Pancake Day and Norfolk!

Looking back on the last week of February, one of my least favourite months usually, I realise what a lovely week and month it was. How lucky we were going about our ordinary lives, not thinking about illness and death (as much at least), not worrying about when we could see our loved ones. Oh, how I miss it. Will we get back there, has the world changed now, with no going back to the “before”? Or maybe, it will be better going forwards, because we will be so much more grateful for the things we used to take for granted? Only time will tell…

But back to the last week in February, when the Coronavirus still seemed far away. On the Monday I watched the film Judy about Judy Garland and loved Renée Zellweger in it.

Tuesday lunch looked a little like this! Love a fried egg on toast with ketchup. Yes, the ketchup is a must! In the afternoon I got lots of errands done, which is always such a nice feeling.

In the evening I got spoiled with pancakes, both savoury and sweet, for Pancake Day.

I don’t know how I did it, but I managed four (!) pancakes; two savoury (with ham, cheese and mushrooms) and two sweet ones.

One with just sugar and lemon.

And one with Nutella, whipped cream and berries. So yummy!

The following day was a regular work from home day, and in the evening I watched Boy Erased. Such a gripping story!

The following day I worked down in The New Forest and had a bagel I bought at the train station for lunch. So good!

Back in London that evening I met up with my friend Gaby for supper in Brixton. We had lovely food at the Tiger and Pig and afterwards we went to a bar nearby for a spritz each (mine had elderflower and lemon in it!) and doughnuts for pudding.

Such a lovely evening!

On Friday we drove north to stay with my boyfriend’s mother and arrived in time for supper.

We got lots of dog cuddles and went for a lovely walk the next day.

We stayed for a lovely supper and then drove to Norfolk in the night.

It was absolutely freezing when we got there so we made tea and drank it in bed under the covers.

The next day I made eggs and pancetta for breakfast.

And for lunch we had scampi and chips at the golf club.

It was cold but we managed a little walk on the near deserted beach. It’s so beautiful, especially at twilight.

Back home we had tea and biscuits in front of Pointless to warm up.

And for dinner I made us a roast chicken with lots of roasted vegetables (carrots, courgettes, tomatoes, broccoli), crumbled feta and tzatziki. So yummy!

Then we drove back to London later that evening. Love driving across Tower Bridge at night when it’s all lit up and beautiful.

Updated: Easy Creamy Truffle Pasta

I last updated this recipe eight years ago, and it really is great as it is, but I recently adapted it into this creamier, more decadent version, and it’s too good not to share with you.

When you crave restaurant truffle pasta (like my favourite at Sorella) but don’t want to go out, this really hits the spot. Using truffle oil is of course miles away from fresh truffle, but as it’s much easier to get hold of it makes sense to keep a good bottle in your pantry for when the cravings hit.

Easy creamy truffle pasta, serves 2

3oo g good tagliatelle

50 g salted butter

50 ml double cream

about 1 tsp good quality truffle oil

plenty of grated parmesan

1/4 lemon

sea salt and black pepper

Cook the pasta al dente in salted water. Remove half a mug of pasta water and drain the rest away in a colander. Put the hot pan back onto high heat and add the butter. Let it foam and wait for brown flecks to appear. Remove from heat and pour in the cream while whisking. Let it thicken a little then add in a little of the pasta water and add the pasta. Add the parmesan little by little while stirring until you have a silky sauce. If too thick, add more pasta water. If too runny, put it back on medium heat and keep stirring. When the consistency is right, remove from heat and add the truffle oil. Add a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper. Divide between bowls. Add more parmesan, a little more black pepper and maybe a few more drops of truffle oil.

Recipe: Smash Burgers at Home

One of the foods I really missed in lockdown was a good burger. As we were in the countryside we couldn’t even get a takeaway, although I believe most burger restaurants were closed anyway.

§So there wasn’t much to do but make my own. And since I had a hot Aga to cook on, I thought it was the perfect time to finally try the smash burger. It sounds complicated, but it’s in fact a super simple burger, made from only minced beef, salt and papper, that you sort of smash down on a hot surface to cook, creating lovely crispy bits as it’s not round and uniform. My favourite burger chain Shake Shack does this and their patties are lovely!

I made smash burgers a few times and even though they all turned out quite well, I did learn a few things through trial and error that I thought would be helpful to share:

  1. The cooking surface (be it an Aga – if so use the hottest plate, a frying pan, or a sheet pan on the barbecue – yes, I’ve tried that too!) needs to be HOT. Very hot! Sizzling hot. Especially as I like my burger a bit pink in the middle.
  2. Divide the mince into smaller burgers creating thin crispy patties that you can layer, rather than one fat patty. This was you get more crispy bits, a juicier centre and all around a nicer burger.
  3. The coarseness of the mince matters. I’ve found that finely ground mince works the best here as it holds together better and makes it easier to make flat patties.
  4. The fat content matters a lot. The best would of course be to buy beef and fat and mince it yourself at home, but if you buy minced beef in the shop make sure you get as much fat as you can. Minimum 12% but 20% is the dream. Lean beef is not for burgers as the flavour is in the fat.

Smash burgers, serves 2

This is based on two double burgers, if you prefer a single burger just add more buns and toppings.

400 g finely ground good quality 20 % fat beef mince

neutral oil

salt and pepper

4 plastic cheese slices

2 good quality (the softer the better!) brioche burger buns

2 lettuce leaves

2 tomato slices

1 batch Fake Shack sauce

other toppings of choice

Remove the meat from the fridge an hour before cooking. Once at room temperature, divide the meat into 4 sections that hold together. Unwrap the cheese and get the lettuce, sauce and tomatoes ready. Cut the buns in half.

Pre-heat the oven to 175C. Add a little bit of oil to coat your cooking surface (frying pan, Aga sheet or oven tray on the barbecue) and heat on really high heat.

Add the meat, leaving lots of space around. Do batches rather than crowding the pan if not much room and flatten the meat down hard with a spatula. Hold down to get crispy bits. Turn the burger around and cook the other side. Season well on both sides and add cheese. Let it melt properly then remove from pan to a plate and let rest for a minute.

Toast the burger buns in the oven for approx 30 seconds. Then build your burger. Shack sauce on both bun halves. Lettuce on the bottom half, followed by the burger, tomato slice and top bun.

Recipe: Cheat’s wild garlic mayo

I’m one of those cooks that prefer to make everything from scratch. For the simple reason that I think it’s worth the effort as the end result is usually so much better than something ready-made.

This includes most things, even mayonnaise, although I do like Hellmann’s too. If I’m making a prawn sandwich I’ll happily use Hellmann’s but for Toast Skagen I would make my own. Small distinctions, but they make sense to me.

So in a way I think lockdown was good for me. As I had to take shortcuts and think differently. Some things were hard to come by at times, like vegetable oil, eggs and even mayonnaise. So when I managed to get some wild garlic but didn’t have any oil to make my own mayonnaise but luckily had a jar of Hellmann’s to hand I decided to try a new version of my wild garlic mayo. One that doesn’t involve a stick blender or very much work.

And do you know what?! It turned out really well. Different to my homemade version but almost as good, so if you’re lacking time or energy, this is the one to make!

Cheat’s wild garlic mayo, serves 4

I made this wild fresh wild garlic, but blanched and frozen will work too.

200 ml Hellmann’s mayonnaise

a handful fresh wild garlic leaves, rinsed and roughly chopped

1/4 lemon

salt and pepper

Mix the mayonnaise and wild garlic. Add lemon juice and plenty of salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Jolly July!

I can’t believe I forgot the beginning of July! Not only is July my own birthday month but also one of my favourite months of the year.Why? Because I luuurve summer!

Somehow it just passed me by…but I still want to highlight a few things that I especially like with July. That peaches and nectarines are in season, that melon and raspberries are in their prime and maybe even, the beginning of girolle season, if we’re lucky!

So, here are a few recipes perfect for this time of year! I hope you try some of them, and if you do, please let me know how you got on. And, if you have any other July recipes to hand, please share in the comments section.

A perfect start to any July gathering in the garden would be these crostini with ricotta, peaches and prosciutto. Don’t skimp on the salt as you want that salty contrast to the sweet fruit.

Continuing with the Italian theme, this girolle carbonara is just a dream and something I can’t wait to make when I get my hands on the first Girolles of the season.

The second thing I’ll make with girolles is this delicious pizza! You can find Västerbotten cheese at Ocado, or substitute it with a mature cheddar or a Comte.

While on the topic of girolles, I also want to highlight this potato salad that you can eat on it’s own (heaven!) or pair with barbecued meats.

With the lavender fields in full bloom, I can’t think of a better dish to celebrate it other than Rachel Khoo’s wonderful lavender chicken. It’s a breeze to make, and SO delicious!

And for pudding, let’s make all things raspberry!

How about a raspberry and passion fruit Eton mess?!

Or a creamy vanilla pannacotta with raspberry syrup?!

Or why not a white chocolate crème with raspberries and biscuit crumbs?! A bit unusual but SO delicious!

Pasta, steak and regular life

As weird as it felt during lockdown to write my weeklies about regular life before we locked down, I now feel stronger than ever that it’s important to chronicle different periods in our life. I still have a few weeks from before lockdown to post about, and thereafter I will recap the lockdown time on a per month basis, because, apart from cooking and eating we didn’t do an awful lot. And now as lockdown is easing I will go back to my weeklies to show you what I get up to.

So, lets rewind and go back to a more happy and carefree time pre-lockdown, back in February.

As you know by now, Mondays are not my favourite, and this one was no exception. I was tired, did my work and had a mini deep-dish pizza with bearnaise sauce for supper. No energy to cook.

I had a bad cold and didn’t feel great, so lived out of my bed. Worked in bed, ate in bed, and huddled up in my duvet and a blanket. On Tuesday I made one of my favourite pastas for supper and ate it in bed.

I felt a little bit better come Wednesday and had yoghurt with blood oranges and honey for breakfast…

…and another comfort food favourite for supper; Swedish sausages with mash and crispy onions.

As always when I’ve been feeling poorly I gave my skin some extra attention and did two masks after each other. First The Ordinary AHA + BHA peeling solution to exfoliate and brighten and then the No7 hydration mask afterwards to put lots of moisture back in. Love this combination!

On the Friday I was still tired but well enough to go out for dinner locally near where my boyfriend lives. We went to the cute Italian and it was bliss to eat lasagne and drink red wine in candlelight.

On the Saturday we had friends in town so met them for drinks and dinner in the evening. First drinks at The Blind Spot followed by a lovely dinner at Hawksmoor Seven Dials.

We had the most amazing steak there, it was almost a religious experience it was so good. And it was one of those nights where the conversation just flowed and you forgot about time to suddenly realise it’s late and you’re almost alone in the restaurant.

Sunday was nice and relaxing with a lie-in, cheese toasties for lunch and rugby on the telly.

In the evening I made carbonara and we finished season two of Jack Ryan. As much as we loved the first season we were so disappointed by this second series. Such a shame as John Krasinski was great, but the storyline was just ridiculous. But we also watched Homeland which felt much more down to earth and balanced in comparison. So sad it’s the last season but also nice it’s still going strong until the end.

Recipe: Rhubarb Pavlova

When I put this on the table at a dinner party before lockdown (the last dinner with friends in fact) I got so much praise. To me, a pavlova is easy to make, and even more importantly, to make ahead! But I agree it looks impressive and inviting with it’s fluffy white meringue and pillowy whipped cream topped with gleaming pink pieces of just-soft-enough-rhubarb.

That dinner in March seems forever ago now, but thanks to the forced Yorkshire rhubarb, it was rhubarb season both then and now, giving us a link back to that more carefree time.

But as we are now allowed to see friends again, let’s celebrate it with a really good pudding!

Rhubarb Pavlova, serves 6-8

140 g egg whites (4)

220 g caster sugar

8 g / 1 tbsp corn flour

4 g  / 1 tsp white wine vinegar

3 dl whipping or double cream

400 g rhubarb

400 g rhubarb, ends trimmed

200 ml water

200 ml caster sugar

Beat the egg whites until foamy and add the sugar bit by bit while beating until stiff peaks. Add corn flour and vinegar and fold it in with a spatula. 

Divide the meringue in two, shaping two circles on two parchment clad baking trays. 

Bake in the middle of the oven, for 60 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave the meringues in the cooling oven with the door open until the oven has cooled down. 

Cut the rhubarb into 4 cm long pieces and place in an ovenproof sig with sides. Bring sugar and water to the boil in a saucepan. Pour the syrup over the rhubarb and place in a 100C oven for 30 minutes. Leave to cool completely. 

Lightly whip the cream. Place one meringue round on a cake plate. Spread with whipped cream and drizzle with rhubarb syrup. Place the other meringue round on top. Spread with whipped cream and top with rhubarb pieces and syrup. Decorate with a sprig of mint.

Recipe: asparagus risotto with wild garlic butter and lemon

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This wonderful recipe is actually from last year, but as usual time got away from me and suddenly the asparagus season was well and truly over and it felt too late to post.

This year I think I made it in the knick of time, as the season is drawing to an end, but if you’re lucky to find some nice asparagus, this is the perfect dish to end the season with. It’s both light and warming, fresh and a bit decadent thanks to the browned butter and wild garlic butter. Butter makes everything better doesn’t it?!

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Asparagus risotto with wild garlic butter and lemon, serves 3

2 banana shallots, finely chopped 

1 tbsp butter + 1 tbsp vegetable oil

180 g carnaroli rice

100 ml dry white wine

1 litre vegetable stock

grated parmesan

250 g asparagus

1 tbsp wild garlic butter

1/2 tsp lemon zest 

To serve:

asparagus tips 

two rounds wild garlic butter

1 tbsp browned butter

1/2 tsp lemon zest 

sea salt and black pepper

grated parmesan

Melt butter and oil in a large saucepan on medium heat. Add the shallots and fry for a few minutes without browning. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon so it can soak up all the oil and butter.  Add the wine and let it cook for a minute or so. Lower the heat to medium-low and add a ladle of stock. Stir and add more when most of the stock has evaporated, continue until the rice is cooked. I prefer a loose risotto so I don’t let the last ladle fully absorb. Remove from heat and add plenty of grated parmesan and a knob of butter to the rice and stir it in. 

While the risotto is cooking, trim the wooden ends off the asparagus. Save two asparagus tips per portion as garnish and cut the rest into smaller pieces on the diagonal. Boil the asparagus pieces until almost soft in salted water. Drain and add to the risotto just after the parmesan. Cook the asparagus tips al dente in salted water and set aside. Add wild garlic butter and lemon zest to the risotto. Season to taste. 

Divide the risotto between bowls. Arrange the asparagus tips in the middle of the bowl. Drizzle with browned butter. Place the wild garlic butter on top of the aspragus. Scatter with lemon zest and grated parmesan and serve.

Recipe: Asparagus with Burrata, Wild Garlic Oil and Lemon

I was so pleased to get hold of some of my favourite foods during lockdown; British asparagus and burrata. So grateful Natoora opened up their restaurant delivery slots to the public. Because during this period I have lived for food. I took it upon myself to cook every night, make cakes and make sure we could enjoy nice food even though we couldn’t go out to restaurant. So yes, I’ve eaten very well during lockdown, but I have also been mindful, stretching food to go longer, and have mixed expensive foods with very economical dishes.

The best quality asparagus and burrata wouldn’t feel so special if we ate it every day, but you also want to make sure you make the most out of the short asparagus season.

I’m very pleased with this simple dish – which is more an assembly job than proper cooking. And that’s how to best enjoy the freshest of produce, in the simplest of ways. Asparagus with hollandaise or wild garlic mayo are two of my favourite ways to eat it, and now I have a third way: this!

Asparagus with burrata, wild garlic oil and lemon, serves 3

9 asparagus stems (preferably nice and thick)

125 g burrata, at room temperature

1 large handful wild garlic leaves, washed

100 ml vegetable oil

1/2 lemon, the zest

sea salt flakes and black pepper

Trim the wooden ends off the asparagus. Blanch them quickly in boiling water. Drain and fry with a tiny amount of oil in the pan until they’ve browned a little. Mix the wild garlic leaves with oil using a stick blender.

Divide the asparagus among the plates. Divide the burrata. Drizzle with wild garlic oil (approx 1 tbsp per plate). Add lemon zest and plenty of salt and pepper and serve immediately.

London: Modern Greek Food at OPSO

As London restaurants are preparing to open next week, I thought it appropriate to post a restaurant review from a visit pre-coronavirus. I’m so looking forward to eating out again, but sadly some restaurants have had to close their doors for good following the pandemic. So don’t take your favourite restaurants for granted, support them. Now more than ever, as I’m sure we’re all roaring to get back to normal.

Back in regular life pre-lockdown Gaby and Ro and I had a lovely girlie night out one Friday. I walked through the city doing errands and taking photos of new to me places before meeting up with Gaby for a drink while we waited for Ro to finish work.

So when Gaby and I arrived at OPSO we took our time and studied the menu properly. And the wine list, which had the funniest wine descriptions in it, and checked out the whole space. The airy interior and mix of high and low tables felt more New York than London, but in the best possible way, and I really liked the modern Greek food idea. I adore Greek food (despite never having been to Greece, which I need to remedy as soon as we can all travel again) but there aren’t many high-end or modern places around where you can sample it.

Enter OPSO. Where you can have the chicest (and most garlicky!) tzatziki you’ve ever come across and enjoying the most delightful small plates while sipping Greek delicious wine. It felt like we were transported to Athens for the evening, and the wine descriptions came in especially handy since neither of us had any knowledge of Greek wines. But I liked the authenticity. And I like trying new things!

All the small plates and starters that we had (we shared everything!) were absolutely delicious, but of course some stood out more than others.

We saw our table neighbours enjoying these little bagel inspired breads and they looked so good we had to order them too! They’re called koulouri and are much fluffier than bagels in texture, but really nice, especially with the fresh goat’s curd it comes with.

Next we had the famous tzatziki and it was amazing! So lovely with to scoop up with the flat bread. Yum!

We also had the dakos salad which was fresh and plump with olive oil. The pitta bread and olives in the background were delicious too. So fluffy!

There were two delicious sounding feta dishes on the menu, but we felt like we could only really have one and decided on the one with honey and kataifi. It was warm and crispy and salty and sweet all at ones and so gooey and lovely, but it almost felt more like a pudding than a starter because of the sweetness.

We made the error of ordering another dish of melted cheese, which was also delicious, but it was too much with two! This one was smokey and melty, but also paired with something sweet so it felt a little bit similar to the feta.

Next we had two main courses to share, which was the perfect amount after all the smaller dishes we’d had. We couldn’t actually finish them but we enjoyed them both!

The lemon and oregano chicken with mash, feta and charred baby gem was really nice, but didn’t feel as interesting as the starters and small plates we had.

The moussaka looked more impressive and was really nice! But my absolute favourite dishes were the tzatziki, the salad (surprisingly as I didn’t even think to order it) and the milk buns with goat’s curd.

Really want to go back and try the other feta dish, the saganaki. And sample the rest of the menu of course!

Can’t recommend enough if you want to try something different! Opa!

OPSO, 10 Paddington St, Marylebone, London W1U 5QL