26 November 2015

Let's Dance! Sushi Samba, Heron Tower, London

Let's dance, put on your red shoes and eat sushi...
Let's Dance, David Bowie...sort of

You look confused. I understand you think it's hypocritical that I write about my love for street food and independent restaurants, and hatred for chains but then here I am writing about Sushi Samba, one of the biggest, luxurious 'chains' (a wee chain of five) of restaurants around. The truth is I'm a food snob. That's it I've said it, I feel so much better with that off my chest. I know you would never know this to be true (who am I kidding you all knew!) but it is, I am a food snob and proud! This doesn't mean I turn my nose up at a cheap meal, only that I turn my nose up at meals which are poor quality and/or flavour (aka rubbish boring food). Let me present exhibit a, the £2 hot dogs I walked to the harbour in Iceland to buy almost everyday, yes it was cheap, which was great in Iceland, but it was also absolutely delicious (I don't want to spoil the surprise as I have a whole post on the food we ate in Reykjavik in the bag but let's just say best hot dog of my life).
Anyway to cut a long story short, Dan and I are food snobs. Which is why, we have wanted to go to Sushi Samba for ages, as they are famed for serving some of the best sushi London has to offer, with a South American twist (we're talking about Brazil and Peru here) that keeps it fresh and modern. That and the fact that Sushi Samba in Heron Tower is the second highest restaurant in London (preceded only by the Duck and Waffle, who are on the next floor up, almost 200m above street level)  with panoramic views out of the floor to ceiling windows that make up the outer walls of the dining room. To put it in perspective, you're dining above the Gherkin, St Pauls, the BT tower and the London Eye to name a few London highlights. With this view in mind, it makes it almost impossible to have anything but an amazing dining experience. And the lift to the top is guaranteed to make you never want to leave...or at least not go back down. So when Dan was told by his boss to take me out for a fancy dinner on the company card for working so hard (the world of Mad Men is an exciting and very generous one) he booked us in for a late lunch at Sushi Samba.

I seem to have this amazing ability to forget that I'm scared of heights, until it's too late and I'm already up high. It happens all the time, I'm all happy go lucky 'sure I'll come' to a theme park/Go Ape/stand on this glass floor which is 200000000m above the ground for your birthday and then I do it, remember, have a minor panic attack and act like a class a idiot (it's not my best look). This is how I felt in the lift, it's lucky the view is so good to distract you and food is waiting at the top otherwise I would have gone into full melt down (only slightly joking). Anyway I knew there was only way I'd be able to get back down and it would involve a considerable amount of Dutch courage to do it. So we stepped out of the lift, ears popping, ordered a cocktail at the bar and waited for our table to be ready.

Cocktails ordered, Dan went for a Nashi Martini, while I opted for a Chucumber. Dan thoroughly enjoyed his pastel cocktail, which was doing it's fruity mellow thing with the St Germain liqueur, Plum wine and lychee additions to a classic martini. I went for the Chucumber a mix of Hendrick's gin, cucumber water, maraschino liqueur and plum wine, partly because I can't resist a gin-based cocktail and I wanted something refreshing that wouldn't overpower the sushi we had planned. Yes that's right we (ok, I), had planned to a T what we were going to order. That's how excited I was for Sushi Samba, I'd already been through the menu picking stuff, consulting Dan and I'd even made a list because I panicked when Dan said we had a time restriction for how long we had the table. I'd love to say I'm spontaneous but let's be honest if we're going out for dinner together, chances are I've already looked up the menu online, and know what I'm having and what you're having too (it's all mind tactics oh you say you want the salad but look at that mound of mean that sounds delicious and so you...and's all about me). Which leads nicely on to when we found out Sushi Samba didn't have any gas and could only do their grill and cold dishes, and spontaneity was thrust upon us. 

Goodbye shrimp tempura, so long wagyu beef, sayonara pork belly. To be fair, Sushi Samba had rung Dan in advance and left a voicemail it just so happens we never checked it till we were already seated at our table. After the waiter explained the situation and apologised profusely multiple times, and the slight disappointment that we couldn't try some dishes that had been recommended to us by  friends had worn off, we panic ordered. Well and truly. It's lucky the waiter finally stopped us and told us we were ordering too much because I would have kept going. It is true, that even when he said we'd ordered enough, I was skeptical and asked to keep the menu, you know, just in case. While we waited for our food to arrive, we chatted, taking in the views while doing some city and people watching (CELEBRITY ALERT - we saw comedian John Bishop sit down for lunch).

Of course the views are incredible and it's hard to tear your eyes away, but the room itself is stunning. With it's black and white tiled chevron floor, floor to ceiling glass windows and curved bamboo structure, you can see it gets it's origins from stylish New York. With the concrete back walls and glass windows, it could be in danger of looking a bit cold if not for Sushi Samba's trademark orange furnishings, comfy brown leather chairs, copper accents and hanging airplants. Basically it's an instagrammers dream or, you know, my dream studio apartment, whichever appeals to you more.   

Samba London Roll with crab, tuna, salmon, white fish, prawn, avocado, tempura crunch, rice cracker, Japanese pickles, wasabi mayo, aji panca and soy reduction.
Crispy taquitos with lobster, avocado, aji amarillo, jalapeno, lime, maize and morado;
Yellowtail tiradito with jalapeno and lemongrass 
 Tuna Seviche with pomegranate leche de tigre, maiz morado, wasabi peas and basil

Shortly after ordering our food arrived, one of the good things about ordering cold dishes they make their way to you a lot faster. Food getting quicker to my stomach is something I'm never going to chastise. Although famed for their sushi we wanted to try some of their more fusion style dishes, so we opted for just the sushi samba roll to try a range of the fish they had to offer. This was definitely vibrant in vivid green and coral pink, and deliciously fresh. The different toppings of pickled vegetables, avocado and tempura accompanying the array of crab, tuna, salmon, prawn and white fish rolls were great and made each one special. Definitely a dish to order if you want to try an array of sushi. I'm not sure if Dan preferred the soy sauce or the sushi, he spent a good while before the food came just tasting the soy and oggling over how great it was (it's why we're a foodie team).  

We followed up our sushi with some crispy taquitos or tacos filled with succulent sweet lobster and avocado, mixed with aji amarillo (a strong chilli sauce), jalapenos, lime, maize including a purple kind called morado, and topped with a little lettuce and red cabbage. Oh my this was good, I really wanted to eat the second one (if Dan had given me a chance to steal his I would of). It had everything I love about South American style food; a chilli hit with a lot of freshness from the lime, and a great crunch. I would definitely order them again just for me, I don't want to be sharing with Dan or anyone, even you dear reader.

Then came the last of our raw courses presented as a tiradito and ceviche/seviche (is it seviche because it's sold by Sushi Samba, I don't know, do you?). Peruvian style dining and particularly ceviche have been one of the biggest restaurant trends this past couple of years, and I am hooked on it. We had some amazing ceviche at Pachamama earlier this year including a tuna and potato one (werid I know, but read about our experience at Pachamama here) so I was intrigued to try Sushi Samba's take on it. We opted for the tuna ceviche with pomegranate tiger milk (FYI it's lime juice not real tiger's milk), some more morado, wasabi peas and basil, as it sounded like an interesting take on a fusion ceviche with a rogue addition of pomegranate. First things first, isn't it the prettiest pink ceviche you've ever seen! Like all the fish we had at Sushi Samba it was so fresh, as in a ceviche the tuna had been marinated/cooked in the tiger's milk beforehand so it was tart from the lime juice but also had a nice level of sweetness from the pomegranate. I would have liked more wasabi but then I love a bit of heat. Dan didn't think it was as good as the ceviche we had at Pachamama but we certainly ate it all...then I used a spoon to gather up the last of the tiger's milk so I'm not complaining.

A tiradito is similar to a ceviche, in the sense that they both use raw fish, the one we tried was yellowtail, but instead of marinating the fish so it's 'cooked' they serve it sashimi style with a spicy sauce. This was a spontaneous choice for us, we didn't know what it was at the time, but weren't disappointed when it showed up. This is a true fusion dish in the sense that Japanese immigrants in Peru influenced the creation of tiraditos. I loved the strong spicy flavours, the sauce was rich but kept interesting with the jalapeno and lemongrass notes (I can't resist a dish with jalapeno in). My only complaint was I felt the fish was a bit too cold but it could definitely take a whack of flavour. 

Hamachi Kama with lime and su-shoyu; Poussin teriyaki with japanese-style mayonaise and yuzu koshu;
 Corazon de Pollo with aji panca 

Quickly realising we had ordered too much food, the hot dishes arrived. In a way it was kind of good that the restaurant could only do the grill dishes because otherwise we never would have got to try the Hamachi Kama, the neck of the yellowtail, which was served with lime, su-shoyu (a Japanese soy vinegar mix) and a courtesy bit of spiralized mooli. This dish was incredible, when Dan ordered it I was all 'but it's just grilled fish with soy it's going to be standard', let's get this out the way and say Dan was right and I was so wrong. The neck of the yellowtail fish is the juiciest, fattiest cut of the fish and you can tell, it was so flavourful it rivalled the whole deep fried seabass we had at Pachamama. The su-shoyu cut through the fattiness of the fish, it was just beautiful (I'm getting soppy). I would definitely recommend it if you're a fish fan and maybe if you're not (if there's a fish dish that could change you it'd be this).

We followed this up with poussin (it's basically a small chicken) teriyaki with Japanese-style mayo topped with yuzu kosho (a seasoning of yuzu peel, green chilli peppers and salt). This is my 'you must try this' dish, it was so tasty. The sweet moist teriyaki poussin (chicken) with the mayo and yuzu kosho I can't even begin to describe, is a dish I find myself reflecting on everytime I have a rubbish dish at the moment. It's like oh this is bad let's think about that amazing taste explosion of poussin (stop being fancy it's chicken) and the sour, citrusy mayo. This dish makes it really hard to try somewhere new, when all you want is to go back to Sushi Samba and stuff your face with teriyaki poussin (it's bloody chicken!!!), maybe don't try this you'll only hate everything else you eat for the rest of your life. It's not worth it (it is, it really is).

Two amazing dishes down, we were due for a dip and I'll be honest the Corazon de pollo and aji panca was ours. Corazon de pollo is the Spanish name for chicken hearts. Put your squeamishness aside for a second because cooked well these are delicious. We had some amazing ones when we stopped at this Brazilian restaurant in Liverpool after we watched LFC draw with Leicester earlier this year. It was just a random restaurant (whose name escapes me) that was close to our hotel and I was not expecting great things but those caramelised chicken hearts were so good. I'm not a huge lover of offal, but Dan is and with the memory of those chicken hearts in Liverpool upon us, we ordered Sushi Sambas version. The flavour was all there in terms of spiciness, but the little hearts were overcooked and as such dry, the accompanying huge maize pieces were slightly caramelised and tasted nice, but their texture was unpleasant and really hard and chewy. And that's all there is to say about this dish really (are you thinking you told me so because you hate offal? Me too. I blame Dan).

Passion fruit cake with green tea and white chocolate ganache, raspberry sorbet, coconut tuile;
Organic red chocolate chili peppers with Peruvian chili mousse, red pepper tuile, raspberry-red pepper sorbet and chocolate crumble

After the huge amount of food we'd already consumed, it was hard to imagine having any room for dessert and I was fully expecting our table to be swooped away from us as by now we'd surpassed our time limit. However, after being presented with the desserts menu, it was hard to refuse any of them, which led us to ordering not one but two puddings. Because you know if you're already full but committed to having one dessert you might as well go the whole hog. By now, I was starting to remember that I would have to get the lift back down so for good measure ordered an Eastern G & Tea for God speed while Dan opted for an Americano. I'm normally very anti gin and tonic, I just find tonic so bitter that it highlights the bitterness in the gin itself, maybe that's the point but I'm not down with it. However, this G & Tea was a very pleasant surprise, yuzu infused Hendrick's gin was combined with shiso (a Japanese mint variant), lychee and chamomile tonic, it was refreshing but with a good gin hit, enough to get me through the ordeal to come anyway.

Alongside my G & Tea, I went for the passion fruit cake with green tea and white chocolate ganache, the most delicious raspberry sorbet I've ever had, a coconut tuile, and fresh raspberries and passion fruit. First up the dessert portions are huge, Dan and I could have easily split one between us but we're incredibly greedy so we didn't. That being said I ate all of mine and could have eaten more because it was so lovely, passion fruit cake is a favourite of mine (weirdly one I've never baked, must correct that) and the green tea white chocolate ganache was heavenly smooth and sweet with a real green tea flavour not one of these pretend matcha muffins/doughnuts/cakes, it was the real deal. The sorbet was nice and sharp and cut through everything, simply put it was the perfect follow up to the rest of the meal. 

Dan on the other hand, just to prove when you think you know someone they surprise you, went for the chocolate and red chili (chilli?) pepper mousse with raspberry-red pepper sorbet, red pepper tuile and chocolate crumble. Why is this so suprising? Because he hates chocolate and fruit, he's told me this multiple times, even said it about my favourite brownie recipe (oh peanut butter and jelly brownies how I love you, recipe here), but he then went and ordered this dessert. In short, this dessert was intense. The chocolate mousse was spicy but delicious, I loved the texture and flavour of the red pepper tuile, you couldn't taste any raspberry in the red pepper sorbet which was just bizarre in how much it tasted like well red pepper. It went together nicely, but it was also so strong even with me on side shovelling away we barely made a dent in this bowlful. A third of the dish would have been the right amount, but more than that it started to get a bit acrid. Just not the kind of dessert you want a mound of, but then this could all be down to personal taste. 

And that was the end to our pretty amazing meal out, as expected Sushi Samba wowed with it's views and service, while producing some great food in the process. If you go, definitely try the passion cake, the poussin (CHICKEN!!!) and the Hamachi Kama (unless you don't like fish) you won't be disappointed. MISSING: the three follow up cocktails I drank at the bar outside before getting the lift back down kneeling on the floor with my eyes shut, but let's be honest no one wants to see me like that.

This week has been so stressful with work preparing for an inspection, I could use a bit of luxury dining! Do you have any luxury restaurant recommendations? I'm excited to finally meet Lisa from Not Quite Enough (who I interviewed last year, read here) for dinner tomorrow for a bit of Thanksgiving fare (p.s Happy Thanksgiving those of you reading from the USA). And on the subject of holidays, my calendar for December is pretty much full with Christmas and/or birthday plans. Of which, I'm super excited to go to Tredwells for brunch for my birthday (woo brunch!), my best friend Emily's Christmas carol service and then there's always more fondue. Have you got any exciting December plans, if so tell me about them and distract me from our inspection prep! I'm going to spend the rest of the day dreaming about Sushi Samba!

17 November 2015

Christmas Spiced Chestnut Cinnamon Buns & Cream Cheese Frosting

 It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Everywhere you go

Its round about now that this Christmas song get's stuck in my head until the New Year. I don't have a problem with it, I'm feeling plenty Christmassy already having nailed all my Christmas shopping last weekend. Honestly I'm not normally this organised but as I don't have any free weekends between now and Christmas I've had to get it all done way in advance. In previous years my brother and I have been known to leave our Christmas shopping till the 24th of December (not ashamed) but this year I am the queen of present buying.

Anyway as you all know I'm a holiday lover (it's not just Halloween and Valentines Day people, see posts here and here, respectively) and Christmas is the holiday to rule them all! I can't wait to light up my pine scented candles (yes I bought shed loads, still searching for the allusive pine scented tea lights though) and crack out the Christmas Carols while wrapping up presents festive style. Usually all Christmas activity is banned in our house till December as Dan, my live at home man, is a Christmas scrooge till December 1st when he becomes the most excitable Christmas elf I've ever known. In truth, when December strikes, I think he loves Christmas even more than I do although it is debatable. 
There's a lot of things I'm not allowed to do before December because they've been deemed by Dan to be too Christmassy, including these Christmas Spiced Chestnut Cinnamon Buns (I mean Christmas is their first name) but I had the perfect excuse to make them when British Lion Eggs asked me to put together a recipe using their namesake. Plus Cinnamon Buns hide everything including their Christmassy filling of mincemeat and chestnuts. In this recipe I used a jar of mincemeat (not actual meat for those living outside the UK) I've been hoarding to make mince pies with but if you don't have a stash carefully hidden away and have no idea how to get hold of some you can make it yourself. Mincemeat is incredibly easy to make (I like this recipe here) and isn't confined to the English's favourite mince pies, you can throw it into cakes, crumbles or do what I do and chuck it (nicely roll it) into your enriched dough. It's effectively brown sugar, suet, lots of dried fruit, brandy and mixed peel, with your odd variation.

 I used to find making bread an absolute nightmare so would never attempt anything more difficult than a plain white loaf (very boring I know), but now I've got my proving method down I feel like I can bake anything (bigging myself up for a huge fail now) or at least an enriched dough. Is it just me or are enriched doughs the staple of Christian holidays? You've got your Hot Cross Buns for Easter, Italian Panettone at Christmas and King Cake for Epiphany. There's some history behind that and how Brioche was originally made to be a rich and extravagant bread just for the Church but I say let everyone eat brioche (or cake as the French phrase is commonly misinterpreted)!

In fact if there's one thing I love more than Christmas it's the food at Christmas, King Cake, old faithful mince pies and of course Swiss fondue. As my family is Swiss French our big celebration is on Christmas Eve. This usually consists of a big family get together or party with tons of food but always a big pot of Swiss fondue for the main course, where we dunk bread, baby potatoes and pickled veg into molten comte and gruyere cheese. There's always a lot of wine involved (word to the wise, if you're eating fondue never drink beer alongside you'll have the worst hangover ever, trust me just don't do it) which leads to plenty of forfeits when people lose their desired dipping object in the fondue pot. After fondue, I normally go out to meet some friends for a few drinks at the local pub before joining my family for Midnight Mass at Church. This has on a few occasions led to all my friends and almost half the pub coming to Mass, but the more the merrier (often literally).  

Owing to our big celebration the night before, Christmas Day has to start off with some heavy breakfasting. We're talking eggs, bacon (soz veggie friends), sausages, the whole shebang, as well as plenty of doughy goodness. That's where these Christmas Spiced Chestnut Cinnamon Buns come to play. They're fragrant from all the mince meat and spices, the chestnuts and walnuts add a great texture and nutty flavour, and you can't beat an enriched dough with a cup of tea for breakfast. In France you often dip your pastries and brioche into hot chocolate for breakfast and these buns would make perfect dipping fodder. Whatever you do, don't forgo the icing, the recipe I've used makes tons of cream cheese frosting, we're talking a jam jar full. Don't be tempted to cut it down, you'd only be hurting yourself. Pour it onto the rolls like you'd pour cream onto cake before you serve them. It is quite frankly delicious. Very similar to the one served at Cinnabon (my American chain weakness). I'm a bit of a restaurant snob (what? No!), it's true, but there will always be a place in my heart for Cinnabon and their cinnamon buns.

If you're wondering where the hell you're going to find time to make these buns, don't they have to rise for ages. Let me just say this is one of the quickest doughs I've ever made. Using my proving in the oven method they only take an hour and a half to prove. So you can leave the dough to do it's thing while you peel the mountain of vegetables for your Christmas dinner. They're a deliciously extravagant bread, with very little faff involved. My perfect kind of bread. Anyway before I move on to my top 10 breads, let's get down to the recipe.

Christmas Spiced Chestnut Cinnamon Buns & Cream Cheese Frosting
(makes 9 large buns and a jam jar of frosting)

500g strong white bread flour
5 1/2 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
7g dried yeast
300ml milk
270g butter
200g cream cheese
400g icing sugar
1 egg (I used a British Lion Egg)
100g baked and peeled chestnuts
80g chopped walnuts
250g mincemeat
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Step 1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and create a well in the middle. In a saucepan heat the milk and 40g of the butter until the butter is melted, then set until it's lukewarm (tip is to put your finger in the mix if it's too hot to the touch leave it for a little longer, until the mix is comfortably warm). Once the milk is lukewarm add the yeast and 1 tbsp dark brown sugar and leave to stand for 10 minutes so the yeast can start fermenting. 

Step 2. After 10 minutes pour the yeasty milk into the well with the beaten egg and mix it with a wooden spoon (or your fancy pants dough hook if you're lucky enough to have an electric mixer) until it begins to come together into a dough.

Step 3. Once the dough has come together, knead it on a floured surface for 10 minutes until it becomes smooth and is no longer sticky. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove for 1 hour. If like me, you don't have a warm place to prove your dough you can prove the dough in the oven. To do this put a large roasting tin filled with boiling water from the kettle on the bottom shelf of the oven, then put the dough on the top shelf (do not cover it with a tea towel). Once that's done, on your normal oven setting (not fan that will dry the dough out) turn the oven on to 200°C for exactly 1 minute then turn it off. Bear in mind you're not waiting for the oven to come up to 200°C. 

Step 4. While the dough is proving, make the filling for the rolls. Blend the chestnuts to a paste, and in a bowl combine the mincemeat, chestnut paste, chopped walnuts, nutmeg, ground allspice, 1/2 tbsp cinnamon and 4 1/2 tbsp soft dark brown sugar. 

Step 5. Once the dough has proven till doubled in size after 1 hour, knock the dough back by kneading it on a floured surface until it's the same size then roll the dough out into a 1cm thick rectangle. Melt 30g butter and brush the dough all over with the butter then sprinkle the remaining cinnamon on top before evenly spreading the mincemeat mix over the dough. 

Step 6. Dough covered, it's time to roll it up lengthways into a tight cylinder and cut it into nine 4 cm thick rounds. Place these rounds onto a lined baking tray and let them prove for 30 minutes until doubled in size.

Step 7. Heat the oven to 180°C and bake the rolls in the oven for 25 minutes until golden brown. I'm not going to lie I like to eat these hot straight out of the oven without even a backwards glance but when they're cool I'll put a bit of cream cheese frosting on them or just dip them into a bowl full. To make the cream cheese frosting combine 200g softened butter, 200g cream cheese and 400g icing sugar together until smooth and creamy, good for drizzling or just drinking out of the jar!

Just looking at these photos is making me hungry for Christmas. I'm so excited to go home and celebrate with my family, and for a cheeky couple of drinks with my friends before Midnight Mass. I don't attend a Church where we live right now (haven't found one that fits), one of the things I love about living in and around London is the amount of different communities you have. Every year the Muslim community donates the money for a huge Christmas Tree to go up in the town centre where we live and it makes me proud to live somewhere where, on the whole, communities can live together peacefully. Anyway in short of this turning into a political crusade, I'm going to eat another cinnamon bun. Make a batch, share them around, and spread peace and good will to all men (and women!).
Thanks to Fran from Total Media and British Lion Eggs for sponsoring this post. Check out British Lion Egg's website for more egg recipes. All opinions are from yours truly!

9 November 2015

Peanut Butter Jelly Time Brownies!

Is there any baked good better than a brownie? I spent the whole weekend baking (watching films/gossiping/playing card games with my friend Alex) and I'd say a good 50% of the time I was thinking about brownies, the other 50% of me was thinking about Christmas and pine spiced candles (because I want the smell of pine but don't want to wait till we get a Christmas tree), and the rest of me was running on autopilot. Running on autopilot is scary, one moment you're commuting home on the train and the next second you're opening your front door, I mean how did I get there?! This happens to me a lot, especially when I switch it on when I'm walking to the shops and then the next thing you know I've got several bags of ice cream and tortilla chips. That's the more positive side of autopilot.

Anyway while I was running on autopilot baking something else Christmassy related, my mind kept jumping back to brownies. Fast forward two days later and I am still thinking about brownies, and seeing how I can't get them off my mind there's only one thing to do: embrace the brownies, and share my recipe for my PBJ (peanut butter jelly to those in the know) version with you. Lord knows I have enough Lindt chocolate to make a truckload of brownies (thanks Lindt!).

Let's be honest, this is my basic brownie recipe with additional peanut butter and jam, including extra chocolate chunks because I was having a bad day and I needed extra chocolate chunks (courtesy of Lindt). There's no shame in that, it's a decent brownie recipe; fudgy, plenty chocolaty with a good crust. The best thing about my brownie recipe (apart from the fact that it's a recipe for brownies) is that it's so versatile. Any combination of things that you would actually want to eat in a brownie (no sardines please) would work. My blueberry cheesecake brownies are still some of my favourites (you can grab the recipe here) but I've also made several different versions which I'm sure I'll share with you in due course seeing as brownies are taking up my full attention span right now.
PBJ and Brownies are classics. American classics. But still classics. I have always been a big fan of both, but together, now that blows my mind. When we were in Iceland (dropping it in again just in case you didn't know that we went, loved it and now I want to move there; blog post detailing this in full to follow) we went to the Lebowski Bar to among other things (watch the football) eat burgers and drink milkshakes. My main man Dan couldn't finish his strawberry milkshake so to save time I decided to finish his milkshake alongside my own peanut butter chocolate combo. Berries, peanut butter and chocolate! It's fair to say the experience was life changing and led me to the development of PBJ brownies. Classic lovers everywhere, it's time to welcome a new classic into your halls because PBJ brownies are here to stay, and not just in my house. I've been taking my brownies across the country (from London to Broadstairs), it's only a matter of time before they go global. 

 Plus did I mention these brownies are the perfect Winter cure? Especially when served with a big old mug of hot chocolate, which is how I'm spending most of my evenings at the moment. The big bay windows in our flat which I love during the Summer when they let in lots of glorious natural light have become my Winter nemesis. In a word they are drafty, so I'm currently snuggled up on the sofa under copious amounts of blankets in a den of cushions with a hot water bottle. Yep that's me right now. Super cool blogger that I am (literally, someone send emergency hot chocolate). 

I took some of these brownies home the weekend before last when Alex, Dan and I went to see my family and chill out.  It was a pretty perfect weekend, for me anyway. In truth, Dan was sick all weekend and had to recover in my brother's room. But my mum did her best to keep him fighting fit by cooking us fondue, which as always (in true Swiss fashion) was overly alcoholic and we all ate way too much cheese. My PBJ brownies were the source of constant desserts/breakfasts/much needed snacks after Alex and I took the dog for walks on the beach and went shell collecting. It was just a  lazy weekend, but I'm sure the doctor would have recommended it for everyone as Dan's sickness got us all in the end and kept me from going into work and posting on schedule last week (there's a schedule?!).

Anyway brownies, an iv of rooibos tea and enough cold and flu tabs to take down a small elephant  and I feel so much better this week. Like I can accomplish anything starting with eating another PBJ brownie...

Peanut Butter Jelly Brownies
(makes 14 large brownies)

250g Caster sugar
150g Salted butter
150g Plain flour
3 Eggs
150g 70% Cocoa Dark Chocolate (I used Lindt Excellence)
200g Milk Chocolate (I used Lindt Excellence Extra Creamy)
175g Raspberry Jam
100g Crunchy Peanut Butter
50g Condensed Milk
2 tbsps Water

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with parchment (tray should be at least 2cm deep). On a low heat, melt the butter. While the butter is melting, whisk together the three eggs with 250g sieved caster sugar until light and combined.

Step 2. Break the 70% dark chocolate and the milk chocolate into chunky chunks aka not too small but easily eaten pieces (make sure to keep the different types of chocolate separate). When the butter is almost entirely melted, add the 70% chocolate and stir with a metal spoon until it's one buttery, chocolatey smooth concoction, then take it off the heat and leave to cool slightly. 

Step 3. While the chocolate butter is cooling, make the peanut butter topping. Mix the peanut butter, with the condensed milk and a couple of tablespoons of water till the mix is combined but loose enough to swirl into your batter later.

Step 4. When the chocolate butter has cooled slightly, give it a stir then slowly pour it into the sugary eggs whisking the eggs as you go. Once its all mixed in fold in the sieved flour, and finally add the chunks of milk chocolate and give it on final stir. Then pour the brownie mix into the lined tray and evenly spread it around.

Step 5. Working quickly, place spoonfuls of the peanut butter mix on top of the brownie at spaced intervals I like to go for the whole 5 or 6 rows of 3 large dollops per tray, but it's your call. Then add spoonfuls of the raspberry jam slightly overlapping the peanut butter. Using a chopstick, swirl the peanut butter and jam together into the brownie being careful not to go too deep. Once you're happy with your swirling, bake the brownie in the oven for 20 minutes.

Step 6. Brownies done and fudgy, leave them to cool, then pop them in the fridge for 30 minutes, before taking it out and cutting them into squares. If you're feeling ambitious, you can squash two brownies together for a proper PBJ sandwich.

I am never going to get bored of brownies. I can't believe it took me so long to make them! I'm possibly addicted to making them but you know we don't measure things in how many brownies have you eaten, more like how many you haven't. If you've got a favourite brownie recipe definitely drop it below in the comments, I'm always on the look out for new tips and tricks. Also if anyone knows where to get some pine scented tea lights, hit me up with that link. I'm off to browse the internet for more cosy homeware, how many blankets is enough? But seriously I am loving the marble/copper trend right now, our flat is looking like it came out of H&M catalogue right now #notashamed. Is there any homeware you're coveting right now? 

Thanks to Sally from The Cat CafĂ© who used to work (sad times for food bloggers everywhere) for Lindt and the chocolate gurus themselves (Lindt, that's you!) for sending me a box of the finest dark chocolate around. All opinions are from yours truly!

6 November 2015

Pre-theatre Dinner at Jar Kitchen, Covent Garden, London

The Jar Kitchen's little restaurant off the seven dials has been in my line of sight for a long time. In fact it was the first place we tried to take my mum and her boyfriend to dinner to when they came to London a while ago. Unfortunately at the time there was something wrong with the Jar Kitchen's kitchen so we ended up at Pachamama instead (sorry not sorry) and we had one of the best meals we've had this year (you can read about it here). Dan, my main man, often gets invited to gigs/theatre productions/fancy dinners/anything under the sun through work and on this occasion I got to come along to see The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-time at the West End. Long story short, the play is not for epileptics or even people who aren't epileptic (I felt seriously ill afterwards), the acting is good but it can be a bit confusing at times as you have actors playing multiple characters sometimes even in the same scene, and there's a real live puppy in it at the end. The dog may or may not have been have been my favourite part of this show. Anyway go, make up your own mind or don't if you have epilepsy/migraines/photosensitivity/a hatred for clubbing.

Anyway, a trip to the theatre means one thing to me; pre-theatre dinner. Given the choice obviously I'd rather eat like the Romans, stay in a restaurant for hours gorging myself till I'm sick then eating some more but unfortunately pre-theatre dinner translates into quick eating. Especially if you're me and can't get to Covent Garden till 6.30pm and the show starts at 7.30pm, and you're freaking out because you don't want to be late for the play but you need to eat and you're not sure you can eat anything in less than an hour that isn't a McDonalds, and you haven't had a McDonalds for at least 5 years and you don't want to break that roll because it makes you depressed and why would you eat something that depresses you! Obviously you can see how this stresses me out, probably for no real reason apart from I'm a really horrible hungry person to be around and the thought of eating McDonalds again fills me with dread (am I the only one who feels depressed after eating it?). You can probably also see why my doctor is concerned I have high blood pressure but that's a story for another time. 

Anyway it was about this time that my gloom was setting in thinking about how we'd never find a decent restaurant that could feed us in time, when my thoughts strayed back to the Jar Kitchen. Based in Covent Garden it's location is perfect if you need to dash out quickly to head to your show plus their pre-theatre menu is a thing of actual beauty. I mean two courses for £16? It's a bargain, it's a steal, it's seriously great food off their normal menu. Because I was running late, Dan got their early and ordered without me, we both eat and love the same food so it's not an issue. Like the sensible man that he is, he decided to forgo ordering dessert for fear we'd miss the start of the play, this turned out to be the best decision because we were so full after the starter and main I wouldn't have been able to manage dessert although naturally I would have tried to.

Finally I arrived to find an aperol based cocktail in my place, which was not my cup of tea; a bit too strong and bitter for me, I thought Dan knew me? Turns out he doesn't know himself very well either as he ordered two. The decor at Jar Kitchen is minimal with a twist of Kitsch. Pewter coloured walls, wooden features, lots of jars (hence the name) and plenty of whimsy in the form of nick nacks and wild flowers. There can't be more than ten tables in the restaurant so if you're going there for dinner and secrets, you might want to pick a more secluded spot, but in my experience small restaurants means good service, atmosphere and food cooked to precision.

Dan had ordered two starters for us to share, the Sea Bass Ceviche with Fennel, Avocado, Herby Salad and Toasted Seeds, and the Ox Cheek and Cheddar Croquettes with Aioli. As expected Dan had chosen well. The sea bass was fresh and tasty with a very clean salad accompaniment, it wasn't as good as some of the ceviche I've had elsewhere (second Pachamama reference) but I liked it, Dan loved it, it was an all round good dish. When I saw the ox cheek croquettes, I was very surprised it did not look at all pretty, but the taste was amazing. Honestly when cheese is involved in a dish it takes it to a new level and served in a crispy on the outside, fall away beef on the inside croquettes it made these croquettes spectacular. So moreish I would have happily eaten the whole plate to myself, in fact I pretty much did, opting to devour two out of the three beefy balls while offering Dan more ceviche. I'm tricksy like that.

Starters quickly devoured, we were making good time for our play, but would the mains be as quick. Join us after the interval to find out.

Welcome back. I hope you have stocked up on ice cream, have used the facilities and have your honorary interval glass of wine in hand. I miss when films had intervals in cinemas, Spectre could have used an interval. Me and my friend Louie decided to get pints and he bought doughnuts for the occasion, and not any doughnuts, Crosstown Doughnuts (read about my love affair with them here). But a stomach of dough, a beer and a long film call for an interval. Anyway welcome back, let's move on to the mains.

Right one main course was spectacular, comforting but exciting and delicious with lots of different textures, the other main was nice. You know it wasn't good, it wasn't bad, it was just nice (obscure Into the Woods reference, also another long film that could have used an interval). There was nothing wrong with it, we ate it all, but perhaps in comparison to the other dish we had it didn't have a lot going for it. Our favourite dish was the Mixed Grain Salad with sweet Roasted Heirloom Carrots, refreshing Coconut Yoghurt and braised Lamb Shoulder with speckles of pomegranate and slivers of almonds. Looking at the dish you know it's going to eat well, it was just delicious. Dan and I fought over this dish, in fact at one point Dan refused to eat any more of the other main (he's so spoilt), did I roll over and let him eat all the salad? Did I hell, our forks clashed with fury as we fought over the chunks of braised lamb and pomegranate seeds. It wasn't too dissimilar to salads we make at home, but with the roasted carrots and the braised lamb shoulder it was a comforting homely dish elevated to restaurant standards. I love it when you have a dish where every mouthful is different and this one was exceptional.

Our second main of Pork Neck with Fennel, Carrots and Mustard Jus was, as I said, nice. Compared to the salad it was very heavy, and maybe this was our problem with it. As it lacked much in the way of green vegetables and the sauce was slightly overpowering with the mustard, it was a bit one dimensional and a disappointment. That being said we ate it all. If I was to go there again I would 100% get the salad again but would not recommend sharing it because the truth is you won't want to. I mean you could share it, we did, but let me warn you if you do share be prepared for serious talks about where your relationship is going on the way home after fork fights. 

Mains finished we settled up and practically ran from the restaurant, not from the pork neck but running to our show, which we just made on time. So a word to the wise, if you want a three course dinner before your theatre trip make sure you get there early. We're talking half 5 at the latest, unless you like eating your dessert from tupperware, then go ahead. I'll be back to visit Jar Kitchen for a salad all to myself and maybe a plate or two of ox cheek croquettes real soon. Plus it'd be wrong not to go back and try their desserts.

So film intervals, where did they go? Now I'm thinking about it, maybe it was only the local cinemas I used to go to that had intervals, did VUE take the interval away? I used to love going and getting poppets (mint obviously) and popcorn at half time with my brother. What was the last film you saw with an interval? I literally cannot remember, the first Lord of the Rings maybe? Me and some friends are going to see the ballet tonight. I'm so excited. I've always loved ballet although I was never particularly good at it...too much cake and additional loves for swimming and gymnastics. But watching the ballet on the television at Christmas is a tradition, and my favourites are perhaps stereotypically Swan Lake and the Nutcracker. Which is why I am super excited to be seeing the Nutcracker! Say whatttt? I know, I'm beside myself. I'm going to see the Nutcracker and Cursed Child (p.s I got tickets with Sophie), it's crazy! Do you like the ballet? Have you ever been? What can I expect?! Everyone says the sound of the dancers is tremendous. I guess I'll find out tonight!

Thanks for the ramble.

27 October 2015

Harry Potter & the Kitchen of Secrets

So we all know about my obsession with dinosaurs, which is most specifically linked to having seen Jurassic Park a gazillion times. But I might have failed to mention I am as obsessed if not slightly more crazy about Harry Potter (the books not Daniel Radcliffe) than I am about dinosaurs. It's not something I've purposely kept from you guys, it just never cropped up. That is until Sophie and I confided in each other. Ever since I missed out on going to Kate from The Little Library Cafe's Harry Potter themed Supper Club, I've been dreaming about throwing my own inspired dinner party, a Death Day Party if you will, after all it is Halloween. Finally I just threw it out there that Sophie and I should collaborate and do some Harry Potter baking together.

To say Sophie was keen would be an understatement. Gryffindor scarf adorned, Harry Potter food themed pinterest board at the ready and bag with enough baking ingredients for Hogwarts Halloween Feast in tow, Sophie arrived at my flat. In fact, I knew she'd arrived before she rang the doorbell as I saw her outside peering into my neighbours car. To clarify Sophie's not a car burglar, she was just jealous of the stuffed Ponyo hanging from their car mirror, although I wouldn't put it past her to steal Ponyo. After several cups of tea, the very short flat tour (which includes the cupboard/bathroom under the stairs), and a good hour spent nattering about everything and anything. We got down to baking or at least deciding what to bake.

Now if you're a fellow HP fan, you'll know we had to make Harry's favourite dessert; Treacle Tart to those in the know. Pumpkin pasties were a must too, you can't go too wrong with alliterative food. And finally Butterbeer Pumpkin Cupcakes, because whoever said the cupcake trend is dead is an idiot and just to make them HP worthy we added some butterbeer icing.

You might be thinking those foods are not the most exciting foods in Harry Potter, where's the blood lollipops and cockroach clusters? I'm going to play it straight with you, I love Halloween but gross looking food ain't for me. Anything that remotely looks like blood or severed fingers (I have a real issue with damaged hands) or an insect is a no go. One year Dan's parents bought us some fried insects for Christmas, it was the only gift I've ever thrown at someone as Dan dangled a cricket in front of my face. Call me old fashioned but I like my Halloween food to be fun, 100% edible and have no body parts.

All of the HP themed dishes we made were great, but Sophie and I both had different favourites. I was in love with the creamy oozey cheesiness of the Pumpkin Pasties, while Sophie favoured the Butterbeer Pumpkin Cupcakes for their moist fragrant cake and mound of caramel-ly icing and toppings. This makes the Treacle Tart sound unappreciated, but then that lemon ginger goddess was Dan's love. So I'm just going to say make them all, then share with friends, you can even keep back your faves if you're a Slytherin fan.

My family has always made a big deal out of Halloween, something that isn't as common in the UK as it is elsewhere in the world (I'm looking at you USA). Maybe it's because a lot of people are anti Halloween in the UK because it's huge commercialisation or because some people think it's a Satanic festival (not true guys it's Christian!). Similar to Mexico's Day of the Dead, Halloween's origins are as a Christian festival where you celebrate the lives of your dead loved ones, Saints and Martyrs with a huge feast, while calling out all the bad demons and telling them it's time for them to push off. It just shows how different people's ideas of religion are even if you are of the same faith, as I have some Christian friends who are staunch Halloween Haters whereas my family has always been pro Halloween...and HP for that matter.    

Anyway comment on religion aside, we have always celebrated Halloween. In the Falklands we used to dress up (as a sea witch/ice witch/normal witch) and get together as a community. When we moved to the UK we were the kids with the legendary Halloween parties helped by the fact that at one point we lived in a flat in a castle with suits of armour and plenty of creepy places to hide, plus we had doughnut bobbing. Of course as we got older there was the occasional drunken Halloween party. However, for me Halloween always starts the same way, going home to my mum, making toffee/chocolate apples and drawing faces on 'pumpkin' tangerines, and giving them out to trick or treaters. While drinking a glass or two of wine together of course, eating lots of cheese and maybe some pumpkin based goods.

This year, my friend Alex, is also coming to witness our Halloween traditions and eat some fondue (when your family is Swiss fondue is practically a tradition). I'm currently trying to convince her that a Halloween swim in the sea is also an annual occurrence but we'll see how long that lie holds for. One thing we'll definitely crack out is some HP treats to watch the kid himself, so if you're not a Halloween fan, consider celebrating HP instead by baking up a spread house-elves would be proud of.

Treacle Tart(s)
(serves 4 either as small tartlets or one tart)

115g plain flour
55g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1 egg
60g breadcrumbs
300g golden syrup
Pinch of ground ginger
Zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. To make the pastry dough, rub together the butter and flour until it looks like breadcrumbs. Then beat in the egg and knead on a floured surface until the dough is smooth (you might need to add a bit more flour if so go for it).

Step 2. Roll out the dough to 5mm thick on a lightly floured surface and place into the tart tin(s), working it into the creases using a buffer of pastry (very GBBO) then leave the pastry to chill for 30 minutes (if possible, if you're too hungry go to the next part of the step). Don't worry about any excess pastry over the top of the tart it's better to let it all hang over then fit the tin,  plus we'll cut that off later. To avoid spillages in your oven, place the tins onto a flat tray. Then bake the pastry in the oven blind (fill the tarts with baking paper and rice or ceramic baking balls) for 10 minutes.

Step 3. While the tart(s) are blind baking, make the filling. Mix the real breadcrumbs (none of those fake dough ones), golden syrup, ginger and zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon together.

Step 4. When the tart cases have been blind baked, take them out of the oven. Carefully removing the baking balls or rice, and baking paper, then cut any overhanging pastry off the top of the tarts. Pour in the golden syrup mixture into each tart till it's a couple of mm's from the top, then bake them in the oven for 20 minutes.

Step 5. Take the tarts out of the oven and leave them to cool for a good hour, remove the tin, picture yourself in the Great Hall and eat with pleasure.

Pumpkin Pasties
(makes 16-18, or one ginormous one - don't let me stop your ambition)

500g puff pastry
390g pumpkin, grated (or chopped as fine as you can!)
18 pumpkin seeds
200g gruyere cheese, grated
1 small bunch of sage, chopped
1 bunch of parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely grated
50ml double cream
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. In a large bowl, mix together the pumpkin, 150g gruyere, garlic, parsley, sage and the cream, then season to taste (go light on the salt at first there's a lot of cheese in this).

Step 2. Roll our the pastry to 5mm thick on a lightly floured surface, using a round pastry cutter (~6cm in diameter) cut out 32-34 circles, this will make 16-18 pasties. Pull the circles into pumpkin shapes (make them a bit wider) and set half of the pastry circles on a lined baking tray a good 2-3cm apart.

Step 3. Put about a tablespoon of the pumpkin mix in the middle of each pasty and brush the edges with a bit of beaten egg. Make three crescent moon scores or a bum score aka (|) in the top half of the pasty and place it on top of the filled base pressing down to seal.

Step 4. Pumpkin pasties assembled, paint the top with some more beaten egg and sprinkle on a bit of the reserved gruyere and press down a pumpkin seed into the top of the pumpkin pasty as a stalk. Then bake them in the oven for 15-20 minutes till they're all golden and the cheese has good and melted.

Step 5. Once cooked, remove the pasties from the oven and eat them warm from the oven. Alternatively wrap them up, hop on the train, eat a pumpkin pasty and start cursing felllow passengers in your carriage with bat bogey hexes.

Butterbeer & Pumpkin Cupcakes
(makes 18-20)

For the pumpkin cupcakes
225g pumpkin flesh, grated 
(or chopped as fine as you can!)
200g unsalted butter
210g caster sugar
250g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
40ml buttermilk
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla paste
1 heaped tbsp stem ginger in syrup

For the butterbeer icing

140g salted butter
280g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tsp caramel flavouring

Few drops of orange food colouring


Smashed pretzels
Butterscotch fudge pieces
Gold stars
Edible gold glitter
Chocolate coated popping candy

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. In a very large bowl, whisk together the grated pumpkin, stem ginger, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla paste, butter and sugar (make sure you use softened butter!).

Step 2. Then add the sifted flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of sode, salt and spices and stir this in using a wooden spoon.

Step 3. Place one tablespoon of the mixture into each cupcake case. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes till golden and a skewer comes out clean. Allow them to cool while you make the icing.

Step 4. Whisk together the butter and sifted icing sugar, slowly at first to avoid clouds of icing sugar till it's all combined. Then add the vanilla paste, caramel flavouring and orange food colouring till it looks slightly golden in colour.

Step 5. Once the cakes have cooled, pipe the icing onto the cupcakes using a piping bag. We used a star nozzle but let loose in fact you can just dunk the cupcakes in the icing sugar if you really want. Toppings are crucial to this recipe, we went for some salty smashed pretzels, butterscotch fudge, anything that glittered and popping candy, but use your imagination. Chuck on some bertie bots flavoured beans or a cockroach cluster or two, or play it safe with some chocolate sprinkles. You will choose (obscure Harry Potter quote).

Step 6. Cupcakes compiled, stuff one or 6 into your mouth after one another. Then move on to a pasty or three, and finish it all up with some treacle tart and clotted cream. Harry would be proud.

Do you have any Halloween traditions? I'm a big fan of ours. It was so nice to do some joint baking with Sophie and discover our shared loves of Harry Potter and Studio Ghibli, we're practically soul sisters. Make sure you check our her blog if you're not following her already. Making friends with other bloggers is the most unexpected but amazing thing about blogging, I've made so many great friends through blogging. Friends I can about the highs and lows of blogging with, but also just gossip about general life and even go see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child together with. Say what, dropping at the last possible moment that a play self-titled as the 8th Harry Potter book is coming out in London and tickets go on sale tomorrow!!!!!!!! Is that enough exclamation masks. Hell NO!