Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas time, mistletoe and wine

I've always wanted to be the kind of domestic goddess who made chutneys to bring to dinner parties instead (or more honestly alongside) a bottle of wine. Who makes her own sloe gin and bread.

Well I'm getting there... Having never made chutney, Natalie and I decided Christmas was the perfect time to try our hands at making some....delicious.

Festive as the snow was I can't say it was much of a help as we trundled through the snow getting the ingredients from the market but by the time we had the ingredients all laid out and some cider mulling on the hob things were just peachy again.

Before we knew it we had three pans bubbling away on the hob.

As it was our first time making chutneys and jams we decided to stick with the recipes of those in the know - Nigella is responsible for the Christmas chutney and the gorgeous chilli jam and Jamie's cheeky chilli pepper chutney. Yummy. We tweaked the recipes a bit, adding half green chillis instead of all red to the chilli chutney for extra kick.

Afterword (January 11th)
So far, the presents have gone down well, best summarised by my dad (a man of few words) serving his chilli jam on the Sunday dinner table every week since he got it. Not an easy feat to achieve as he's rather particular about his Sunday suppers. Thanks dad!

Cheeky chilli pepper chutney

• 8-10 fresh red chillies

• 8 ripe red peppers

• olive oil

• 2 medium red onions, peeled and chopped

a sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped

• 2 fresh bay leaves

• a 5cm piece of cinnamon stick

• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 100g brown sugar

150ml balsamic vinegar

Place your chillies and peppers over a hot barbecue, in a griddle pan or on a tray under a hot grill, turning them now and then until blackened and blistered all over. Carefully lift the hot peppers and chillies into a bowl (the smaller chillies won’t take as long as the peppers so remove them first) and cover tightly with clingfilm. As they cool down, they’ll cook gently in their own steam. By the time they’re cool enough to handle, you’ll be able to peel the skin off easily.

When you’ve got rid of most of the skin, trimmed the stalks and scooped out the seeds, you’ll be left with a pile of nice tasty peppers and chillies. Finely chop by hand or put in a food processor and whiz up. Then put to one side.

Heat a saucepan and pour in a splash of olive oil. Add the onions, rosemary, bay leaves and cinnamon and season with a little salt and pepper. Cook very slowly for about 20 minutes or so, until the onions become rich, golden and sticky.

Add the chopped peppers and chillies, the sugar and the vinegar to the onions and keep cooking. When the liquid reduces and you’re left with a lovely thick sticky chutney, season well to taste. Remove the cinnamon stick and the bay leaves. Either spoon into the sterilized jars and put them in a cool dark place, or keep in the fridge and use right away. In sterilized jars, the chutney should keep for a couple of months.

Nigella's Christmas chilli jam

150g long fresh red chillies, each deseeded and cut into about 4 pieces.
150g red peppers, cored, deseeded and cut into rough chunks
1kg jam sugar
600ml cider vinegar
6 x 250ml sealable jars, with vinegar-proof lid, such as Kilner jar or re-usable pickle jar


1. Sterilize your jars and leave to cool.
2. Put the cut-up chillies into a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Add the chunks of red pepper and pulse again until you have a vibrantly red-flecked processor bowl.
3. Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar in a wide, medium-sized pan over a low heat without stirring.
4. Scrape the chilli-pepper mixture out of the bowl and add to the pan. Bring the pan to the boil, then leave it at a rollicking boil for 10 minutes.
5. Take the pan off the heat and allow it cool. The liquid will become more syrupy, then from syrup to viscous and from viscous to jelly-like as it cools.
6. After about 40 minutes, or once the red flecks are more or less evenly dispersed in the jelly (as the liquid firms up, the hints of chilli and pepper start being suspended in it rather than floating on it), ladle into your jars. If you want to stir gently at this stage, it will do no harm. Then seal tightly.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Crumbs and Dirty Dishes Supper Club: The Porky Edition

See the full album on our Facebook Page

I’ve just come back from filming an edition of Market Kitchen. The one thought in my mind? I love pork. No. I really, really love pork. Almost as much as I love steak.... debatably more. Chefs Rachel Allen and Charita Jones cooked up a storm with Berkshire rare breed pigs: I wont the spill the beans about the dishes – you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled on Good Food channel towards the end of January. It will be worth it.

In the meantime, the supper club has been going well. I’m rubbing my hands in gleeful anticipation about Sunday’s upcoming Christmas edition, complete with roast goose and homemade mince pies. Mmmn. But the last one was arguably my favourite so far.

It’s sad to say but the torment of the pork shoulder roasting overnight was unbelievable – every five minutes I would wake up to a waft of fragrance. It was worse than a child on Christmas eve.... Overall it was in the oven for a good 12 hours and literally falling off the bone with a good layer of crackling. Absolutely gorgeous.

The menu:
Parmesan and chive scones with red onion marmalade
Slow roasted pork shoulder with anchovy sage potatoes, braised fennel and greens
Vanilla pannacotta with spiced pears poached in red wine
Cheese and biscuits

Photos once again by Nadine El Hage
January’s Supper club will be on the 16th – Four courses £20, ten places. Get in touch at

Recipes to follow soon....

Spending time in Cali.... Los Angeles Edition

OK. I am officially rubbish. Goodness knows how many dishes I’ve cooked and thought well, wouldn’t that be perfect for the blog. And how many times I’ve been out and thought oh I’ll just take a photo for the blog. But somehow. The blog has managed to stay in stasis for a few weeks.

But my recent trip to America was just too good to miss out on sharing with you fine folks.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve maybe been a bit snooty about people who go to America on holiday all the time – I mean where is the challenge in going to a country where they speak the same language? Pooh pooh to that. Well I take it back.

So let’s get down to business. The food. Well the first thing is that there was absolutely tonnes of it. If I talked through every dish I had while I was out there, we would be here for bleedin’ ever. So this is going to be a shortish run-through of the things that found a special place in my heart...

Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles

Ever heard the Notorious B.I.G song ‘Goin’ Back to Cali’. Well, I’ll tell ya, it’s a treat. I believe the lyrics go a something like this:

Frequently floss hoes at Roscoe's
If I wanna squirt her, take her to Fatburger
Spend about a week on Venice Beach
Sippin Crist-o, with some freaks from Frisco

Well ladies and gentlemen, this is Roscoe’s... And while I’m not down with the flossing of hoes (dont even want to think about what that means) I can say hand on heart that Biggie made a damned good call on this place.

The name of the restaurant says it all, chicken and waffles are the main attraction here. That is a plate of southern fried chicken, huge fluffy waffles drowned in a vat of maple syrup. Sceptical? I was but can see the appeal of this gorgeous little heart-attack on a plate. If you’re going at the weekend be prepared to queue.

I’m saving Fatburger for next time. Speaking of burgers...

Bob’s Original Double Deck Hamburger
Bob was a big boy. He ate lots of his own burgers, probably washed down with quite a few of his milkshakes too. Bob's is one of the original diners

They are very nice. For me though, half the excitement was checking out the vintage cars gathered in the parking lot for their weekly meet. Swing by on a Friday evening and hang out with the drivers who are a massive fount of (slightly obsessive) information about their Beach Boy-styled cars! Then chow down on a big juicy burger.


After lounging around in my sandals and summer dresses, Melisse cropped up a refreshing breath of formality. Chef Josiah Citrin serves up a gorgeous amalgamation of haute-French cuisine at this Los Angeles institution. We were almost more impressed by the service than by the food and the food was excellent. Watching the waiters however, was like watching a well-rehearsed and much practiced ballet. Dishes were served with a flourish and worked their way through a catalogue of the most delectable ingredients....a trio of foie gras, artichoke soup, wagyu beef.

Asia de Cuba
Asian and Cuban food? Asia de Cuba pulls off what could be a disaster of flavours with excellent style. It’s no wonder that this is one of the Sunset Boulevard hotspots... That and the rather cute waiter....

Santa Barbara Wineries – Kalyra & Fess Parker
I couldn’t go to California without heading out to some wineries. So when Rachel had the brilliant idea of visiting some of the wineries from Sideways in Santa Barbara County, I was enthusiastic to say in the least. We started off with Kalyra, a small winery in Santa Ynez headed up my Aussie-born winemaker Mike Brown.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert but the Sangiovese caught my tastebuds’ attention ...

We moved on to the larger, more industrial Fess Parker winery a fifteen minute drive away where the pours were on the generous side. Hence the notice...

I find it hard to get excited about wine in the same way that I do about food but the woman behind the bar was incredible and her passion was infectious. So Rachel and I got a bit tiddly and passed out in the car back to LA. The end. I did pick up a Riesling that I’ll be cracking out at the Christmas Supper Club in a few days. I loved it at the time, but the subsequent hangover obliterated the reasons why... will keep you updated.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sunday Supper Club: The Gravadlax Edition

Sunday’s supper club went very well. Those that follow me on Twitter might have noticed me getting myself into a bit of a tizzy about finding dill in Brixton (apparently a military-styled task to test even the most ardent of resolves) for the Gravadlax – but all’s well that ends well. So without further ado, I present the Crumbs and Dirty Dishes Secret Supper Club: The Gravadlax Edition...

The menu :
Gina welcome cocktails
Gravadlax with New Potato Salad and Ballymaloe Brown Bread

Scallops with pancetta and purple sprouting broccoli on a bed of lentils with lemon crème fraiche

Tarte Citron
Cheese & Biscuits

November dates are 7th November and 28th November and filling up quickly. £20 for four courses and a welcome cocktail – BYO wine. Email to book a place or find out more.

Yours in hungriness,

Chomping Through South-West Ireland

Up until last month, my experience of Ireland was limited to an 18 hour stint in Dublin along with three girly friends to celebrate my 21st birthday and a few tall, dark and handsome men with irresistible accents. You might think I’m joking when I say 18 hours – I’m not even sure it was that – being young and energetic I relied on the fact that we could stay up all night, go for drinks, party and then get back to London the next morning.

Not so last month’s trip to the Emerald Isle. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a seven day gourmet tour of the country ending with the Galway Oyster Festival but it was going to have to set the bar pretty high to impress. It did.

Within an hour of getting off the plane, I was rolling up my sleeves and helping out with the feeding of one of the lambs at Rathbaun Farm: the lamb was possibly the only animal I’ve ever met whose very, very enthusiastic appreciation for its food surpassed my own – as it literally dragged me across the barn trying to get the dregs of its milk from the bottle.

Culinary treats abounded from the first day – holed up in the secluded Cashel House, I have very fond memories of the sticky toffee pudding that rounded off the evening’s dining. Forget the mediocre semi-dry sponge too often masquerading under the title of sticky toffee pudding – this dish lived up to its reputation in every sense of the word – a dense, moist pudding with lashings of toffee sauce and a dollop of cream to set it off.

The next morning, when getting on what is possibly the smallest plane in the world I might have wished I’d shown a little less gusto with the pudding the night before as I heard the dreaded words ‘Hop onto the scales then – we need to weigh you to make sure we distribute the weight evenly throughout the plane’. Urgh... but it was worth it when we stepped off the other end on the smallest Arann island Inis Aer.

After tramping around to take in the views of the small stone-wall fields and rugged coastlines, we went to the small independent Fisherman’s Cottage restaurant run by Enda and Maria Connelly for some local seafood treats – treats being the operative word. The table was piled high with simple mouthwatering fare such as lobster and crab platters, saltfish fritters, mackerel escavetch and seaweed scones. Most of the ingredients used in the dishes are sourced locally, from within a one kilometre distance – making it a locavore’s dream.

Seafood platter

Mackerel escavetch

From Inis Aer, it was a short hop skip and jump over to the biggest of the Aran Islands, Inis Mor. Although it’s the most developed of the islands, it’s still incredibly relaxed – you can still travel around the island by pony trap – though in practice this is the domain of the tourists....

Visible from much of the isle. Dun Aonghasa is a prehistoric fort atop a cliff with absolutely stunning views out to the mainland. So focused was I on storming my way up to the top, I just about caught the rainbow that saw fit to appear at the very moment we reached the fort. Didn’t run off in search of the leprechaun though, rather a shame as a pot of gold wouldn’t go amiss but hey....

Like all island people, the folk on Inis Mor know how to party in my personal favourite sense of the word – great food and a spot of craic: the destination? Ti Joe Watty’s... Local singers and musicians take to the stage while the pub focuses on putting out some rather mouth-watering treats. I maintain that the lobster and chips might not only be one of the tastiest I’ve ever tasted but was definitely the best value at €29 for a monster-sized portion...

Back on the mainland, we drove through the picture-perfect views of County Galway and County Mayo before settling in at Delphi Mountain Resort for a pampering session complete with a seaweed bath – a novel experience to say in the least. In line with the resort’s emphasis on sustainability , food is sourced as locally as possible before being served in the restaurant.

Views from Delphi Mountain Resort

And then, it was time. We wended our way to Galway for the Oyster Festival – the perfect place to gorge yourself on the world-famous Galway Bay Oysters and shake a leg at what’s been named as one of the 12 best experiences on earth. The festival was made up of a series of events from the official opening ceremony to black tie dinners and afternoon celebrations. We’d barely settled into the hotel before we were whisked off to put back a few pints of Guinness (or other tipple of choice) in the local pubs in preparation for the Friday night party.

I can’t say I have ever encountered a night where I’ve quaffed lots of champagne, eaten oysters and not had a good night and myself and new mate Jill ended up storming the dancefloor later as the party stepped up a notch.

It follows that a good night can be followed by a slightly err rougher morning – if it wasn’t for the fact that we were going to a cheese shop and deli, I’m not sure getting out of bed before midday would have been a valid option at all. I was rather glad when we got to Sheridan’s Cheese Shop & Deli and Seamus Sheridan announced it was his birthday and promptly cracked out a few bottles of prosecco accompanied by (of course) more oysters.

The deli is one of the orginial artisan cheesemongers in Ireland and the perfect place to pick up local cheeses like Cashel Blue – a rather punchy blue cheese and Durras an unpastureised cow’s milk cheese from West Cork.

We carried on with the festivities with the afternoon gala lunch where the official Guinness World Oyster Opening Championship takes place. Though mainly occupied with tasting the seafood platters, oysters and other delights tantalisingly wafting past me – I did take the time out to notice that the oyster opening contestants have rather delicious arms, especially when employed in opening up one of my favourite little tidbits. When I do finally write my Mills & Boon bodice ripper, it will involve one of the said contestants – Mr Ireland and Mr Sweden would make particularly good fodder methinks.

And then, it was almost all over – but not before we’d spend the night at the wonderfully quaint and romantic Mustard Seed Lodge in Adare, County Limerick. Game dishes such as the rabbit terrine particularly stood out for their intense flavours, as did the braised duck (gorgeous), the crème brulee too was definitely something special. In the morning it was one last full Irish breakfast and then time to go home – sad. That said, I can’t imagine it will be that long before I make my way back.....

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sunday Supper Club – Big Event for a Big Weekend

It’s not often that you will pass a driving test, have your last day at work, found a new flatmate, do your first supper club and witness the birth of your first niece over the course of one weekend... So you can imagine that last weekend was rather a special one.

The driving test proved the old adage third time lucky to be true and I’m now the proud aunt of one very cute niece Summer, whom I hope to influence in ways good and bad in the years to come. She’ll definitely have to put up with old aunty Julianna butting into her life fairly frequently, because after watching the closing stages of my sister’s labour, I’m fairly confident that I will not be running to do that anytime soon myself. The horror....

Moving swiftly on, the 19th of September proved to be a big day – not only was it the day Summer was born, but it was also the day I held my first not so secret Crumbs and Dirty Dishes Sunday Supper Club.

I’ve been toying with the idea of a supper club for a while... some of the most enjoyable nights out I’ve recently had have been eating in other people’s homes or random factories in Dalston (see Shacklewell Nights). And so, after dithering and dithering I bit the bullet, sent out the emails and started plotting the menu.

The experience proved to be a fun one... I can’t say that waking up at 9am in Dalston after a rather heavy party on Friday night and having to hare my way back to Brixton to do some market shopping pre-flat viewings was quite the way I would have planned it. Neither was waking up at 5am on the Sunday to start the cooking.

A call from my sister at 11am, just as everything was ticking along nicely to say that her labour had started kept things nice and spicy (especially as I was one of the birth partners) – the afternoon was punctuated by progress reports and I had fingers and toes crossed that I’d make it in time for the birth.

By the time people rolled into Brixton at two, we were merrily doling out the Bellinis and trying to stop ourselves scoffing the Brie, Pancetta and Mussel Tartlets that smelt so tempting in the oven.

These were followed by braised lamb shanks with parsnip gratin and wild mushroom gravy, which went down particularly well and the blackberry and clotted cream shortcake appeared to have found a few fans.

As someone who is frequently tormented by the choice between cheese or pudding (a choice between cheese and anything is always particularly unfair) I’d decided to serve both... the cheeseboard consisted of a ripe Brie, Cambozola, Dolcelatte, Cheddar, goat’s cheese and herbed Feta sourced from a new love, the Portuguese delicatessan under the Brixton railway arches.

But essentially a supper club is about the people. Our crowd was fantastic – so I’d like to say a big thank you to them and my very helpful sous-chef Natalie for making it such a special afternoon. And Nadine for the wonderful photos.

Dates for October/ November’s supper clubs are as follows:
10th October
7th November
28th November

Price: Twenty pounds including four courses and a welcome drink. BYO booze.
Email to sign up or to be added to the email update list.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gin gin ginned – The Elgin

Once in a while, you’ll form a tumultuous relationship with a food or drink that will rock you to the core and never leave you the same again, in the manner of Scarlett and Rhett. The first one I remember was with Marmite. As a nipper I loved the stuff.

I won’t go into full details in case you marmite haters chunder a little in your mouth but my memories include the usual suspects – Marmite and Toast, Marmite and crackers but also a few more erratic dishes (Marmite, baked beans and mashed potato anyone) and sometimes a grubby finger dipped straight into that brown pot and transferred straight to the mouth. Then, one day, I woke up and I hated the stuff. I still can’t get my nose near the pot without going an unflattering shade of ashen brown and getting all wriggly about the mouth.

The reverse has been true of gin. I don’t remember having any childhood opinions about gin (well, it would be rather worrying if I did) but I know that when I went to uni, the general impression I had about the stuff was that it was a) The drink of old whiskery ladies b) absolutely vomit-inducingly vile.

To say I disliked it could take the prize as the understatement of the century, so much so that when a friend decided to start up the Oxford Gin Appreciation Society (OGAS), I put myself forward for the role of equal drinks opportunities officer. But, as Sam wrote more and more letters to the various gin distilleries dotted about the UK and the bottles of free gin started to land on our doorsteps, I found myself increasingly tempted. Surely it couldn’t be that bad?

The ice was completely broken one night when we held the OGAS Gin Olympics (known as watching Eurovision with various gin-based dishes such as gin pineapple upside down cake and gin jelly to the rest of the world) and I discovered that gin was really quite nice. And we’ve been in love since, happily ever after and all that crap.

So, when the old gin palace in Ladbroke Grove The Elgin reopened a year ago, I was intrigued... Other than their continuing association with dodgy Victorian types, gin palaces haven’t received much attention over recent years. And this was one that claimed to have over 35 gins behind the bar and served some excellent food to boot.

My recent trip to Bob Bob Ricard had got me thinking about the pairing of alcohol and food. Wine of course, but even beer and vodka have received their fair share of exploration in terms of pairing with food. But gin? Not so much... So I had a chat with the manager at The Elgin to see if she could put together a few things and she did.

A dense, meat-packed smoked duck salad was paired with a Cauronn gin all the way from Speyside, Scotland, which brought out the rich flavours of the duck quite well, the smoked salmon salad with a saffron gin was another winner.

My favourite by far was the grilled sea bass, which was served with a Hendrick’s gin and tonic with cucumber instead of the lime. Not only was the cucumber an ideal foil for the delicate sea bass, but the overall effect was one of a light and refreshing meal that suited a late-summer’s evening to a t.

Unsurprisingly Clare voted that her steak would have been better off with a red wine, but it was an experiment that was worth doing and, she was still left with a gorgeous steak that she put swiftly away before guzzling the gin afterwards.

We were too full for dessert – so instead we sipped on a sloe gin on the rocks as a sweet ending to the meal before tottering off home. It definitely got me thinking, if you have any ideas about the pairings, give me a shout I’d be very interested to hear them.

Waiting rating: Ingenious pairing of food and gin. Nuff said.
Scoffing potential: Almost as good as the drinking potential, which is almost unlimited.
Wallet buddy: Not too cheap, not at all steep as we like to say down at the Grove.
The crowd: Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts popping in from Notting Hill for a quiet bite and drink rah rah rah
96 Ladbroke Grove,
Ladbroke Grove
020 7229 5663

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hix Oyster & Chop House

"Quail's egg shooters with bacon and chives?" My dining partner, Joe raised an eyebrow. "That sounds rather exciting".

Exciting could have been a euphemism for sickeningly gross or plain weird. But to give him his dues, he went in all guns blazing for the first one. "Wow". That one word made me anxious to finish of the next little eggy delight so I could tip it down and knock it back. And when I did, I understood exactly what Joe meant.

Think about it, it's nothing groundbreaking. Eggs, bacon and chives are not the most unusual pairing, but I'd never had them in this way before: the quails eggs seductively runny and contrasting beautifully with the texture of the crunchy bacon and the freshness of the chives.

"By Jove, this Hix is a genius", I cried. Or I would of if plunged in the depths of the 19th century. As it was, I was as enthusiastic as my 21st century self would allow and promptly munched down the next three eggs whilst reluctantly giving Joe his allotted share.

It was only going to get better... the second dish we tried that night was Lamb chops with cucumber - another undisputed culinary winner. Truth be told, we were left nibbling the bones and licking our fingers in an attempt to relive those glorious lamb-y moments of greed and stomach satisfaction.

The pattern has continued over the last few weeks. I've tried the Mutton Chop Curry, chicken and lobster pie and a rather elusive dish called Heaven and Earth, which marries black pudding with apples and mashed potato.

Hix Oyster & Chop House cookbook is unashamedly a book for meat eaters. There are vegetarian recipes floating about but if you are of a herbivore persuasion, you'd be better off with another book.

Meat lovers, however, will delight in the simple explanations and photographs of rarer cuts of meat that are often overlooked in modern kitchens - the basis of a very fulfilling trip to the butchers last week.

I've seen criticism that this book is for those unafraid to spend a lot of money on their dinners and to some degree, this is true. But there are a lot of dishes using cheaper ingredients that aren't in any way overpriced for a weeknight dinner. If you are looking to treat yourself to a full out feast, there's definitely scope to do that too...

Hix Oyster & Chop House
Love it: For those who appreciate the beauty of meat and want to try Hix's flavoursome dishes at home.
Hate it: Vegetarians. All those pictures of steaks will have them crying into their carrot soups.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tasting life through rose-flavoured cupcakes

I have come to the conclusion that tasting life through rose coloured cupcakes is a lot better than looking at life through rose tinted glasses.

For one, rose flavoured cupcakes are every bit as light, fluffy and utterly delectable as you imagine they are going to be, whereas we all know the perils of rose-tinted glasses.

Lets just say it's recently led to me receiving a call from a guy I was dating mistakenly thinking I was another girl. He then proceeded to ask her to set him up with her sister for a date. Harumph. I knew he was an idiot and a little bit slow, but the rose tinted glasses told me to ignore that and left me unable to forsee him catching himself out quite so spectacularly. Epic fail.

I digress. The big news is my sister is going to be giving birth to a beautiful baby next month. I'm so proud of her and excited that I am going to be an aunty. When she announced that she would be having a baby shower, I immediately began to agonise over what I should bring. What would a young cool aunty bring? (This is the role I intend to play in this poor child's life, for better or for worse).

Should it be something for the baby or for the mother? What if I bought something she already had? What if she didnt like it (we have a rather different taste in things, as I'm sure she'll agree). What if I bought stuff in the wrong size. Oh the stress.

One thing I knew I was going to bring was some insane cupcake action. But, again, more questions mainly revolving around the theme of flavour... Vanilla I've done to death, lemon ditto, strawberry just seemed so mainstream. I don't like chocolate and am selfish enough to want to eat anything I bring to a party.

Twitter, of course, came to the rescue. What about lavender cupcakes? Ding! An idea was born. It would be an adaptation from the one found in the Hummingbird Cafe book - yes! But I commited a schoolgirl error: becoming so confident in the idea that I forgot about the practicalities of the execution. Which is why the day before the big event found me frantically running around Brixton looking for some kind of lavender essence or dried petals with no luck.

Like The Lord of the Rings, it was in this moment of blackest despair that my saviour idea came to me - rose cupcakes. Only the day before my flatmates and I had been gabbing about how gorgeous the roses in our mini mini terrace were looking. Plus, some of them were pretty much full blown and were going to fall off soon, so why shouldn't I put them to good use?

Though I'm not blessed with much common sense sometimes, I was alert enough to figure out that chopping up the petals and dropping them into the cake batter wasn't quite going to cut it, so I steeped them in milk on a very low fire for an hour until ta-dah I had rose milk. I wont lie and say this was the tastiest of things on its own but, having dipped my spoon in and found the milk to be sufficiently rosy, I removed the petals and then pretty much went about my cupcake-making as usual: using the rosemilk in the batter and in the icing for a aromatically fragrant but not overwhelming finished product.

The smell of those babies in the oven is certainly something to write home about and it took a lot more willpower than I would have been willing to bet I had not to scoff all twelve of them there and then. Instead, I dutifully let them cool, iced them, let them set (whilst taking a few photos) and put them in the cake box ready to bring as the edible part of my gift...

And they went down a treat. Although, to be fair, so did the millions of fairy cakes and huge cakes my sister had baked herself without telling me (she is a truly brilliant baker of cakes, always a good trait in a mother to be). And there was everything there should be at a baby shower - presents galore closely followed by gossip galore and lashings of cake and other pink edible stuff.

So, I dedicate this recipe to my sister. Who can be a bit thorny and scary if she tries but is such a beautiful rose at heart. This coming from a person who would normally pull her tongue out than compare someone to a rose. Nuff said.

Rose Cupcakes

For the cakes
- 120ml whole milk
- One rose's worth of petals
- 275g self raising flour
- 200g caster sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 110g unsalted butter

For the icing
- 500g icing sugar
- 35ml whole milk
- 100g unsalted butter
- A few drops of red food colouring
- Decorations as you see fit

An hour before you want to start on the rest of the cupcakes, take the milk for both the cakes and the icing and put on a fire on a very low heat with the (washed) rose petals. After at least an hour, remove the petals and drain excess milk then split the milk into the required amounts for cake and icing again.

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius. Line a tray with cupcake cases.

Cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is very pale but not completely liquid. Add one egg, beat for a few minutes then add the second egg before beating again.

Add one third of the flour, then one third of the 'cake rosemilk', beating for a few minutes or so after each addition. Repeat until both have been used up.

Spoon the mixture into 12 cupcake cases in the tray. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch and cooked through. Leave to cool.

Meanwhile beat the butter and rosemilk whilst adding the icing sugar gradually. Drop in the food colouring - remember a little goes a long, long way.

Ice the cupcakes as soon as they are cool and the icing is ready. Sprinkle with decorations as you prefer.

So proud of the finished product, here's another piccie

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ten things I hate about You

I've been on a couple of good dates recently so I knew, I knew that I had some bad date karma just waiting to come and bite me in the ass. Yesterday was the designated day. I'm not going to rant and rave, I thought it would be simpler to present this as a simple list of what was wrong. Ten Things. Not in a cute and irresistably gorgeous way like Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles either. More's the shame...

- You wore a heavy gold chain with three buttons undone on your shirt. I could practically see your nipples. Eew.

- You complained about the seat in the restaurant because it was by the door, even though it was a bright and balmy summer's evening and there was no space anywhere else

- You ordered the same thing as me on the menu, meaning I could only photograph one dish (pet hate, I never said all my reasons would be objective)

- You talked for 60 minutes flat about your boring life without pausing for breath. I dont even think you know what I do for a living. I know you don't care.

- You made me go dutch for both the film and the cinema when you asked me out (I think this is a big factor in who pays)

- When I went to pay on my card in the cinema, for a moment you thought I was going to pay for your ticket too after you'd bored me to tears over dinner. Snort.

- Your favourite film list includes Twilight, Eclipse, New Moon and Piranhas. I cant even describe how upset that makes me. In fact that was the moment I lost all respect for you as a human being.

- You asked if I had older brothers because after aforementioned film debate/ debacle, I was apparently very opinionated. The only explanation for this, according to you, was a lot of male influence in my life.

- You leaned over midway through the film and told me the plot line twist just as they were about to reveal it.

- You annoyed me more than any human has for a few weeks.

There we have it, the imperfect ten.

Unfortunately, because we only had such a short period of time in Ichiban before the film, I only got to try the one course so I can only say the following. If you are looking for incredibly fresh sushi and a fairly large menu to choose from in Brixton, you'd do well to head to Ichiban. No fear, I will return soon and write a proper review, but for now I'll just leave you with this lovely image...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Super-cool Shacklewell: Dalston

For every book that closes, another one opens, or so the old adage goes. A few months ago saw London's dining scene bid farewell to its much-loved Green Onion Supper Club. All was not lost - rather this was an opportunity for Claire, co-founder of Green Onions to stretch her fingers and try out something new.

And so Shacklewell Nights was born. A supper club / pop up restaurant in an old factory in Dalston, myself and Farzana popped down for the inaugural night. Summarising thoughts: What a Treat.

There's something enticingly elusive about popping into an unmarked doorway in the street, climbing four (or eight) flights of stairs and then finding yourself in the midst of London's rather eclectic social milieu. Like Alice down the rabbit hole, these restaurants are generally a step into the unknown, which is half of their appeal.

Taking a brief peek at the menu before I headed down, I must admit that I was curious as to which way it would swing.

Brown Shrimp, Potato and Samphire or Fennel, Potato and Samphire for vegetarian Option
Braised Duck Legs, Bacon and White Beans or Lentils and Goats Curd for vegetarian Option
Sorbet and Vodka
Blackberry Fool

Obviously the dishes were appealing but would rely very heavily on the brilliance of the produce and quite precise execution to really stand out. Luckily for us, this is exactly what we encountered on the night.

The shrimp, potato and samphire salad was undeniably moreish - with strongly flavoured shrimps contrasting nicely with the samphire.

The braised duck leg was another winner; after I'd munched down the saucily tender leg I was left longingly glancing at those who had exercised slightly more restraint with the pace of their eating.

While the sorbet fulfilled its function in refreshing the palate, it was let down by a lacklustre vodka, the only disappointment of the night. Still, we all brightened up as we dipped into the Blackberry Fool, which trod the fine line between creaminess, sweetness and tartness with the enviable grace of a primadonna ballerina.

Food aside - I do have one question, why go to this kind of thing if you don't want to speak to anyone new? While one of the couples on the table were pretty friendly and incredibly interesting, some of the others were a little difficult to talk to, seemingly preferring to talk to each other (shock horror)and making very little effort with other people on the table. Personally I'm of the opinion that it's a little rude - what's the general take on this?

For more information, see Shacklewell Nights

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ahoy Sailor: The Ship

The glaring differences between a pub that serves food and a 'gastropub' are hard to miss. Irrespective of whether the pub would rate itself in the former or latter category, only the food can tell.

Some pubs have that special something, that magic touch that differentiates a microwaved pile of slop from a plate of flavoursome goodness. And some pubs dont. The Flora Sandes Weatherspoons in Thornton Heath for example, where I found a rotting bluebottle in my lasagne, is, unsurprisingly, a pub that doesn't have it.

The Ship, on the other hand, is an excellent example of a pub that does. I've been to this wonderfully eclectic find on the river three times now and each time has cemented my belief that this is a pub that has the gastro touch, and has gained my eternal devotion for it.

The first time was a beautifully sunny day where we lounged on the tucked away restaurant patio whilst sipping on thirst-quenching Pimms and embarking on an epicurean adventure that left us popping out our bikinis for the pool party later that day (rah rah rah).

I can't think of many pubs more suited to summer days, when the sun is shining and you're ensconsed in one of their several outdoor areas, if you're lucky looking over the Thames. But even on those oh-to-frequent gloomy days, there's ample seating space inside for a cosy night.

The second time, well, they adventurously invited a rabble of bloggers to try a few new dishes soon to debut on their ever-changing seasonal menu. I don't want to give the whole game away, but think rather exciting appearances from dishes including carpaccio of Mackerel with Anchovy fritter, basil sorbet and tomato foam. Initially slightly sceptical about the suitability of mackerel for the task, it was to become one of my favourite dishes of the evening - a bud-awakening combination of light but punchy flavours.

Other personal favourites included the Seared Scallops with Black Pudding, Citrus Braised Baby Gem, Hazlenut and Courgette Salad for starters.

Mains wise it was a tie-break between the Loin of Rabbit with Dublin Bay Prawns, Tarragon Mousse, Creamed Leeks and Peas with Sauteed Girolle Mushrooms and the Cornfed Chicken and Crimini Mushroom Pie with a truffled celeriac puree. Memories of the plump, moist hunks of chicken submerged in the mushroom sauce is enough to make my mouth water. And yes, it's every bit as porno as it sounds.

Desserts ranged from the unusual (Lime pannacotta) to time-old favourites (sticky toffee pudding) with a few interesting stops in between (pineapple tart tatin with star anise).

But it didn't stop there. One of the beauties about The Ship is that yes, it's a pub and it's a restaurant but essentially it's also a very friendly local where there's always something going on, the people working there are friendly and you're never short of a few people to chat to (track down Oisin, Emma and Charlie for some quality banter). Live Irish music on a Tuesday night - hell yes. In fact, that pretty much sums up my attitude to this fantastic find where I anticipate I'll spend far too much time in the coming months....