Bad Brownie – Kings Cross Real Food Market

Bad Brownie salted caramel

Salted caramel brownie – a really bad one, so so bad

Bad Brownie peanut brittle

The peanut butter brownie moments before complete demolition

Last Saturday, passing through Kings Cross on the way to St Albans for an outing, we came across the Real Food Market in the square outside the now amazing station (I love how it has been revamped, it is now a pleasure to walk around there!). It was a wonderful surprise and the most wonderful of all was the stall Bad Brownie. It is a stall with about 8 or so types of brownies with flavours varying from triple chocolate and Bakewell to bacon and maple syrup. We bought the salted caramel (anything with this name tag is impossible to resist) and the peanut butter which had a kind of peanut brittle on top – so so awfully bad.

They were amazing! I was passing through Kings Cross again today and ran up the stairs from the underground fuelled by the thought of these brownies only to find an empty square. Humph. The Real Food Market is not on every Saturday. No bad brownie today.

Bad Brownie is however to be found at various markets in London on various days. Find out more on their website by clicking here.

Bad Brownie

 

Walnut Shortbread with Chocolate Drizzles

Walnut shortbread

Walnut shortbread with chocolate drizzle recipe

Sometimes I have a deep strong urge to have biscuits. I don’t usually have packets in the flat so it inevitably leads to baking my own. Shortbread is one of my go-to recipes as it is easy and always delicious. You can alter the recipe too by adding bits like nuts, chocolate, seeds, and so on, as it is a good base. You can also use caster sugar or icing sugar to get a slightly crumblier texture with the former than the latter. However, this is if you aren’t staunchly conservative about how shortbread should be made, i.e. traditionally. I once made”disco ball shortbread” by adding silver sugar balls which was quite fun and silly (picture at the end) .

This recipe takes 15 minutes to prepare and 15 minutes to bake so from urge to satisfaction can be as little as 30 minutes!

What you need:

75g walnut pieces

250g plain flour

175g unsalted butter, softened

85g icing sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

50g dark chocolate, broken into pieces

What you need to do:

1. Heat the oven to 180C.

2. Roast the walnuts in the oven for 5 minutes, remove and set aside.

3. Beat the softened butter  with a wooden spoon until it is really soft and smooth.

4. Add the icing sugar, dessert spoon at a time, and mix it in until it is blended well with the butter.

5. Add the half teaspoon of vanilla extract and mix that in well.

6. Add the flour and blend it with the buttery mixture, adding the nuts as you mix.

7. Take pieces of the dough, around the size of a ping pong ball, and flatten them into circles at about a centimetre thickness.

8. Place them on a greaseproof lined baking tray, not too close together, and bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven. Turn the trays around half way through so the shortbreads bake evenly.

9. Once the shortbreads are lightly golden, remove them from the oven and allow to cool.

10. Melt the chocolate over a gentle heat and drizzle it over the shortbreads and voila, they are ready to satisfy the urge!

Disco ball shortbread

Disco ball shortbread!

Raspberry Ripple Custard Tarts – from Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet”

Raspberry Ripple Custard Tarts recipe

I was given Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet” for my birthday a couple of years ago and I love it. It is full of baking techniques from making breads to tarts to éclairs. I have been making Dan Lepard’s recipes for years as he writes baking columns for papers and every recipe always sounds and looks scrumptious!

I made his Raspberry Ripple Tart recipe for dessert when friends came over for dinner. Instead of serving little ones I made one large one with a huge swirl of raspberry through the custard. I also made several small ones (pictured) for dessert the next day – always necessary!

The recipe is relatively simple and definitely a crowd-pleaser. The raspberry ripple is simply raspberries crushed with sugar so if you don’t have time to make the pastry you could buy shortcrust pastry and just make the custard. If you do have time though it is worth the effort.

This is a good dessert to make in advance as the pastry needs to be chilled and the custard needs to cool as well so it will need about an hour and a half to make overall.

Here’s how to make it:

For the shortcrust pastry (once made it will require 30 minutes to chill) -

250g plain flour

50g icing sugar

150g unsalted butter (cold)

2 egg yolks

15ml ice cold water

A pinch of salt

For the custard -

325ml milk

Half a vanilla pod, split lengthways

75g caster sugar

3 tablespoons plain flour

2 egg whites (reserved from the eggs used for the pastry)

300ml double cream

For the ripple -

150g raspberries

75g caster sugar

Method:

1. First, make the pastry by putting the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl.

2. Cut the butter into little pieces, put them in the bowl with the flour, sugar and salt and rub the butter into these ingredients until it has blended with them.

3. Stir the egg yolks with the water, pour this into the bowl with the flour mixture and combine it to form a soft and smooth paste.

4. Shape the dough into a block, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for 30 minutes before using it.

5. Heat the oven to 160C/ 180C fan.

6. Once the pastry has chilled, take it out of the fridge and roll it out thinly. Sprinkle some flour on the surface and rolling pin to avoid it sticking.

7. If you are making a large tart, line a greased tart tin with the pastry and, if you are making small tarts, cut circles of pastry and line each pocket of a greased muffin tray with the pastry.

8. Put a large piece of baking paper on the pastry (if you’re using one large tin) or muffin cases on the pastry (if you’re using a muffin tray), and fill them half-way with baking beans or dry rice.

9. Bake the pastry for 20-25 minutes until dry and golden. Remove from the oven, leave to cool and then remove the greaseproof paper or muffin cases with the baking beans or rice.

10.  Whilst the pastry is cooling, you can make the custard. Start by heating the milk with the vanilla pod on a medium heat.

11. In a bowl whisk the sugar, flour and egg whites until smooth. Beat the hot milk into this mixture in the bowl, then pour it all back into the pan and heat until boiling whisking the whole time.

12. Remove the pan from the heat, remove the vanilla pod and cover the pan with a plate (to stop a skin forming). Leave until the custard is cold.

13. Whilst the custard is cooling crush the raspberries with the caster sugar.

14. When the custard is cold, whip the cream until soft peaks form and fold it gently through the custard.

15. Put the pastry case/s on a plate or cake stand and spoon the custard into the pastry case/s and swirl the raspberries through it.

16. Devour!

Short and Sweet by Dan Lepard

Beautiful cover. Beautiful book.

Raspberry Ripple Tarts recipe

If that isn’t a tempting dessert photo, I don’t know what is!

Last weekend I attempted my first coffee Paris-Brest (a recipe from “Short and Sweet”) which are small choux pastries cut in half with coffee custard in the centre and flaked almonds and caramel on top. The choux pastry puffed up a lot (as it does in general due to the water content) which meant that they turned out nothing like the photo in the book! I need to attempt these again but I can certainly say that coffee custard and choux pastry are sublime together!

Paris-Brest

Not so Paris-Brest!

Ten Days in Provence Chapter 2

Aperitif tapenade from St Quentin

Aperitif

Local olives

Local olives

Tomato souffle tart

A cheesy souffle style tart

Tomato, mozzarella basil salad

Tomato, mozzarella and pesto salad

Delicous aperitif

Aperitif of tomato paste, black olive paste and an unusual curried melon paste

Wine with eau de vie

Wine fortified with eau de vie

Delicious peach tart

A peach tart from the boulangerie

Fig

Protecting the figs

Protecting the figs from birds; occasionally they got to one. Whilst picking figs you’d find a plump luscious one and go to pluck it only to find that the other side had a big chunk removed showing its pinky purple juicy flesh.

Rogue hand going for a fig

I love figs. I am a fig pig!

In August I spent another fabulous 10 days in Provence relaxing, eating and drinking extremely well, visiting markets and going to the city wide photography festival in Arles. Last year I blogged about my stay here. This is quite a retro blog post as I was in Provence in August and it is now December! Looking at these photos again is certainly warming me up during this crisp and chilly month.

We went to St Quentin la Poterie which is a beautiful small town famous for the potters whose studios are dotted about the winding streets. It also has a wonderful market. The market isn’t postcard pretty as it is set up in a car park but the produce is fantastic. We went there to pick up bread, cheese, pastes for aperitif, fresh vegetables and fruit and even handmade peppermint, geranium and verbena soaps. The potters’ studios are great and varied, with some allowing you to see the potters at work, so we started a little collection of crockery – to put the bread, cheese, fresh veg, etc on of course!

Every morning at the house we collected figs from the tree. One morning we collected an astonishing 41 figs! The ones that weren’t reserved for jam making only lasted until the next day’s breakfast. They were temptingly delicious!

I loved the routine during the holiday. It went something like this: wake-up, breakfast on the terrace, relax in a hammock, have aperitif by the pool then lunch in the garden, relax again, have aperitif then supper and then relax. Such a strenuous time! Eating outdoors was one of the things I loved so much. Working indoors (as most people do) means that the simple act of being outside is such a novelty (sadly) even though it is so normal. Everything is better when done outdoors in beautiful weather: drinking a glass of wine, cutting into a fresh baguette, eating a fig. It isn’t even necessary to follow any recipes there as the local produce is so good that all you need to do is eat it in different combinations. I think the photos say it all.

Always room for cheese

There is always room for cheese!

Salmon on the barbecue with red onion and lemon

Salmon, lemon and red onion cooked on the barbecue

St Quentin la Poterie

St Quentin la Poterie with the beautiful tiled detail running down the centre of the lanes.

 

Nature, food and walks on the Penwith Peninsula, Cornwall

Walking away from Kynaston Cove

A view along the walk from Kynance Cove to Lizard Point

Lifeboat House

Approaching Lizard Point and its lifeboat house

Beautiful Cornish water

Beautiful clear water

Cornish geology

Pink and green in the rugged granite

Dry stone wall and Lizard Lighthouse

The lighthouse at Lizard Point in the distance

Penwith Peninsula

Looking down towards Kynance Cove

Venton Vean, Penzance

Venton Vean – a fantastic b&b in Penzance

Lush garden at Venton Vean

The view from our bedroom in Venton Vean

Georgian Penzance

Palm trees in front of Georgian terraces – exotic England!

We recently enjoyed a fantastic trip to Penzance for four days of fresh air, walks, good food (including scones and clotted cream, naturally!) and being able to look into the distance. It might sound silly but when you live in a dense city, when do you look into the distance? Perhaps if you work in a skyscraper you can, but generally you have so much cluttering your sightline that you don’t focus on anything in the distance. One of the great things about Cornwall is that you are surrounded by coast line and the blue of the vast Atlantic stretching to the horizon. The rugged rocks and soil of the coast are covered in grasses, flowers and succulents. Some of the beaches are even dark and grey. It feels exotic yet familiar. Having a scone on the most southerly point of Cornwall at Lizard Point was quaintly British yet beautifully exotic with the sun overhead and the deep blue of the ocean endlessly before us. This was, indeed, a good spot for looking into the distance!

We stayed at Venton Vean and could not have been more thrilled with our choice. Venton Vean means “Little Spring” in Cornish and we felt very warmly welcomed from the moment we stepped in. It is run by a couple who moved from London and restored this Victorian home into a beautiful b&b. We were greeted with an offer of homemade honey cake and tea and coffee and, needless to say, we wolfed it down. The honey cake was amazing! The house itself is decorated beautifully with light blue painted woodwork on the exterior doors and windows sparking up the varying shades of grey and beige stone. There are various artworks, prints, objects and curiosities dotted about the house with a casually stylish feel. There is a blanket box full of DVDs and tons of books to borrow if you want to relax. Our spotless bedroom was beautiful and bright with a large very comfortable floating bed and a view of the lush front garden. The bathroom had natural products (tested on humans, not animals) made locally.  Now to breakfast! Oh my goodness, it was seriously scrumptious. Every morning there was a spread of homemade jams and yoghurt, fresh bread from a local bakery and cereals. There was also a special menu of huevos rancheros, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, fluffy berry pancakes and grilled halloumi with wilted spinach. We ordered these and each was delicious. Sometimes there were also freshly baked scones in the breakfast room in the afternoon. The whole house felt so welcoming and everything from the food to the decoration was tip top. So much so, we wanted to move in! It’s always a good sign when you go somewhere and can imagine yourself living there!

Every day we went for long walks along the coast,  to St Ives and around Penzance and the Tremenheere Sculpture Garden. After our long days outside, literally a breath of fresh air from mainly sitting in the office/ studio during the week,  we longed for a satisfying meal. We ate so well. We had researched restaurants and pubs before our trip and made some bookings. It was hard to decide which to book as there are so many highly recommended restaurants in Cornwall. On our first night we had dinner at The Victoria Inn in Perranuthnoe. The chef trained with Raymond Blanc and Michael Caines and everything was delicious. The drinks menu had several local beers and ales so we had to try them. I’m afraid I didn’t take any photos of the food as I was too busy eating it. We also ate at The Alba along the waterfront in St Ives. A few photos of our dishes are below: mackerel three ways and scallops. Again, this was a great place. You are wonderfully spoiled for choice for good places to eat in Cornwall and the fresh fish is definitely a big pull. We had a super time and I would shoot back tomorrow.

Homemade jam at Venton Vean

A rainbow of homemade jam at Venton Vean. So so good.

Halloumi and wilted spinach

Grilled halloumi, tomatoes and wilted spinach

Fluffy pancakes

Fluffy berry pancakes for breakfast

 

Scallops in Cornwall

Scallops at The Alba

Mackerel Three Ways

Mackerel Three Ways at The Alba

Vegan for Lent – I loved it!

Preparing crumble and plantain patties

Above: preparing plantain patties and crumbles.

Prior to this Lent, I had never given anything up assuming that I would shame myself by breaking the rules and giving into a magnetic piece of chocolate or whatever else I might have attempted to give up. Otherwise, I would tell my excuse making self “What’s the point, life is short, imagine if you were hit by a bus on Good Friday and you had just abstained from eating chocolate/cake/macarons for 40 days!” amidst other such internal dialogues and woolly rationales as to why not to make the attempt.

So, this year my boyfriend and I decided to give something up. I have a mainly vegetarian diet (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” by Michael Pollan was my natural motto even before I read his) but my boyfriend enjoys meat every now and then – being French, and having lived in Mexico City and Barcelona, meat featured in a lot of dishes. But why vegan? To backtrack a little, at the beginning of the year we had met up with some friends and their friends, an Italian couple, who had decided to go vegetarian and told us about all the benefits they felt health wise, energy wise, etc and they were sticking with it. This sparked a little curiosity in my Frenchie and he was keen to try vegetarianism. “Why not do it for Lent?” I asked. But as I am practically a veggie anyway that wouldn’t be forfeiting much for me. So, I took it one step further: “Let’s be vegan for Lent!”

We went for it. I realised that for someone who had always thought she wouldn’t be able to give anything up substantial to the pleasure of eating (see above, cakes, etc) I had now given up about four dozen things! Wow! This was a self back patting moment – if I got through it.

Lent is now over, the long Easter weekend already in the past (sigh) and we made it with “vegan Lent”! Not only did we make it, we loved it! When we told friends about our “vegan Lent” we heard some pretty hilarious comments such as “So, you’re just eating beans really?”, “Well, now you’ll know what punishment feels like”, “But you can eat dairy, right?” and simply “Why?”. Mother Nature provides a bountiful selection of fruit, vegetables and grains for us to enjoy in endless combinations so why the surprise and complaints? Are we still three year olds pounding our clenched fists on tables and turning puce at the sight of a carrot, wailing at the green and daunting broccoli? I hope not and with all the trade in exotic fruit and veg in and out of season we have an even wider range of ingredients to play with. I bet that the people who are flummoxed by veganism and vegetarianism actually eat a pretty limited diet themselves albeit with meat, always going for the steak option at a restaurant for example.

My boyfriend and I love cooking and experimenting with new dishes and limiting the choice of ingredients forced us to be more imaginative. Often for brunch at home we would eat toasted muffins with smoked salmon, a poached egg and spinach. Instead we had a brunch of green lentil dal, rice and plantain patties. It was absolutely delicious and I declared I could eat it every day for a month! We experimented wildly with recipes and by limiting our ingredients (only a bit of course, remember nature’s feast of vegetables!) we forced ourselves to deviate from our “go-to” recipes and vary our meals a lot. We started varying the oils we cooked with such as using coconut oil instead of the obvious olive oil. Just the smell of the coconut oil heating up was enough to make me go doolally! We tried restaurants with vegan options which we really enjoyed such as MildredsWild Food Cafe and Sagar. We ate a lot of Indian inspired food as there are so many scrumptious Indian vegetable dishes to try. I had made vegan meals before for my vegan friends, so was familiar with alternatives to dairy ingredients, and once made biscuits with olive oil spread instead of butter. An Italian friend remarked on how delicious the biscuits were and that he could really taste the butter! I was surprised and so was he to find out that there was no butter in the biscuits! I had thought that his Italian body would have a inbuilt mechanism to recognise which region the olive oil in the spread was from, but no, he was fooled!

Other than enjoying the food during our vegan 40 days, we noticed some great health benefits. My stomach used to gurgle a lot no matter what time of day. I had read that this was just one’s stomach digesting but really, did it need to digest so loudly?!! All my colleagues could hear it! Two weeks into vegan Lent I suddenly realised: the symphony orchestra in my stomach is on sabbatical! I shot up from my desk and declared to my colleagues “My stomach doesn’t rumble anymore!!!”. “You’re right!” they chimed in with joy (and relief). But why? I don’t know. Was the previous rumbling a combination of gluten and dairy, certain grains with certain types of vegetables and fish? I need to look into it and I smile to myself at this silent benefit. Another health improvement was no heartburn for my boyfriend. He used to get heartburn several times a week, and as anyone who has had it knows it is not nice, but during the vegan period the heartburn disappeared. Maybe it eloped with my orchestra! Another difference I noticed was how awake I felt in the morning when my alarm sounded. I used to feel sluggish and press the snooze button several times but the vegan me felt wide awake instantly. Occasionally I felt tired in the morning when my alarm went off and needed to sleep a little longer but I could always directly relate it to a busy extra long working day the day before. I also did not feel hungry between meals – was this because I was eating whole foods and nothing laced with quickly absorbed sugars? When vegan you automatically cannot eat a lot of the manufactured fake food products that are out there which are made with refined industrialised ingredients. As if these benefits weren’t enough, friends even commented that we look younger!

So, will I stay vegan? No, not because it is boring or limiting, as some claim, but because I love food. I love food as a whole. I love eggs in pastry, buttery pain au chocolats and macarons and quiches and so on and so on. I love cheese and a good coffee with whole creamy cow’s milk. I am curious about food and different cuisines and I want to try them. However, I will make most of my meals plant based and eat animal products minimally because I believe it is healthier. I have always had a very healthy diet but I noticed new benefits to my health during my vegan period and I would be silly to ignore them. I am also suspicious of the modern production of food. I can’t grow my own vegetables or milk my own cows but I can at least go to the local farmers’ market and buy organic when possible and only proper food (not food products). I really recommend Michael Pollan’s books if you are interested in eating in the modern world. Furthermore, if you are interested in having more energy, losing a bit of weight and perhaps looking younger, go vegan! At least for a stint.

Here is a selection of the meals we prepared. Recipes on their way!

Curly kale, date, walnut, mushroom salad

Curly kale, date, hazelnut and mushroom salad.

Spaghetti, tomato, quorn and more

Faux spaghetti bolognese with minced quorn and red cabbage.

Putting rhubarb and berry crumble together

Rhubarb, forest fruits and apple ready to be topped with crumble.

Indian dishes and plantain patties

Dal, plantain and apricot patties and a variation on Aloo Gobi.

Crumble

Forrest fruit and apple crumble with pumpkin seeds.

Soup with mushrooms, ginger, kale, spring onion

Mushroom, sweetcorn, spinach and spring onion soup with grated fresh ginger.

Barley risotto with asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli

Pearl barley risotto with purple sprouting broccoli, asparagus and dry toasted pumpkin seeds.

Dry toasting pumpkin seeds

Dry toasting pumpkin seeds.

Fusili with celeriac and apple sauce

It may look like fusilli with mashed potato but it’s fusilli with celeriac and apple sauce topped with parsley and dry toasted pumpkin seeds.

Delicious and wonderful rhubarb

Rhubarb season. Glorious rhubarb!

Purple chard salad

A purple chard salad with lightly fried mushrooms, radishes, walnuts, toasted seeds and basil.

1940s Vintage Scent Session: Perfume and Cake with Odette Toilette

Red Velvet cakes

Cola Chocolate Cake

Ration Bakewell Tart

Red Velvet Cake, Odette Toilette 1940s  Perfume event

M.O.F. Carrot Cake

Chocolate Cola Cake

I recently went to another perfume and cake afternoon put on by Odette Toilette and Leonie Sooke at Les Senteurs in Marylebone. This session focussed on the perfume scene in the 1940s with the effects of WWII on the perfume industry with limits to importing/exporting, ingredients, materials, and employees within the industry, the Americanisation of perfume names and the very idea of the luxury of perfume at such a time. The interesting talk was complemented with Leonie’s fabulous cakes taking inspiration from the issues of the time. Vegetables were used in baking during the rationed times of WWII and sugar was one of the most rationed items so the carrot cake was made according to a Ministry of Food (M.O.F.) recipe. Carrot is naturally high in sugar so added to the sweetness and texture of the cake. There was a chocolate and cola cake as a nod to the perfume industry of the US becoming more popular with some European professionals seeking refuge in the US. The cake batter actually had cola in it which made it extra moist and fluffy as it reacted with the baking powder.

The event was peppered with interesting anecdotes, clips from films at the time, and, of course, wonderful cakes and scents! I’d recommend any of Odette’s events for an unusual couple of hours of history, olfactory delights and delicious cakes! Find out about her upcoming events here.

You can read my posts on Odette’s 1920s Vintage Scent Session here and her Rebel Cake and Perfume Club here.

Odette Toilette 1940s Perfume event