Super fast birthday dinner for bad daughters

You know when its Friday night and you’re supposed to be cooking a birthday dinner for your Mum? But you finish work late and then you have to make everything in half an hour and feel like having a mental breakdown?

Maybe you don’t, because you’re probably much better at life than me.

But if you do ever need to make a super-fast, super nice birthday dinner (or any dinner), this is what I would suggest making because I have SO BEEN THERE…and this kind of works.

First – whack parma and melon on a fancy plate…simple things.

Picture of melon and parma ham

Melon and parma ham

I love Jo Pratt’s ‘lazy tray baked chicken’. You just throw the ingredients in a large roasting pan  – big pieces of chicken combined with panceta, baby potatoes, chopped red onion and carrots (or any veg you feel like really – peppers work well), along with a generous helping of lemon segments,  rosemary and a good drizzle of honey. This needs about an 1.15 in the oven at 200 degrees.

Picture of chicken

Tray baked chicken

Desert is my take on another Jo Pratt classic – plums and peaches halved, de-stoned and filled with mascarpone (mix in the zest of an orange first) combined with amaretto biscuits. Pour over a good glunk of port with some flaked almonds sprinkled on top. This needs about 25 minutes in the oven on 200 degrees.

Picture of peaches and plums

Mascarpone peaches and plums

And finally – if you are crazy like me – some part of you will have pre-empted your late finish from work and have got up at 6am to make cupcakes – because you can’t have a birthday dinner without cake. We accidentally bought golden icing, but I think this actually looks way fancier. And tastes amazing with chunks of Green and Blacks on top. Of course.

Picture of birthday cupcakes

Birthday Cupcakes

18 ways to survive autumn in London

Summer is ending. Raspberries are out of season and the nights and the spiders are drawing in.

OH WELL. I’ve already moved on to my new boyfriend – Autumn – season of opaque tights, stained red wine lips and double helpings of carbs.

London by David Holt

You do need a survival plan for this time of year in London though – or it gets depressing, in a ‘being soaked by a massive bus splash and then questioning the meaning of life’ kind of way – so here is my list of 18 things I plan to do in London in Autumn to *BASICALLY STAY SANE*. (Please note I make no apology that 80% of these things involve eating).

  1. Dinner at The Dairy in Clapham – supposed to be an incredible restaurant – and autumn is the  time to eat in incredible restaurants so you can order desert with custard with the excuse we need the ‘nutritional value/warmth to SURVIVE THE WEATHER’
  2.  Noodles at the newly reopened Pepper Tree in Clapham –  my secret restaurant when I lived in Clapham. Except everyone loved it too. I had a minor stroke when I thought it had closed down. But they were just renovating it. PAD THAI I’M COMING BACK FOR YOU.
  3. See Gone Girl at the cinema – remember the cinema? I know I haven’t been for months either. Gone Girl is blatantly going to be  insane.
  4. Buy a leather jacket and maybe a big tartan scarf and definitely also an aggressive new eyeliner – October needs confronting with a strong look
  5. Make a vat of chicken casserole and eat it whilst watching Homeland and Downton Abbey – Lady Mary and Carrie Mathison are survivors and inspirations
  6. An autumn walk to pick sloe berries and make sloe gin – sounds idyllic, probably will descend into stealing berries from bushes outside people’s houses in SW London and making some kind of weird poison but I DON’T CARE I WANT TO DO IT
  7. See the Constable exhibition at the V&A – because I’m embarrassed I’ve been living in London for 8 years and never been to the V&A
  8. Book to go to Harry Potter Land and see the snow scene – I make no excuses
  9. Plant spring flowers – I’m thinking bluebells? Keep meaning to get down to Battersea Flower Station for some ideas
  10. See Live at the Apollo – tickets aren’t for general sale but you can apply and potentially go for free *how amazing is that*
  11. Plan a firework party/trip to Battersea Park or Ally Pally – honestly one of the best things about living in London in November, love the feeling of layering up for some communal pyrotechnics
  12. Make a roast dinner for friends. With cauliflower cheese as a focal ingredient…Oh and crumble
  13. Brixton Vilage for dinner – because I haven’t been for months and I’m getting withdrawal
  14. Shopping at Bicester Village which is definitely a bad idea but so what…
  15. A night at The Dogs at Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium – I mean it sounds kind of scary, but also I DO own a sheepskin coat
  16. Drink beer/tour at a London brewery – like Meantime in Greenwich or By the Horns in Earlsfield (see the nice write up on ‘Go Earlsfield‘).
  17. Curry in Tooting Broadway – the South West Brick Lane
  18. Book a winter holiday – I mean…all of this is great, but I’m not Jesus – there is only so long you can go without summer

The photograph in this post is London October 13 2013 015 Conkers Clissold Park Hackney by David Holt.

A taste of Waitrose cookery school

I remember when I first learned to cook. The summer before university, in the kitchen of Mum’s ‘friend of a friend’ – a lovely, (slightly crazy) chef who taught me a fail-proof basic roux recipe and told me about her divorce.

I soon found you don’t learn to cook over night, but I got my appetite for it in a week. Over the years this has waned with the chore of midweek dinners.

But I was excited to get back into a cooking school – this time run by Waitrose in North London; conveners of Heston, Delia and basic food porn.

Picture of prosecco on arrival

A very civilised welcome, naturally

Our chef was Martin and on the menu was thai red curry. I was relieved  – something I genuinely like.

The surroundings were immaculate and we were well looked after. I was sold with the arrival drinks – bubbles or ‘lime and ginger cordial infused with lemon grass and chili’! I honestly can’t stop thinking about this juice….

There was an impressive teaching gallery, equipped with TV screens and surround sound, where Martin walked us through each step of making the curry, along with cucumber relish and jasmine rice.

2014-08-15 22.36.32

The school makes an effort to teach you some ‘skillz’ as well as the recipe, which were very appreciated. Who knew that the best waste-free way to peel a ginger without is by using a spoon and a bit of vigour? And apparently the safest way to use a knife is to bend your non-chopping hand like a ‘claw’, to protect your fingers. I absorbed these insights like a massive nerd.

The best thing I learned was how to make sticky coconut rice which doesn’t stick to the pan. All to do with the timings apparently. You bring it to the  boil, stirring only once, then you cover with a lid on a low heat for 10 minutes and DON’T touch it! Genuinely works.

Pic of people tasting food like birds on a loaf of bread

Closest I’ve been to Saturday Morning Kitchen

2014-08-15 22.35.08The food was incredible. Legendary. Of course recreating it wasn’t so simple. I’ve tried twice since – once during the course where you recreate it step by step with the help if the chefs (who have headsets!!) and again at home. It’s still a work in progress.

Below are the curry and rice recipes, along with my insights. Enjoy x

 

 

 

Thai Red Curry

  • 2 skinless, boneless diced chicken thighs (I prefer breast but actually trying breast as an alternative I realised the thigh is more flavoursome. You can use duck too apparently)
  • 6 Parboiled new potatoes, halved
  • 400 ml can coconut milk (Thai taste recommended)
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 3 tbsp palm sugar (crystalised)
  • 2 lime wedges
  • 1tbsp vegetable oil

For the paste:

  • 4 Kashmiri red chillis – (I’ve tried with and without and these really do make a difference,  the recipe with a lovely smokey flavour. Hard to source in London, but available online)
  • 1 Banana shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 4cm piece of ginger, peeled
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 15 white peppercorns
  • 1 tsp ground fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3 pieces of mace
  • 3 tbsp coconut cream

1. To make the paste, blend all the ingredients except the coconut cream together in a food processor or blender until smooth – this will take about 4-5 minutes. If necessary, add a little water. Add the coconut cream and blend again to combine fully.

2. Heat the sunflower oil in a large saucepan, add the curry paste and fry for at least 5-6 minutes until fragrant

3. Season with the palm sugar and fish sauce and add the coconut milk. Bring to a simmer and add the chicken and potatoes. Turn down the heat and simmer on a low heat for about 7 minutes, until the chicken is tender (be careful not to overcook this at a high heat, it can go rubbery).

Thai coconut rice

  • 150g Waitrose Jasmine Hom Mali rice
  • 150ml coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp white sugar
  • Finely grated zest 1 lime

1. Place the coconut milk, lime zest, salt and sugar in a large saucepan together with 225ml cold water. Bring to the boil and add the rice. Stir once to combine the ingredients

2. Bring the mixture to simmering point, stir once more then turn down the heat to its lowest setting. Simmer for 10 minutes until tender then remove from the heat. Cover and allow to stand for a further 10 minutes

 

London cocktail party sausages

In my mind, its not a party until the mini sausages arrive. I really do believe that I am the holder of one of the best recipes going for cocktail sausages. (As an aside – I know I do sound a little arrogant in my recipe posts, the brownies being a case in point,  but you have to back yourself in life, right? And the three good recipes I have in the locker are almost up soon anyway…).

The recipe’s beauty lies in its simplicity. Basically you just cook chipolatas in the oven and smear honey and mustard sauce over them.

So how to make the sauce? Its basically about 3 tbsps of wholegrain mustard, blended with 4 tbps of honey, mixed together and then drizzled over the top of uncooked chipolata sausages.

Honey and mustard sausagesPut them in the oven in a tray or oven-proof dish on at 180 until the sauce bubbles and the sausages turn golden brown and are cooked all the way through – usually takes 30-35 minutes depending on the quantity. And of course the size. I would normally go for mini-chipolatas, but there were non-available when I went food shopping, so instead I used these larger sausages and chopped them in half. That’s what I would do when serving at a party. But obviously, I’m not having a party, I just wanted some of these for dinner….

Nom nom nom x

Recreating NYC in SW London

I don’t know how it happened, but somehow I ended up in the life phase where a ‘mental’ night, means hosting a dinner party for ten.

I have started to set myself masochistic cooking challenges, live and exposed to an audience of my closest friends. This year’s Challenge Anneka was to (attempt) to recreate a life-changing seven course meal meal I had at New York’s  The Stanton Social. And to seat ten guests around my six-seater kitchen table…

https://i1.wp.com/stantonsocial.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/food11-800x500.jpg

The Stanton Social’s famous chicken n’ waffles – mine looked absolutely nothing like this FYI (picture taken from its online gallery)

Seven of us all went to New York together last year. But most of the group arrived a night after me, sadly missing out on one of the greatest restaurant experiences I’ve ever had (gutted for them).

Maybe it was the quantity of the food – a constant flow of  ‘small plates’ of American inspired dishes from a fabulous set menu of all my favourite foods (basically posh fast food). Or the ambiance – think mood lighting, floor to ceiling wine and a restaurant full of *real life NYC hipsters*. Or maybe it was because it was my first night in the city (and isn’t the first meal after you touch-down the best, whether it is simply steak frites in a random cafe in Nice or fresh ravioli in a square in Florence?). I was also jet-lagged and on a come down from dropping diazapam at some point over the Atlantic (I’m a crazy flyer).

Whatever happened, that meal at the Stanton, that night, was legendary. I so bummed out my friends who missed it regaling the experience, that it seemed only right to have a reunion where I would recreate that menu.

Oh the things you dream, in New York, with a face full of martini. Of course, back in London and working full time,  it turned out to be harder in practice, than in theory. Firstly, the Stanton’s menu from that night last year had changed. And its not like they publish the idiots guide to their recipes online either, so I had to think back and google….

What we had:

  • Starter: Cheese and Guacamole QuesadillasJamie Oliver’s recipe helped me out here. I think I had ‘hand pulled Chicken Arepas’ at the Stanton, but frankly, it was just too hard to contemplate working out even what they were. Never mind, the quesadillas were a hit and something I’d gladly make again. I also didn’t attempt to make the Stanton’s signature French onion soup dumplings, which go down in my memory as some of the most thrilling appetisers on earth. But thankfully there are other bloggers out there more adventurous than me posting great recipes for this online.
Picture of quaesadillas before cooking - cheese, corriander, sour cream, pepper and guacamola

Inside a quesadilla

  • First Course:’Old school meatballs’ on a bed of rigatoni (I stopped short of making basil and ricotta manicotti as per the Stanton’s menu. I mean, come on). To level with you I just bought the meatballs prepared from Ocado.  But I did make a homemade tomato sauce, (another Jamie Oliver recipe). I was sooooo smug making this ahead on Tuesday, but fate had the last laugh when the dish flew at my head out of the fridge an hour before everyone arrived, almost knocking me out and spraying the walls of the kitchen as if there had been some kind of pomodora massacre
  • Second course:
  • 1. Flash fry steak with herb-dusted french fries. Pretty straight-forward. I made a slapdash marinade of red-wine vinegar, an old can of fosters beer and BBQ sauce (classy is as classy does…), with a healthy dose of celery salt on the fries (the secret ingredient to great fries I discovered after asking a waitress at TGI Fridays). The plan was to also make a chimichurri sauce, but I didn’t get that far. (But I did have all the right intentions with a great recipe lined up from the mother of American cooking Martha Stewart if you are so inclined).
  • 2. Chicken n cheesy waffles.This was the ‘challenger’ and even required the purchase of a specialist waffle maker from Argos. My detective work led me to a recipe for balsamic chicken, to mimic the Stanton’s ‘balsamic spiked maple syrup’, along with Martha Stewart’s cheesy waffles.  My chicken n waffles looked nothing like the Stanton’s version pictured at the top of this post, but I have definitely discovered a wonderful BBQ blackened chicken recipe for the summer.
  • I also served sides of spinach and ginger and orange glazed carrots from the NY Times food section.
Picture of two boxes of krispy Kremes

I have never before given myself permission to buy a box of krispy kremes. It was a great moment.

Desert:At the Stanton we had just baked cookies and donuts with chocolate dipping sauce. One of my deepest life regrets was having jet lag so bad I had to take myself back to the Waldorf  and missed out on ever eating them. So I took the cheats way out and bought two boxes of Krispy Kremes for my guests, which went down well.

Picture of assorted krispy creme donuts

Glazed donuts are the best lipgloss out there

Obviously I had to also try out cookies – although I’m still on the look out for a perfect cookie recipe – it doesn’t seem to matter what I do, my cookies always rise up like bad scones….I even followed a recipe from Peyton and Byrne where you freeze the mixture and defrost on the evening. Oh well I’ll have to keep trying, how devastating.

Picture of cookies fresh from the oven

My mission for a fail-safe cookie recipe continues…

I had so much fun recreating this meal for my friends. But if I had been making this on ‘Come dine with me’ that sarcastic narrator would have had a field day with my lack of organisation, quality of cooking and making my guests sit on outdoor chairs with spiderwebs underneath and a covered laundry basket….But thankfully I was being judged by some of my favourite people, who even gave me a round of applause (perhaps that’s what I subconsciously do these things for?! Let’s not analyse that…).

We ended the night as every ‘mental’ dinner party should, drinking all of the Prosecco available in my fridge (which tends to be a concerning amount) and playing rounds of my favourite game ever  Heads Up.

I don’t think my meal was even close to The Stanton’s, which means, perhaps, one day, we will have to go back….

Easter: Football, family and Welsh lamb

So we traveled up to the North West for Easter and in this part of the world – as I’m sure is the case in many others – the season is all about family, football, chocolate and Welsh lamb.

Image of Easter place settings with rabits and chicks

I am always given the job of setting the table

Football is particularly in focus this year for my family as Liverpool Football Club have edged up the league, with the chance of winning for the first time in my living memory. In my family LFC is like blood. The sound of the male voice choir of football fans chanting – on radio and TV –  was the soundtrack to family weekends for years. Everything stopped for the match today. And even I, who can barely name significant players from the line-up and never catch a game,  paid attention (I think they call us glory supporters?).

Then family came over and lamb was on the menu. Jamie Oliver’s ‘Best Roast Leg of Lamb with garlic and rosemary with hassleback potatoes (the only way to do potatoes in my view). Only yesterday we were admiring all the lambs frolicking in the  hills (always amazes me how many sheep there actually are here in Wales). Bit awkward.

And afterwards was of course desert – a combination of chocolate puddings and Easter eggs so calorific it could have been on Renee Zellweger’s meal plan to put the weight on for Bridget Jones the movie (have always thought that sounded like an amazing work project). But we’ll deal with that and the rest of real life in the morning.

Until then, here are some beautiful reminders we are now into spring…..

Happy Easter x

Cherry blossom is everywhere. So beautiful.

Cherry blossom is everywhere. So beautiful.

 

Brownie Points

I consider myself a fairly modest individual but if anyone asks ‘what are you good at?’, I normally answer ‘thinking of the worst case scenario possible’ or ‘making brownies’. We’ll save catastrophic thinking for another post (always fun), and stick today with making brownies, which even for a cynic like me tends to have a bang on amazing outcome.

My chocolate nemesis

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

This is not my recipe. It belongs to the lovely and legendary cook Jo Pratt. I am a little obsessed with our Jo. I have two of her cookbooks ‘In the Mood for Food’ and ‘In the mood for Entertaining‘.

Image of Jo Pratt's 'In the mood for food' and 'In the mood for entertaining' books

I have been known to read Jo Pratt before bed as a treat

The thing about Jo is she really does put you in the mood for cooking. Opening up the pages of her recipe books triggers ‘Easy Like Sunday morning’ on full blast in my mind.  Her food is different but not difficult. Elegant and tasteful, but in no way pretentious.

I imagine her to be the opposite of those mothers of more middle class friends who used to terrify me in the 90s with their ‘Parmigiano-Reggiano and pancetta tagliatelle’. Instead you’d feel at total ease to say, ‘what is parmigiano Jo?’ and she’d probably chuckle and say ‘oh just nice cheese’.

So without getting into any more fantasy conversations with Jo (as it is starting to sound rather weird), whether you want a fried jam sandwich or a delicate apricot chicken tagine, Jo is your woman. But my favourites are her chocolate brownies. These are really simple to make, but I’ve not found anyone who hasn’t liked them yet.

Ingredients  – (one thing to point out is Jo makes them with chocolate and walnuts or chili – but I like to make them plain)

  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 200g dark chocolate –  Jo says use 70% cocoa solids, but I tend to use one pack of milk and one pack of dark cooking chocolate as this gives it a particularly toffee like consistency
  • 3 large eggs
  • 300g granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 125g plain flour
  • a pinch of salt

In Jo’s words here: “Preheat the oven to 180ºC/fan 160ºC/gas 4. Grease and line an approximately 20 by 30cm rectangular baking tin, 3 to 4cm deep, with greaseproof or parchment paper. Melt the butter and chocolate either in a bowl over a pan of simmering water or gently in the microwave. With an electric hand whisk, beat together the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract until they are lovely and thick and creamy. Mix in the melted chocolate and butter. Finally stir in the flour, salt, cherries and walnuts. Pour into the baking tin and cook for about 25 minutes until the top is cracking and the centre is just set. Leave to cool in the tin for about 20 minutes before cutting into squares.

Nom nom nom x