and pepper. I made enough today so there would be left-overs for lunch tomorrow. I kept trying to remind myself of that as I stole more from the pan. I also like to add a soft boiled egg. It just adds an extra something that makes this whole meal seem slightly decadent. 

There is no actual recipe for this. Boil enough potatoes for whomever you are feeding. I like baby potatoes and normally do about 4-5 per person, dependent on potato size. I leave the skin on. Once they're cooked through, drain and replace on the heat for 30 seconds just to dry them ever so slightly. Then stir in about 2 tablespoons of mayo, again you'll need more for more people. Add to that some chopped parsley, shallot and salt and pepper. Serve whilst still warm with an egg if you're so inclined.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Breakfast with Figs

I'm getting all excited now about my trip this weekend. I'm heading up to Edinburgh for a friend's wedding and I'm going to get to catch up with a myriad of old friends, drink a rather large amount of wine and eat at all my favourite places. I've got that restless-can't-settle feeling that causes you to clean your bathroom and hoover the entire house in an effort to keep busy. It also means that I'm neglecting the already mountainous amount of work I have to do (and the frightening amount that will await me when I get back) because I can't concentrate. Not now. Not when there is so much excitement and anticipation in the air.

It also means, in my case, clearing out the fridge and eating anything that might go off in the small time that I'm away. This amounts to a fair amount of food as it happens. I went a little crazy in the grocer last week and I've already gushed about how excited I was about the figs I found. (Obsessed much, me?) So the remaining two figs have been looking at me guiltily all week and I finally made them into breakfast yesterday. I didn't need to go in to the office yesterday (one of the many joys of being a PhD student) and so I took my time over breakfast.  I thought about the breakfast so much, I was even organised enough to start it the night before.

Yes. I am that person. Anyway, starting it the night before entailed putting the oats into a bowl and covering in with milk before storing it in the fridge overnight to swell. Hardly an effort. The next day the oats was all silky and plump. I transferred the oats to a pan and heated it very slowly with a little extra water until it was cooked. Whilst that was happening I sliced my figs, drizzled them with honey and a little butter and baked them in the oven until they were falling apart and mushy. Queue figs onto porridge and heaven. In a manner of speaking. Totally winning start to the day.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Balsamic Fig Salad

I love me a fig. There is something so voluptuous and sexy about them. That is if fruit can every really be either voluptuous or sexy. The fig comes pretty close in my opinion. I got all excited yesterday when I found some on offer that were perfectly ripe and purple and exquisitely beautiful in every way. The fishmongers in my new village doubles as a grocer and has fantastic produce at a fraction of the price of the supermarkets - all round winning indeed.

Anyway, I planned to have the figs in a salad for lunch but I got completely sidetracked and then went bouncing around the Goose Fair so they were relegated to dinner. Not that this is a bad thing. I had sliced the figs open and drizzled them with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Then, because I got sidetracked, they sat marinating for a few hours on the kitchen counter. When I returned home from the Goose Fair (exhausted and over-stimulated by lights and noise) I put the figs into the oven at 180C for half an hour. The result was a perfectly cooked fig with a syrupy balsamic glaze. I had already thrown together a salad of rocket leaves, feta, avocado, salami and toasted pumpkin seeds. Atop this I added the figs and drizzled some of the balsamic oil from the pan. Easy, fabulous dinner with minimal effort.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Beans on Toast

 Some nights this is all I can manage for dinner. 

Baked beans on marmite toast and a fried egg shaped like a rabbit. (Well, sort of.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Chopping Boards and Knives

I'm an epically excited about my new chopping board. Yes, I know what you are thinking. How can you get excited about a chopping board? It's easy. It means I can now actually chop stuff. And make things. It's a beautiful piece of wood that weighs a ton. It nearly took my right arm on my walk home yesterday. But it's so lovely and there is so much potential around it that I can help but smile every time I walk past it.

I wrote the above this morning. The chopping board is still making me smile but in a twist of universe karma my knives arrived this afternoon. Honestly, today just couldn't get any better. So tonight, for the first time since mid August I made myself a dinner that included chopping things and sauteing things. It was almost total bliss. (For the record, total bliss right now would be making cake - craving - but in that department I'm still sadly lacking.)

It wasn't a terribly exciting dinner, just roasted butternut salad. But everything about it was superb. I roasted the butternut with the skin on. I'm sometimes partial to skin, sometimes not. I left my peeler back home (I question now why) so skin on seemed miles easier. I drizzled it with a little olive oil and some black pepper. If you have garlic to hand (I don't yet) I'd throw some cloves in too.

Whilst that was roasting I elegantly placed some leaves on a plate (elegantly being code for chucked generously) and added some sun-dried tomatoes and feta. (I would normally be a little purist about this salad and not add the tomatoes but I can't seem to get enough of these at the moment and so am eating them on almost everything.) For the leaves I chose mostly rocket with some lettuce variations thrown in for good measure.

In a saute pan I then heated some pumpkin seeds (I say heated because as I am working from a hob and not gas things took a long while to get going) and added in some bresaola that was skulking in the back of the fridge looking grumpy.  Once the pan had heated I added a little olive oil and fried it all together. Once the butternut was done I dumped it and the bresaola/seed mix onto the leaves. Et voila. Instant dinner happiness.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I'm a little obsessed with this jam at the moment. It's sublime. It's luxurious. I want to eat it on everything. And I mean everything. It's made from purple raspberries. The idea of purple raspberries captures my imagination so perfectly that I think I may have died and gone to jam heaven. I'm going to have to make a special trip to get some more. Let's face it, it's not going to last very long.