Archive | September, 2012

Soda Bread … Take II

30 Sep

Soooooooo………the last soda bread didn’t go so well, but a good friend of mine pointed out that apparently Mr Ramsay was doing a whole programme on soda bread annnnnnnnd PD’s mum is Irish so I thought a bit of insider knowledge might help. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to watch the programme, but used his recipe instead, and had a good chat with PD’s mum. It turns out that apparently a super hot oven is the secret (around 200C), and it’s pretty difficult to ‘over bake’ soda bread. PD decided it was time to have another go, which was actually quite bizarre because I’ve never seen him bake anything other than ANZAC biscuits, and he constantly maintains that he cannot bake for toffee…turns out he was wrong. He bakes a jolly good soda bread.

Here’s Gordon’s recipe, and a little tip: when you turn it over and tap it with your finger it really should sound hollow. If it doesn’t, turn it upside down and cook it for longer! Longer can be anywhere from ten to forty minutes, bear with it – it’ll be worth it. If it looks like it’s catching, pop a bit of silver foil on the top. We needed about an extra twenty minutes I think, don’t be afraid to keep it baking.

Recipe for one loaf

  • 350g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 150g wholemeal flour
  • 1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp table salt
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 450ml buttermilk

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl and make a well in the middle. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the buttermilk and add the rest to the bowl, mixing lightly with a fork as you add it. (Be careful not to overwork the dough but make sure all the dry ingredients are mixed in. Add the remaining buttermilk if necessary.)
  2. Tip the dough on to a floured work surface and knead gently for 30 seconds to combine. Do not overwork. Line a baking sheet with baking paper and dust with flour. Form the bread into a round, place on the tray and flatten slightly. Use a serrated knife to cut a deep cross in the top of the loaf.
  3. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 30–35 minutes until the soda bread is golden on the outside and cooked through. A good way to check is by tapping the base – it should sound hollow when cooked.
  4. Cool on a wire rack before enjoying warm or cold.

Spicy Salmon Fish Patties (and a note on salt)

25 Sep

I HATE WASTING FOOD. 

Seriously, it’s one of my massive pet hates. It’s just wasteful in so many ways – I won’t go off on one, but really, it is…and this provides the background to tonight’s little dinner experiment. I was fishing (ha) around the freezer the other day to see what goodies I could find and randomly found a few salmon fillets which I had completely forgotten about. Now I find that when some fish/meat has been frozen for a little while it’s not always as nice as it would have been had it not been frozen, and as these little salmon fillets had been in frozen slumber for a while I wasn’t too keen to just eat them on their own. They sometimes turn out a bit dry and uninspiring. So, I did a bit more rummaging and found some potatoes which were on their last legs, a couple of chillies with no home, and some bread which was getting too stale to use for sandwiches (even with my frugality). Fish cakes it was going to be.

I’ve only made fish cakes a couple of times, and I’m talking the big fat potatoey ones, not the delicious little Thai fish cakes (I’ll give you a recipe for them another time, they are one of my favourite things in the world if they’re done properly). In fact, I’m going to call them patties, because when I think of patties I think of potatoey cakes. Plus patties rhyme with tatties (err…..?). Anyway, they’re a fantastic way to use up any odd bits and pieces you’ve got lying around, and you can use any fish really. I wanted to make a fish pattie with a bit of spice and crunch, not just a plain old potato-salmon blob. It really is fantastically easy, just throw the cooked version of everything into a bowl, mush it up with your hands and then form little patties and cook them. Wham-bam-boom-and-it’s-there-upon-your-spoon type thing. I was quite happy with these – I’d put some more coriander in next time, and serve it with much more raw coriander sprinkled over the top (it did add a lovely flavour). I didn’t add salt to my mixture because I try to avoid cooking with salt where I can*, but I’d definitely put a sprinkling of salt and pepper in next time. These were quite hot with half a chilli, because PD and I looooooooveeeeee the chillies, so if you prefer yours a bit less bitey then I’d add half the chilli. Another idea to make it a bit more Asiany might be to add some lime zest/juice instead of the lemon, but turns out I had half a lemon in the fridge which I wanted to use up, so in it went!

I should also point out that these are a great source of both carbohydrate and protein, perfect for if you’ve just done a good work out. I’d just done my Tuesday circuits class followed by first football training of the season, so I was pretttttttty hungry, and these were filling, tasty, and still relatively healthy.

*A note on salt. Why does everyone keep talking about eating less salt?? To give you a very quick run through: too much salt in the diet causes the kidneys to hold on to water (the kidneys are pretty awesomely complex and intelligent organs actually). This is because salt changes the balance of ingredients in your blood, so you need more water in there to get it back to normal (a bit like adding too much salt to a stock – you need to add more water to make it taste okay). The problem is, when your blood vessels are packed with so much fluid, it causes your blood pressure to rise, and leads to hypertension. Hypertension is a pretty dangerous condition and it can lead to things like heart disease, stroke, heart attacks, visual problems and angina (pains in your chest). And because those awesomely complex and intelligent kidneys are working overtime to try and keep your blood normal, they eventually get pretty exhausted and start to get damaged themselves, which is not a good thing. So, do yourself a favour and instead of passing the salt, PASS ON THE SALT!  

Recipe (makes 4 mahoosive ones or 8 smaller ones; this is just to give you a guide, add in whatever you fancy!)

  • 2 salmon fillets, cooked (I baked mine the night before whilst cooking something else) and skin removed
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
  • Half a medium red chilli, seeds removed and chopped finely
  • 3 spring onions, washed and thinly sliced (including green bits)
  • 6 small-med potatoes, peeled, boiled, mashed and cooled (this bit is important as otherwise the fish cake will fall apart!)
  • Handful or two fresh coriander washed and chopped
  • Handful of fresh coriander washed and not chopped (to serve)
  • Squeeze of lemon (to taste)
  • 1 egg, whisked with a fork and put into a shallow dish
  • Left over bread (a bit stale is good!)
  • S & P
  • Sweet chilli dipping sauce (to serve)

Preheat the oven to 200C.

  1. Fry the chilli and garlic gently over a medium heat. You don’t have to do this stage but I did it to remove a bit of the bitterness from the garlic.
  2. Flake the salmon with your fingers into a bowl, checking for any bones.
  3. Mix in potato, spring onions, chilli, garlic, chopped coriander and salt and pepper and give it a good mixy mushing with your hands until everything is evenly mixed.
  4. Shape the mixture into patties. As you can see from my photo I did four massive ones (I think I was super hungry) – it’s probably better to do 8 about half the size!
  5. Plonk into the eggy dish and turn, then coat liberally with the breadcrumbs.
  6. Fry with a little bit of oil over a medium heat for around 5 minutes on each side – watch that the breadcrumbs aren’t burning. If they are, turn down the heat a little.
  7. Place onto an oven tray and cook in the oven for around 10-15 minutes until the fish cakes are hot the whole way through (will take more or less time depending on the size of the pattie).
  8. Serve with a generous sprinkling of coriander and a good sweet chilli dipping sauce.

Griddled Courgette with Chickpea Salsa

23 Sep

I love vegetables, and I love vegetarian cooking, but it has to be said that the veggies amongst us often feel slightly left out at the dinner table. Time and time again I see ‘goats cheese tart with red onion marmalade’ and ‘stuffed peppers’ and ‘pasta bake’ and I just think to myself that SURELY somebody somewhere must have come up with some more inspiring (yet easy and healthy) recipes for veggies?!

No, I’m not a veggie. I do however think that it’s important to eat more veggies. If that means one day a week of only veggie meals, or including more vegetables per meal, so be it – as long as we’re all eating MORE. They are good for you, they provide lots of fibre which, well, I think we all know that it helps with happy poos (yay) – but when you look at the implications of the happy poo, it helps to keep your colons happy too (and as such has been linked to a reduced risk of colon cancer) and while we’re down at that end, reduced risk of haemorrhoids too. It’s also linked to lower cholesterol levels (and as such, reduced risk of certain types of heart disease) and helps to keep sugar levels in the blood pretty stable (especially important for anyone at increased risk of diabetes). Basically, it’s important. And most vegetables have a lotttttttttttt of it. Win. It also keeps you fuller for longer. Double win. And they’re packed full of nutritious goodness, are relatively low kcal and are just generally awesome little natural tasty goodies. Triple win. It’s out there, I LOVE VEGGIES. Yes, even brussels sprouts!

This is something that PD made up for me a couple of weeks ago when I was pretty busy making up the wedding cake, and it was honestly one of the nicest vegetarian dishes I have had in an incredibly long time. It did take a little while to griddle up all the courgette slices, so I would say that if you’ve got a big griddle or two you’re probably a step ahead already, but it was most definitely worth it. It’s full of flavour and would be a wonderful dish for a Med. spread, a great starter for an Indian meal (or any meal actually), or just as a simple lunch or supper.

Sorry for the poor photos – we were all so hungry that we’d ploughed into it before anyone had had a chance to take a good photo! The photo really doesn’t do it justice. It was lush.

Recipe (the recipe is one by Anjum Anand for Sainsbury’s food magazine)

Serves 4 (as a starter or light meal)

  • 4 large courgettes

Pistachio dressing (can be made a couple of days in advance and kept in the fridge)

  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 small clove garlic, peeled
  • 15 shelled pistachios
  • 2½ tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp water

Chickpea salsa

  • 1 410g tin cooked chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
  • 100g feta cheese
  • ½ small red onion, finely chopped
  • A large handful fresh coriander, leaves and roots (1 31g bag)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice or to taste
  • 1 tbsp cumin powder
  • 1 medium tomato, finely chopped
  • 2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  1. Heat the griddle pan until quite hot. Slice the courgettes on the diagonal into thin slices, no more than 1/2cm thick. Drizzle with oil and place on the griddle in a single layer and cook, undisturbed for 2-3 minutes or until the base has well-charred lines. Turn over and repeat on the other side. Repeat with the remaining courgettes.
  2. Meanwhile, gently toast the cumin in a small frying pan over a medium heat until aromatic (a minute or so). Tip into a bowl and stir in the chickpeas, lemon juice, tomato and red onion and season to taste.
  3. Blend together all the ingredients for the dressing in a food processor until smooth. Adjust seasoning and keep aside.
  4. To assemble, place the courgettes on plates, slightly overlapping at the edges. You can do this in lines or in a circular fashion. Drizzle over the dressing to mirror the pattern. Toss the coriander into the chickpea salsa and scatter over the courgettes, along with the crumbled feta cheese. Serve, and enjoy!

Butternut Squash and Chilli Soup with Homemade Soda Bread

20 Sep

I hate to be the one to admit it…..but it is getting cold. I had to wear gloves to cycle in to Uni yesterday. It makes me cry a little bit inside actually, I’m not a winter person at all. I feel the cold almost instantaneously, so much so in fact that I’ve had about three people compare me to a reptile (one has to presume they were referring to my inability to keep warm). It’s around about that time of year when it’s not cold enough for pies and big dinners, but I’m still looking for something with a bit of warmth and cosiness. This soup was fantastic – smooth, tasty and with a little bit of heat from the chilli, it was a comforting bowl of fabulousness. It’s also pretty healthy too as it uses creme fraiche instead of cream, and apart from that is made up with lots of veggies!

Sadly my soda bread didn’t turn out very well; I’ve never made soda bread before so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Next time I’ll follow my gut – it didn’t seem done when I took it out of the oven the first time, so I left it in for an additional 15 minutes. It still didn’t seem done to me, but I felt I ought to follow the recipe timings as much as I could, so I took it out anyway – big mistake. It needed at least another ten minutes. It must be my oven I think, because it had great reviews otherwise. Next time I might try putting in less buttermilk? If anyone has made this with success please let me know what the trick is. It had a wonderful taste, it just wasn’t cooked enough. On the plus side, it means that my baking instinct knows a little bit about bread! I’ll update the post next time I make it; it really is a fantastically easy bread recipe – all I needed to buy from the shop was buttermilk, I had everything else and whipped it up in under an hour (okay, it was underdone, but perhaps a slightly hotter oven next time will solve it).

Sorry for the quality of the picture, I was very snuggly on the couch and couldn’t bring myself to trek upstairs to get the good camera!

Butternut Squash and Chilli Soup (courtesy of BBC Good Food

Note: we doubled the quantities and it turned out just as well

  • 1 butternut squash , about 1kg, peeled and deseeded
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 onions , diced
  • 1 garlic clove , thinly sliced
  • 2 mild red chillies , deseeded and finely chopped
  • 850ml hot vegetable stock
  • 4 tbsp crème fraîche , plus more to serve
  1. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Cut the squash into large cubes, about 4cm/1½in across, then toss in a large roasting tin with half the olive oil. Roast for 30 mins, turning once during cooking, until golden and soft.
  2. While the squash cooks, melt the butter with the remaining oil in a large saucepan, then add the onions, garlic and ¾ of the chilli. Cover and cook on a very low heat for 15-20 mins until the onions are completely soft.
  3. Tip the squash into the pan, add the stock and the crème fraîche, then whizz with a stick blender until smooth. For a really silky soup, put the soup into a liquidiser and blitz it in batches. Return to the pan, gently reheat, then season to taste. Serve the soup in bowls with swirls of crème fraîche and a scattering of the remaining chopped chilli.

Irish Soda Bread (also courtesy of BBC Good Food!) 

EDIT: This recipe didn’t work out well for me, but I’ve found a better one! Check out this post.

  • 250g plain white flour
  • 250g plain wholemeal flour
  • 100g porridge oats
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 25g butter , cut in pieces
  • 500ml buttermilk
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6/fan 180C and dust a baking sheet with flour. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then rub in the butter. Pour in the buttermilk and mix it in quickly with a table knife, then bring the dough together very lightly with your fingertips (handle it very, very gently). Now shape it into a flat, round loaf measuring 20cm/8in in diameter.
  2. Put the loaf on the baking sheet and score a deep cross in the top. (Traditionally, this lets the fairies out, but it also helps the bread to cook through.) Bake for 30-35 minutes until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. If it isn’t ready after this time, turn it upside down on the baking sheet and bake for a few minutes more.
  3. Transfer to a wire rack, cover with a clean tea towel (this keeps the crust nice and soft) and leave to cool. To serve, break into quarters, then break or cut each quarter in half to make 8 wedges or slices – or simply slice across. Eat very fresh.

Project Wedding Cake: The BEAUTIFUL Day!

16 Sep

There’s something about weddings which alwaysssssssssss makes me emotional. What a beautiful afternoon it was. I’ve never seen the bride and groom so happy, they brought new meaning to ‘glowing’. I won’t go into immense detail about the cake making unless I get requests for specifics (I think everyone is very bored of hearing me talk about cake), but here’s the low down:

  • Every handbag I own contains sketches of wedding cakes. On tissues, gym passes, receipts, train tickets…..you name it.
  • Friday night was spent cutting out grease proof paper to line tins (doubled it up for the larger cakes to prevent the sides scorching).
  • Saturday/Sunday was spent making sure I had everything, and doing last minute calculations and cleaning cake boards.
  • Monday was spent freaking out about whether or not I should make the big cake on that day, or just wait. I waited.
  • Tuesday was spent making 12″, 10″ and 8″ cakes, and icing the 15″ cake board (for those that are interested – rub the board in shortening before applying the fondant, it helps it to stick).
  • Wednesday was spent making the 6″ cake and the most frosting I have ever seen in my life (unfortunately the sheer amount also resulted in the death of my trusty electric hand whisk. It was a tearful moment.), cutting the cakes with my lovely cake leveler, frosting a crumb layer, freaking out because I had slightly misplaced the middle tier of the largest cake resulting in an unsightly bulge, refrigerating, doing the final frosting layer, getting a little OCD with my ruler and set square to make sure that the sides were equal, then refrigerating again. Wednesday was pretty much an upper body work out. Who needs the gym?
  • Thursday was spent doing the royal icing…attempt one resulted in failure. The fondant cracked (I used silverspoon) both times I tried to work with it, and despite very accurate calculations (think rulers and string), when lifting to apply to the cake the weight of it just ended in disaster. Cue tearing all icing off the cake, retouching the frosting, re-refrigerating and rushing to the supermarket to buy a different brand [Tesco’s own fondant is actually FAB. Next time (next time??!!) I will use this one for every layer; I had thought that the silverspoon would be best (fantastic example of how marketing can sway you), but turns out own brand wins hands down (it is marginally more expensive)], rushing back home, re-icing the 12″, tearing it all off and re-icing again because it wasn’t perfect, then icing the 10″, 9″ and 8″. Cake smoothers are your best friend here.

By now as I’m sure you can imagine, I was pretty tired, and it was dark outside. Due to a slight problem with our plumbing leaking through the ceiling, only half of our kitchen lights are functional, so PD set up his light-as-the-sun-desk-lamp (which is also nearly as tall as I am) to allow me to actually see what I was doing. Definitely a lesson to share – make sure you have GOOD light for this stage.

Anyway, no rest for the wicked – the ready mix royal icing was next. I’d practised making this up a couple of days before and it was much too runny to do what I wanted to do with it. Definitely practise first. I also practised with some different designs on grease proof paper and stuck them to the fridge to see whether they would run down the side of the cake. They did. Definitely, definitely practise. By half midnight I was pretty flippin’ tired and grumpy and so-exhausted-I-was-ready-to-cry-tired and adamant I would never, ever, EVER make a cake of this size again. Especially when PD and my housemate wandered in joking that they were going to stick their fingers in the top layer (which was slowly developing little air bubbles around it’s sides – panic) and eat it while I wasn’t looking (they realised pretty quickly that this was not the time for joking, and there followed lots of swooning and compliments about cake. Ha.).

Finally the icing was done and I painted over it with lustre dust mixed in with rejuvenator spirit (at this point I was so tired I was nearly delirious and I was wondering whether rejuvenator spirit might actually cause rejuvenation if I were to drink some of it. Clearly cake brain had taken over at this point.). Despite the tiredness, the painting part was actually pretty therapeutic.

  • The part I was ratttttttttther worried about was stacking, and I had put off placing the big cake on the cake board for as long as I could, so I just had to get on with it. Luckily I had done the cake board long enough in advance that the icing was rather rock-solid and a little more forgiving. I stared at the cake and the cake board next to each other for a good five minutes. I lifted the big cake up, hovered above the cake board, and then chickened out and put the cake back down again. Then I looked at the clock and realised that I really needed to go to bed, so I picked up the cake and actually managed to get it onto the cake board without any damage. Yes, there was a little smug happy dance in my head.
  • Then came the dowelling process. After my slight mishap with different length dowels previously, I was pretty anal about this. Cue ruler again. If it wasn’t so late I was even going to get the nail file out, but by this point I was pretty sure there was going to be no cake at the wedding if I didn’t get to bed. The knife would have to do.
  • The cakes were boxed up and put somewhere away from prying eyes and fingers, and I finally went to bed. And slept straight through. For the first night of the whole week (yes, I had been that worried about the cake that I couldn’t sleep).
  • Next morning and off to Uni I went, a little too over excited and utterly spent from so much cake making and stressing. I managed to pay attention for as long as necessary, headed home, checked my baking box and check list of emergency cake things (royal icing in a piping bag x 2, cream cheese frosting in a piping bag, palette knife, string, nozzles, massive spatula, ribbon etc. etc. etc.), packed my bag (plus a LOT of make up to cover the large dark shadows) and packed up the car. Luckily PD was driving as I think I would have fallen asleep at the wheel.
  • The drive was good (thank you for going at snail pace over the speed bumps darling -xox-), luckily it wasn’t ‘too’ hot that day as our aircon doesn’t work particularly well. I was going to have to buy a few bags of ice and hope that the cake would survive the journey if it had been. We did however take a couple of wrong turnings and yes, I did become a little bit of a stress head, and I did force PD to pull over so I could jump out and check on the cakes at least once, but we arrived an hour and a half before starting time which was perfect timing all round.
  • A table had been set up in the room, and after checking that it was for me I brought the cakes in. At this point it would have been a good idea to check that the table had been finished with the table cloths and such required….as it happened, I didn’t. And it resulted in a slightly nervous moving of the already stacked cake onto a different table. Eek.
  • Soooooo……….stacking. Terrifying. Big cake out first, cream cheese frosting over the dowels, trembling hands and the 10″ was somehow on top of the 12″. You really can’t think about it too much at this stage, or you’ll freak yourself out. Sadly I did get one little fingerprint dent in the 12″, but I was able to fill this with the emergency royal icing and smooth it out with a palette knife, and it was very difficult to tell. Then the whole process was repeated for the 8″ and 6″.
  • Ribbons were attached using some little pins around the back of the cake, and a splodge of royal icing. A note here – we had chosen a sheer, transparent-ish ribbon. In hindsight, it should probably have been a block colour as the transparency really hid no mistakes! A block colour would hide any small gaps between cakes, and it would be nice to tie the colour in with the flowers.
  • The flowers had been left with the hotel and arranged specially by the florist. They came in a little black container with a little pokey-thing which sat atop the large cake. They were gorgeous!
  • Finally……….IT WAS DONE. I did a little happy dance and some jumps for joy, much to the amusement of the staff who were putting the finishing touches to the room, tidied up all of my things, and went to get myself a much-needed-icing-sugar-cleansing-shower, put my party dress on and get ready to enjoy the arvo.

Whadda-ya-know, seems like I pulled it off. In fact, two people actually asked me if I did it professionally. Ha. *smug face*. Despite my 1am so-tired-I-almost-cried-adamant-I’ll-never-do-it-again-moment……I would (but don’t tell anyone). Just because it made them happy. And I like making people happy. And I like cake.

Top Tips

  • Plan, plan, plan
  • Practise, practise, practise
  • Get an idea of how many people you’ll be serving – four tiers was probably too much this time round! I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it before, but you can make a ‘fake’ cake out of styrofoam and ice it like a proper cake. Not only will this mean your cake still looks awesome if you like the big and beautiful look, but it also seriously reduces the stress of needing to make and ice so many tiers quickly (as you can do the ‘fake’ cake weeks in advance!).
  • If you’re doing a sponge, make sure the caterers don’t put it in the fridge before serving. I know that I had a few hissy fits about the cream cheese frosting, but I found a ‘shelf-stable’ recipe which is safe out of the fridge for around 24-48 hours. It’s something to do with the ratio of cream cheese : sugar : shortening. It also might be an idea to see if they would be able to wrap each piece in a napkin to prevent the sponge from drying out if it’s going to be left out for a while.
  • If you find a brand which works, use it (aka fondant disaster).
  • Block colours for ribbon.
  • If you don’t want the fridge-cream cheese frosting freak outs, do a butter cream, or flavour with cream cheese frosting oils, or use a ganache for the ‘frosting’ layer, it will give you sharper edges for applying the fondant icing.
  • Run a piping bag with royal icing around the bottom of the sides of the cake before putting the fondant icing on – it will help it to stick.
  • Figure out your timings, especially if you’re really busy. It does take a long time – I think it took me around 21-24 hours, which meant that there were many late nights after Uni trying to get everything done and keep up with work. If you plan your time well, you can make it work.
  • Figure out pricing – cakes work out surprisingly more than one may expect, especially if you need to buy all of the standard cake-making materials in addition to the ingredients. However it still works out one heck of a lot cheaper than it would to buy a cake from a baker.
  • Be nice to your friends. They will be putting up with nothing but cake chat for weeks, along with the cake-related-freak-outs.
  • Don’t eat too much cake. You will feel sick. Especially if you insist on licking every frosting spoon available, and eating left over royal icing.  *groooooooannn…………….*

Mulligrubs Chicken

7 Sep

Now, ladies and gents, there’s no excuse for eating rubbish chicken. A few nights ago I had a serious case of the mulligrubs (what a beautiful word for the blues) and I really couldn’t be bothered to cook at all. However I’m intent on trying to eat healthily even when I’m feeling rubbish, and with PD on his way back from Oxford I felt an obligation to at least try. Luckily my last minute meal planning for the week meant that I had incorporated sun dried tomatoes and ricotta cheese into the weekly shop, so I didn’t even have to leave the house. This is something I’ve been making since I was about 13, so really – its ubereasy. Despite being so easy its actually pretty tasty, and its a fail safe which never seems to disappoint. I’m not sure where the inspiration came from, although I’m sure year 7/8 food technology played a part, and then I have just adapted it to suit my pantry/refrigerator/personal taste needs. I’m not even kidding – a monkey could make this, but it looks pretty good. I’m calling it ‘mulligrubs chicken’.

Serves 2
– 2 hearty chicken breasts
– ~10 black olives (plus a couple for nibbling, obviously)
– ~6-7 sun dried tomatoes plus table spoon of the oil in the jar
– a good handful of basil leaves, washed
– 125g ricotta cheese
– salt and pepper
– 2-4 rashers bacon or parma ham
– choice of salad to serve   

1. Chop all of the tomatoes, olives and basil leaves finely, and mix with the ricotta cheese. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and the table spoon of oil.
2. Cut the chicken breast horizontal-ways (not separating the breast) and stuff with a good tablespoon or so of the cheese mix.
3. Wrap the bacon/parma ham around the breast (you can use two to completely wrap the breast, or one to patch over the gap made by the cheese – secure with three cocktail sticks until cooked if needed).
4. Place in an oven proof dish and cook for 27-30 mins at 180C until cooked through.
5. Serve with salad and a good chilled white wine (we had a lovely Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc), and have a good heart to heart about life, the universe and everything, with somebody that means somebody. The mulligrubs will begin to fade soon. I promise x

Milkbar, SoHo

6 Sep

Monmouth coffee is undoubtedly one of the best places to grab a coffee around the Covent Garden/Leicester Square area, but unfortunately it wasn’t open on a Sunday so I had to look for other options. Interestingly it seems that many of the more popular coffee haunts are ‘ferme’ on a Sunday, however I stumbled across Flat White Cafe during my excitable googling, and it had good reviews. Good start! It actually comes in two parts – its other cafe, Milkbar, is just round the corner. On the website it said it was for people who liked ‘coffee, food, art and music’, so Milkbar it was. I met my friend A at Leicester Square and it was an easy 5 minute walk to find the place. It looks pretty cool from the outside, modern big windows and a couple of nice benches for people to perch and enjoy their coffee outside should they wish. Walking inside it was ever so slightly reminiscent of an upmarket dairy parlour (my mind does work in bizarre ways); benches with comfy cushions and tables and chairs lined the left of the long room, and an almost clinical counter sporting glass cabinets of scrummy looking cakes rested atop. The boys appeared to be cooking all the food freshly just behind the counter (I’ve heard good things about the eggs), as I couldn’t spot a separate kitchen.

A and I had a lot of catching up to do and managed to find a nice comfy table tucked around the back of the counter, giving us a bit more privacy. We ordered our drinks; I had a skinny latte and she had a mocha. Prices were relatively reasonable for a speciality sit in coffee in the heart of Soho (though my frugality still can’t come to terms with the spectacular rates of inflation) at around £2.50 each. The coffee I had was … good. The flavours didn’t blow me away, but the coffee itself was incredibly well made with a smooth, silky texture, and perfect temperature. The coffee was a blend of Columbian and Brazilian beans (Capao and Bella Vista), with almond and hazelnut flavours, sweet undertones of chocolate and a mellow richness. It wasn’t particularly bold and I wonder whether it would have been better enjoyed as an espresso. I’m not a big mocha drinker but the mocha appeared to have been made with actual dark chocolate (yum). There wasn’t much of the coffee flavour coming through, but I personally enjoyed the chocolatey-ness!

When I spoke to the guy behind the bar, interestingly he didn’t seem particularly excited about this blend either, and he actually mentioned that they had some new blends coming in very soon. They change their beans seasonally (supplied from Square Mile), so seem to get a fair few different flavours in. They also sell beans in 350g bags (prices on website – I think it’s around £7).

Overall I did very much enjoy the atmosphere – the music was very laid back, there were random painted skateboards covering the walls, and there were comfortable tables. The coffee was very well made but the blend on this particular day didn’t blow me away – the fact that they’ll be changing the blend makes me intruiged to go back and try it out again. The one thing I am a bit puzzled about is the advertisement on the website about it being the place to be for lovers of coffee, food art and music. The coffee I get, and from what I hear about the food I can understand that too, but the music seemed to be pretty standard relaxed sound tracking – there didn’t appear to be any links to local musicians or what-not (which would add a nice touch given such an artistic area), and there didn’t seem to be much reference to art either (apart from the ten or so skateboards). The website does mention that the art changes, so perhaps I missed something, but as a keen artist I was hoping for more of a story behind some of the art, and again, perhaps some local artistry. For a catch up over a very decent cup of coffee in the heart of Soho though, it’s a no-brainer!

Score: 8/10 – I would like to try a different blend of coffee, and also feel that a bit more of a story behind the art and music would give Milkbar a bit more of an edge. Overall it was a good, laid-back atmosphere, friendly service and well made coffee.

Price range: ~£2.50 (cheaper for t.a.)

Would I go back? Yes, if I was in the area.