Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Dancing in the street

I should probably stress again that I'm really not obsessed with the royal wedding, but I did get a little giddy when I saw these regal paper plates and bunting on Talking Tables.

Our right-on local pastor has organised a street party for the big day (T-minus 3 days...and counting) when the road will be closed off and since I live directly opposite the church, I will probably be attending wearing my finest red, white and blue.

In my fantasy street party, I want this bunting. I'd also like to be dressed in a perfect approximation of a 1951 housewife, but that's rather unlikely so I'll settle for these fabulous paper plates - are they super classy or kitschy tacky? Who can tell, but I know they'd look rather fine loaded up with fairy cakes and scones on the big day.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Scandi trout for Carla

I'll accept any old excuse to get the gingham tablecloth out. Was that a glimmer of sunshine behind that thunderous dark cloud..?

This is the perfect light Spring lunch dish and really quick to prepare. Dill isn't a herb I use often but I made this in honour of a friend who loves all things Scandinavian. I thought it was well matched with some crusty sourdough and homemade mayonnaise for create-your-own sandwiches.


Serves 4 as a starter or two greedy people for lunch

2 x 225g trout fillets
large bunch dill
pepper 1/4 tsp
salt pinch
1 tbsp vodka
the finely grated rind of 1 lemon

~to serve: 5 tbsp homemade (or shop bought) mayonnaise mixed with 1 tbsp finely chopped chives and a hunk of crusty bread

1) Wash and dry the trout, making sure that there are no bones lingering, and season lightly with the salt and pepper. Finely chop the dill and scatter 3/4 of it over one of the fillets, then drizzle over the vodka and lemon rind and sandwich the two fillets together.

2) Place the trout on a large double-thick piece of tin foil, the loosely envelope the fish inside, so it is well sealed inside but the top of the fish is not touching the foil.

3) Bake for 18-20 minutes at 375f/190c/ gas mark 5, then allow to come to room temperature before scattering over the remaining dill and serving.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A Right Royal cuppa

I have successfully resisted the royal wedding fever that has been sweeping the nation (ok, the tabloids) but these WillKat teabags from Liberty are testing my resolve. And I always thought a posh cuppa just meant ditching the teabags for a pot of loose tea.

I'll be dunking a good old-fashioned custard cream into my brimming cup of Wills and saving my jammy dodger for Kate. Gawd bless 'em.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Liberté, fraternité, égg-alité

Well it's not Easter without at least one bad egg pun is it?

I love all the fuss surrounding this time of year - egg rolling, egg painting, egg eating.  If it's oval or a chocolate related activity, I'm on board.

My rose-tinted memories of primary school include the annual Egg Tableau competition, where pupils would battle to eggs-hibit the most punning creations; I won in 1988 for my impressive Eggs-plorers on an Eggs-pedition to Mount Everest. Very subtle use of cotton wool I thought.

The Liberty Easter Egg Hunt is basically a nostalgic, grown up version of the creme egg hunt in your local park. Except you can use it as a pretence for rifling through four floors of delectable fashion that will surely make your mouth water as much as the Prestat eggs that are up for grabs.

If you're lucky enough to live or work near here then hurry down before the 21st April to be in with a chance.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Night vision

I love this time of year - the garden is just starting to sputter into life, tiny green buds wending their way to the surface for a look at what 2011 has to offer. I noticed the rhododendron last night, now covered with a haze of delicate flushed pink flowers. Sigh. So lovely.

The battered old terracotta pots that occupy my windowsill were crying out to be replanted, so I optimistically threw some Red Flame lettuce seeds into their murky depths two weeks ago. I love the sight of these promising little shoots so much that I can't bring myself to draw the blinds all the way down at night any more.

Here's hoping that it's only foxes and lost parakeets that find their way into my garden at night...

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Morning glory

I'm still recovering from the weekend.

Not because I was out dancing all night or at some glamorous event that trailed on into the early hours. No, I was up at 4am on Saturday morning visiting Billingsgate Market, home to 1001 species of fish - about half of which I'd never seen before.

Billingsgate is located slap bang next to Canary Wharf. It's an incongruous piece of old London still alive and kicking in London's financial hub, a fish-gutsy anomaly amidst all the gleaming glass and steel of the city. Everyone loves a survivor don't they?

I was lured out on this uncharacteristically early jaunt by a friend with new-found culinary zeal and the promise of buying sweet, juicy crabs. But like true shopaholics, we ummed and ahhed our way through the bewildering range before eventually coming back with a pair of crabs, a kilo of enormous unshelled prawns, 2 kilos of mussels and and a cluster of oysters. Something to nibble on while we prepared the crabs apparently.

Ok, I wasn't that hard to convince.

Some tips for visiting the market:

1) Wear sensible shoes. Definitely don't wear ballet pumps like I did, as you will find yourself followed by a mysterious fishy odour for days afterwards...

2) Take an ice pack for keeping things cool on the journey home

3) Don't name the crabs that you will have to plunge a knife into later on. The look in Freddie's eyes as we lifted his tail to deliver the killing blow...I will take it with me to my grave.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Salted caramel creams

Or, crème caramel..with a twist.

I love these little golden globes, they take me straight back to the puds of my childhood. Crème caramel is utterly delicious and ridiculously easy to make, but perhaps that's why I rarely do - it feels wrong that something so simple could be so good. But they are very, very good, and promiscuously easy to whip up in just half an hour.

With this dish all the 'cooking' time is in the waiting, as they hunker down in the fridge to set. So they can happily be made the day before and then served up for dinner the following night. A real lifesaver when you're a working girl (or guy) with friends coming for dinner at 8.

Makes 4

~for the caramel:

160g caster sugar
a pinch of salt
3 tablespoons warm water

~for the custard:

160ml double cream
150ml whole milk
3 large eggs
the seeds of one vanilla pod

1) Make the caramel by placing the sugar into a small heavy bottomed pan and allowing it to slowly melt over a low heat, without stirring. This should take about 5-8 minutes. When the sugar is clear, turn the heat up slightly and allow it to colour until it turns a deep golden brown. Then quickly add the water, standing well back as it will hiss and spit rather a lot. When it's died down, add the salt and give the pan a careful swirl to mix the whole lot together. If it has any lumps, place back over a low heat, swirling occasionally until it is clear and smooth. Divide three-quarters of the caramel between four individual pudding basins.

2) Add the milk, cream and vanilla to the pan with the remaining caramel and whisk over a gentle heat until the caramel has melted into the liquid. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl, then whisk in the hot milk, bit by bit. Carefully pour this mixture into the pudding basins.

3) Place the basins in a deep roasting tray with 2 inches of very hot water poured into the tray (not over the puddings), and then bake at 325f/160c/gas mark 3 for 16-20 minutes, or until the puddings are set but still have a fair bit of wobble in the centre.

4) Leave to chill for at least a few hours. To remove from the moulds, run a round nosed knife about 1cm deep around the edge of each pudding, to loosen it. Then dip each pudding mould into very hot water for 30 seconds to slightly melt the caramel inside. Invert over a dish, give it a tap and hopefully it will slide out with a satisfying slurp.

Monday, 4 April 2011


It'll be months and months until my just-planted tomatoes are ready to hit the plate, so in the meantime I'm exploring some of the more unusual varieties on offer. After all, I need to properly test any potential crops before giving precious bedding space to what could be a rotten tomato.

I used these little beauties to add a touch of glamour to the leafy salad that accompanied a baked trout and herby mayonnaise dish yesterday.

I love the dark and moody burgundy shade of the tiger tomatoes, they were nestled like dinosaur eggs in Franklins Farm Shop on Lordship Lane on Saturday morning. Franklins have a select range of seasonal produce which my limited purse will only occasionally allow me to indulge in, an occasional treat rather than my usual shop. But what a treat.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Potting power

A day of potting.

Today I potted shrimps and then the first batch of tomatoes in anticipation of summer - three young Black Russian plants, still striplings and quivering with every breeze, but ripe with promise.

I'll have to wait a few months for the Black Russians but thankfully the potted shrimp is ready to savour straight away. This is a dish that never fails to make me wish I was beside the seaside, somewhere old fashioned and quiet. The sort of place I might meet Agatha Christie on a stroll along the promenade. No golden sand or cafe bars, just pebbles, striped windbreakers and the brisk waters of the English channel.

Serves 4 as a starter

225g peeled brown shrimps
100g salted butter
½ tsp ground black pepper
a large pinch of ground mace
1 bay leaf

1) Melt 80g of the butter in a small pan, then add the mace, black pepper and bay leaf. Stir to combine, then stir in the brown shrimps and cook in the flavoured butter over a medium heat for two minutes.

2) Remove the bay leaf and spoon into individual pots, and leave to chill in the fridge.

3) Clarify the remaining butter by melting over a low heat, skimming any foam off the top. Then pour the clear butter into a small jug, leaving behind the white milk solids that have settled at the bottom. Pour the clear butter over the shrimps, leave to cool until set and then serve with a wedge of lemon, a crisp green salad and a hunk of good bread.
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