Thursday, 29 August 2013

Lots of Blackberries (with September on its way)

Along with a number of giant marrows, there was also a glut of blackberries at the weekend.  I love the shiny, black jewels ready to stain your fingers purple, ranging from super sweet to mouth-puckering tartness.

I used the handfuls of fruit for a blackberry mojito before dinner on Sunday, and a blackberry, apple and cinnamon cobbler after.  The cobbler topping is a bit like a scone mixture – a nice change from crumble or sponge for that stodgy Sunday evening pudding (well, it is nearly September).

Blackberry Mojito (1 drink)
1 lime, cut into wedges
1 tsp brown/Demerara sugar
30ml dark rum
Sprig of mint, with leaves picked off
5 or so blackberries
50ml apple juice
Lots of crushed ice

Muddle the lime, sugar and blackberries together in a glass (if you don’t have a muddler, the end of a rolling pin will do), before adding the rum.  Squash the mint leaves in your hands before adding, then top up the glass with lots of crushed ice.  Pour in the apple juice, give it a good mix with a spoon, before topping with a little more crushed ice.

Blackberry, apple & cinnamon cobbler (serves 6ish)
Cobbler topping
75g self-raising flour
75 spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch salt
70g butter, diced
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
125ml buttermilk, or milk with a squeeze of lemon juice
Sprinkle demerara sugar

Fruit below
3 eating apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
250g blackberries
1 tbsp caster sugar 

  • Pre-heat the oven to 200c.
  • Mix the flours, baking powder and salt in a bowl, then rub in the butter with fingertips until the mixture is like rough breadcrumbs.  Stir in the caster sugar and cinnamon, before pouring in the buttermilk/soured milk, and then mixing to a soft dough with a knife.
  • Put the prepared apples and blackberries in an ovenproof dish (I used an oval one approx. 25cm long), and mix with the caster sugar
  • Blob on dollops of the cobbler mixture, leaving gaps between, then sprinkle with a little demerara sugar for crunch.
  • Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes, before turning down to 170c and cooking for a further 20 minutes until golden brown.  Perfect with custard (even the good old Bird's powder kind).

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Feta, Pine Nut, Red Onion & Herb Stuffed (GIANT) Marrow

There is something very satisfying about eating home-grown fruit and veg.  Not my London home (a tiny Clerkenwell warehouse, not even with a balcony to grow a herb or two), but the parents’ in a rather greener Hertfordshire.  The marrows are ready at the moment. Perhaps a little too ready though, as my Mum came down the garden clutching a 4kg giant beast of a marrow.

Cucumber for scale...
I have made a tangy chutney with a large chunk, but another part was sliced, with the rings cored and stuffed.  For the filling, I started with a few handfuls of crunchy golden breadcrumbs (I use the Polpo recipe roasting chunks of stale bread with olive oil until golden, then whizzing in a processor with a little garlic and dried chilli).  I added feta, toasted pine-nuts, lots of chopped parsley, a little chopped mint, lemon zest and juice and fried red onions.

The stuffing gave the perfect salty, crunchy, herby contrast with the mellow marrow (they don't have a strong flavour).  We had it with roast lamb and beans from the garden, but it would also be great with a roast chicken, or just on its own with salad.

The marrow was enormous, so it will look a different when made with a marrow that isn’t the size of a cat/small dog (holes in the rings won’t be as big).

Serves 6 as a side dish, or less if having as a main
6 slices of giant marrow, more of a smaller one, in 2cm slices
150g crunchy breadcrumbs (as above, but normal would work too)
2 red onions, finely sliced
50g toasted pine nuts
Large bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Small bunch mint, chopped
100g chopped feta cheese
Juice and zest of one lemon
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

  • Pre-heat the oven to 190c

  • Scoop out the fibrous/seedy middle (you can use a spoon, or go round with a knife if you are careful), before peeling
  • Fry the red onions gently until softened in a tbsp or so of olive oil
  • Tip the cooked onion into a large bowl, before mixing in the breadcrumbs, pine nuts, parsley, mint, feta, lemon zest and juice, with a glug of olive oil and a good grind of salt and pepper
  • Line a couple of roasting tins with foil, then lay out the marrow rings flat and brush with a little olive oil and season

  • Fill the rings, pressing the stuffing down lightly so it’s level with the top of the marrow
  • Bake in the pre-heated oven for around 45 minutes, until the marrow is tender (test with a sharp knife), and the stuffing is golden and crispy

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

La Petite Maison, Bond Street

I often have Monday morning food chats with my MD at work.  Each week we talk about our weekend cooking, often swapping a few recipes. It’s a good way to ease into the barrage of Monday emails.

Today we went to La Petite Maison for a work lunch (on her recommendation), and I had heard lots of good things before we got there.  It’s tucked on Brook’s Mews near Bond Street – all serene cream decor and crisp linen, and beautifully airy. 

Octopus in lemon oil
The food takes its influences from the Cote D’Azur and neighbouring Liguria in Italy, and was all deliciously fresh and simple, yet elegant.  The dishes come when they are ready, and they set up the table for sharing.

Crab and lobster salad
Our starters included neat slices of pissaladiere with squidgy soft onions and the salty tang of anchovies, garlicky snails, and warm prawns in olive oil with tarragon.  We also had the crab and lobster salad, with a nice mixture of crunch and soft, sweet seafood, and melting soft thinly sliced octopus in lemon oil.

Cod Provencal

Salt baked sea bass
We chose lots more fish for the main courses, with turbot on the bone with artichokes, thin slices of chorizo and white wine, cod provencal and salt baked filled of sea bass with crispy shredded artichokes and tiny tomatoes.  It was all cooked perfectly  pearly and flaky.  The roast baby chicken marinated in lemon was juicy, and the frites and potato gratin on the side were excellent.

Warm chocolate mousse with malt ice-cream

Agen prunes with gingerbread ice-cream
My dessert was one of the best I’ve had in a while - a fluffy, soft warm chocolate mousse with malt ice-cream.  The cheesecake was refined and not at all claggy, and the agen prunes with gingerbread ice-cream also a great combination.

It’s not cheap (mains around £30), but a lovely treat to escape busy shopping streets of the city for a taste of all things sunny and Nicoise.

Le Petite Maison on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Disco Bistro N1 at Skate King's Cross

I am a little notorious for my clumsiness and ease of bruising, so everyone sniggered at my suggestion of roller skating last night.  We went to the Skate King’s Cross rink (in the newly developed part next to Central St Martin’s), which has been running for the past month or so, and is there until 6th September.

I arrived terrified, and proceeded to be utterly terrible.  I  left very bruised, but after lots of laughing (mainly at me).

However, my favourite part was the food from Disco Bistro N1, at the side of the rink.  It’s got a short menu of burgers, chicken wings, chips, popcorn, sundaes and boozy milkshakes.  They are also running some special collaboration nights with street food traders, so keep an eye out for those.

We had a few of the roller disco burgers (£10), with nicely pink patties, cheese, bun sauce and pineapple and bacon jam.  Messy, but juicy and delicious.  The chips were skinny, crisp and salty, and the chicken wings (£6.50) really moist inside, crispy on the outside and smothered in the tangy, hot sauce (you can go for the sticky sauce option instead).  The disco veg bun (£8.50) also sounded great, with portobello mushroom and naughty sounding deep fried brie.

Best of all, you can go there without putting on skates, which is perfect if your skating is anything like mine. - The adult tickets are around £14 for a 2-hour slot, or £20ish for the longer 8pm til late sessions on Friday or Saturday nights.  You can just pop in to Disco Bistro part next to the rink without skating tickets.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Panzanella from Lake Como

Italians really know how to do bakeries. It seems you can find fabulous ones on most streets, with delicious breads, pizzas, pastries, biscuits, cakes etc. 

I ate a lot of brilliant bread on my recent trip to Milan and Lake Como, but the crusty loaves do go a little solid if not eaten in a day or two. Panzanella, the Tuscan bread salad, is the perfect way to use it up – torn up and nicely sogged with lots of ripe tomatoes, olive oil and red wine vinegar.

From looking at a few different recipes, the ingredients do vary a little. I roughly based mine on Simon Hopkinson’s recipe, with the addition of some leftover shiny black olives (and I didn’t have any basil left to include, but it would be great). I also happened to use some halved cherry tomatoes as I had them to hand, but the big work the best I think – just make the effort to de-skin first. 

It’s fine to amend the quantities depending on what you have in the fridge, just make sure the tomatoes are ripe and flavoursome, and use lots of lovely, peppery extra virgin olive oil and go for red wine vinegar rather than any other sorts.

Serves 2 for a main course, or more as part of a bigger meal
1 third/1 quarter loaf slightly stale crusty bread (torn into largeish pieces)
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 and a half tbsp red wine vinegar
4 large tomatoes (you could use a handful of cherry tomatoes too)
1 red onion, very finely sliced
Handful pitted black olives
1 small cucumber, or half large cucumber (peeled and cut into small chunks)
Handful torn basil leaves
  • In a large bowl, pour the oil and 1 tablespoon of the vinegar over the bread
  • De-skin the tomatoes by blanching in boiling water for a minute or two, before plunging into icy water and peeling off the skin
  • Cut the tomatoes into chunks, and add to the bread
  • Add the onion, olives, cucumber, basil leaves, rest of the red wine vinegar and season generously with sea salt and black pepper
  • Leave to sit for half an hour or so, until the bread has soaked up the vinegary oil nicely (you can leave longer, or even overnight if you wish)

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Milan Aperitivo, Gelato & Panzerotti

I’ve been a little quiet on here over the last few weeks, with the time filled with Italian holiday and birthday celebrations.  But I’m back sitting at my desk in Clerkenwell, and getting back to some more writing about food.

Whenever I go on a trip abroad, I do a bit of research beforehand on the food and drink.  Once arriving, this then means I inevitably traipse around hungry and thirsty for the perfect bagel in New York/snegl pastry in Copenhagen/ensaimada in Palma etc.  Sometimes places just prove a little elusive (combined with my sometimes suspect navigation), and remain lost.

On my recent trip to Milan, the supposedly best gelato ended up just that.  I had read about somewhere with flavours such as chocolate with pink salt, basil and lemon, and Guinness in the Navigli canal area of the city, but as the road just wasn’t where it looked on the map, we had to find good gelato elsewhere.  


Luckily there was a brilliant old-fashioned place Gelateria Rinomata at the top of the Naviglio Grande part of the canal, with the brassy metal covers that I love – seriously nutty pistachio (best I’ve tried), and fabulous stracciatella.

I did tick off a few other snacks from my must-eat list, including the panzerotti at Luini, tucked behind the Rinascente department store, with a queue snaking out the door.  It looks a little like a Cornish pasty, and comes baked or fried – the traditional filling is tomato and mozzarella, and the spinach and ricotta was also delicious (they have sweet flavours too).  Perfect snack for less than €3.

My favourite part of eating and drinking was the leisurely aperitivo – sitting down for an evening drink, with free snacks and nibbles to accompany (most aperitivo hours seemed to be around 6-9pm).  Drinks are around €6-7, and some places even have heaving buffets with loads of things.  I think less is more works here, and places with a few elegant snacks seemed much nicer than a strange buffet array.

There are hundreds of bars in the city and I don’t think we found the best places, but our favourites were Banco in Navigli (little cheese of salty cheese, wonderfully fresh fennel, little radicchio sandwiches to accompany Aperol spritzs) and Radetzky near the Moscova Metro station (shiny olives, rosemary crisps and tomato focaccia alongside lovely prosecco).  We also loved the Aperol terrace that overlooks the Duomo, and 10 Corso Como (with the garden in the middle of the extremely chic shop). 

With all the aperitivo, snacks and ice-cream, I don’t actually have many recommendations for restaurants, but sometimes the best way to eat on holiday is lots of little stop-offs while exploring (especially in +30 degree heat).