Friday, July 29, 2011

Vegetarian BBQ ideas - Halloumi kebabs

People always seem horrified when they find out they've inadvertently invited a vegetarian to a bbq.  Fret not though carnivore hosts, these halloumi kebabs are a real crowd pleaser - make these and any veggies in your life will love you forever.  Promise!

Watch out though, meat eaters seem to be rather keen on them too...

Ingredients (makes about 6 large kebabs):
Selection of vegetables.  I use:
2 courgettes (cut into chunks)
1 pack button mushrooms (no need to cut)
1 pack cherry tomatoes
1 red & 1 yellow pepper (cut into chunks)
1 pack halloumi cheese (cut into cubes)

Packet of wooden skewers

Thread the veg and cheese onto the skewers.

Grill on bbq, or under the grill until the cheese is lightly browned. 

(I also made a sort of herb marinade for these - chopped herbs mixed with olive oil and drizzled over the top.)

Halloumi kebabs


Halloumi kebabs ready to eat.  Yum.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cheeky cherry pavlovas and a Geordie joke - recipe

A Geordie is having tea with the Queen.  She says "Will you have a
cream cake or a meringue?"
He replies "Nah, ya not wrang pet, ah'll have a cake!"

I have to admit, I didn't get this joke on first telling but Marc (a bona fide Geordie) thought it was absolutely hilarious, so I thought I'd share.

I've been doing some research into the difference between a meringue and a pavlova.  Opinion seems to be split, so I'm not entirely clear...  Some say that the difference is that a meringue is solid and dry throughout, whereas a pavlova is crisp on the outside and squidgy in the middle.  In which case, these are most definitely pavlovas.

I used Nigella's recipe, which worked well, although I found you have to whisk the eggs more than she recommends.  My version below.  I topped my pavlovas with whipped cream, sweet, juicy cherries and a sprig of mint from the garden.  You can use any fruit you fancy.

Ingredients (makes approx 12 mini pavlovas):
4 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
250g caster sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
Few drops of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 or 2 baking trays (depending on size) lined with baking parchment


Preheat the oven to 180ºC/gas mark 4.

Whisk the egg whites with the salt until stiff. Gently add in the sugar, spoonful by spoonful, whilst still beating. Sprinkle the cornflour, a few drops of vanilla and the vinegar on top and fold in to combine.

Draw small circles on the baking parchment - I used a highball glass.  Use a dessert spoon to dollop the meringue mix onto the baking parchment, using the circles as a guide.  Make indentations in the middle of each meringue with the back of the spoon.

Place in the oven, turn it down to 150ºC/gas mark 2, and bake for 30 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave them in for another 30 minutes, then take out of the oven to cool.**

Top with whipped cream and fruit and serve.

**Once cool, the pavlovas keep well for 2-3 days in an airtight container.




Wednesday, July 27, 2011

José: not just jamon - restaurant review

A lot has been written about Jose Pizarro's new tapas joint on Bermondsey Street and many of the reviews have focused on the (apparently) exceptional jamon. 

Tapas can be tricky for veggies, with meaty dishes often dominating the menu, so I was interested to see what was on offer for non-carnivores and pescatarians.  I'm very happy to report that, although the menu is relatively concise (with the addition of a daily specials board), there were a few veggie dishes and several more fishy ones.

Jose is a teeny-tiny, traditional tapas bar.  If you're lucky you might grab a stool to perch at the counter, otherwise you'll have to stand.  This certainly doesn't deter anyone.  On a dull Tuesday lunchtime, the place was packed and buzzy.

The staff are very pleasant and know their stuff. They're happy to give advice on food and provide recommendations on sherry to go with your order - particularly helpful if you know nothing at all about sherry (me).

We enjoyed everything we ordered but three of the dishes really stood out for me.  Firstly the mackerel escabeche: two little fillets (no bones, hurrah!) perfectly cooked with a crispy skin, was delicate and fresh.  Secondly, boring as it may sound, the tomato bread was exceptional: a crunchy crust with the tomato juices soaked through the top of the bread (no picture I'm afraid, we wolfed it down).  Finally the patatas bravas - another seemingly standard choice but they're so often badly done.  These were golden and crispy with just the right amount of sauce. 

If you want to read a bit more about Jose, I'd recommend the Dos Hermanos write up - lots more about the meat too!

Jose is a fantastic little tapas bar, I can't wait to go back.  I'm also looking forward to the opening of 'Pizarro', Jose's next venture on Bermondsey Street, which will be a much larger, sit-down restaurant. 

Squid with salmorejo (tomato cream sauce)

Perfect patatas bravas

Mackerel escabeche

Crispy duck egg with pisto

José on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Vietnamese prawn salad - recipe

As summer seems to have returned, albeit in a rather half-hearted way, I thought it was time for a fresh, lively salad recipe.  As you've probably noticed, I'm really into Asian flavours at the moment and this recipe has a Vietnamese feel to it.

Ingredients (Serves 2):
1x 375g packet thin rice noodles, pre-cooked (in the fridge section of supermarket)
180g pack cooked & peeled tiger prawns, cut in half lengthways
Half a cucumber, deseeded and cut into matchsticks
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks

For the dressing:
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon caster sugar
Juice of 2 limes

For garnish:
3 spring onions, finely chopped
Handful of coriander, chopped
2 tablespoons roasted peanuts, crushed

Make the dressing by mashing the garlic, chilli and sugar in a pestle and mortar.  Add the fish sauce and lime juice and mix.

In a separate bowl, combine the noodles and vegetables.  Pour the dressing over and mix well.  Top with garnish ingredients and serve.

Vietnamese prawn salad

Monday, July 25, 2011

Salmon tartare shots - recipe

I have a tendency to make work for myself.  When we had friends over for afternoon tea last weekend, I wasn't content to just make scones, oh no, I also felt the need to make whoopie pies, gougeres and these rather pretty salmon tartare shots too.  (My afternoon tea was awesome though ;-) )

They were actually very quick to make (it was the baking that took time).  Nice fresh flavours; they'd also work well as a starter.

Ingredients (serves 4 in small shot glasses):
200g fresh salmon fillet
2 teaspoons capers
Half a red onion
Juice of 1 lemon
Half a cucumber
4 teaspoons of creme fraiche
2 teaspoons caviar (I use lumpfish caviar, which is only a couple of quid)

Finely chop the salmon, capers and red onion.  Mix with the lemon juice.  Distribute evenly between 4 shot glasses.

Finely chop the cucumber.  Layer on top of the salmon mixture.  Top that with a teaspoon of creme fraiche and half a teaspoon of caviar.

Salmon tartare shots


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gougeres (cheese puffs) recipe


The only time I've eaten gougeres before was at The Dorchester (Alain Ducasse)where they're served as canapes. They're basically a cheesy choux pastry bun (without the cream!) - very light, very moreish.

We had friends over at the weekend, so I thought I'd give them a go.  I was a bit nervous making them but they turned out perfectly - maybe not quite such uniform shapes as Mr Ducasse produces but nonetheless very tasty.  Perfect little canapes - and if they're good enough for a 3* restaurant, they're good enough for me!

I used this basic recipe:

My version below - I didn't use a food processor, so thanks to my sister for assisting with the mixing when my arms got tired (weakling!)

Ingredients: (makes about 20 canape sized puffs)
60g plain flour
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, very finely chopped
Large pinch cayenne pepper
125ml full fat milk
65g butter (cut into small cubes)
3 large eggs at room temperature
50g finely grated Gruyere cheese

1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons Parmesan, finely grated


Preheat oven to 220c

Combine the flour with the salt, pepper, rosemary and cayenne in a large bowl.

Separately, put the milk and butter in a saucepan, over a medium heat.  Bring to the boil.  Once the butter melts, turn the heat to low.  Add the seasoned flour in one go.  Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, until a dough forms in a ball.

Place the dough in a large bowl.  Beat vigorously.  Keep beating and add one egg, until absorbed.  Repeat with the second egg.  Separate the white from the yolk of the third egg and add only the white into the dough (reserving the yolk).  Once the eggs have been incorporated, the dough should be smooth and satiny.

Add the Gruyere and mix thoroughly.

Line a baking tray with baking parchment.  Use a teaspoon to drop small balls of the dough onto the sheet.  Keep the size uniform, if possible.

Beat the remaining egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of milk to make a glaze.  Gently brush the tops of the gougeres with the glaze and sprinkle with the Parmesan.

Place in pre-heated oven and bake for 5 minutes.  Reduce heat to 150c and bake for 10 more minutes, or until puffs are golden brown.

Remove trays from oven and leave puffs on tray until cool enough to serve.  Eat whilst still slightly warm.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New chocolate discovery - Chocoholly

To be honest 'discovery' is a little bit of an overclaim, I was actually given this rather lovely bar of chocolate at a work conference.  Bonus.  It's a brand I haven't come across before so thought I would share with you (well not physically share, I'm afraid I've scoffed the lot!)

Anyway, the Chocoholly story: apparently Holly Caulfield, a Brighton based artist, was so inspired by the film Chocolat that she decided to train to become a chocolatier. 

All ingredients are organic and ethically sourced.  Most importantly the chocolate tastes delish.  I had the milk chocolate infused with geranium, which tastes of rose but that's by the by.  I'd like to get my sticky mitts on the cardamon and the chilli & coconut flavours too.

Very lovely packaging - I assume designed by Holly as she's an artist.

I had a quick peek at the stockists on the website, so I could tell you where to buy this yummy stuff.  Harvey Nicks and John Lewis in London, a load of places in Brighton and available online:

Apparently Holly also runs chocolate workshops in Brighton, which sound pretty darn good.

Geranium infused chocolate

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Japan Centre - my new favourite place

The Japan Centre, on London's Regent Street is truly an Aladdin's Cave.  Packed to the rafters with all sorts of Japanese food and drink goodies - you'd be hard pressed to find anything they didn't stock. With my new found love of Japanese cooking, I'm pretty sure I'll be back to fill up my cupboards.

Now this isn't exactly an undiscovered gem, I've known about it for some time but just haven't quite got round to visiting - largely because I'm rarely in Central London these days (due to living in the sticks and working in the ar*e end of nowhere).

You'd don't have to be into cooking your own Japanese food to make the most of Japan Centre.  At the front of the shop is a vast array of sushi, sashimi, tempura, gyoza etc etc, for takeaway or (if you're lucky, or it's not lunchtime) to eat at one of the wooden benches.  The range is impressive and it's much cheaper than Itsu or Yo Sushi!

Whether you live in London, or are just visiting I highly recommend a visit to Japan Centre.  I just wish my office was closer!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Courgette & lime cake with lime cream cheese icing - recipe

When we moved to 'the sticks'** a couple of months ago I came over all Good Life and, before we'd even finished unpacking (still haven't - oops), had planted up the garden with herbs, chillies, tomatoes and courgettes.

The herbs are doing well and I get very excited when I can just pop into the garden to pick them when I need them.  The chillies and tomatoes are doing ok - but yet to produce anything.  The courgettes on the other hand are a roaring success - yippee!  I've only had a couple off the plants so far but reckon I might have a glut on my hands before long - so expect to see plenty more courgette recipes over the next few weeks.

This cake is extremely more-ish - surprisingly light and very moist.

**Ok, so Richmond is exactly the most rural place in the world but it's a hell of a lot more 'sticky' than Wapping, where we used to live practically next door to naughty Uncle Rupert!

1 large courgette, grated
150g caster sugar
100ml vegetable oil
Good pinch of salt
Half a teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of baking powder
Zest of 1 lime

For the cream cheese icing:
100g cream cheese (I used Philadelphia)
1 tablespoon caster sugar
Juice of 1 lime

Lavender petals to decorate

Preheat oven to 160 C . Grease a loaf tin.
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the courgette, sugar, egg and oil.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder; stir in the lemon zest. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the courgette mix, until they are blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin.
Pop in the pre-heated oven and bake for about 45 minutes.  When it's done, a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean.
Remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes or so in the tin, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Once the cake is cool, beat together the icing ingredients until fluffy.  Spoon the icing over the cake and sprinkle with lavender petals.



Sunday, July 17, 2011

Padron peppers - recipe

I first had Padron peppers in Portugal, which is slightly strange as they're actually Spanish - unique to the Padron region in North West Spain.  These are the Russian roulette of tapas - most of the peppers are very mild but around one in 20 is super hot.

Most tapas restaurants have these on the menu but if you fancy making them at home, Waitrose** at least definitely stocks them.

**And Lidl and M&S too apparently!

Ingredients (makes enough for a tapas style dish, or starter for two):
1 bag Padron peppers (150g)
Olive oil
Sea salt

Heat a good glug of olive oil in a frying pan.

Cook the peppers over a medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes, until the skin starts to blister.

Put the peppers into a serving bowl and sprinkle with sea salt.

Watch out for the hot ones!

Padron peppers

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Devonshire Arms - Restaurant review

The Devonshire Arms in Chiswick used to be a Gordon Ramsay establishment.  It closed down last year, with its lack of success blamed on it being 'the wrong end of the road'.

The location obviously hasn't deterred Nick Gibson, of Islington's Drapers Arms, who's teamed up with head chef David Philpot (ex Dean Street Townhouse) to re-open the pub.

The menu features seasonal British food, at reasonable prices (starters from £4.75 - £8.50, mains from £11.50 - £15.00).  The wine list is similarly fairly priced, with the majority of bottles under £30 and a good selection by the glass.

It's fair to say that we had a good, but not great, meal.  Two things really stood out as needing work. First the chips.  Now I love chips - fat ones, thin ones, triple cooked ones - and usually order a side of them if they're on the menu.  It's almost unheard of for me to leave any but that's exactly what happened last night.  They were soggy and a bit anaemic looking.  They were also grey and green in parts, where no care had been taken to remove the bad bits of potato.  Not good.  Second, the staff, who appeared to be mainly children.  Nothing wrong with this in theory but, although they were perfectly pleasant, they just didn't seem to know what they were doing: they couldn't answer questions on the menu and spent most of their time chatting to each other, whilst studiously avoiding eye contact with customers.

Anyway enough of the negatives and onto the good stuff.  The bread was delicious (rosemary and raisin) and duck rilletes starter very tasty.  Not so sure about the scallops but we'll move on.  The Cornish mackerel was excellent - well cooked and fresh tasting. I always find whole fish a bit of a faff but in this case it was worth it. The grilled onglet steak was well cooked and Marc enjoyed the whole garlic.  We ordered two sides: chips and heritage mixed tomato salad.  The tomato salad was a delight.  Beautiful colours and intense flavours.

For pud we shared the pecan and Jack Daniels tart with vanilla mascarpone.  Thoroughly enjoyable.  The tart was lovely and crispy and the Jack Daniels cut through the sweetness of the pecans.

Being greedy, we then shared a cheese plate.  This was very good - a generous portion of stichelton, Montgomery cheddar and a third which we didn't catch the name of!  The homemade chutney was very tasty.

All in all, I'd be very happy if I had a pub like the Devonshire Arms at the (right or wrong) end of my road.  I'm sure Nick Gibson will whip the staff into shape soon enough and, if he promises to sort the chips out, we'd go back.

Scallops, shaved fennel & piccalilli 

Duck rillettes with pickled plum tomatoes

Cornish mackerel, broad bean relish, pea shoots & lemon salad

Grilled onglet, chips, peppercorn sauce & confit garlic

Heritage mixed tomato salad
Pecan & Jack Daniels tart, vanilla mascarpone

Cheese plate

Devonshire Arms on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Real Food Market - London's Southbank

I've been planning to go to the Real Food Market at the Southbank Centre for ages but we seem to have had torrential rain every Friday lunchtime for weeks.

Today, the sun had his hat on, so I popped down there.

Great selection of artisan food and drink producers.  And plenty of samples (most importantly).  The market's on every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  It's not as big as Borough Market but it's way less crowded, which has to be a bonus!

A couple of quick snaps below.

Amazing baked goods (I had a cheese straw!)

Comte cheese - one of my favourites

Beautiful macarons

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Phat Phuc - restaurant review

The name apparently translates as 'happy Buddha' in Vietnamese.  Totally genius name for a really cool little courtyard cafe just off the Kings Road in Chelsea.

Serving authentic Vietnamese food at very reasonable places, this is the perfect place for lunch in the sun.

We shared the steamed prawn dim sum (£3.50), followed by Vegetable Pho - rice noodles, tofu and shiitake mushrooms in vegetable broth (£6.50)


Prawn dim sum

Vegetable pho

Phat Phuc Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Razor clam gratin with sauce vierge - recipe

Every now and then you come across a recipe that totally blows you away and this razor clams dish is definitely one of them.  I made it for my sister at the weekend and we practically hoovered it up - these were some tasty clams!  The cheesy breadcrumbs added a nice crunch and the tomato sauce perfectly complemented the sweet, juicy clams.

It would make a great starter for a dinner party - it's fairly quick and simple to prepare, looks great and tastes fantastic.  A real crowd pleaser this one.

The recipe comes from the lovely James Martin from Saturday Kitchen.  My version below.

Ingredients (Serves two as a starter or snackette)
4 razor clams, rinsed
50 ml white wine
2 tbsp chives, finely chopped
3 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons finely grated cheese (I used parmesan)

For the sauce vierge:
Glug of olive oil
A quarter of a red onion, finely chopped (or a shallot if you have one)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tomato, deseeded and finely chopped (I didn't bother skinning mine)
Small handful of fresh herbs ( I used parsley and basil), finely chopped
Juice of half a lemon


Preheat the grill to high.
Heat the wine in a saucepan.  Add the clams.  Cover with a lid and steam for 1-2 minutes. Drain the clams and discard any that don't open.
Remove the clams from their shells, reserving 6 of the shells.  Cut the grey bit off the clams and throw it away.
Lay the shells on a baking tray.  Roughly chop the clam meat, then distribute between the shells.  Put to one side.
Mix together the chives, breadcrumbs and grated cheese and sprinkle over the clams.
Place under the grill for 3-4 minutes, until golden brown.
In the meantime, to make the sauce vierge, heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion and fry gently for 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 2 minutes.  Add the parsley, basil and lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, lay the shells on a plate and spoon the sauce vierge over the top. 
Razor clam gratin with sauce vierge

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thai cooking - fried spring rolls recipe and some pics

I have a bit of a weakness for fried food and love a good spring roll.

I'd never even thought about making them myself before, so was very pleased when they were on the menu for our Thai cookery course at Ao Nang Cookery School.

Although they seemed easy peasy to make when we were there, I did have a couple of problems when I made them at home.  Mainly due to the fact that the wrappers I'd bought here were very different to the ones we used in the class.  The ones I bought (below) needed to be soaked in water for a couple of minutes before use and then were extremely delicate.  They were also round, whereas the ones we used in Ao Nang were square!  They worked out really well in the end though and were delicious, served with a (shop bought) sweet chilli dip.

You could adapt these to use whatever filling you fancy.  My recipe is vegetarian but you could add chicken or prawns.  Adding cabbage and/or celery would also work well.

Oh, and a couple of Thailand pics below too.

50g mushroom (I used oyster mushroom) thinly sliced
1 small carrot, thinly sliced in matchsticks
2 spring onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon grated ginger (optional)
100g glass noodle, pre-soaked in cold water for 10 minutes*
1 tablespoon oil for cooking

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar

Spring roll wrappers (soaked for two mins in cold water)

1 egg yolk, to seal wrappers

Vegetable oil for frying

Stir fry filling ingredients for 2 minutes.  Add the sauce ingredients and cook for further 2 minutes.

Take one spring roll wrapper at a time.  Place a heaped tablespoon of filling in bottom third of wrapper (see pics).  Fold over the bottom, then the sides.  Keep rolling until you get to the top.  Brush the top with a little egg yolk to seal.

In a pan, heat vegetable oil to about 2-3 cm.  Deep fry the spring rolls for about 5 minutes, until golden brown and crispy.  Chop in half and serve with sweet chilli dip.

*Confusingly, glass noodles are also known as cellophane noodles, Chinese vermicelli, bean thread noodles or sai fun.  They are very fine noodles, which go translucent when soaked - hence first two names.

Chopped ingredients ready to stir fry

Assembling the spring roll


Brush with egg yolk to seal

Spring rolls ready to fry

Served with sweet chilli dip

Beautiful dragon fly

View of the islands from our beach