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.