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

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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.

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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

 

Which festival is better – Latitude or Wilderness?

You haven’t been to a festival until you’ve been to a festival with a severe weather warning. And this summer I went to two.

Latitude had blistering heat followed by nightly electric storms; while Hurricane Bertha woke me up at Wilderness at 5am and we evacuated four hours later.

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I’d imagined these festivals to be too luxe to be ‘real’. I don’t know what I expected – some super on-it event organiser with a headset sprinkling the ground with mud-resistant fairy dust, or that everyone would be too posh to shit in the loos.

Despite the crashing reality that a festival once attended by Sam Cam didn’t magic me into a self-cleaning Glasto-esque Cressida Bona,  both were great fun and its hard to call which was better. But if I had to rank them…

Music – Latitude – Lily Allen beat my expectations and I danced to Damon Albarn in a rain storm so intense a passing stranger thought I was on speed. I also discovered George Ezra and got a little crush on him.

Food – Wilderness, obvs – we had a banquet table at Angella Hartnett’s lunch –  five courses of her favourite Italian family food in a room that looked just magical, with the added excitement of Angela bobbing around saying hi. And other restaurants included a Hix tent and a J Sheekey fish and chip van- so it was basically Soho in a field in a really good way.

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Angela’s Boozy peaches and amaretto cream. If I could recreate this I think I could handle anything in life.

Arts – Latitude – (but only because I mainly boozed at Wilderness). I discovered Josie Long who I am now obsessed with – what a FUNNY woman -and surprised myself by enjoying the poetry tent – it might have been to do with the hot poet Raymond Antrobus whose nostalgic poems about his Nan – set to MUSIC – made me well up. I loved Peter Hayhoe too.

Booze – Wilderness – had actual bars where you could dance and a disco in the forest. But Latitude also had a piano bar in the woods which attracted kids that looked like fairies.

Camping – Latitude –  let’s be honest campsites for 10,000 always have the sense of the worst ever long haul flight – all sleepy haired, strangers sweating and spitting out toothpaste. Latitude’s campsite was best, as it had lots of space to camp (and even cartwheel). But Wilderness was surprisingly overcrowded – some friends were forced to pitch up at the side of the tracks next to the loos. But there WAS a breakfast club brunch van right opposite. Its the only time I’ve managed to get my hands on one of their sausage baps. Score.

Lake – Wilderness – both unquestionably beautiful lakes, but Wilderness had a Lakeside spa and I go to go and sit in a toasty barrel of heated water whilst it rained, sipping champagne. OH MEMORIES.

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Spot Angella


People – DRAW – Everyone was nice, didn’t get any trouble. Latitude had the highest concentration of Guardian readers – it was like a freaking Birkenstock convention – while Wilderness had a funny mix of pissed posh folk and pagans. Both festivals had way too many kids in my opinion. Far be it for me to judge parents, but waking up to the sound of children wailing as the storm hit made me want to join in and steal their calpol.

So would I do either festival again? Probably not. What tolerance I had left for camping died this summer. Plus all of the red bull I drank to survive gave me a week long skin disorder and an eye twitch. But that said, never say never. I’ve never been to Glastonbury and I am due a mid-life crisis.

The best Chinese take-away in Wandsworth

Lately I’ve been exemplifying the kind of emotionally dependent relationship with my local Chinese restaurant that Sandra Bullock embodies at the start of ‘Two Weeks Notice‘.

Can I have a bite of your number 6 please Sandie?

I know things need to change. They know things need to change. But neither of us wants to stop.

So it goes on that I, exhausted at the end of the week, make the call and get them to hit me up with a Singapore chicken noodles,  beef in black bean sauce and an egg fried rice.

Yes I know that is two types of carbs and a really bad idea. Yes I know that Sandra is way thinner than me. Yes I also know that the amazing health benefits of Asian food are only really seen on a diet of sushi, tofu and miso soup, not white rice flash fried in oil. But can the world please stop judging me and take a mouthful of the black bean beef?!

I love The Good Earth, not just because the food is excellent, but because it provides the kind of singular comfort that nothing other than a bear hug with an elderly relative can deliver.

It is also well posh (its roots are in Kensington). You can have a takeaway at home and feel really swank over skank.

They have a really fancy restaurant that has gold padded walls, very efficient waiting staff and silent, automatic doors everywhere that lead to secret rooms. Plus they look after you with hot hand towels and after dinner mints.

Image of a clay pot being revealed

The big reveal

Here I am getting the fillet steak clay pot. That is the super attention-seeking meal they cook at your table and everyone in the restaurant gets jealous (see man in white shirt with the hilarious hungry eyes).

Image of fillet steak clay pot at the good earth

Divine

Chocolate mints in orange foil

Chocolate mints. Imported from the eighties. The very best way to end a good meal.

The Good Earth has selected restaurants across London, including a restaurant in Wandsworth Common and takeaway stations in Battersea and Wimbledon.

Lyles – the loveliest new London restaurant

I’m a fussy eater. I eat like a child. I leave my crusts and make a mess. If I am left alone at the weekends I often eat chocolate for breakfast and chicken nuggets and tinned sweetcorn for lunch. Over the years I have admitted to too many people that my hypothetical ‘death row’ meal choice would be a McDonalds happy meal.

But after a good experience at the new London restaurant Lyle’s this week, run by two chefs James Lowe and John Ogier who are causing a bit of a ‘stir’ on the ‘London scene’ maybe there is hope for me yet.

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When my sophisticated friends book ‘foodie’ restaurants I am always nervous. Especially when they are in Shoreditch. I find many London restaurants intimidating – with menus in continental languages I don’t understand and strange ingredients and complicated culinary terms I don’t recognise.

While Lyles had one of those scary menus – with the added fear-factor of a ‘get what you are given’  daily set menu –  I was pleasantly surprised and genuinely delighted by what I found.

A good part of the reason was that it had all the lovely touches of nice restaurants. Lots of surprising, complimentary house specialties to taste between course, so it feels like good value. And each course is brought to you by a different member of the kitchen or front of house team and they talk through the food with a lot of knowledge that underlines the quality and freshness of the ingredients, sourced from across the UK. (The chefs are also quite fit and have that very attractive, ‘country/urban’, ‘I could kill an animal, but would always treat it well’ earthy quality going on).

To start with we had something I didn’t even know existed – samphire – a sea vegetable. I think it must be that stringy stuff that can creep you out when you swim. Apparently they sell it in Waitrose and this stuff was AMAZING. So fresh, salty and lathered in butter. (I see in my future a disappointing attempt to recreate this at home on a Sunday evening).

Then there was the first course ‘peas and Ticklemore’.  Fresh peas, herbs, lovely Ticklemore cheese and edible flowers.

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I try not to take too many pictures of my food as I find it a very wanky habit- but this was just too PRETTY

Then there was smoked salmon, but I had asparagus and walnut butter (I opted for the vegetarian menu as I have a deep aversion to eating fish unless it comes out of a newspaper). The walnut butter was so yummy – except awkward moment when I had finished the asparagus, but not the butter, and wasn’t sure if would be considered ‘gauche’ to shovel the remaining butter in my mouth with a fork.

There were lots of lovely courses after that – I wasn’t sure how I was going to find the ‘mutton’ soup, but it was scrummy. The main course was my least favourite – but only because I was embarrassed to tell the restaurant that I don’t each mushrooms too (I can’t get past them being wood goblins). So I didn’t eat a lot of my puffball mushrooms, although friends who I gifted it to said it was extraordinary. I did, however, very much love the duck egg that came with that dish.

Character building moment was when a sample of ‘blood cake’ came – which I think is posh black pudding – and I was literally corralled into eating it by my friends who I thought might start chanting ‘eat it, eat it’ like we were on a rugby tour. It wasn’t that bad – not exactly the sausage taste my friends said it had and a very grainy aftertaste that disturbed me. (Iknow, I know, sausage is probably WORSE but I have very double standards when it comes to offal).

So overall – go to Lyles – really special experience for all the reasons above, but especially because I was with friends I hadn’t seen for months, so it was particularly good fun. Even if one of my friends did end the night saying he wasn’t sure about ‘the deconstructed cooking trend’. Which terrified me into wondering… “When did we all become such ADULTS? Maybe I am really too old for Happy Meals now….”

Classy cheap pizza

Franco Manca should probably charge more for its pizzas. It does REALLY good pizza. Like proper pizza. Sourghdough, wood fired,  all stringing,  flopping, bubbling cheese. Beautiful.

Franco Manca

And its reasonably priced. Like surprisingly priced. (I probably shouldn’t be saying this – perhaps they will read this and up the prices?! The horror.)

But lets face it, however much I love their pizza, 50% of the reason that I choose it for Saturday lunches with friends is because the pizza is nicely priced.

I genuinely did a double take on the Northcote Road, when I realised that one of my favourite restaurants has had the broadness of mind to move from the depths of hipster Brixton to the leafy Northcote road.

So in my view everyone should go to Franco Manca – but please don’t go there on Saturdays when I go because you’ll be taking my table…