26.1.15

3 RECIPES WITH PASTRY

Cooking with pastry is a wonderful thing. It's so rewarding making your own and creating a dish with it, but sometimes time isn't on your side and you need a quick alternative. And often for this I turn to pre-made pastry to create something that looks impressive and tastes delicious, but can actually be thrown together in less than half an hour. I use pastry a lot, especially when cooking for friend's parties, so thought I'd share a few of my go to recipes here for you, starting off with a savoury favourite.

SPINACH, SQUASH & SESAME ROLLS

1/2 squash, diced into cm cubes
Olive oil
1 pack spinach
1 tub ricotta
1 pack Jus Rol puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
Handful sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 200C. Toss the squash in a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and cook in the oven until soft - as I chop the squash so small this only takes around 15-20 minutes to cook.

Put the spinach in a steamer, and steam over boiling water for a couple of minutes. Once done, put the spinach and ricotta in a bowl and mix together, adding the squash and mashing it in, until you're left with a thick spinach/ricotta/squash paste. Taste and season if necessary. Unroll the puff pastry and make a thick line of the paste lengthways along the pastry. Brush one edge of the pastry with beaten egg and roll the pastry up to create a tube around the paste. Seal the edge by pressing down with a fork, brush the pastry all over with beaten egg and sprinkle the sesame seeds on top. Cook at 200C for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.
 

Next up are a couple of puddings - again, super easy to make and a real showstopper to serve.

SUMMER BERRY & HONEY TART

1 pack of Jus Rol puff pastry
1 tub double cream
3 tbsp. honey
Seasonal berries - I made this in July and used 1 punnet of strawberries and 1 punnet of raspberries
Mint leaves

Preheat oven to 200C. Roll the puff pastry out, place on a baking tray and prick all over with a fork. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and leave to cool.

Whip the double cream and 2 tbsp. of the honey together until it has thickened. Once the pastry is cooled, spread the cream over the rectangle of pastry. Cover the cream with berries, then drizzle over the last tbsp. of honey and a few torn mint leaves. Perfect to serve at a summer BBQ! (I know that's while off yet, but we can dream of summer can't we?!)


LEMON AND THYME TART

1 pack of Jus Rol shortcrust pastry
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
3 lemons
100g caster sugar
10 stalks fresh thyme
200g double cream
100g ground almonds

1 x 8" tart case

Preheat the oven to 200C. Roll out your pastry into a circle, around 4mm thick and about 1 inch larger than your 8 inch tart case. Press the pastry into the tart case, and put a layer of greaseproof paper on top. Fill with rice or dried beans and cook for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, in a saucepan beat together the egg, egg yolk, zest from 1 lemon and the juice from all of them. Pour the caster sugar over the thyme stalks and bash them with a wooden spoon. Remove the thyme, whisk the caster sugar into the egg mix in your saucepan. Gently heat this mixture, stirring until it has doubled its thickness. Add the double cream, and continue to stir over the heat for around 3 more minutes.

Once the pastry case has cooled sprinkle the ground almonds in a fine layer over the base. Pour the lemon mixture over the almonds, then refrigerate the tart for 4+ hours before serving. I serve mine with whipped crème fraiche, sprinkled with lemon zest. The boy had his swimming in cream - each to their own!! 

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I noticed that The Guardian had a pastry feature at the weekend as well, so for more ideas and inspiration have a look here.
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21.1.15

THE LITTLE YELLOW DOOR

There's nothing more fun than eating at a pop up - every time is something different so you never quite know what to expect. I love them so much that I started doing my own one just over a year ago, and when I was invited to The Little Yellow Door in Notting Hill for an evening of drinks, bloggers and food by The Wandering Chef I couldn't resist.

I arrived at The Little Yellow Door - which is just that, on the wettest, windiest Wednesday for a while and was practically blown up the stairs when the door opened. Regaining my composure, my coat was taken and I was given a block of lego in return which would be exchanged for my first drink of the evening. The Little Yellow Door is a licensed premises, set out like someone's living room. There's an eclectic mix of furniture and art around the room, which has 2 long tables at one end, the bar at the other, and a huge projector halfway down the room playing The Big Lebowski. Menus are hidden inside magazines which cover the coffee tables at the bar end of the room. We were warmly welcomed in by the "flatmates" who made sure we had everything we needed including our first drink - The Libertine - an Earl Grey infused gin, lemon, gomme and egg white cocktail served in a china teacup that was a strong as it was sharp, and utterly delicious. This was swiftly followed with a house punch, an ever changing recipe served out of a huge silver urn on the bar. Last Wednesday's was a fruity and refreshing concoction. No sooner had I said hi to London blogger Angie who had organised the night, than it was time to take our seats for the meal.

The Little Yellow Door is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and though we were there on a Wednesday, we had the "Friday night experience" - where drinks are served and food is a feast of a meal at the tables, before the room is transformed for the after party. You need to book in advance to eat there and tickets are available here. Thursdays and Saturdays focus more on drinking than eating, but TLYD are launching a weekly Wednesday night mid-week dinner from the 11th February.

So time for the food - I don't know what I was expecting but for some reason I didn't think I would be bowled over by the food (and I also didn't know beforehand that it was The Wandering Chef)- I stand corrected! The food was seriously good, and the Italian feast we were served went something like this:

Starters were platters of burrata with mint pesto, cured tomatoes, smoked aubergine, confit onions and rye crisps; prosciutto, lardo, peach, basil and almonds; smoked beef carpaccio, mustard dressing, crispy capers  and salted ricotta - my favourite of the starters, I can't get enough of capers!; and arancini of mushroom and asparagus with truffle and porcini mayonnaise. This set the tone of the evening - fabulous ingredients, cooked perfectly that packed a massive flavour punch.





Next was the first course of egg tagliatelle with spiced duck ragu, made with duck leg and livers. So rich and delicious, the sauce was wonderful.


Main course was belly porcetta with caponata, pickled baby vegetables, sultanas, capers and pine nuts. The balance of sweet and sour was excellent with the rich pork that was cooked to perfection and I loved the fact that it was served without carbs - we'd had our fill of those with the duck ragu, and I wouldn't have been able to eat pudding if the main had been bulked out.


With just a tiny bit of room left it was pudding time - a trio of mini sweets - Sicilian cannelloni with fruit peel and pistachios; pine nut caramel tart with Marsala raisins; and chocolate and tiramisu panna cotta, topped with amaretti biscuits.





I loved all the puddings but I think my favourite of these was the pine nut tart - a brilliant take on treacle tart, topped with a boozy, jammy raisin puree.

Last but not least was coffee and cigarettes - an espresso martini made with Grand Brulot, espresso coffee and tobacco gomme, served with a cigarette and a box of matches, which went down particularly well with me as I think I was the only smoker there!!

After dinner we went back to the bar for some cocktail pyrotechnics which involved a lot (more) booze and some icing sugar, and made for quite a spectacular end to a really fun night out. I'll be back at The Little Yellow Door soon, but want to make it on a Friday night so I can really get stuck in to those cocktails without worrying about work the next morning!

 
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19.1.15

A LITTLE 'SHARE THE LOVE' LUSCIOUSNESS

I know it's still a few weeks away, but I'm sure there are many people already panicking about what to do for their lovers on Valentine's Day this year. Well, I've got a suggestion for something a bit different. As Valentines falls on a Saturday this year, I've decided to do an A Little Lusciousness pop up - where we're going to share the love! Forget cosy tables for 2 and hushed restaurants as people whisper sweet nothings into their lovers ears - my pop up will be one big table, for everyone to share the love. Come on your own, with your lover or bring some mates. It's going to be a lively, fun night, full of delicious food and drink.

The menu for the night is as follows, but can always be altered if you want to come but don't like or can't eat something listed below - just mention your preferences in the comments section when booking and I will send you alternate options to choose from. As always, everything is homemade by me using seasonal, organic produce.

Sparkly blood orange and passion fruit cocktail
 
Shellfish soup, rouille and crusty bread slices 
 
Calvados pot roast Guinea Fowl, slow roast shallots, cauliflower & Jerusalem artichoke puree with horseradish, buttered cabbage 
 
Whisky chocolate tart, rhubarb semi freddo
 
Cheeseboard, homemade salted biscuits and spiced chutney
 
Coffee, fresh mint tea and homemade chocolates
 
Tickets are priced at £35 each, and include all of the above. I provide soft drinks on the night for those that prefer them, and it's bring your own booze, so you can bring a bottle (or two!) of whatever you fancy!! So come and join us in West London for a different type of Valentine's night this year :)
 
Guinea fowl from a pop up I did last year - clean plates all round afterwards!
 
 


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16.1.15

A WEEKEND IN CHURT

Last weekend was our anniversary. We always like to get away somewhere in the UK for the weekend, as it's right after Christmas - and while Christmas is such lovely family time, there's no "us" time, so it's the perfect weekend for a little jolly in the countryside. I obviously take over all planning, to find the perfect place to stay that's within walking distance of a well rated pub or restaurant. The boy would do the planning, if I let him, but I don't, and that's ok. It means I'm happy with the place we end up staying, and he's happy too!

So off we went to Churt in Surrey for 2 nights last Friday evening. I've spent a fair bit of time in and around Sussex but my only venture to Surrey has been to Kingston, and I don't think that really counts. So as we drove down the A3 then off into the countryside proper, I was squealing with excitement as we wound our way through tree lined rounds and found ourselves outside The Devil's Cradle in Churt, which was to be home for 2 nights. Now I wouldn't necessarily write about a romantic weekend away on my blog, but I have to tell you about this, as both the B&B that we stayed in, and the pub that we spent nearly every waking hour in were both so perfect. I found the B&B through Google searches. We now only ever use AirBnB when we go away, but I couldn't find the perfect place I had in mind so turned back to Google and found The Devil's Cradle - a self contained chalet, with under floor heating, it's own kitchen, a wet room shower and four poster bed. It costs £75 a night without breakfast and £85 with - between us - £170 for 2 nights in paradise!!

 
 
 
 


If you're looking for a weekend getaway - check out The Devil's Cradle. And if you book, book with breakfast. Our host Trish lives in her house next door but fully stocked the fridge with fresh orange juice, organic mushrooms, bacon and sausages, free range village eggs and tomatoes, and there's every bit of cooking equipment you could possibly need. There's also biscuits, croissants, pukka tea bags and real coffee - for an extra £5 each per night you can't go wrong!

 
 

The booze came with us - and can I just say, one of my new favourite things is the Nola drink on the right above. It's a really girly drink - vodka spritz made with watermelon and strawberry and is super low calorie, so perfect for January dieters who aren't doing a totally dry January!!

We arrived in the dark and once unpacked headed to the local pub, which is about 20 steps from the front gate. Bel and the Dragon is part of a group that has 4 or 5 other pubs by the same name in local towns, but this one was everything we wanted. Cosy, but modern with roaring fires, lots of dogs, cheap-ish cocktails, a fantastic wine list, really delicious food and absolutely delightful staff. We had a light supper there on the Friday in the bar, and another light lunch on Saturday, then supper in the proper restaurant that evening. The food isn't super cheap, but it's top quality ingredients, cooked really well, and we ate a lot there over the weekend! This some of what we ate in the bar.

Seared tuna, avocado, spinach and charred corn salad:

 

 Steak, cooked perfectly blue as requested:

 
Crispy, tender calamari with a super light, crunchy batter:


Platter of wonderful jamon, pardon peppers, huge juicy olives and aged Parmesan:


Scallops with cauliflower:


Sadly my photos of the food we ate in the main restaurant are awful, so I'll spare you those, but I had an excellent herb crusted halibut fillet with pureed and pickled celeriac, samphire, deep fried anchovies and charred lemon, followed by a Simpsmith vodka and lemon sorbet, and some port drenched cheese.

We sat in the bar area for hours over the weekend playing board games, chatting away, watching the football(!) and drinking more cocktails than was ever necessary.


We did venture outside the pub and chalet for a little bit over the weekend - Churt just happens to have a sculpture park, which has over 800 different sculptures, from the stunning to the ridiculous - a 2 hour walk round it had us in fits of giggles, posing up a storm next to nearly every sculpture!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

It was such a fun weekend and the perfect antidote to the post-holiday blues. We will be back there very soon for more wonderful food and sculpture park silliness!! Also, any place that has one of these outside is a winner in my book - as it's exactly the same as they had in the garden of the house we rented for my 30th.

 
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13.1.15

MONEYSUPERMARKET EPIC HOUSE PARTY

MoneySuperMarket know how to throw an EPIC house party! On a Thursday before Christmas I spent the evening drinking Veuve Clicquot, dancing to Annie Mac dj-ing and having mice pulled out of eggs in wine glasses by the best magician I've ever seen, along with 79 other people in East London. But let me start from the beginning....


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10.1.15

EALING PARK TAVERN - REVISITED

I'm SO excited! One of my favourite local pubs closed months ago for a refurb by its new owners - and now it's reopened. I've been waiting (not very) patiently for months and I can confirm that Ealing Park Tavern is back and better than ever.

I was invited to go and try out the new menu so headed down the day before New Years Eve with the boy. We started with drinks, as always. They've got a new cocktail menu and a friend of ours making the amazing cocktails there. I went for the porn star martini which was refreshing and the perfect balance of sharp, sweet and fruity with the shot of Prosecco.



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8.1.15

MY #TASTEOFTRAVEL


What do you look for when you book a holiday? Is it sun, snow or sand? Do you like to be by the sea or in the countryside? Activities or beach loungers? For me, it's pretty much all about the food. Though I don't necessarily book holidays based on the local restaurants I would never book a holiday that involved visiting somewhere that didn't have good local produce. Because where there's good produce, then there's definitely good food, and you don't need a fancy, Michelin restaurant to eat it in. All you need is the basics - locally sourced, fresh food and you're on to a winner. Celebrity Cruises do just this (and a bit of the fancy stuff too!), and have teamed up with Great British Chefs to create delicious monthly recipes and ideas. Celebrity Cruises were voted Ocean Cruise Line of the Year in the 2014 Food and Travel Awards. They've asked bloggers to put together a menu of the 3 best courses they've eaten while travelling, and whilst I've been to some amazing places in my life, it's actually the fresh, basic food I've eaten while travelling in Southern Europe that's really got my tummy rumbling. So here's my dream travel menu, which due to so much time spent by the coast involves quite a lot of fish and seafood, which I thought was apt for a cruise based menu...

Starters - I've chosen 2 starters that I've loved eating on my travels. Both were in Spain - the first in a swanky, modern restaurant in Seville where we had delicious octopus and Parma ham, so simple, yet done perfectly.  
 
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31.12.14

A LITTLE LUSCIOUSNESS 2014 - 2015

What a year it's been! As 2014 comes to an end I've been thinking about what I've been up to with my blog and food adventures. First of all a quick apology to those of you who read my blog for recipes - I've been eating out at so many amazing restaurants recently, and putting a lot of recipes I've come up with into my book (that I'm still writing), that I've hardly posted any recipes here at all in the past few months. So please bear with me as I will be redressing the restaurant review/recipe balance on here in the New Year...

The other thing I've been looking back on is my pop up restaurants. This time last year I'd done 4 events - 2 public pop ups and 2 private pop ups for a hen do and a birthday party. Now I've done a total of 13 public pop ups, and 12 private catering gigs, including a 3 course dinner for 60 people, and a vegetarian Thai feast for a hen do. I also had the pleasure of designing the food menu for a private party put on by MoneySuperMarket, which I'll be blogging about in the new year. I've had some great feedback from my events, and I've had some lovely reviews of my pop ups from the following bloggers and writers:


I am continuing with my pop ups in 2015, and already have 2 dates in the diary - the 24th January, which there's still a couple of tickets left for, and Saturday 14th March, when I'm doing a pop up as part of the Nose to Tail fortnight, using less common cuts of meat to prepare the following menu:

Welcome cocktail
 
Chicken & duck liver pate topped with madeira jelly, duck hearts, raisin puree & homemade bread
 
Oxtail and ox cheek stew, leeks, wild garlic & flageolet beans, purple sprouting broccoli and parsnip puree
 
Lemon posset with rhubarb jam and shortbread biscuits
 
Montgomery cheeseboard, homemade chutney, seeded crackers
                                                                                
COFFEE and HERBAL TEAS: Served with homemade chocolates
 
Tickets have started selling for the March event already (!?) but there are still plenty available here. I'm also looking to do a pop up in February so check Grub Club for details on that soon. I'll be doing a pop up once a month to start the year and will possibly increase them as the year goes on. Of course, all this is only possible because of the wonderful people at Grub Club who help and support me every step of the way, as well as making it easy for you guys to get tickets for my events. I might even venture into the world of Afternoon Tea in a more central location than my West London home, but of course, I'll post details here about those if/when they happen.
 
Here are a few photos from some of my most recent pop ups and private catering events so you can see what it's all about....
 
Welcome raspberry, vodka and prosecco cocktail from early Autumn:
 
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26.12.14

PIZZA UNION

Who doesn't love a pizza?! It's probably the go-to "naughty" food that I eat the most, because crispy base and melty cheese = heaven! So I popped into Pizza Union near Liverpool Street last week to give their offerings a try. And they're so good that I have to tell you about them!

Pizza Union is tucked between Bishopsgate and Commercial Street near Shoreditch in East London. It's a huge space with a massive pizza oven where they promise superfast 12" pizzas, ready in 3 minutes! And that's exactly what they do. You order and pay at the counter, take a buzzer with you and within 3 minutes the buzzer starts flashing and your pizza is ready to collect. I went with Hugo; I ordered the Formaggi (tomato sauce, mozzarella, mascarpone, gorgonzola and parmesan) with extra artichokes and pepperoni, and Hugo had the Carne (tomato sauce, mozzarella, beef, chicken, pepperoni and onions). The bases are super thin, and crunchy at the edges, and the toppings plentiful and delicious. It was up there with some of the best pizzas I've tried. And they're super cheap too - they were £6.50 each!

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21.12.14

KERBISHER & MALT

Kerbisher and Malt - the best fish and chip shop in London (?) I know it's a bit of a grand statement, but it's one I've been thinking about a bit recently. You see, I've been to Kerbisher and Malt twice now. The first time I didn't get it - it was good, but it was just fish and chips. But I went back recently and I've changed my mind. I've changed my mind because I've realised, that although there are a couple of places in London that sell excellent fish and chips, that's all they sell, and your arms normally stick to the tables because they're so greasy, and you clean up after yourself, because they're just takeaway shops that happen to have a few seats/tables. But Kerbisher and Malt is different. It really stands out from the rest. It's fish and chips but it's more, it's an actual restaurant for a start, where you pay after your meal, and where the waitresses bring your food to you and take it away when you're done. And they also bring you booze if you so desire. And their food is really, really good.

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19.12.14

ACTIONAID #GIVEAFUTURE

ActionAid need our help, now.

This wonderful charity work tirelessly throughout the year to give a better and brighter future to children who need one most around the world. I've worked with them on previous campaigns, and the further we can spread the word the better. This Christmas I have the fortune of being with family and loved ones, in a warm house, with electricity and running water, opening presents we have given each other. A lot of us will think of this as normal but for so many children in the world this is a distant dream of something they've never had. I don't know how much you've spent on presents, but I'm sure it's more than what it costs to sponsor a child in desperate need. With ActionAid you can sponsor one of the world's poorest, most vulnerable children. ActionAid work in over 40 countries with kids who are hungry with no food, sick with no medicine and in danger with no protection. But with your help, for just £15 a month, ActionAid can provide support and help to these children, to give them hope and a better future. You can also give child sponsorship as a gift this year, so if you know someone who has everything, or someone you've yet to buy a present for, why not give them the gift that keeps on giving?

The ActionAid Christmas campaign is focusing on 6 of the 40 countries they work in - Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, The Gambia, Afghanistan and Myanmar - where the children are most in need. You can make sure that a child has enough to eat, a safe place to live and the chance to go to school. So please, please help if you can.

One of the previous ActionAid campaigns I worked on was also supported by actress Fay Ripley. She spoke passionately about her visit to the poorest parts of Africa, where she'd met children who had literally been saved by ActionAid's work. For this year's Action Aid Christmas #giveafuture campaign Fay has put together a recipe to share. So please share this post far and wide, and if you make the recipe, why not make a donation as well?

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17.12.14

CARDHU GOLD RESERVE at RAMUSAKE

A few weeks ago, just before my holidays, I went along to an evening of whisky tasting at the recently opened Ramusake restaurant in Kensington. Cardhu whisky was new to me so it was fascinating to learn more about the brand and its history. Cardhu is a Speyside distillery near Moray in Scotland, which was set up on a farm by whisky smuggler John Cumming in 1824, and is now run by Diageo, the world's largest spirit producer. The distillery was originally run by John's wife Helen, before being taken over by their daughter-in-law Elizabeth, after it had been moved to a new site. The distillery produced so much whisky that the majority of it was sold to Johnnie Walker and Sons to add to their own blend. And in 1893 the distillery itself was sold to Johnnie Walker and Sons under the promise that the Cumming family would continue to actually run it.

Cardhu produce a range of single malt whiskies that vary between 12 and 21 years old. But we were at Ramusake to try their new product - Cardhu Gold Reserve, a single malt whisky made in hand-picked toasted oak casks. This creates an extra sweet, rich whisky, with notes of red apples, toffee, pear, clotted cream and tropical fig! It finishes on a dry note, and has a very rounded finish, unlike other whiskies I've tried that have a harsher finish. Cardhu Gold Reserve is perfect on the rocks, with or without ice, and is the first whisky I've really appreciated drinking straight.

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