Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Great Scott

Cocktails. The perfect end to an endless week. I was chomping at the bit to get out of the office on Friday - not because I've fallen out of love with work (I still find my job rather intriguing) but because I was so looking forwards to ending up at the Gilbert Scott Bar in the St. Pancras Hotel.

The design is a bit divisive - you either love it or hate it. A vast Gothic fantasy, it towers over Euston Road like a ghostly character from an Edward Gorey book. It's an eccentric building, imposing and cathedral-like on the outside but with a richly decorated interior, an appropriately decadent backdrop for elegantly pickling your liver. The building was recently zhushed up in a multi-squillion (ok that could be an exaggeration) redevelopment, reopening a few months ago. I may now be biased, but I do think the Gilbert Scott Bar is the jewel in the crown.

Fantastic thing #1: The bar food is provided by chef Marcus Wareing, who runs the adjacent restaurant. We were heading off for dinner elsewhere but nibbled on deliciously fresh and crisp Southwold fried whitebait, served with a chunky, spiced ketchup.

Fantastic thing #2: The decor is out of this world. There's a 1930s vibe layered over the original Victorian grandeur. The lighting is low, the bar staff are handsome, and the expensive zhushing has been subtle but effective. I was very taken by the giant gilded bells that hang from on high as light features.

Fantastic thing #3: (And most importantly), the cocktails are utterly delicious. This is possibly the best way to spend a spare tenner in London if you are in need of some TLC.

We tried a Doctor Kermann (lillet, Amer Picon, Appleton 8 yrs, Ricard, quinine and grapefruit) which was tart and perfect for bringing me back to life after a long day. But my favourite was the Sea Buckthorn Shrub (Bacardi superior, sea buckthorn, mint, lime, yellow Chartreuse and blackberry) - a creamy, luxurious blend of citrussy flavours, alternating between sharp, aromatic and a deceptive smoothness. I say deceptive because we were very jolly when we left.

The cocktail menu changes regularly so these may not be around for long so catch them while you can...

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Smoky cornbread muffins

What better way to fend off the winter doldrums than baking?  I've seen such a flurry of thanksgiving recipes recently that it seemed time for me to try out some of the classics - starting with this smoky cornbread.

I love the idea of celebrating with food, and thanksgiving seems to trump even the feasting excesses of Christmas for our American friends.  I have to admit that I feel slightly jealous - why does the US get two food-fests at this time of year while we get only one?  There's only so much a girl can eat on Christmas day!  Tut.

Reading up on the must-have thanksgiving dishes made me realise how little I knew about this type of food.  These cornbread muffins are delish, and excellent with the spicy soups and stews that have started to creep onto my table this month.  But I will need time, and possibly therapy, to come to terms with the dish of mashed sweet potato topped with mini-marshmallows. 

I've added smoked paprika to this classic cornbread recipe for the sweet aromatic note it lends - probably beyond the pale for a traditional thanksgiving dinner, but I think I can get away with it over here in London.

Makes 12

190g (1½ cups)fine cornmeal
1 tbsp golden caster sugar
75g (½ cup) plain white flour
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp sea salt
3½ tsp baking powder
1 cup of fresh sweetcorn, cut from the cobs (or frozen sweetcorn)
3 large eggs
415ml (2 cups) milk
2 fresh green chillies, finely chopped
75g (5 tbsp) melted butter

plus, a dozen 12cm squares of greaseproof paper

1) Sieve the dry ingredients - flour, cornmeal, sugar, paprika, sea salt and baking powder - together into a large bowl.

2) In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, melted butter and green chilli, then stir in the sweetcorn. Fold gently into the dry flour mixture, taking care not to overmix it, or it the muffins will be chewy and tough.

3) Tuck the greaseproof squares into the bases of 12 deep muffin tins, then spoon the mixture equally between the cases. Bake at 450f/220c/gas mark 7 for 16-19 minutes, or until golden and cooked through.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Winter warmer

Beyond the frankly tropical climate of my office at work, winter has taken hold in earnest this past week. I've grudgingly rescued last years gloves and scarves from the back of the cupboard, and come to terms with having them on now for the next six months. Sigh. Goodbye autumn, you were beautiful while you lasted.

One of the few things that I relish about winter is the prospect of cooking great steaming vats of vegetable soups and stews. There really is nothing quite as heartwarming as sinking your teeth into a soft, gravy soaked dumpling or a crust of buttered,soup-stained bread on a cold day. Soups like this one, where the veg are roasted first, have a sweet intensity that makes me forget that I won't be leaving the house with bare legs again for half a year. Roll on Summer 2012...


1.5kg ripe plum (or other small sweet) tomatoes
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
350ml vegetable stock
3 tbsp olive oil

1) Place the tomatoes in a large roasting tin and toss in one tablespoon of the oil. Cook at 375f/190c/gas 5 for 45 minutes - take care as you remove the tin from the oven as the tomatoes will have released lots of piping hot juices.

2) Meanwhile, cook the onion over a medium heat in the remaining olive oil for ten minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, chilli and rosemary and fry for another five minutes, stirring often to prevent the garlic from burning. Add the cooked tomatoes, tomato juices and stock, and allow to cool.

3) After five minutes, blitz in an electric blender until very smooth, then strain through a fine sieve (you don't have to do this but I find the tomato pips a bit distracting otherwise), and check for seasoning. Add a little salt if necessary before serving.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Where the wild things are

I find it hard to resist an old fashioned drink, especially one so redolent of Hunter wellies, frozen hedgerows, P.G. Wodehouse and all things quintessentially English.

I dragged my boy off to Hackney Marshes in East London a couple of weekends ago in search of the same blackthorn bush that had given me such fat, juicy fruits last year. Yes, he is a very kind and patient man. We've had some cold nights here recently so it seemed a good time to go - they say you shouldn't pick sloes until after the first frost.

Although sloes are supposedly common in the UK they're not something I've noticed around - must be more of a countryside thing than a Bloomsbury thing. So I was pleased as punch to stumble over a few bushes dripping with berries quite by accident last year. It seemed like providence that I should try making sloe gin.  One experimental pound of sloes bore two ruby-red bottles of glorious liquor. I loved the deep, heady flavour, but sadly so did all my friends, and it was gone by Christmas. This year I'm making double.


2lb sloes
2 litres of good quality gin
16oz caster sugar

1) Wash the sloes thoroughly and dry completely. Making sloe gin needs no skill but a lot of patience: use a clean, sterilised needle to prick every fruit all over. This does take a while, but it's a bit like podding peas - rather relaxing and zen once you get into the rhythm of it.

2) Using a funnel, divide the sloes, gin and sugar up between several large, sterilised glass kilner jars or wide-necked bottles and leave in a dark, cool place to mature. Give each bottle a little shake twice a week for the next three months. At this point they're ready to drink, though they will improve with age.

Monday, 7 November 2011

The London Honey Company

Ah, the sweet smell of accidental success! I stumbled across the London Honey Company's open house at Maltby Street a couple of weekends ago, not entirely on purpose. But what a wonderful accident... Their office doubles up as a workshop where they cut the honeycombs and coax honey from wooden frames.  The air is thick with the intoxicating scent of busy bees work.

Steve the beekeeper is on a mission to get us to try London's delights, bringing us honeys from the breadth of this city and beyond.  I chose a sticky wedge of honeycomb from Wapping.  Ask nicely and they might direct you to their stash of bee pollen.

It was a decent chunk of comb, hand cut and prettily boxed, but unfortunately so delicious that we were unable to stop ourselves gobbling up the whole thing in one sitting, one sliver at a time, with a loaf of sourdough.  Heaven.

If you're passing their way on the last Saturday of the month, I highly recommend that you pop in for a visit. They're extremely friendly and patient - and didn't seem to mind explaining to me where honey came from...


The London Honey Company
Open studio at Maltby Street on the last Saturday of the month
54-58 Tanner Place, 9am-2pm

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A very Stylist girl

Dry mouth, sweaty palms, and a racing heart. I was perhaps a touch overexcited (and still a little breathless!) to see one of my recipes in Stylist magazine today. My Wednesday morning always includes a copy en route to work, collected outside Charing Cross station and then squirreled away until I can digest each page properly on the journey home.

This week marks their 100th issue, which you might reasonably assume would be marked by champagne and cupcakes in the Stylist office. Instead they bravely chose to hand over the reins to their 400,000+ readership, who have designed, written, styled and illustrated every page. And I'm one of them!

I spent a very girlie Saturday morning a few weeks ago with Katie and Mariam, the other Issue 100 cooks, playing with the whizzy kitchen gadgets in the Meile showroom near Oxford Circus while we cooked the dishes to be photographed. The very talented photographer who took the photo above is Nato Welton, who more than did justice to our creations.

Check out the spread here on the website, or have a peek at page 63 if you have the good-old-fashioned hardcopy.
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