Inherited Bakes

Cheese, Chive and Mustard Scones

Cheese, Chive and Mustard Scones

The weather in London is bloody awful at the moment.  Barely a day goes by when I don’t get caught in a rainstorm and, as a result, my motivation to go out in the evening has somewhat diminished.  After being caught in a torrential downpour on Saturday I managed to drag myself out for a few drinks in Peckham.  After a couple of delicious Kir Royales at the Peckham Refreshment Rooms and some late-night cocktails and hilarious people-watching at Peckham Springs, I was very glad I did.  Since then, however, I have been coming straight home from work, changing into my pyjamas and hibernating.  Today is the most dismal day of all – the rain has not stopped all day and a slightly regrettable trip out on to the soggy streets of Fitzrovia has left me with damp jeans.  A most unpleasant feeling.

Tonight is the first Band of Bakers event of 2013, which means leaving the warm bosom of my couch yet again.  I am lucky to live so close to the venue and am looking forward to seeing everybody as it has been a while since our last event, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to force myself out.  The theme for this evening’s event is ‘Inherited Bakes’, meaning a recipe that has either been passed down through the family, or given to you by somebody else.  I was fortunate enough to have a grandmother who taught me to bake, so I have many items in my repertoire that were handed down to me.  Her tea loaf, for example, is something I truly treasure.  I toyed with the idea of making the bread pudding that was handed down from her own mother, but as the recipe was never written down, it will take me a while to figure it out completely.  Instead, I decided to make scones, which we would often bake together when I visited her house.  My job was always to rub the butter into the flour, never to add the liquid as I always seemed to add too much and ruin the batch.  Most often she would make savoury scones with cheese and sweet scones with currants which would always be spread with some amazing salted butter bought from the farm shop down the road that, sadly, no longer exists.  For my ‘Inherited Bake’, I have updated these two recipes and have created a savoury cheese, chive and mustard scone and a sweet currant and fennel seed scone.  The recipe for the former is below.

Cheese, Chive and Mustard Scones

  • 250g low-fat plain yoghurt
  • 25ml whole milk
  • 15g caster sugar
  • 400g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 1½ tsp mustard powder
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g salted butter
  • 300g strong cheddar, grated
  • 3 tbsp snipped chives
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Twist of black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220ºc / 425ºf / gas 7.  Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

In a small bowl, mix together the yoghurt, milk and sugar and set aside.

Sift the flour, salt, mustard powder, cream of tartare and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl.  Rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the cheese and chives.

Using a palette knife, stir in the yoghurt mixture until a sticky dough is formed.  Use the moisture in the dough to pick up any loose bits of flour from the bottom of the bowl.  Turn out on to a floured work surface and pat into a round approximately 4cm thick – try not to knead the mixture as this will create a tough texture.  Cut the scones out using a metal cutter and place them on the baking tray.  This mixture should yield about nine scones, but it will depend on the size of the cutter you use.  Brush with the beaten egg and grind a little black pepper on the top and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes until golden brown and risen.


Burger League: Burgers and Cocktails

The 'Mac Mountain' Burger complete with a wheel of mac 'n' cheese (yes, a wheel)

The ‘Mac Mountain’ Burger complete with a wheel of mac ‘n’ cheese (yes, a wheel)

The Restaurant: Burgers and Cocktails, 35 James Street, London W1U 1EA.

The Hungry Ones:

Left to Right:  Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Madeleine (Cocktail Lover)

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Madeleine (Cocktail Lover)

Gemma ordered:  Sloppy Joe burger, onion rings, margarita
Madeleine ordered:  Mac Mountain burger, sweet potato fries, mojito

The Scores:

So here’s what happened at the weekend:  After a long afternoon of shopping with my friend, we ended up ravenous near Marble Arch.  My excitement that Roti Chai was a mere five-minute walk away was short-lived as she declared that she did not want Indian food.  Fine.  So instead we walked towards James Street and Patty & Bun where there is a damn good burger and not a thali in sight.  There was, however, an enormous queue.  Just as I contemplated joining it, the heavens opened into a monumental thunderstorm that sent us running into the nearest restaurant that looked like it might have a free table.  This, inevitably, was where it all started to go wrong.  The place we ran into was Burgers and Cocktails.

Despite having a well-researched wishlist of burgers in both London and the UK, I had never heard of Burgers and Cocktails.  Had some unknown gem somehow escaped me?  Not exactly.  Firstly, the place was full of children and, consequently, a chorus of screams.  Secondly, the waiter was darting around the restaurant with such speed that it took us a while to get noticed for a table and even longer to get a menu.  To be honest, this was all forgivable as I was grateful to be somewhere dry with a drinks menu, but what followed was another story.

Margarita, or children's drink? You decide...

Margarita, or children’s drink? You decide…

The margarita I ordered was unceremoniously plonked on my table in a glass beaker.  With ice.  I get that restaurants are trying out new ways to serve their alcohol – cocktails in jam jars and wine in whisky glasses etc., but is it too much, once in a while to get the right glass? Also, I’m pretty sure margaritas aren’t supposed to be sweetened with agave.  Not great for a place that has ‘cocktails’ in its very name.  Madeleine’s mojito was acceptable.  I ordered the Sloppy Joe burger (mixed cheese, chipotle beef chilli, jalapeno relish and sour cream) which arrived medium-rare and pink in the middle, as ordered.  Actually the burger itself was not too bad.  I could not detect any hint of chipotle in the chilli, but the generous amount of jalapenos made up for it by giving it an enormous kick.  The bread was dry and unappetising (yawn).  Madeleine ordered a Mac Mountain which came with the most curious of toppings: a mac ‘n’ cheese ‘wheel’.  This was a portion of mac ‘n’ cheese, shaped into a disc, dipped in breadcrumbs and fried.  When eaten alone, it was actually not that bad, when eaten with the burger it was a little disastrous. The onion rings and sweet potato fries we ordered on the side were surprisingly alright.

The Sloppy Joe burger

The Sloppy Joe burger

I later discovered that the restaurant was owned by the chain Giraffe, which went some way to explain the abundance of children despite having a name that was 50% booze.  It is obvious that the chain is aiming to make a bit of extra cash by jumping on the gourmet fast-food bandwagon – if they brought something new to the market, fine, but this is a rip off of every other place in town.  The strategic positioning across from Patty & Bun, one of London’s most celebrated burger joints, is presumably to pick up its queue-weary diners.  My advice:  if you’re ever in James Street and can’t be bothered to queue at Patty & Bun, walk the extra five minutes and go to MEATLiquor.

About Burger League.

Smoked Aubergine, Red Pepper and Spinach Strudel


Smoked aubergine, red pepper and spinach strudel

Smoked aubergine, red pepper and spinach strudel

Last year, I attempted to solve the age-old problem of what do you serve vegetarians for Christmas dinner? with a mushroom, chestnut and spinach Wellington.  I was happy to see that a couple of my friends did actually make this dish over the festive period and enjoyed it, but it was not to everybody’s taste.  A conversation thread on Facebook after posting the recipe alerted me to the fact that many vegetarians are exasperated by the prominence of mushrooms in meat-free recipes.  One friend, who is allergic to mushrooms, said that he often went hungry at weddings due to the never-ending mushroom risottos, mushroom stroganoffs and wild mushroom tarts that caterers tend to favour.  A couple of other vegetarian friends simply couldn’t stand them.  I can see why mushrooms are often the go-to for vegetarian dishes – they are cheap, have a strong savoury flavour and provide a robust, almost meaty texture to a dish that is difficult to achieve with other vegetables.  In this conversation, I mentioned that I once had an aubergine and red pepper strudel at a friend’s house, and they seemed far more interested in this.

It’s not a very seasonal recipe for the bleak mid-winter, but the ingredients are readily available and it’s a break from the abundance of root veg that I seem to be cooking with at the moment.  I had some filo pastry in the freezer from some samosa-like parcels I have been working on and half a bag of spinach from the weekend’s curry.  I also had a jar of red peppers and a jar of olives in the fridge.  Roasted red peppers in jars are one of my all-time favourite storecupboard staples – they taste great and take away the need to laboriously roasting and peeling fresh peppers.  My local shop, Barry’s Food Store in East Dulwich, sells a large jar for £1 and when you consider that one fresh pepper from a supermarket costs in the region of 85p, this is very cheap indeed.  This is also a very simple dish to make – the only tricky part is cooking the aubergine over the gas burner on the cooker, which can smoke out your kitchen if you don’t keep an eye on it.  The reason for doing this that it gives the aubergine flesh a wonderfully smoky flavour.  You can roast it in the oven instead, but you won’t get the same effect.

Strudel filling

Strudel filling

This recipe serves four, if you need to feed a larger group, I would suggest making two strudels, rather than trying to make one larger one as the filo sheets often come in a standard size.

Smoked Aubergine, Red Pepper and Spinach Strudel

  • 1 medium aubergine
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing the pastry
  • 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 roasted red peppers (from a jar, see above)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 200g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 75g green olives, roughly chopped
  • 150g baby spinach
  • 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • 6 sheets filo pastry
  • 1 egg, beaten

Pierce the aubergine a few times with a fork and place on the open flame of a gas cooker.  As the skin blackens, use tongs to keep turning the aubergine to make sure that it is cooked on all sides.  This should take around 10-15 minutes.  Alternatively, you can roast the aubergine in the oven for around 20 minutes.  Leave to cool slightly then peel off the blackened skin and roughly chop the flesh.  Seat aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and cook the sliced onions until they soften, around 10 minutes.  Add the roasted red peppers, chopped aubergine, cherry tomatoes, garlic, cumin seeds and all-spice and cook for a few more minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the olives and lemon zest.

Wilt the spinach under boiling water, then drain and squeeze out any excess liquid.  Roughly chop and stir into the vegetables.  Stir in the Greek yoghurt, salt and pepper and check the seasoning, adding a little more if necessary.

Place a sheet of filo on a work surface and brush with olive oil.  Place another sheet on top and repeat the brushing.  Repeat this process until you have six layers of filo – do not brush the top layer with oil.  Spread the filling along the short end of the pastry, leaving a couple of inches at either side and a large space at the bottom.  Tuck in the sides and roll the pastry towards you until the filling is completely encased.  Carefully transfer to a baking sheet, seam side down, and brush with a little egg wash.  Bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes until the pastry is golden.  Serve in slices.

Adapted from a recipe by Pieminister.

Chocolate, Stem Ginger and Milk Skin Mini Loaves

Last year a myriad of articles debating the benefits and risks of drinking unpastuerised milk coincided with my discovery of a raw milk stall, Hook & Sons, at Brockley Market.  A couple of years before that, I had come across some recipes that used solidified milk skin as a substitute for butter in baking and was instantly intrigued.  Now that I had a supply of unpasteurised milk so close to my flat, I started experimenting and wrote a recipe for the Hook & Sons website:

Chocolate, Ginger and Milk Skin Mini Loaves

Chocolate, Ginger and Milk Skin Mini Loaves

Raw milk is a hot topic at the moment.  The Guardian has even hailed it as a revolution, and despite the hordes of foodies clamouring for it at farmers markets, the debate rages on about whether the claimed health benefits and superior taste are worth the risk of drinking something that has a health warning on the side of the bottle.  It seems that whilst many of us are keen to experiment with this newly-available product, the rest are sticking firmly to the blue, green and red-topped bottles available in the supermarket.

After reading the Guardian article, I confess that I was intrigued.  A couple of years ago I came across a blog post about baking with milk skin and was keen to try it out.  The author claimed that unpasteurised milk was the best product to use due to its purer state and higher fat content.  I tried to find unpasteurised milk but was told by my countryside-dwelling friends that it was only really available direct from the farms and, even then, the farmers were reluctant to sell it.  So my search hit a dead end, until now.  On Saturday I met with the seller from Hook & Sons at Brockley Market who told me that more and more people were buying unpastuerised dairy products for use in baking.  The most popular was the unpasteurised buttermilk, which was actual buttermilk, unlike what you buy in the supermarket, which is simply a slightly soured and thickened milk.  Many London restaurants have been using it to make their pancakes.  He had, however, never heard of anybody baking with milk skin.

The idea behind this is that the milk skin recplaces the butter.  The milk is boiled in a pan, the skin gently skimmed off and placed in a bowl to chill in the fridge for a couple of days until it takes on a butter-like consistency and slightly sour taste.  The result is that the milk skin adds a certain amount of acidity to the cake, in the same way that a sourdough starter does to a loaf of bread.

Chocolate, Stem Ginger and Milk Skin Mini Loaves

  • 1 litre of unpastuerised, full-fat milk
  • 250ml double cream
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 160g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 30g stem ginger, finely chopped
  • 30g chocolate chips

48 hours before you wish to bake, prepare the milk skin.  Put the unpasteurised milk and the cream in a large, wide-bottomed pan and heat gently until it comes to a simmer.  Whilst simmering, gently skim off the skin that forms on the top and collect in a clean bowl.  Once you have collected the skin, cover the bowl with clingfilm and chill in the fridge until needed.  The skin will be quite loose at this point, but will come together when chilled.  You will need approximately 180g of chilled milk skin for this recipe.  If you do not quite have this amount, you can make the rest up with softened unsalted butter.

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  In the bowl of a free-standing mixer using the whisk attachment, cream together the milk skin and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until fully incorporated.  If the mixture seems to separate at this point, keep whisking at it will come together.  Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt and fold into the wet ingredients until just combined.  Gently fold in the stem ginger and chocolate chips. 

Spoon the mixture into mini-loaf cases, filling them three-quarters full.  Place on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Makes eight mini loaves.  More recipes with Hook & Sons unpasteurised dairy products can be found on their website here.

Burger League: MEATLiquor

The Dead Hippie and the Bacon Cheeseburger at MEATLiquor

The Dead Hippie and the Bacon Cheeseburger at MEATLiquor

The Restaurant:  MEATLiquor, 74 Welbeck Street, London W1G 0BA.

The Hungry Ones:

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Katie (Burgerista)

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Katie (Burgerista)

Gemma ordered:  The Dead Hippie, Deep Fried Pickles, Diet Coke
Katie ordered:  Bacon Cheeseburger, Fries, Coke

The Scores:

It was never going to be a surprise that we would have an excellent burger at MEATLiquor, after all I have enjoyed these burgers many times before.  In the old days from the Meatwagon, then at the excellent pop-up #meateasy, handily just around the corner from Goldsmiths College, where I was studying at them time.  The following summer they sold their burgers from The Rye pub in Peckham, a short walk from my flat, before setting up in a more permanent home, MEATLiquor at the back of Oxford Street, close to my office.  It is almost as though they pop up wherever I go.  They have since set up restaurants in various other locations, which I have yet to try out, with the exception of the wonderful MEATMission in Hoxton where you can actually book a table.  My inner planning-fiend rejoiced.

There are two reasons that I go back to MEATLiquor time and time again:  I love the food and I love the atmosphere.  ‘Dive bars’ are two-a-penny these days, and the phrase is almost as cringeworthy as when restaurants describe their food as ‘dirty’.  Travelling around the US on a tour bus, I visited many actual dive bars with dirty food and, without being too crass, regretted it for days later.  The fantasy, on which the inspiration for these venues is based, is far removed from the grim reality.  MEATLiquor, however, seems to set itself apart from this.  The interior is more Berlin squat than mid-Western roadhouse, and it does not rely upon lazy cliches to name its food, there is no ‘filthy’ sauce or innuendo-named cocktails, things just are what they are.  Many others have copied elements from MEATLiquor (food served on trays, cocktails in jam jars, industrial kitchen rolls on the table instead of napkins) that are now almost de rigeur in all gourmet fast-food joints, but they still manage here not to look trite.  I often take visitors from out of town here as I know that, no matter where they are from, they will not have anywhere like this: a dark and loud restaurant, open until 2am with outrageously strong drinks and the best burgers anywhere.

This is a hotly debated topic, but I do think that MEATLiquor has the best burgers in town.  The patties have the exquisite combination of being beautifully rare in the middle and almost burnt around the edges, and are the most flavoursome patties I have ever tried.  My favourite burger, the Dead Hippie, is essentially a double cheeseburger with two patties, a lot of American cheese, a ‘special’ sauce that loosely resembles a Big Mac sauce and, thank the Lord, pickles.  LOTS OF PICKLES.  It is impossible to eat one without using up several sheets of the kitchen roll, but somehow the burger doesn’t fall apart.  You can put a half-eaten burger back on its tray and tuck into your sides without the risk of its components spilling out everywhere.  Speaking of sides: I also almost always order the deep fried pickles with blue cheese dip and a side of chilli cheese fries.  Both are excellent.  In fact, there is little to fault about this place.  The only real bugger is that if you turn up any later than 7pm you will probably have to queue, at the weekends, potentially for quite some time.

MEATliquor on Urbanspoon

About Burger League

Prawn and Cashew Nut Summer Rolls

Prawn and Cashew Nut Summer Rolls

Prawn and Cashew Nut Summer Rolls

I first became addicted to summer rolls, or gòi cüon, on a trip to south-east Asia in the summer of 2009.  I had finished my exams, and with a long, study-free summer ahead of me, I took off for a four-week trip through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand with some friends.  Unsurprisingly, this trip sparked my love of south-east Asian cuisine in general and has inspired a lot of my cooking and restaurant choices since.  We ate beef phò for breakfast, bought countless bánh mi prepared from little motoribke/hotplate combos by the side of the road in Saigon, drank little cups of Vietnamese coffee sweetened with condensed milk to help with our hangovers and tried to pluck up the courage to try the foul-smelling, but apparently delicious, durian fruit (I still, to this day, have not sampled this delicacy).  The weather was extremely hot – 46 degrees on the day we went to visit Angkor Wat – so we often wanted cold and refreshing food.  Shredded mango and papaya salads are ubiquitous in this region, usually laced with a lip-numbing amount of chilli.  Summer rolls are also common, and a great cool starter or snack.

Summer rolls are a very traditional Vietnamese dish, but are also widely found in Cambodia.  It was in Siem Reap, in fact, that we learned to make them; on a cooking course at Le Tigre de Papier restaurant.  Summer rolls consist of a filling of vermicelli noodles, vegetables – usually lettuce, finely julienned carrot and beansprouts, herbs – usually coriander, mint and chives and a protein such as pork, prawns, tofu or nuts.  They are wrapped in rice paper, dampened in hot water to make it malleable.  They have a similar shape to the more widely-known spring roll, but are not deep fried. Summer rolls are commonly served with a dipping sauce of soy sauce, fish sauce, lime and chilli, although it has become common in recent years, particularly in Vietnamese restaurants outside of south-east Asia, to serve them with hoisin sauce, Sriracha or even sweet chilli sauce.

Although relatively simple to make, summer rolls require quite a bit of patience as the rice-paper wrappers can be quite fiddly.  The best way to approach making summer rolls is to prep all of the ingredients in advance and lay them out in front of you so that you can take a bit from each of them for each roll.  Using pre-cooked vermicelli, often found in supermarket chillers next to the pre-prepared Asian vegetables, will also save you time.  The trickiest part is knowing how long to soak the rice paper rolls for:  not enough time and you will have rice paper that is too stiff to roll well, too long and you will have soggy rice paper that will split when you try to use it.  There is no specific timing with this and you simply have to use your judgement, although it does get easier with practice.

Prawn and Cashew Nut Summer Rolls

For the rolls:

  • 12 round rice paper wrappers
  • 2 little gem lettuces, tough stalks removed and leaves shredded
  • 100g pre-cooked vermicelli noodles
  • 50g beansprouts
  • 1 large carrot, cut into fine batons
  • 48 small cooked prawns
  • Handful chopped coriander
  • Handful chopped mint
  • Handful chopped cashew nuts

For the dipping sauce:

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 birds eye chilli, chopped
  • 1 tbsp chopped ginger
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp lime juice

Prepare all of the ingredients for the rolls and set them out on boards in front of you.  This will make it easier when you come to assembling them.  Fill a large shallow bowl with boiling water.

To make each roll, place a rice paper wrapper into the bowl of boiling water until it has softened.  Remove it and place it flat on a board or work surface.  Leaving plenty of space around the edges, pile a small amount of the lettuce, noodles, bean sprouts, carrot, four of the prawns, coriander, mint and cashew nuts.  Fold in the paper on the left and right of the filling, fold over the piece of the rice paper closest to you and roll away from you until the roll is complete.  The moisture in the rice paper will create a seal.  (YouTube has some video guides on how to roll summer rolls, so it may be worth watching these if you aren’t sure.)

To make the dipping sauce, place the garlic, chilli, ginger and sugar in a pestle and mortar and pound until you have a smooth paste.  Stir in the fish sauce, soy sauce and lime juice.  Pour into small pots or ramekins and serve with the summer rolls.

Adapted from a recipe by BBC Good Food.  Makes 12 rolls.

Sunshine Breakfast

Shredded peel

Shredded peel

I have had the same standard breakfast since I was about five years old: two slices of brown toast with butter and either jam or marmalade.  I know it’s nothing groundbreaking, but it can be quite magical.  At the weekend I was gifted a beautifully rustic sourdough loaf from 10 Greek Street that made perfect breakfast toast.  Being January, there was also an enormous jar of homemade marmalade in my fridge (and several more in the cupboard) and a pat of slightly salted butter in the butter dish, slippery from the warmth of the kitchen.  I woke up a couple of mornings ago to find Ollie at the kitchen table, leafing through the paper with sticky orange fingers. “I love marmalade season,” he said.

As do I.  With all of the pitfalls of January; a lack of funds, terrible weather and a bit of post-Christmas junk in the trunk; there is always Seville orange season, which is enough to brighten up a dull month.  Almost as soon as new year is over, I go in search of those tough and slightly wrinkled little oranges that, I hope, will bring me lovely breakfasts for the rest of the year.  I spend many a happy January evening in the kitchen, shredding peel into matchsticks with a stanley knife, perfect for a month in which economy drives and health kicks keep us in the house.  Building up a storecupboard full of preserves gives you the virtuous feeling that you are stocking up for the year ahead.

The first batch of orange, lemon and ginger marmalade

The first batch of orange, lemon and ginger marmalade

I make several batches of orange marmalade in January, when Seville oranges are readily available, and then top up my cupboard with various other citrus marmalades, and jams, throughout the year.  This year I intend to make a batch of ‘Wedding Breakfast’ marmalade to be opened around the time of my nuptials in June, but am still yet to decide on which type of alcohol to add (it has to be boozy!), and would also like to experiment a little with the addition of blood oranges and grapefruit.  The first marmalade I make, however, is my all-time favourite, never-fail marmalade: Nigel Slater‘s Orange, Lemon and Ginger marmalade.  The recipe is extremely easy to follow: the peel is shredded and placed in a bowl and the juice squeezed over by hand, followed by a couple of litres of cold water.  The leftover pulp and pips are wrapped in a muslin bag and pushed into the bowl and the whole thing left overnight.  The pulp and pips are the most pectin-rich part of the fruit, so their addition will help the marmalade to set.  The mixture is then boiled and simmered to soften the peel before the muslin bags are squeezed out and discarded, the sugar is then added and the mixture boiled again until it reaches setting point.  It sounds like a lengthy process, but it is remarkably simple.  The most difficult part is deciding when the setting point has been reached.  I was lucky enough to have some advice on this from preserve maestro Vivien Lloyd who recommends the ‘flake test’  – this works really well, or you can use the chilled saucer method that Nigel recommends in his recipe.

This marmalade has the perfect combination of sweetness and sourness with a rather unsubtle punch of heat from the ginger – great if you like a little spice in your breakfast – and a generous amount of peel.  It never fails to bring a little sunshine into these dark and gloomy January mornings.

The recipe, by Nigel Slater, can be found here.

A Weekend in Chocolate

Dan Lepard's Chocolate Custard Muffins

Dan Lepard’s Chocolate Custard Muffins

I had many reasons to celebrate this weekend, which was the perfect way to lift the gloom of a difficult and exhausting week. 

First up was my friend Jonny‘s birthday at Jack’s Bar on Friday night.  A few double Americanos had given me the boost I needed to power myself through the final Friday afternoon at work and get myself out for a drink.  Despite being tired, I was rather in need of gin and company.  Plus, I had made a cake for the occasion.

Inspired by a lone can of Guinness I found in a box of beer out on my balcony, I decided to make Jonny one of my favourite cakes: a chocolate Guinness cake.  Adding Guinness to a cake, at first, seems a little strange but the two work perfectly together.  In fact, I cannot stand the taste of Guinness as a drink, but I love the effect it has when it is added to food.  The first few times I made this cake, the Guinness merely added a subtle tang in the background – strong enough to know that there was something added to the cake, but not strong enough to give it a positive ID.  This time, I upped the amount of Guinness and the flavour was much more pronounced.  The texture is much like that of a flourless chocolate cake, although it does contain flour, and is quite dense and heavy.  You could eat it on its own, but I rather like it topped with a simple cream cheese frosting, particularly as it makes the cake look like a pint of Guinness with its white top.  A small helping will definitely suffice.

I was also lucky enough to visit some friends who recently had a gorgeous baby girl.  Many parents have told me that often the best gift for a new family is food – in the first few chaotic weeks there is never enough time to prepare or cook dinner.  Ideally, I would have liked to have made them a meal that could be frozen and heated up at a later date, but the journey from my flat in East Dulwich to their home in north-west London is a bit much for even the sturdiest of lasagnes, so instead I made them some muffins. Much easier to transport.  The recipe I used was Dan Lepard’s Chocolate Custard Muffins which, unsurprisingly, is one of the best chocolate muffin recipes I have ever found.  The name is ever so slightly deceiving as on first glance I thought this would be a muffin with an oozing custard centre, alas it merely describes the method with which the batter is made: starting with a custard and gradually turning it into a cake mix.  You could fill these with custard, I suppose, but that would be a project for another day.  The linked recipe makes 12 muffins: I took six to the new parents and six to Will and Claire‘s new flat as a housewarming present.

Who doesn’t like a gift of chocolate?

Chocolate Guinness Cake

Chocolate Guinness Cake

Chocolate Guinness Cake

For the cake:

  • 300ml Guinness
  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 85g cocoa powder
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 90g natural yoghurt
  • 50ml whole milk
  • 280g plain flour
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder

For the frosting:

  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 350g icing sugar, sifted
  • 150g full-fat cream cheese
  • Cocoa powder, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 175ºc / 350º f / gas 4.  Grease a 9-inch springform cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Place a saucepan over a medium heat and add the Guinness and butter, stir together until the butter has melted.  Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes.  Stir in the cocoa powder and sugars until fully incorporated.

In a separate bowl, gently whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract, yoghurt and milk and add this to the mix.

Transfer the mixture into the bowl of a freestanding mixer and sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder.  Using the paddle attachment, mix on a medium speed until all of the ingredients have been incorporated.  Scrape into the prepared cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 45 minutes, until risen and the sides have shrunk away from the cake tin.  Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, whisk the butter, with a handheld mixer or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer with the whisk attachment, until light and fluffy.  Add the icing sugar and continue to mix until there are no lumps.  Finally, add the cream cheese and whisk until the frosting is light and fluffy.  Using a palette knife, cover the top of the cooled cake with the frosting.  Dust with cocoa powder.

Adapted from a recipe by The Hummingbird Bakery

Burger League: Kua’Aina

Cheese and bacon burger at Kua'Aina

Cheese and bacon burger at Kua’Aina

The Restaurant:  Kua’Aina, 26 Foubert’s Place, London W1F 7PP

The Hungry Ones:

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Claire (Queen of the BBQ)

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Claire (Queen of the BBQ)

Gemma and Claire ordered: 1/3lb hamburgers with cheese and bacon, sweet potato fries, coleslaw, ginger beer, Sicilian lemonade.

The Scores:

It’s actually been rather a long time since I had a burger.  I had planned to have a burger extravaganza during my Christmas trip to Southampton to settle up the 7Bone vs. Rockstone debate that I am currently embroiled in with my friend, however ate far too much festive food to even contemplate dinner out.  This will have to wait for another time.  On New Year’s eve, we were going to head over for a final BBQ at Will and Claire‘s before they leave their flat (and enormous BBQ behind), but rain and our hangovers prevented us from doing so.  Going out for a burger, or indeed anything indulgent in January, is always approached with some kind of apprehension as almost everybody seems to be on some kind of diet, however it is probably the best time to go as there are fewer queues.

Kua’Aina was bumped near to the top of my list due to its close proximity to my office.  I was also intrigued by the concept of a Hawaiian burger bar as there is little cuisine hailing from this little island state in London.  A couple of years ago I heard rumours of a pop-up Hawaiian omelette bar in Penge, although I never got to see it for myself and suspect it may be an urban myth.  The thought of pineapple and eggs together is almost too much to bear.  Pineapple with savoury food is quite an explosive topic among foodies and many are very outspokenly in the ‘no’ camp.  I have to admit that I am not entirely keen, although The Actress in East Dulwich does a pizza with black forest ham and chilli pineapple that I almost always order when I am there.  I am also enormously partial to cheese and pineapple on sticks.  Kua’Aina offers pineapple as a topping for their burgers, which I am not entirely convinced about, so steer well clear. Pineapple and beef?

Walking into Kua’Aina’s beach shack interior was an odd experience on such a miserably cold London day.  Once seated in the bright basement with its bleached wood walls, you would almost forget that the monsoon was beginning outside and Carnaby Street was flooding.  Foregoing the additional toppings of avocado and the pineapple, we opted for cheese and bacon burgers with shared sides of sweet potato fries and coleslaw.  When the food came, the first thing I noticed was the entire slice of grilled onion sat on top of the patty.  Cooked onion is actually a bit of a pain in the arse to bite through, so we wasted no time removing it and returning only a few rings to the top of the burger.  I also did away with the enormous slice of beefsteak tomato, but this is only due to personal preference.  The burger itself was quite nice – the bread, although not my favoured brioche, was fresh and the patty well seasoned.  It was a little well-done for my taste, but was still succulent and far from being overcooked.  I would have also liked some mustard and a gherkin.  Speaking of gherkins, which is fast becoming my number one topic of conversation, I am quite fond of the large dill pickle on the side of the plate that some restaurants give you to crunch on during mouthfuls of burger.  You could have added one at Kua’Aina for an extra £1.50, but if you choose not to or forget, what you get alongside your burger is a slice of carrot.  A huge wedge of raw, peeled, bog-standard English carrot.  Claire and I, almost in unison, picked them up from our plates uttering what the f*** is that?  Seriously – A CARROT. Whilst we’re on the subject of side dishes, those were completely divided.  The sweet potato fries were crispy, well-seasoned and very moreish but the coleslaw was a little bland.  Despite these little snags, all in all it was a good lunch, it’s just too bad we had to make the modifications ourselves.  A little heap of caramelised onions, a pickle on the side and a smear of mustard and it would be great.

And as Claire rightly said:  “Lose the carrot.”

Kua 'Aina on Urbanspoon

About Burger League

Black Pudding and Savoy Cabbage Pasta Bake

Black pudding and savoy cabbage pasta bake

This first week back at work has been a bit of a shock to the system, hence why I haven’t been writing quite as much.  Considering that for two and a half weeks I have done little more than watch television, drink gin and wrestle the top off the tin of Quality Street, this new routine of turning up, logging on and grinding down is harder than I expected.  This, coupled with the constant talk of diets, sobriety and exercise, and the monumental rain storms that have hit London in recent days, is enough to make me want to crawl back under the duvet for another couple of weeks.  At least until the worst of new year pandemonium is over.

By the time I get home; drenched, knackered and bored to death by somebody’s detox plan; the prospect of doing anything is, frankly, unappealing.  My usual enthusiasm for getting into my kitchen, radio on, and cooking away the woes of the day, is somewhat diminished.  So much so that last night, if somebody had handed me a Pot Noodle and a kettle, I might have considered it as a viable dinner option.  I am certain that this phase will soon pass and my evangalism for cooking will soon return, probably after a good night’s sleep and a couple of days away from the tube, but in the meantime I need easy things I can make with a scowl.

The four things that always make me feel better when I’m in such a mood are old Cary Grant movies, tea, cheap milk chocolate and anything made with the magical combination of pasta and cheese.  I have the first three in abundance, so just had to set about making myself a comforting supper with the fourth.  I very seldom make a pasta bake, the memory of those awful jars that you slosh over dried pasta and stick in the oven still haunt me, but for some reason it just seemed to fit the occasion. Also, I had a ball of mozzarella in the fridge, leftover from the new years eve pizza, that was on its sell-by.  I was planning to add some sausage meat to this dish to make it more substantial – either by finding the huge packets of sausagemeat found in supermarkets around Christmas time or by taking the skins of regular sausages – but had a change of heart when I came across the black pudding.

I was convinced that the smoky meatiness of the black pudding would make a very flavoursome pasta bake.  Although it did not hold its shape as well as chunks of sausage would have, the way the black pudding breaks down into crumbs and almost coats the spirals of pasta is quite endearing.  It acts in a similar way to mince when you use a meat sauce or a ragu.  I also saw an opportunity to add a vegetable to this dish – inspired by my friend Mandy’s blog, Sneaky Veg, where she hides fruit and vegetables in more or less everything – and found a shredded savoy cabbage to have just the right level of robustness to stand up to the black pudding.  Although experimental, the result was very pleasing.  I put a portion into a large bowl, made a cup of Earl Grey, got the Dairy Milk out of the fridge and curled up on the couch to watch Operation Petticoat. And I immediately felt better.

Black Pudding and Savoy Cabbage Pasta Bake

  • 250g black pudding
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 500g passata
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary
  • 300g fusilli pasta
  • ½ savoy cabbage, sliced
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • 250g ball mozzarella
  • Handful grated parmesan
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan.  Crumble the black pudding into large pieces and  gently fry for 5 minutes until browned.  Add the passata, tomato puree and rosemary and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to packet instructions.  Add the cabbage for the last few minutes of the cooking time, then drain well.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Add the tomato and black pudding mixture to the drained pasta.  Season with the salt and pepper and toss together well.  Spoon into a ovenproof dish.  Break up the mozzarella and scatter across the top, followed by the parmesan and breadcrumbs.  Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes.