Sunday, 29 January 2012

Cashew Cookie Bars

Despite my love of food, I’m not actually that good at feeding myself. Feeding others is no problem – easy peasy – but taking care of number one isn’t high on my list of priorities. I’m a rather busy lady but it’s taken me a while to grasp that I need to replace the calories that I’m working out of my system. It’s starting to dawn on me (after several oh-my-gosh-i-feel-faint moments – whoops!) that I maybe need to start eating a little more between my bike rides, dance classes, acrobatic episodes and general dogs bodying.

Now, if this wasn’t enough to undertake, I want to eat right too. Empty calories aren’t my thing – they need to be functional, nutritious and oh so delicious. I discovered Nakd Cashew Cookie bars a little while ago and loved them so much that I was determined to try and make my own. Considering that the lovely people at Nakd cram a magical mix of dates and nuts into their soft chewy bars, I figured that it wouldn’t be too difficult to create my own version in the kitchen.

I did a little research and found that America has their own equivalent – Lara bars – which are pretty similar. The more I read, the more I thought “it doesn’t need to be this difficult! It’s just nuts and fruit…” so I threw caution to the wind. I ground up a load of cashews, snipped up several handfuls of sticky dates and got my hands rather dirty smooshing it all together. One of the great winners about these bars is that they are 100% bake free. No cooking required!

They can be a little time consuming to make but they are well worth it. The finished bars are just as yielding and sweet as the originals. I wrapped mine individually in cling-film and now keep one in my rucksac for a post-workout shot of protein. Keep them in the fridge and pop one in your bag or lunchbox for a healthy snack. One of your five a day!

Cashew Cookie bars
Makes 12 bars

200g pitted unsweetened dates
200g unsalted cashews

- Line a loaf tin with Teflon non-stick baking sheet, greaseproof paper or cling film before you start (and you get super sticky fingers).
- Grind the cashews in a food processor or blender until fine. You want them to be the consistency of ground almonds or course sand though a few chunks or whole nuts in the mix are fine by me. If you don’t have a food processor, you could seal the nuts in a plastic bag, wrap in a few tea towels and then bash with a rolling pin. Free stress relief!
- Snip up the dates with scissors so that they are in very small pieces (as fine as you have the patience for – it will pay off later!). You could also chop them in the food processor if you have one that is man enough for the job.
- Combine both in a bowl and get your hands in to work the mixture. Scrunch it up in your hands, balling it together and then breaking it apart again to form a firm but slightly sticky mixture. This took me about five minutes but it depends how strong you’re feeling.
- Tip the mixture into your prepared tin and level with a spoon.
- Compress the mixture using the back of a spoon and then the bottom of a tumbler or end of a rolling pin. Keep pressing it down until it’s very solid and holds together.
- Remove the block from the tin (pull gently on the lining to help ease it out) then cut into bar-sized portions.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Telling porkies

You're aware of my love affair with Stylist magazine after their Nigella-edited caramel issue. Well, Stylist's brother title (one for the boys) is Shortlist which is another fab weekly free paper. They write about lots of fun stuff including the very best in gadgetry, entertainment and male style. Having been something of a tom boy growing up, I like to pluck a copy out of the arms of the newspaper fairies that stoically brave the streets and underground during it's busiest periods to bestow us with light entertainment on our travels.

They have various "Instructions for men" ("an instruction manual worth reading"!) and the above diagram grabbed my eye while I read about how not to be conned online and other useful stuff. Accompanying their "How to make a proper pork pie from scratch" article, Dave Hopkins beautiful illustration harks back to the good ol' days of black and white etchings. I adore the detail; it reminds me of some of the worn cookery books that live on my parent's kitchen shelves.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Caramelised balsamic onions


I don’t know about you but I love a versatile ingredient; an item that can spark (at least) a dozen recipe or meal ideas and a flush of food-related excitement. There are many, many things that have that effect on me but there’s one in particular that I would like to share with you today.

Caramelised onions.

Those two words set off a firework of cooking concepts in my mind; recipes sizzle in my sub-conscious while images flicker in front of my eyes. Caramelised white onions in bolognaise sauce, sweet fried onions piled onto cheese atop a crisp cracker, crumbly goats cheese tart mingled with caramelised red onions, a rich onion-y hit in soups and stews… the list goes on and on. My mouth is watering while I type!

You can buy jars of onions chutney in the supermarkets which is all well and good but you can easily make your own easily and cheaply at home. Onions are a staple which I always have in my store cupboard because they are the foundation of many (most!) of my savoury dishes. Caramelising simply involves cooking them over a low heat for an extended period of time to bring out their natural sweetness. Once cooked, they can be kept for up to a week in the fridge but I doubt very much that they will last that long! If you have enough self-control, a jar of deliciously soft and sweet onions can make a fantastic gift idea for foodies.So if you’ve ever wondered how to make caramelised onions, read on.

I’d love to spend tons of time slaving over the stove but I genuinely don’t have the time. My recipe below gives you a cheat’s option which side steps the traditional yet time-consuming caramelising process. Of course, if you have the time to spare, by all means sweat them down over an hour or so to get the most out of them. If, like me, you’re short on time but need your onion fix, give this easy healthy recipe a go!

Balsamic caramelised onions
Makes 1 jar

2 onions (red or white)
1 tsp sunflower oil or butter
½ tsp sugar or honey
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

- Halve the onions, peel and slice. Sniffle.
- Pour in the oil (or butter, allowing it to melt if using) to a heavy based frying pan over a medium heat.
- Add the onions and sweat (covering with a lid) for five minutes or until softened.
- Remove the lid and reduce the heat. Cook for a further 10 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. The onions may catch on the bottom of the pan which is okay but don’t let them burn. If the mixture starts to look too dry, add a little water.*
- Add the sugar/honey and salt and stir well.
- Drizzle the onions with balsamic vinegar and use a metal or wooden spatula to scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer until the balsamic has evaporated.
- Store in a jar in the fridge for up to a week. Smother on crackers, add to cheese toasties... the possibilities are endless!

*At this point, you could cook for up to an hour if you have time for a more traditional caramelised flavour.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Bar of goodness!

Try as I might, I can't help but love to snack. I do my best to go for healthy options but sometimes I (like everyone out there) need a little convenience in my life. I have a dreadful sweet tooth too so I was delighted to happen upon Nakd bars in the supermarket while on a sneaky hunt for chocolate.

They're soft, chewy bars of simple ingredients with no weird additives to speak of. My favourite bar is the cashew cookie (above) which is made up of a virtually fifty-fifty combination of cashew nuts and dates.
Their simplicity means that they're gluten, wheat and dairy free which makes them an easy go-to for those that suffer with allergies or intolerances.

Despite its distinct lack of ingredients, it tastes remarkably like cookie dough and one bite leads to another... Before I know it, the entire bar is gone! Which has got me wondering... How easy would they be to make? Have a look at my cashew cookie bar recipe to find out!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Pineapple and mango upside-down cake - sunshine on a plate!

Do not adjust your display settings. I thought I'd bring you a little edible sunshine in Spring! It this doesn't cheer you up after the freezing, wet days that we've had, I don't know what will! When you think of seasonal food at this time of year, your thoughts might fall to comforting root vegetables but tropical fruits are in their prime right now. Admitedly, they're not grown in the UK so there are a lot of food miles involved but if you're going to buy them, you might as well have them when they are at their best!

Pineapples, mangoes and passionfruits are all in season so I decided to combine them in one tasty cake for a fund-raising event at work. I adore pineapple upside-down cake so I thought that I would go one better and marry all of these exotic beauties together with a hint of lime in this famous retro dish. Its incredibly easy but the results are fantastic plus my colleagues mentioned that it tasted virtuous because each bite was filled with fruit. I'll cast no illusions - this isn't a healthy cake but I'm glad that it felt good to eat.

I'd also like to highlight the fantastic (even if I do say so myself) glaze that gives the cake it's glossy day-glow yellow tone. This stuff is so so morish; it's unreal! It's well worth the faff of sieving the passionfruits - my top tip is to microwave the fruit for less than a minute before halving them as it helps to encourage the pulp to slide out. If I'd have been making this cake for me, I would have been tempted to keep the pips in but as it happened, I stirred them into yoghurt for pudding as they have a lot of flavour. I'm tempted to make the glaze to top cheesecakes or to drizzle on pannacota in future.

Pineapple and mango upside-down cake with lime and passionfruit glaze
Makes 10 servings

For the topping (or should that be... bottoming...?)
1 mango
1 227g can of pineapple (packed in juice) or ¼ fresh pineapple
60g butter, softened
60g golden caster sugar

For the cake
150g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
150g flour
3 eggs
1tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 lime
3 passionfruits

 - Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 20cm by 20cm square deep baking tin (or a 25cm round baking tin) with greaseproof
 - Start with (what will eventually be) the topping by creaming the butter and sugar together then smearing into the bottom of the pan. Skin the mango and drain the pineapple (retaining the juice for later) then arrange by pressing the pieces into the butter-sugar mix. Make a pretty pattern or go geometric... the choice is yours!
 - Next make the sponge base by creaming the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the zest of the lime and the vanilla extract.
 - Add the eggs one by one, beating well between each addition then fold in the flour and baking powder.
 - Spoon the cake batter over the fruit and gently shake the tin from side to side to encourage the mixture to get between the fruit pieces.
 - Bake for 35 minutes or until the sponge is firm and a knife/skewer comes out clean.
 - Meanwhile, pierce the passionfruits and microwave them for 30 seconds or until they are warmed through. Halve and scrape out the pulp then sieve out the seeds (you don't have to do this if you don't want to but it depends if you want the seeds to pepper your cakes caramel topping or not). Press the pulp through a non-metalic sieve with a spoon or similar for the best results.
 - Simmer the passionfruit pulp with the reserved pineapple juice and the juice from the lime until it has halved and become thick and sticky.
 - When the cake is ready, remove from the oven and set aside for five minutes before turning out onto a plate. Drizzle or brush with the glaze and ideally serve warm with coconut icecream.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Leek and Potato soup

I think I’ve started something. I like to make a batch of soup at the start of the week (or ideally, the end of the weekend) to feed me throughout the working week slog. With the delayed cold snap creeping in, my office kitchen has a rush hour between 1pm and 2pm where we all crowd around the microwave to heat up our lunchtime fare. Most people have been bringing in soup since Christmas but it’s mainly in the form of cartons or tubs of the readymade supermarket stuff. It seemed like a big thing when my colleagues would ask “Is that homemade!?” Naturally I instilled the virtues of making your own and I think I inspired someone. One of my colleagues came in on Monday looking fresh faced and glowing with a tub of her very own homemade soup. She was really pleased with the results and has followed the trend by making more this weekend. Fab!

I love homemade soup because it’s a great way to use up leftovers and can be adapted to whatever is in season. British leeks are in season at the moment and, combined with potatoes, they make a warming meal that will keep you full for ages. I think that soup has something of a bad name because many people think that it needs hours of boiling on a stove in order for it to ‘proper’ soup. This just isn’t the case! You can make soup incredibly quickly and for much less than the supermarkets. You can pack it with cheap ingredients that are seasonal and good for you plus you know exactly what went into it.

I have leek and potato in my lunchbox this week. Despite its luxuriously creamy taste and texture, there’s no added fat in the recipe so it’s healthy too! I like to add a swirl of wholegrain mustard to add a little je ne c’est quoi.

Leek & Potato soup
Makes 6 – 8 servings

1 onion, sliced
2 sticks of celery, sliced
½ parsnip, cubed
2 leeks, washed and sliced
3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
1l or so water or stock
3 tbsp fat free yoghurt
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard

- Sweat the onion, celery, parsnip and leeks over a low heat for three minutes or until soft and sweet. Add a splash of water (instead of butter or oil) to stop it catching and burning.
- Add the potatoes into the pan then top up with water or stock to cover the vegetables. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
- Remove half of the mixture and blitz in a blender – or use a hand blender in the pan so that the soup is mostly smooth but with a few chunks of potato and leek to chomp on.
- Adjust the consistency by adding more water or stock if you like a thinner soup then add the yoghurt and mustard before serving. Sprinkle with your choice of cheese or slurp with a side of cheese on toast.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Phone Stacking: Modern table manners

You're absorbed in an animated conversation with your friends or loved ones over a well-earned meal. The atmosphere is warm and friendly until a beep or "comedy" noise rings out among the chatter and a member of your party fumbles their phone from their pocket. Before you know it, the conversation has dissolved as everyone around the table, inspired by the black sheep of the group, decides to check their phones. Food goes cold and conversations run dry as the majority "quickly" check their messages, facebook, twitter and emails. Does this sound familiar?

Mobile telephone are awesome. I'm a huge fan; they're great! But they're also incredibly disruptive at the dinner table. I stumbled upon Telephone Stacking, the ingenious etiquette game for the dinner table. When your group sits down to eat, each person in turn places their phone facedown one on top of the other. If anyone breaks the stack by checking their phone has to pay the bill for everyone. The entire table! If everyone resists temptation, everyone pays their own share. Good eh?

Friday, 13 January 2012

Snapshot: Gail’s Bakery, Kensington

Having pigged ourselves on sumptuous salads in Islington, we unwittingly continued our Israeli trend* by meeting friends at Gail’s in Kensington. You didn’t think I could go without cake for that long, did you?
Alighting at South Kensington, we ignored the exits towards the museums and walked up the steps towards daylight. Turn right at the top of the steps and then left as you come out of the station and you’ll see a tiny Gail’s Bakery on the corner of the pedestrianized street. We wrapped up against the chill breeze and perched ourselves on the metal tables and chairs outside.

The weather was certainly cold but we warmed our fingers and faces on piping hot drinks. Gail’s is part of my London exploration as I’ve never been before but I’ve been missing out – the coffee was delish and the hot chocolate was nutty and rich. The Boy went for a slab of their famous (Great Taste Award winning!) carrot cake while I went for a slightly more virtuous chocolate and nut bite-sized confection. Our friends had already bought a mammoth sausage roll and a loaf of sour dough.

If you're searching for ideas for what to do when you've had your fill of bread and cake, why not wander over to the Science Museum. It's free and we can vouch for the appeal of the 'Launchpad' on the Third Floor. An array of fun interactive exhibits that are great fun for children and big kids alike!

*What I didn’t realise Ran Avidan, the creator of Gail’s, is also from Tel Aviv so it’s particularly apt that we went from Ottolenghi to Gail’s in one trip. (Not that we realised it at the time, of course!)

Gail's Bakery have ten branches across the city of London but you can also find them in selected London Waitrose, Ocado and in Harvey Nichols.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Review: Ottolenghi, Islington, London

London is a vibrant mix of people and cultures so it stands to reason that the food here is varied and colourful. When you look past the indenti-kit Starbucks and dig a little deeper than the usual high street dining suspects, there are some truly amazing places to eat in the capital.

I moved here over two months ago but haven't had a chance to properly immerse myself in the sights and sounds of London food until now. I've been out of the city every weekend and there's only so far you can go in a lunch hour but last weekend, The Boy came to me so there was double the reason to get out and about.

We hopped on a train on Saturday morning (starting our culinary adventure with toast and newspapers) and made our way to Highbury & Islington in the search of Ottolenghi. A previous employer got me hooked on the Guardian's website for which Yotam Ottolenghi often writes. His weekly recipes on the Guardian’s website always inspire but – shame on me - I’ve yet to try any out. Originally from Israel, Ottolenghi trained as a journalist but came to London to study at Le Cordon Bleu. After gaining experience elsewhere, he opened his own establishments including four branches of the delicatessens (only the Islington branch houses a restaurant as well) that bear his name and Nopi, a separate restaurant in Soho.

With glowing reviews, I was keen to get The Boy to sample Ottolenghi's delights with me. The restaurant and deli is easy to find from Highbury & Islington station - take a right out of the station and it’s an easy ten to fifteen minute stroll along Upper Street with Ottolenghi on the right.

The simple white and red shop frontage doesn't do justice to the produce within (though the Windows are filled with delectable cakes and pastries that are cooked on the premises). Once inside, we were faced with a large queue of people (for the café) and a table stacked high and groaning with colourful platters of salads and other goodies. I was completely in my element and awash with food-related adrenaline, much to the amusement of The Boy. We couldn’t help but dither a little before deciding that it all looked good (so we simply couldn’t fail to choose well!) and making our selection. One of the chatty shop assistants helped us to fill a small salad box with four different salads from the selection on show, one (savoury) pastry and some meat. The delectable cakes on show were calling to me – particularly the passion fruit meringue tarts - but I managed to resist (seriously regretting that now!). Our goodies were packed into a neat paper bag, complete with cutlery and napkins, and we were soon headed out the door to share our feast.

No sooner than we were out the door and The Boy was already unwrapping the intriguing savoury Danish that we had peaked our curiosity. Like the common sweet variety, it had a base of crunchy puff pastry but, instead of the usual fruit or custard filling, it was topped with roasted tomatoes and peppers and sprinkled with crumbly goats’ cheese. It was delicious though I think we left a conspicuous fairy tale trail of pastry flakes along the pavement while we scoffed it en route. The Boy was in his element as, despite being a savoury person, he loves Danishes.

Having settled ourselves on a bench in front of the town hall, we opened up our small box of salad. There are two options for salad – the ‘small’ box that we went for and a ‘large’ which was huge. A small would easily have fed me generously for a lunch on its own but in the interests of trying as much as possible (all in the name of research, naturally!), we shared a small between two which worked very well. It had been expertly layered with strata of broccoli, cauliflower, creamy yoghurt and tomato. Each mouthful was different. My first was full of chargrilled broccoli with chilli and onions which was a revelation as the humble broccoli lends itself very well to grilling – something that I’d never have thought of. My next bite featured roasted cauliflower with celery and fat blanched almonds which equally as delish. I’ve been reading a lot about roasting cauliflower lately so I must try it for myself soon. The baked Jerusalem artichokes with radishes, chilli yogurt and pomegranate seeds appealed to me as I’m always on the lookout for new recipes with the nutty beauties. The musky creamy flavour of the chokes went well with the initial creamy taste of the yoghurt but the mouthful was lifted by a sharp zing of chilli and pop of pomegranate. Amazing! The only salad that wasn’t mind-blowing was the roasted aubergine with cheese, tomato and pine nuts. It was nice enough but it lacked the bold flavours that the others had in fistfuls.

Next, we moved onto the meaty treats that we’d chosen. I would recommend the lamb kofte with sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts; it was tender and well spiced, balanced with the yoghurt sauce that came with it. The honey roasted chicken with almonds was nice – juicy and well cooked – but didn’t blow my mind. It was perfectly nice but, again, it lacked flavour. I imagine that the strong flavours in the rest of our meal made this all the more noticeable.

We were left with pleasantly full bellies and happy spirits. Everything that we’d eaten was fantastically fresh and a joy to eat. The Boy liked the fact that the food was inspiring yet achievable – he could imagine putting together similar combinations at home. Strangely, this didn’t make us feel short changed but encouraged – to try new recipes and cooking methods with familiar ingredients. The food isn’t cheap – a small salad box will set you back £9 – so, for us, it was a treat but I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Ottolenghi’s to stoic Londoners and enthusiastic tourists alike.

Our trip definitely gave us food for thought and I already have plans to try out some Ottolenghi-inspired recipes (watch this space!) I hope to return to sample the cakes and maybe try a sit down meal in the not-too-distant future! Hint hint…

Ottolenghi has three take-away branches – Kensington, Nottinghill and Belgravia – while the Islington branch also includes a small café.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Tender kale salad with roasted peppers and feta

Winter isn’t a season synonymous with salads but, with delicious leaves like curly kale in season, you can kick start your New Year with a nutritious and healthy salad. It’s a fantastically versatile dish which can be served hot or cold, with a main dish or on its own – the choice is yours! It’s quick and easy to zap in the microwave or bung on the hob. You can throw it together in about 10 minutes and it keeps really well – I’ve been making it in the evening while I make dinner and then scoffing it at my desk for an easy lunch.

It's a great accompaniment to fish, roasted vegetables or Parma ham (as you can see) but is strong enough to stand alone as a main meal. Choose the low fat feta if you're trying to be virtuous or omit it entirely if you'd rather. I tend to pop a tray of peppers in to roast whenever I have the oven on and then freeze them (any I don't nibble off the tray, at least) for a later date.

Kale salad with roasted peppers and feta
Serves one as a main or two as a side

For the salad:
150g curly kale
1 roasted pepper
100g feta cheese (or similar)
50g mushrooms, sliced

For the vinaigrette:
½ tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp cider vinegar

- Microwave (or sweat in a pan over a low heat) the mushrooms for 4 minutes or until softened and awash with flavourful juices. Drain, keeping the juices for later, and transfer to a salad bowl.
- Remove any thick stalks that linger among your kale leaves. Wash the kale well in a bowl of water, drain (leaving a little moisture on the leaves) and transfer to a microwaveable dish (or pan). Cover with a plate and cook for 3 minutes or until wilted down and tender. Add to the mushrooms.
- Slice the peppers into long strips and crumble or cube the feta before adding both to the bowl with the other ingredients.
- Whisk the vinaigrette ingredients with the mushroom juices and pour over. Serve hot or cold with Parma ham or on its own.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Review: Ichi-Riki Sushi House, London

Situated only a stone’s throw from my new place of work, it’s easy to miss the inconspicuous door tucked down a narrow staircase that is the entrance to Ichi-Riki, the fantastic-yet-tiny Japanese eatery. The Boy loves sushi and, with his first visit to the Big Smoke imminent, I was keen to indulge my beau. I’d walked past the restaurant several times to check out the stalls on Strutton Ground and had mentally marked it as pending on my list of places to try.

Once down the stairs (not too steep or numerous if you struggle with steps or have had a few pre-sushi sakes), the door is opened for you by a smiling waitress who ushers you to your table. This is a truly miniscule establishment (seating around eighteen at a real push - be ready to get friendly!) but it’s all the cosier for it. Due to its capacity, it’s recommended that you book a table by telephone to avoid disappointment with the upside being that, wherever you sit, you’re likely to have a view of the sushi chef at work and slabs of high grade fish behind the bar. It’s unpretentious; modestly decorated with simple pine furniture and an open view of the chefs at work. This is a world away from the colourfully sparse Yo! Sushi’s and contemporary slick independent’s out there.

The service was attentive and friendly without disrupting our intimate catch up session. We based our order on their set menu with The Boy going for a Jo Nigiri and me opting for the Udon Set. Of course, we had to start with Eda Mame and couldn’t resist Pumpkin Goroke when we saw it on the menu. Both of which were good though I must admit that I missed a scattering of chunky sea salt, rather than a liberal sprinking of table salt as we had here, that I've become accustomed to when having Eda Mame elsewhere. After a long train journey, The Boy was understandably in need of a cold beer (we were recommended Asahi as the house's favourite) while I chose to sample the house tea which was an intriguing mix of green tea and toasted rice. It was lovely and warming – a welcome relief from the chill outside – with the added bonus that I had a few free refills (great value for a mere £1) from our ever smiling waitress.

First up, we feasted on sushi. The Boy’s Jo Nigiri was effectively a fish of the day sushi platter comprised of eight pieces of nigiri while my Udon Set started with five pieces of nigiri, all of which were beautifully presented. Each neat rectangle of rice was topped with a different fish; eel, salmon and tuna to name a few. I tried squid nigiri for the first time which was tasty though it had a strange smooth texture on the tongue while The Boy had an unusual flying fish nigiri which he enjoyed.

Next came a cup of umami-tastic miso, part of The Boy’s Jo Nigiri, and a crisp hand roll, included in my Udon Set. Both were fantastic. The miso was deliciously sweet and salty with strands of silky seaweed and cubes of tofu – unlike anything that I’ve tried elsewhere! The hand roll was expertly folded in thicker nori and stuffed with salmon and avocado. It stayed together well, despite being passed across the table between bites while we umm-ed, ahh-ed and enthused over the gorgeous contrast between the crunchy seaweed and soft rice, salmon and avo combo.

Finally, we shared the final dish in my set menu – a tasty vat of tender udon noodles floating in a savoury broth with (I think) shredded spring onions and pickled dakon on the side. We slurped to our hearts content, happy as clams, though the troublesome noodles did challenge our chopstick skills. Greed got the better of us and, with the noodles not long gone, we ordered Ebi Tempura, which were good though a little greasy. I'd be curious to try their vegetable tempura on another visit (mental note: their fried dishes are only available in the evenings).

Our meal was just what we needed – the atmosphere was perfect for a quiet meal and was made all the better by the fantastic food. It was pretty good value too as, with drinks, we paid £45 for two of us and we chose some of the pricier items on the menu. We lingered over our food but I will be returning to try their lunch service as the food was quickly prepared and delivered so I doubt I'll have any trouble in returning to my desk within the hour.Truly a hidden gem!

Ichi-Riki can be found at 17B Strutton Ground, London, SW1P 2HY next to Crusssh juice bar. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Friday. Closed on Sundays. Telephone 020 7233 1701 for reservations.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Roast Partridge with chorizo, butter beans and kale

The festive season may be over but one of game birds from the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ carol is at its best right now. Retire the turkey and start climbing those pear trees! Partridge is a tasty native bird which bridges the gap between the pheasant and the quail. A partridge will feed one handsomely though if you’re a little eater like me, one can do for two meals. Game is growing in popularity so much so that the supermarkets have started to sell various unusual meats. They have the benefit of being local, free-range and very lean. You can find partridges in Sainsbury’s for £3 each though they’re the kind of thing that can be picked up cheap from the bargain bin at closing time. A good butcher should be able to source and prepare a partridge for you.

Now that you’ve got your bird, what do you do with it? It may look like a chicken but don’t treat it like one – they’re small and delicate so they’re easy to overcook. If you’re curious about how to cook partridge to perfection, try this simple and tasty recipe which pairs it with creamy butter beans, spicy chorizo and delicious kale which is also bang in season.

Roasted Partridge with chorizo, butter beans and kale
Serves 2, generously

2 whole partridges
½ onion, sliced
100g chorizo, roughly cut into chunks
1 can of butter beans, drained
2 large handfuls of sliced kale
1 clove of garlic, sliced

- Preheat the oven to 230C.
- Add a drizzle of oil to a roasting tin, large enough to take both birds, and place it directly on a medium heat. Add the chorizo and fry until golden. They’ll release lots of delicious flavoured oil to the pan as they cook. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add the partridges to the tin and brown all over for a few minutes in the pan. Scatter the pan with the sliced onion and loosely cover the birds with the foil from a pat of butter (or a piece of foil).
- Place in the oven and roast for 10 minutes. Baste the birds well with any juices in the pan. Recover with foil, lower the temperature to 180C and roast for a further 15 minutes. Check that the juices run clear and that the meat is piping hot all the way through.
- Remove the birds from the pan and set aside to rest. Put the pan on a low heat and add the chorizo, butter beans, kale and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes or until the beans are warmed through and the kale has wilted. Keep stirring to ensure that the beans don’t stick and add a little water if it becomes too dry.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Brothers that bake and other manly stuff

I don't watch much TV - somehow I don't seem to find the time - but I did catch a little of the new Channel 4 series last night, The Fabulous Baker Brothers. I had just finished my dinner and switched on the box as I sat down to eat. I channel hopped until my screen was filled with a masculine pair of hands enthusiastically kneading bread. Knowing that The Boy and I were in synch and that he was just sitting down to a meal in Somerset, I called to let him know that there was something food-orientated that might be worth a watch. Our conversation went something like this:

The Boy: Hello?
Me: Hello! If you're watching TV, you might want to switch to Channel 4. There's a food programme that I haven't seen before... It's got boys in it.
The Boy: *switching channels* Ah yes, I see. They look smug.
Me: Well, they've been giving some interesting advice about homemade bread so far so you might be interested.
The Boy: *distracted by TV* Because everyone has a stone oven in their corner of their kitchen...
Me: Enjoy!
The Boy (by text message): Kinda like them but they are also kinda annoying. Or at least the way its cut is. Also, who has beef dripping!? Xxxx
Sometime later...
The Boy (by text): I've just realised this is Nigella for women!
Me (by text): I think you're their target audience actually. Bloke recipes with few measured ingredients. A few snazzy gadgets but no pie tins or specific equipment needed. Not v healthy. Boy food!

You may know of my contempt for TV chefs as I've vented my spleen about Sophie Dahl and tried to convert to Nigella's wiles but I didn't mind this. My main bug bear with the programme is one that can be swung at most TV cookery right now - the food isn't particularly healthy. Doughnut sticks, chip butties, pies and steak sandwiches don't make for a very nutritious diet but the Brothers aren't as bad as some, I suppose. The faux sibling rivalry grated on me too - "Now, don't tell Henry but..." acommpanied by a sly glance at camera - come on, boys! You're on TV; don't be silly now.

Saying that, Tom's tips for pastry and bread-making were helpful and seemed to offer a good starting point for first timers as well as hints and tips for the more experienced. Despite The Boy's comments, I really do think that this is one for the boys. There were no lingering finger-to-lips camera shots to get our pulses racing (shame...) and the format, to me, is pretty masculine. The camera shots were fast and choppy and the recipes were firmly in the comfort food/tasty-stodge-and-screw-the-calories category which appeal to the majority of my male, rather than female, friends. Channel 4 bills the series as "Two brothers - one a baker, the other a chef and butcher - unlock the trade secrets of baking, and without a cupcake in sight." And girls, don't let me put you off; these guys are still pretty easy on the eye!

Although I don't approve of the food for every day, its nice to see 'proper' cooking on TV - starting from scratch with raw ingredients rather than combining ready-made elements and calling it cooking. It would be nice to see more programmes doing this. I don't mind cutting corners where necessary but tasty (healthy!) food really can be achieved quickly with fresh ingredients.

Not everyone liked the programme but I'll certainly be tuning in when I can. Check them out and let me know what you think.

The Fabulous Baker Brothers can be found on Channel 4 on Wednesday's at 8:30pm or you can catch-up on 4oD here.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Peach, Pear and Almond Pavlova

Happy New Year, my foodie friends! I’m afraid that I suffered with a “festive cold” over Christmas which meant that, instead of getting online and telling you how awful I was feeling, I decided to stay in bed (apart from a few misguided days when I went to work) and concentrate on getting better. Hope you don’t mind!

Despite my illness, I enjoyed my break and loved spending a whole ten days at home (proper Somerset home! Yay!) with The Boy and our families. We were given a gorgeous pasta maker by my grandmother so we’ve been mastering fresh pasta during the holidays. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to make and am now on the lookout for pasta dishes to match our tender sheets.

We spent New Year ’s Eve with good friends that The Boy and I went to school with. Our evening characterised the simple yet successful entertaining equation of great company plus delicious food (divided by optional banter, multiplied by reminiscing) equals wonderful evening. I was tasked with providing a pudding and with a glut of egg whites leftover from festive baking, the choice was clear. It was pavlova time. I made mine slightly more virtuous by substituting the traditional whipped cream with half fat crème fraiche.

I find that whipped egg whites can be something of a wild card ingredient. My top tips for limiting egg white disasters? I would recommend using a painstakingly clean glass or metal bowl (rubbed with a lemon if you’re really superstitious) for whisking in and be sure that your whisk is really clean too. Separating eggs can require a steady hand too so I break the egg over a mug or bowl to catch the egg whites before transferring them individually to the mixing bowl. That way, if a yolk happens to break, it only affects one egg (keep it for scrambled eggs or a cake) rather than your whole bowl – sods law says that its always the last egg when all of the others have separated perfectly!

Peach, Pear and Almond Pavlova
Serves 6 – 8

4 egg whites
225g caster sugar
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar (optional)
4 pears
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla pod
1 tin of peaches in juice
200ml apple and mango (or fruit of your choosing) juice
50g almonds
300ml half fat crème fraiche
25g icing sugar (or to taste)
Dark chocolate to decorate (optional)

- Preheat the oven to 180C. Cover a baking sheet with grease proof paper or baking parchment.
- Whisk the egg whites until they are just stiff and form shiny peaks. Ideally you want to do this with an electric mixer but if you don’t have one, you can do it by hand.
- Gradually add the caster sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time, whisking gently but thoroughly between spoonfuls.
- Once all of the sugar has been added, continue to whisk for a few minutes until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Fold in the corn flour and vinegar (if using) at this stage.
- Smooth onto the prepared baking tray (using a few blobs of meringue mixture under the parchment to keep it in place if necessary). The mixture needs to be about 4cm thick and it’s best if the outsides of your chosen shape are higher than the middle – I find the easiest way to do this is to gently smooth out the middle rather than piling up the sides. Of course, you could be fancy and pipe the meringue to make it look really pretty.
- Pop in the oven and immediately turn down to 120C. Bake for one and a half hours then leave in the oven until completely cool.
- Meanwhile, peel, core and quarter the pears. Drain the peaches, reserving the canning juice and set aside.
- Put into a saucepan and pour in enough juice (from the peaches as well as your chosen juice) to cover. Add the star anise and cinnamon. Slice open the vanilla pod lengthways (scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon and set aside) and add the empty pod to the pan.
- Poach the pears over a medium heat, keeping the pan to a gentle simmer, for around 15 minutes or until the pears are pleasantly soft. Remove from the poaching liquor and turn up the heat to reduce it to a syrup – this will take another 10 – 15 minutes or until thickened.
- Mix the crème fraiche, vanilla seeds and icing sugar. Taste and add more sugar if necessary then spoon on to the meringue base.
- Pop the almonds into a frying pan over a low heat and toast for a few minutes until slightly darker. Keep a close eye on them and don’t let them burn as they’ll become bitter.
- Arrange the fruit on top of the crème topping and intersperse with the toasted almonds. Scatter with grated chocolate to decorate. Serve drizzled with the poaching liquor syrup.
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