The Sampler, Islington

A friend whose boyfriend does frequent wine tastings with forms to fill out analysing aroma, mousse, faults, etc (yes, all terribly terribly serious) has been raving about this wine merchant in Islington and South Kensington. Yesterday we finally went together. I can confirm that it is fantastic! I am sad that a lot of wine merchants are going out of business with the internet and supermarkets being partly to blame, and I am especially sad for Oddbins. There are still some left but about a third of the original amount have closed. I shall always have fond memories of going to Oddbins as a child with my mother, loving the Ralph Steadman drawings on the windows and signs, the smell of the wooden floors and the general “wine is fun, not too serious” atmosphere, and thinking “see you in a few years when I’m 18”. So, back to The Sampler. There are two: one at 266 Upper Street in Islington and one at 35 Thurloe Place, South Kensington. The one in South Kensington has a resident dog and the one in Islington has pictures of the dog. Sweet.

The Samplers are stuffed with many many wines. You can buy a sampling card and then sample as many as your card can afford of the roughly 80 wines on tap at the sampling machines. You can opt for a few drips of your chosen wine, a gulp or several gulps. There are wines ranging in affordability and some bottles that are around £400 on tap to try. Very thoughtful for those who can’t drop £400 on a bottle. We tried several from a Roussanne to a Jurançon, made from petit manseng and gros manseng grapes, a Cabernet Sauvignon that smelled smokey and had hints of bacon, a buttery Chardonnay, a very sweet Reisling Auslese, and a red from Douro in Portugal made from Port grapes but not fortified. The French poet Colette compared all great seducers “proud, imperious, treacherous” to Jurançon! It was delicious.

Now I said that the wine tastings were serious, they’re not really. Comments vary from “the aroma has hints of wet pencil sharpenings” to ‘definitely rhubarb and custard boiled sweets”. My favourite off-putting words from the suggested descriptions of aromas on the cheat sheets are “sticking plasters” and “drains”. Needless to say I can wait for the day when I try a wine that has subtle hints of sticking plasters infused with overtones of drains.


Truly Iced Coffee/ Ice Cups

I have a fabulous set of moulds which I have talked about before. The mini cakes I’ve been making recently are from a blue silicon one. I have a fun orange one which is advertised as an ice shot glass mould! I decided to make ice cups but to fill them with cold brewed coffee for a truly iced coffee. Could there be a more iced coffee? If the cup was big enough to fit ice in too, then yes, I think so!
If it’s a very summery day, you need to drink these quite fast unless you want your cup to melt in the sun! They are shots, after all!

Elderflower Picking/ Elderflower Cordial Recipe





When I was in Edinburgh I went “foraging” for elderflowers with my friend and her wee bairns (I use inverted commas because it was hardly hacking through the wilderness but going to a tree on the path around the corner from their home!) . I had made my first attempt at elderflower cordial a week before but it looked as though I had made an algae drink as it was a touch too green. It also created scrunched up noses and an “ooooerr, better work on that one before it goes on the blog” from my two now fired tasters. Joking, of course I need an honest opinion. I actually liked the grassy taste!

So, with my friend and little helpers another recipe has been produced. A really nice touch is to put elderflowers in ice cubes. I used ice sticks which looked particularly pretty.

What you need:

400ml water

2 dessert spoons castor sugar

10 decent sized heads of elderflowers (with as many buds open as possible)

Half a lime and half a lemon (optional), cut into slices

What you need to do:

1. Heat the water in a pan with the sugar and bring to a boil. Boil until the sugar has dissolved.

2. Whilst the water is heating, wash the elderflowers well and pull them off the stalks. I think the small stalks are what gave my first attempt a grassy taste!

3. Allow the sugar water to cool a bit then pour it into a jug. Add the elderflowers (and lemon and lime if using) and leave to steep overnight.

4. Pour the cordial into a bottle or another jug using a sieve or muslin to keep back the flowers, lemon and lime.




Iced Espresso and Coconut Drink


The other day I was looking at Green Kitchen Stories and saw a recipe for a coffee coconut banana shake. It sounded delicious and inspired me to make a similar drink using what I already had in the kitchen so I made a tea peanut plantain drink. Only joking, but of course you already knew that from the title of this post! The Green Kitchen Stories recipe calls for hazelnut butter for a nutty hint, mmm, but I had tahini. It sounds odd but actually the tahini was a nice addition. I did have bananas but opted to omit them. The drink does has an unusual taste but I think it’s a good break from regular coffee.

What you need (serves 3-4):

1 tin of coconut milk

3 shots of espresso

1 tsp tahini

1 dessert spoon vanilla essence

6 ice cubes

What you need to do:

1. Make the espresso, then allow it to cool.

2. Pour the coconut milk into a jug, add the tahini, vanilla essence and ice cubes and stir. Make sure you stir the tahini in well.

3. Pour this mix into glasses and then pour the espresso on top making a marbled pattern.


Pacific Social Club, Hackney


I have already blogged about how many great places there are to have coffee in East London and here’s another to add to the list: Pacific Social Club. It’s a little place on Clarence Road near Hackney Central Station. The decor is quirky, the staff friendly, the coffee good and the cups and saucers great! I love the name too. There are lots of fun named cafes around such as “Tina, We Salute You”. It’s a shame that “Today is boring”, the video store on Kingsland Road, closed but now it’s a cafe..! There are so many cafes in this vein at the moment with a casual, accidental stylishness. It reminded of what my brother said when I asked him if he liked this sort of look when I took him to the creperie: “Not really, but I hear it’s trendy”!! I like it though!

Railroad Cafe, Hackney


I used to always go to Monmouth Coffee for a good coffee and now I am spoilt for choice just within walking distance of my abode. I’ve already blogged about L’Epicerie and the Creperie which have great coffee and here’s another to add to the list: Railroad Cafe. It’s an unassuming spot on a corner of Morning Lane opposite a car mechanics, which produces occasional plumes of suspicious exhaust and smoke,  and a railway (surprise!). There are evening events such as book readings and live music. The menu is seasonal and international and the coffee is served in beautiful little pottery cups that are made by the owner’s mother. Great! Another place to go to to read/ work or just take photos with my highly addictive apps!


Winter Supper

There has been a little pause since my last post. I think I might have had baker’s block! Certainly not blogger’s block since I started a blog about design: Design Hawk. I did a little supper for friends at the weekend which went down well so here is the Winter Supper Menu. I’ve been experimenting with date and almond pastry which I shall refine and post soon.

The Winter Supper started with homemade humous and deli made wholemeal bread. (All recipes serve 6 people)

For the humous you need:

1 can of chick peas (drained and rinsed)

1 dessert spoon tahini

Juice of 2 lemons

100ml extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic (grated or just sliced)

Half a teaspoon of powdered cumin

Half a teaspoon of paprika

A pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper

What you need to do:

1. Put the chick peas in a blender with the tahini, olive oil and lemon juice and blend.

2. Add the garlic, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper and blend again. If it seems too thick add a splash of water or two and blend again.

3. Store it in the fridge while you prepare the risotto.

Butternut squash with sage risotto:

1 butternut squash (about 600g)

2 cloves of garlic

3 red onions if small and 2 if big

100g arborio rice per person

vegetable stock powder


olive oil

6 x flat mushrooms (optional)

What you need to do for the risotto:

1. Cut, deseed and remove the skin of the butternut squash. This is quite a job in itself. If you lie it on its side, cut it into segments, then put the segments on the chopping board so the fleshy part is touching the board then you can slice the skin off. You really deserve a good meal after this little work out!

2. Cut it into pieces about an inch and a half by an inch and a half and place them in a pan of water. Bring the water to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes until the pieces are soft but not squishy. There should be a bit of resistence when you put a fork in them.

3. Drain the squash and allow to cool whilst chopping the onions into small pieces. Put the onion pieces in a deep pan with a coating of olive oil.

4. Fill a pan with a litre of water and 3 teaspoons of vegetable stock powder and simmer.

5. While the stock is heating up place the squash pieces with a handful of washed sage leaves in a blender and blend. You can add a splash of the stock if it isn’t blending well.

6. Now that the squash is prepared and the stock is heating up you can start on the rice. So, turn the heat on low and sweat the onion with the lid on for a few minutes. Then add the rice to the onions and stir it while it toasts.

7. Add a good splash of stock and let the rice and stock fizz and bubble a bit in the heat whilst stirring. Make sure no rice or onion is sticking to the base of the pan.

8. Add the rest of the stock, give it a good stir and leave to cook on a low heat. (The squash is added later)

9. Wash the flat mushrooms and bake in the oven at 180C for 10 minutes or until cooked but not shrunk!

10. Once most of the stock has been absorbed add the butternut squash puree and stir in well. Add a few more sage leaves. The risotto is ready when the rice is cooked but not so that it is squishy. There should be a bit of bite to it.

11. Serve the risotto with a flat mushroom placed on top and a drizzle of oil.

Ingredients for the shortbread:

100g butter

100g cocoa powder

150g plain or wholemeal flour (wholemeal flour is bitty so if you want smooth shortbread use plain)

80g brown sugar

1. Heat the oven to 175C.

2. Rub the butter and flour together until it forms crumbs.

3. Add the cocoa powder and sugar and work it into the butter and flour mixture until it forms a heavy dough. It will seem quite dry – this is normal.

4. Grease a baking tray (I used a circular one 20cm in diameter) and press the dough into it. Using a knife mark out the pieces and then with a fork gently spike it all over to give it that classic shortbread look!

5. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.