Caribbean sunset from St James, Morgan Bay (St Lucia)
When we last spoke I was procrastinating, as I often do. Making homemade peanut butter for a supposed quick dish (it was still quick), but you know, what I really should have been doing was my laundry. I was set to fly to the Caribbean the next day and I had nothing clean to pack. At least very little that would be suitable for the heat.
Now, cooking is my jam. Any other domestic things, not so much. I would drive to Edinburgh to buy a packet of crisps to avoid a stint of spring cleaning (I can’t even drive, and I still would). To cut quickly to the end, I put my suitcase on the British Airways scales at Gatwick and the hostess, surprised, commented, only 12kg? You must be hoping for warm weather! I thought: RUBBISH, I completely forgot that extra load of washing that I had hung up to dry.
So here I am in a mish mash of razzle dazzle pinks, greys and yellows, writing to you from my balcony at dusk on the charming island of Antigua. In very funny clothes. A chill is descending as the sun sets, and I quite like that. The Caribbean winter is my perfect temperature range, rarely climbing over 30 degrees, and mostly in the mid 20s, almost always with a gentle breeze.
If you were to ask what my favourite ocean was – and a bizarre question it is, so I wouldn’t encourage it – [Read more]
Fuchsia Dunlop’s Spicy Peanut Butter Noodles with Prawns
Convenience isn’t always about using your store cupboard bits and bobs. Convenience, for me, is often about avoiding leaving the house. I know. I live in a big city about 10 minutes walk away from a supermarket and 2 minutes from a reasonably stocked corner shop, but some days I am so deep in cabin fever / cosy / lazy / attached to my pjs, I will do anything to just stay indoors.
So, if I want a sandwich I may delay it so that I can bake the bread. Yes, I do that. Not often, but I do. That is also because I can’t stand the really processed stuff and the bakery is, well, 10 minutes away, but you know, I don’t want to leave the house (and I like baking). Or, if I need peanut butter to cook someone else’s store cupboard supper, I will make it at home rather than walk 2 minutes to the corner shop. The result is a much better peanut butter and the effort is not too great.
If you work from home (all the time, not just occasional days), you will understand this sophisticated form of cabin fever. When working from home I hold myself captive, until it spirals out of control and then I become a little weird and try to arrange everything so that it happens within a few metres of my living room. I need to get an office, with a kitchen, can someone arrange that, please?
Back to that peanut butter. Yesterday was OFM Sunday, and this months issue had a lovely feature on store cupboard suppers.[Read more]
Some days demand chicken wings. Today is one. The best bit of the chicken for snacking on, the skin to flesh ratio being somewhere in the region of can-solve-most-of-lifes-problems, chicken wings are also very reasonable. Even in my local posh butcher, a kilo of lovely free range wings costs just over £5.
Everyone should have a recipe for hot wings in their repertoire. So easy and so gorgeous, spiked hot crisp wings dipped into a soothing cool blue cheese dip is all that you have ever wanted after a bad day. Or any day. Frank’s Louisiana Hot Sauce is what makes the wings sing, you could make your own, and it is the kind of thing that I often do, but in this case, truly, Frank’s have done all the work and made a great sauce. So, like every other hot wing fanatic on the planet, I use that.
They take little work. I roast the wings until the skin is just crisp, prepare the hot sauce which takes, oh, 2 minutes, then douse the wings in the sauce before returning to the oven for a little bit. Then I prepare the dip, which again is very complicated, ridiculously easy, a mish mash of strong blue cheese with natural yogurt, blended until they yield, and embrace each other.
Easy, and perfect for January blues, right? Enjoy.
Rhubarb, Pistachio & Rose Frangipane Tart (Recipe)
I am not an obsessive baker like many food bloggers. Certainly not in the sweet sense. I love salt, broth, tender meat, spritely vegetables and all the other things that make savoury sing. I have always loved confectionery, especially making it, and I am partial to a lemon meringue pie, victoria sponge, swiss roll and lots of old school classics, but that was it when it came to home baking. I simply wasn’t all that inspired to explore beyond that. I was happy with my salt.
Then something changed. In the last few months I have developed a sweet tooth (which sits nicely next to my very happy salty one). In fact, I think that all of my teeth might be salty, and now there is one shiny sweet one in the mix.
And then there is rhubarb. Lovely pink tender rhubarb. Slender and elegant, the rhubarb of January in the UK is Yorkshire forced rhubarb (also called champagne rhubarb), grown in the dark in long sheds in the Yorkshire rhubarb triangle, and harvested by candlelight (it is an old Victorian technique). It spends a lifetime stretching for the light but never reaching it, trapped beneath the terracotta urn that houses it. Yorkshire rhubarb brightens January, and I always look forward to it.
Rhubarb, Pisctahio & Rose Frangipane Tart
Rhubarb goes beautifully with pistachio and rose and I was recently reminded just how much I love simple frangipane when I baked David Lebovitz lovely Galette des Rois. Frangipane is a simple almond cream, made with ground almonds, egg, butter, sugar and aromatics (rum and almond extract for example), but it can also be made with ground pistachios, and in this case, rosewater. [Read more]
Don’t just brunch in Melbourne (although don’t miss it!), there are some fantastic lunches and dinners to be had too. I had a very long list of strong recommendations to tackle, Melbourne’s reputation as a culinary destination is hard earned and well deserved.
The emphasis everywhere is on local sourcing, which isn’t a surprise. There is also some terrific fusion and Asian food. Melbourne has the second largest Greek population of any city after Athens, so there is some great Greek food to be had, from the humble post pub souvlaki to more refined fare. There is a lot of excellent Italian fare due to the large Italian immigrant population, but as we have great Italian in London too, I didn’t focus on that on this trip.
This is the best of the restaurants that I tried when in Melbourne, and I tried many. Enjoy, and as before, if you have further recommendations, please leave them in the comments. Thanks!
Cumulus Up is a convivial wine bar and dining space above Andrew McConnell’s Cumulus Inc in the CBD in downtown Melbourne. A large open space with high ceilings lined on one side with a climate controlled cellar, the cellar is the focus of the room, both in terms of physicality and also the menu which is designed to complement the drinks.
The food is full flavoured and characterful. Standout dishes include the duck waffle, foie gras & prune which is a duck waffle with duck in the waffle and foie gras on top, and beautiful lamb ribs with a piquant sauce, sourced from Flinders Island nearby. Bookings are only taken for groups over 7, so get down there early, or be prepared to queue. It is worth it.
There are many things to love about Melbourne, but one big plus point is the density of independent restaurants and cafés. People are passionate abut what they do, produce is high quality and flavourful, coffee is locally roasted, if not in the cafe or restaurant, at one nearby. I didn’t meet one jobsworth nor did I at any point get a coffee that was as hot as the centre of the sun (hello London, you could work on that, although you are getting a lot better).
So, what was I to do? It was simple. If I was waking at 3am, I would need to embrace jet lag and have lots of breakfasts. One breakfast when WIDE AWAKE and jet lagged at 7am, and another at noon for lunch. I wanted to get under the skin of the Melbourne breakfast, and I did. Here is my list of the best places for breakfast (or brunch) from my trip, based on the three areas that I stayed in on my last visit.
Enjoy and if you have any that I have missed that you think are essentials (I am sure there are more than a few), please leave details for other readers in the comments below (and for me, as I will be returning soon). Thanks![Read more]
Bobby Chin is well know for his TV exploits, however, he also owns two very well regarded restaurants in Hanoi & Saigon. Now, a third in London has been added to the list in an impressive double fronted site on Old Compton St in Soho. The official opening day was January the 6th, although they were operating in soft launch over Christmas. I popped in earlier this week.
First impressions are good. The space is vibrant and buzzy and the menu looks promising. We started with cocktails, I had a horny devil simply because I can’t resist chilli anywhere, even in my drinks. With lemongrass vodka, Vietnamese devil’s chilli (floating menacingly on the top of the cocktail) and fresh coconut, it was fresh and sharp with a lovely gentle heat.[Read more]
It won’t surprise you, but I don’t do dry January. Nor do I do diets. I reign myself in, become a little more pragmatic and try and restore balance by eating a little lighter but still in normal amounts. Or rather, I start eating normal amounts. Replacing sour cream with yogurt. Eating more fish and less meat. A bit more salad. Lots of avocados. Frying less, although still a little. Lighter Brighter cooking is what I shall call it. It is all about being aware that every little bit makes a difference but not killing the enjoyment of it. Food is sustenance and a source of great pleasure. The key to health is home cooking, moderation and exercise. And good sleep.
With diets, I think a lot of people feel better not because they have cut out a food group (don’t get me started), but because they have started paying attention to what they eat, and what they cook. One very big thing is cutting out processed food. Some go from not cooking at all to eating predominantly home cooked food. I bet that if you speak to a lot of very successful dieters, you will discover that they transitioned from not really thinking about what they ate to being a lot more considerate about what they cooked, and eating less processed food. They almost certainly exercised a lot more.
The reality (certainly for me) is that even when you think about what you cook (and I do a lot), it doesn’t mean that you are necessarily eating well. But when you do think about it from a health perspective, and start to feel the benefits of Lighter Brighter cooking, when you can see exactly what you are eating, not through a film in a plastic tray spinning around in a microwave, but because you have cooked it and see just how much of everything has gone in, that is empowering. When you cook, you can also adapt your recipes to make them lighter and no less delicious.
Enter salmon tacos. I am lucky that I live near a great fishmonger (and I have a great butcher too). Last Saturday I went late and there was not much left, but there was some lovely salmon. I did two things with it it, a teriyaki (a simple combination of 50ml soy sauce & 50 ml mirin with 1 tsp of honey, reduced by half over a medium heat, and then used to glaze a just-cooked piece of salmon, delicious) and also some lovely light salmon tacos.[Read more]