Sunday, 23 October 2011

pumpkin bread

Pumpkins...Halloween...tis the season

It's about this time of year we keep seeing all those celebrities visiting Pumpkin Patch in LA. Heidi Klum, Jessica Alba et al all getting their pumpkin fix.

You'd be blind to miss the plentiful supply of bulbous orange squash sitting in the supermarkets. Did you know that Halloween is coming up? Have you carved your scary face?

Stupid costumes aside, I love the pumpkin side of October. My American friend makes a pumpkin dip to dunk sharp sour apple into, but my flat mate made this wonderful bread found on Joy of Baking, that can be enjoyed for breakfast with a cup of coffee, your afternoon tea, or just a snack. It is sooooo good. She used far less sugar, as there is no need for so much, and quite frankly I've always enjoyed pumpkin only slightly sweetened, so that all the spices come through and it doesn't become too sickly. We like it on its own, but you might like a little spread of butter.

The smell coming from the oven is amazing. It makes two loaves, so either eat one very quickly, give them away, or freeze one. It keeps very well. Also I recommend a really good loaf tin. A non stick silicone one works perfectly, and means no need for greasing or lining. I got one of these lately.

You definitely need some of this before you proceed!

Cream Cheese Filling:
227g cream cheese, room temp
100g granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour

Pumpkin Bread:
110g pecans or walnuts
450g all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/3 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
4 large eggs
400g granulated white sugar (NB we only used 300g)
226 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
425g can pure pumpkin
120ml water
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Oven @ 180 ' C for 50-65 mins, 2 loaf tins.

Toast nuts on baking tray, cool and chop.

Cream cheese filling - using spoon or processor, cream the cheese until smooth with the sugar. Then add the eggs one at a time, and stir in flour. DO NOT OVER PROCESS OR OVER STIR, otherwise it'll be too thin and will be absorbed by the bread when cooking. Leave to the side.

Pumpkin bread - in a large bowl sift flour, baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

In another bowl whisk eggs, and add sugar and melted butter. Whisk together. Stir in the pumpkin, water, vanilla and nuts. Add the flour mix bit by bit and stir in until just combined. DO NOT OVER STIR AS IT WILL MAKE IT TOO TOUGH.

Divide batter total in half and the cream cheese filling so it will be enough for 2 tins.

For one loaf, divide half the batter and spread into tin. Place the cream cheese filling on top of the batter and then top off with the remaining half of batter (use two spoons to place small dollops of batter on top of the filling so not to mix together).

Repeat for 2nd loaf tin (or use the same loaf tin after the 1st has cooked).

Bake for about 50-65 mins, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.


Friday, 21 October 2011

red wine risotto

Oh the red wine did floweth!

It might just be me, but I CAN'T stop eating right now. I especially can't stop drinking red wine.

My god I can't stop.

There was one tiny whiff of a cutting cold draft and the cork was already open.

It might be colder, but energy wise, that only amounts to an extra 200-300 calories needed a day, not the 750 like I'm putting away!

News flash, I'll be a stone heavier by Christmas and I'll be looking like the Steps reunion. Slightly distorted!

This is dangerous.'s getting dangerous. Suddenly I'm finding reasons to get red wine into my meals. My flat mate is watching me sink into this caricature of myself as the evening rolls on. My jokes are getting sharper, I'm getting wittier by the second, my judgements are getting harsher and my waistline is getting fuller. Unfortunately the laughs are made by me, egged on by me and responded to by me!

Serving 4
1 bottle of red wine
100g unsalted butter
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
300g risotto rice
450ml chicken stock
110g Parmesan cheese freshly grated
sea salt, black pepper

Bring the wine to the boil in a small pan, then leave to simmer over a very low heat.

Melt half the butter, then add the onion to sweat for a few minutes until soft. Add the rice and stir for a minute until complete covered in all the gloss. Start to add the red wine one ladleful at a time, stirring well as you go. You want the rice to absorb all of the wine, not be drowned by it!

Bring the stock to the boil.

When all the wine has been absorbed, then add the stock one ladleful at a time. The risotto should take roughly 25-30 minutes to cook in total.

You want to stop cooking the rice when it has a bite to it and whilst there is still a moistness to the sauce. Stir in the Parmesan and the remaining butter and add seasoning as desired.

Serve straightaway and add extra grated Parmesan to taste.

If you haven't drunk half a bottle of red wine whilst cooking then I'll be very proud of you!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

love bakery, kings road

LOVE red velvet cake

Take a celebratory christening and wrap it up in a spot of sunshine...add to that some very pale rose, and what do you get?

...the icing on the cake, which literally is, the icing on the cake!

Red velvet cake from Love Bakery on Kings Road, Chelsea (founded by Sam Blears).

The girls from Love are full of love too, I hear from a dickie bird that the girls in a certain store nearby get end of day treats for free!

Try out their cupcakes. By far my favourite cupcakes in London. They do a delicious cookies and cream one. Far better then all the others out there!

Get your gob around that!
Love Bakery, 319 Kings Road, London SW3 5EP
020 7352 3191

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

twice-cooked belly of pork


Pork belly might be a fatty bit of meat...but boy it's good. It works perfectly well in keeping the pork incredibly moist (I know there are haters for that word, so sincere apologies). Unfortunately though, that is where most of the flavour comes from.

This is perfectly suitable for a Sunday lunch or dinner party, just make sure to keep yourself a slice or two for that Tuesday night supper alone!

Pick up a piece of pork belly about 25cm x 18cm and take the skin off (safer to get butcher to do that or buy from supermarkets where it might come without skin on the piece) leaving a layer of fat on top.

Season all over and put in slightly oiled casserole dish (meat side down) and cover with water/stock and some white wine, bay leaf, onion slices, carrot and a celery stick or whatever. Bring to simmer and then cover (I also put buttered greaseproof paper on top of pork) and put in low oven (130C) for about 3-4 hours till meat very tender (test with sharp knife).

Leave to cool in stock.

Remove the pork and put a piece of greaseproof paper or cling film on pork and weigh down with a flat board with some weights (cans of tomatoes work very well!) to flatten slightly. Leave for a few hours and refrigerate. When ready (immediately or up to a few days) cut in thick slices (10x3cm) and fry fat side down slowly to warm through and brown top and get rid of some extra fat in a frying pan. Turn over after about 5 mins and fry other side for about a minute to brown and warm through.

Serve with jus and potatoes and green veg and carrots or red cabbage.
(I also ate mine the day after with some green salad and beetroot).

Jus: Reduce stock by about 2/3 and then add some reduced port or Madeira-add nob of butter when nearly ready. Should be almost syrupy to glaze the pork and as the gravy. Adjust seasoning.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

hearty lentil stew

All that's needed is a sausage or two!

Lentils bring to mind that very traditional French 'peasant' cooking.

I adore it and thank god there is that chill in the air now, so we can get back on the stews again.

A warmth that pummels straight to your bones!

It makes me remember a trip to Cluny, in the Burgundy region about 8 years ago. Minus 2 weather. Bitter, crisp, fresh cold. Numb fingers and toes. A steaming hot brasserie. A glass of hot mulled wine. A plate of sausage and bean casserole. A sing song in the corner.

I was actually meant to make a soup, but I let it reduce so much, it turned out far better!
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 stick of celery, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • strips of pancetta, chopped (I used a whole packet)
  • 1/2 tube of tomato puree
  • 4-5 new potatoes, halved
  • 250g dry green lentils
  • 1 pint of water(to start)
  • salt and pepper
  • optional extras (red wine, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves)
In a deep thick based casserole dish, on a medium heat, cook the onion for a few minutes, and then add the chopped carrot, celery and garlic and saute until the onion is soft. Then add the pancetta and continue to cook for a few more minutes until golden. Add the tomato puree and lentils and stir through before adding the water. Make sure you bring it to the boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and leave for a good 30 minutes. Add the halved new potatoes, and salt and pepper. Check the liquid level. If it at any point starts to look too dry then add some more water. You want to then leave this to simmer for at least an hour and end up with a rich thick sauce.

Of course, if you have any other ingredients please use them. At the liquid stage, add in a generous helping of red wine if you like, and some thyme and rosemary. I made this on a Sunday night without these, but it tastes just as good. The slow cooking ensures you drain every inch of flavour from every single ingredient.

Good on its own or with a couple of good quality sausages.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

the collection, chelsea

The Collection, Chelsea

I heard it through the grapevine 
Not much longer would you be mine.
Oh I heard it through the grapevine,
Oh and I'm just about to lose my mind. 
Honey, honey yeah.

Well I heard through the grapevine that The Collection in Chelsea had been taken over by new owners.

Huh...really? Tell me more...

Yes really...a new management team and a complete overhaul and revamp of the previously rather worn down appearance by Design Research Studio, headed by Tom Dixon.

Ok, I'm interested...keep talking...

...and new Executive Chef Alex Fanzola, fronting the kitchen for the reworked restaurant.

Ok, talk to me later...I'm already half way there in a taxi!

Hello there, would you like to walk with me down the catwalk?

The Collection hasn't lost its original statement features. You can't miss the 80ft catwalk entrance and let's not forget, probably the longest bar in London.

Peeking over the mezzanine edge feels like spying on a scene from Sex and the City...

Is that your best chat up line?

However, the even bigger and better statement is the restaurant, with its cleverly placed open kitchen. Close enough to see the magic happen live, but expertly shielding back the noise so not to draw focus away from the dining experience.

The bronze cluster lamps hanging from the ceiling, let you know Tom Dixon has left his stamp on the place.

Feels like I'm watching a televised chef show...

Bronze cluster lamps

Italian Executive Chef Alex Fanzola, brings with him the very best from Mediterranean cooking. I'm told by the passionate and humorous man himself that he uses NO butter or cream. Olive oil is used in all the cooking. A big emphasis is on the great olive oil. Health friendly and packing a punch of flavour. A first glimpse of this is with the bread. A wonderful trio of basil, truffle and lemon zest extra virgin olive oil. The gorgeous bread is made the night before always using a bit of leftover sourdough, resulting in tasty focaccia and fried bread.

Basil infused extra virgin olive oil

Tradition coupled with the finest quality ingredients, sourced from suppliers such as the organic Laverstoke Park and premium London butchers, O'Shea's of Knightsbridge make for a mouth watering array of dishes. I discover that true creative geniuses will go far for their craft, as I'm told an amusing story of some hay snatching from a field in the country before some serious dish testing. Alas it was clearly a success due to spotting the 'hay roasted lamb shank' sitting confidently on the menu.

There is a generous selection of small plates, and light enough to share more than one, which is encouraged as there are so many different accents to ummm and ahhh over. Dishes such as creamy burrata, salty and sweet chorizo and sweet potato and baked prawn with basil emulsion and roasted garlic.

Creamy burrata, chorizo and sweet potato

The main dishes are impressive with combinations of clay baked baby chicken with pomegranate molasses, herbe'ed polenta and slow cooked sturgeon and chanterelles. The waiter wips out the equipment he needs to debone the salt crusted sea bass in front of you. I was a little un-nerved by the stark appearance of the lamb shank on the chunky wooden board, but the waiter offers to debone it, and I'm happy to discover this also means presenting all the ingredients together. A perfect blend of melt in the mouth lamb, creamy artichoke puree, pistachio sauce and rich jus.

Salt crusted sea bass with Mediterranean sauce

Hay roasted lamb shank pre deboning

Save room for dessert. A surprising favourite was the cold fragrantly scented rice pudding which held its neat shape unlike hot steaming gelatinous versions of the past. A must is the heavenly hazelnut and the pistachio ice-cream. Light and creamy.

Dinner is divine, but fear not, The Collection is open from 10am in the morning until late, and the new private retail spaces will host a series of one-off 'pop-up' stores, collaborating with renowned jewellers, designers and artists to showcase their work, so there is much to be enjoyed from this greatly improved establishment.

The Collection, 264 Brompton Road, London, SW3 2AS
Opening Times: Daily for lunch and dinner, from 10am – Midnight.


Tuesday, 11 October 2011

hot toddy

Cinnamon stick, cloves and black peppercorns

...and so the snuffling cold continues.

I can't say that I'm not enjoying it. I feel high. I'm walking around in a technicolour vitamin haze.

Do you crave anything in particular when every sinus is blocked within an inch of its life?

I crave whole oranges and bananas and freshly squeezed fruit, celery, ginger and lemon...carrot.

Who needs medication, when you have whisky?

Who said colds were dull?


A hot toddy is hugely soothing and extremely medicinal. Traditionally with alcohol, I've kept with the whisky, but you don't need to add it.

Make your hot toddy as pure and perfect as you can.

The greatest natural healer.

If you're a keen foodie or health nut you'll know about manuka honey. It might come at £10 a pot, but it is renowned for its antibacterial properties...

...I told you. The BEST natural healer.

Alcohol = numbing
Manuka = antibacterial
Lemon = vitamin c
Spices = ancient healing properties

Whisky, manuka honey and a mug

Here is the break down:
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 black peppercorns
  • 1 pint of water
  • (optional extras: slices of fresh root ginger, 4 cardamon pods)
Put all these ingredients into a pan and simmer for 15 minutes, then strain.

When ready, pour a measure of whisky into a mug. Fill the remaining space with the hot spiced water, stir in a teaspoon of manuka honey and squeeze a healthy dose of lemon juice (or to your liking).

Then sit back...inhale...absorb and forget all your troubles.

Hot toddy!

Monday, 10 October 2011

october roots

Brown rice salad with sweet potato, prune, apricot

It's finally hit me.

I tried to avoid it.

I ignored all the signs.

I have a cold...

At least it's an excuse to lay low for a while and feel a little seasonal. I wondered why I'd been craving chai tea, sweet potato, and extra cinnamon in my porridge.

This is a very 'warming' rice salad, inspired by Ottolenghi (of course) and includes what I was crying out for:

A few ingredients
  • 200g of brown rice
  • 2 small sweet potatoes (or 1 large), chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp sumac
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • handful of pistachio nuts, lightly toasted
  • handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 2 spring onions, sliced
  • 4-5 dried apricots, finely chopped
  • 4-5 prunes, finely chopped
  • handful of coriander
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Boil the rice until al dente, and set aside to cool.

The raw sweet potato ready for roasting

While the rice is boiling, chop up the sweet potato and put into a deep non stick oven pan. Throw in the garlic (un-peeled). Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle sumac, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper ontop, making sure to cover every piece. Pop in the oven to roast for about 25-35 minutes, on about 200'C. Occasionally check on the sweet potato and stir well.

Be careful not to burn! Toasting pistachio and pine nuts

Lightly toast the pistachio nuts and pine nuts and set aside, with the chopped spring onion, dried apricots, prunes and coriander.

Once the rice has cooled, add all the ingredients and toss together. Mix in the cooked sweet potato and extract the garlic pulp, and add the lemon juice and another little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I marinated some chicken breast in the same sweet potato spices and pan fried. Alternatively, eat a larger portion of the rice for a packed lunch and add some chopped feta cheese.

Pan fry a little chicken to go with...

If you're still stuck for ideas with that roasted sweet potato, try having on a bed of rocket and sprinkle with feta and toasted pine nuts for a lunch or light supper...

Need another idea?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

athens, greece, II

Did someone say party?

So after a much needed nap it was time to get my act together.

Let's pick up the pace here, we are in celebration after all...

...on to the wedding party!

Personalised m and m's
Candy Candy everywhere

The Greeks sure do know how to celebrate!

A sugared white/dark/mint chocolate almond...or bellini?

Plenty of fruit.

What a very healthy idea.

Was that for dessert?

No, it's for the cocktails...

I've got a lovely bunch of...

Now, for the main attraction.


Sea Bass
Peach, flaked almond salad
Fresh tomato pasta...fresh greens
Incredible lentil cake
Sliced mushroom, parmesan salad
Fillet of beef, chicken and beetroot crisps

Then I lost my head for a minute!

All the better to see you with my dear...

I said my congratulations to the happy couple...


Then I got tucking into dessert. Beautiful chocolate mousse wedding cake, a meringue and ice-cream bombe and a creme patissiere...

Things are getting messy now, along with my etiquette!

Amazing...the next day, apart from peeling my face off the pillow, I have time to visit the Acropolis museum, which is stunning. STUNNING.

Please, NO photo's!

Through the glass floor there is a little restoration taking place

Greece, I love you!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

athens, greece, I

Athens, Greece

I'm sure you're aware, unless you live in a bubble, that there is a little crisis going on with the Greek economy at the moment?

Well, I'm going to lighten up the situation. Greece is still a wonderful country and I certainly didn't let it deter me from travelling to Athens for the weekend to celebrate a friends wedding.

Perfect timing as I was much needing a punch of different colours, smells, tastes, sights and sounds to revive my slightly bored senses.

So let me PUNCH you...

...hard. This is a long one!

The Acropolis, Athens

We had plenty of time to visit the Acropolis, which was absolutely incredible. I felt a little like I was on the set of Independence Day, the movie. The scattering of people, clambering over dusty ruins! I adore ancient Greece and especially the gods, heroes and goddesses of Greek mythology.

Beware for the shiny polished smooth stone. I was a little concerned for the 'older' generations and their weaker joints...I almost slipped and cracked my head!

'Right, so it's rather impressive then?'....'yes...fancy a frappe?'
The old and the new

'All the world is a stage'

Let's get up and in some of those angles!

What craftsmanship!
I wonder if I could replicate this on my London balcony?
Something England doesn't have much of...SUNLIGHT

Don't worry, the furry fella isn't dead...this is a rather typical scene all over the city, basking in the sunlight and legs a kimbo. He doesn't care who's watching.

I think I'll leave you to it!

We then popped into the 'Grande Bretagne' hotel, to sit on the roof garden and take a look down the stairs...

Don't get dizzy

...and strolled through the streets of Athens, stopping for a sesame bagel snack...

Sesame bagel jenga
...or perhaps a different flavour?
...before admiring the local mint green graffiti!

Wickedy wickedy wack

Phew...boy doesn't sightseeing make one hungry? Thank god my lovely Greek friend was with us. Lead on maestro...

Lead he did, lead us all the way to a superb little taverna 'To Kafeneio' tucked away on a quiet street in the Kolonaki district. GET ME TO THE GREEK!!!! Awaiting us was an array of lamb mince stuffed cabbage leaves and courgette, traditional Greek salad filled with hefty slices of red onion and cucumber. Blocks of feta cheese. Slow cooked red peppers. Chopped green salad with dill. Melt in the mouth pork. Chunky chips. A carafe of house white. HEAVEN.

Greek salad...BOOM
Chopped green salad...give it
Green beans...chips?
The stuffed cabbage leaves and courgette
Up close and personal with my salad...
...and with the rest!

We all turned down the dessert menu. We all rubbed our bellies and stressed how we could eat no more, but upon stretching out into the road, we tumbled straight into 'Fresh' a delightful little pastry shop! Ok, we might have room for a little something sweet...

Strawberry, pistachio, chocolate?
Butter wouldn't melt...
Starting to feel a little hungry again now
You can imagine that upon returning to the beautiful 'Y Hotel' in Kifissia, I promptly fell asleep to prepare for the big night... ...more to follow later...