Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Salted caramel chocolate brownies






Who doesn’t love a good brownie? Purists out there might not like a brownie to be anything else but flavoured with pure chocolate, and I know that ‘salted caramel’ seems to be featuring everywhere on menus these days in tarts, ice creams and other guises, but it is a seriously awesome combination, trust me. I’ve been making these deeply dangerous salted caramel chocolate brownies for about three years now, and wherever people eat them they tend to go a bit weird. I’ve had people chasing me across a field at a rock festival where I’ve been selling them, and deranged drunken folk accosting me at a wedding where I made a big batch for dessert, all wanting MORE! (I’m very flattered, I thank you) I featured this recipe on the blog a long while ago, but I think that it deserves a repeat mention – you could make a batch of these for a Christmas present and the recipient would love you forever because these brownies are insanely good.

They are gooey, dark and rich (no flour here, just ground almonds) and also with the added dimension of having the tang of the buttery caramel chunks inside. I always make a large batch of these, cut them into squares, and freeze them – that way I always have a steady supply of these bad boys to hand, and there’s nothing quite like biting into a half frozen sweet/salty brownie. Double-yum.

The process is fairly time consuming, because you have to make the salted caramel first and have the chunks ready before you make the brownie mixture. But it’s a delicious way to spend half a day or evening, trying not to face-plant your head into the chocolatey mixture…

Makes 24 medium sized, or 18 large brownies:

First, you’ll need to make the salted caramel, which you can make a day or two in advance and store in an airtight container until you make the brownies.

You will need:

100g flaked almonds
100g golden caster sugar
50g salted organic butter
1/2 tsp sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling

First lightly toast the almonds in a dry frying pan over a medium heat, taking care to stir them regularly so that they don't burn. This will take about 3 minutes, and when you can smell that lovely nutty almond smell and see the nuts turning a light brown they are ready. Spread them out on a layer of non-stick baking parchment, and lay on a heatproof surface. Then put the sugar, butter and salt in a non-stick frying pan and add 4 tablespoons of water. Bring everything to the boil, then turn the heat to medium and stir frequently. Watch like a hawk as it bubbles away, and keep stirring to ensure that some bits don't caramelise before others. When the mixture begins to look creamy, you're nearly there:


You want the mixture to turn a light brown colour - this will take anything between 5 and 9 minutes. Then QUICKLY pour the mixture over the almonds - don't dally because the caramel solidifies instantly. Sprinkle over an extra pinch of sea salt. Leave it to cool down, then shatter into pieces holding a knife with the blade pointing downwards. You might want to do this over a chopping board so you don't dent your surfaces!
The result:


And now for the brownie mixture…you will need:

375g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids, preferably Fairtrade and/or organic)
375g butter
400g unrefined caster sugar
6 medium free range eggs
4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder - again, Fairtrade and/or organic
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
250g ground almonds
1 double espresso-worth of strong coffee

Preheat the oven to 180C. Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl, set over a pan of cold water and bring the water to the boil (bain marie). Turn the heat down to a low simmer and stir the mixture occasionally with a spoon until the chocolate and butter melt. Put the bowl to one side to let cool for a couple of minutes.

Whizz the sugar, eggs, cocoa and bicarb in a food mixer or with an electric whisk, until frothy. Add this to the chocolate mixture, then stir in the ground almonds, the melted chocolate and the coffee.

Try not to faceplant THIS:



Pour in your chunks of salted caramel to the mixture, reserving larger pieces for decorating the brownies:



Pour the mixture into a large baking tray lined with greaseproof baking parchment and bake for roughly 30 minutes, depending on how deep your baking tray is, how fierce your oven is and how squidgy you want the brownies to be.


When you take the tray out of the oven, place it on a wire rack to cool down completely. Do not attempt to cut the brownies up until they have cooled completely - otherwise they might fall apart! They keep well in a Tupperware container for 4 - 6 days, and also freeze really well.

Anyone out there got any other pimp brownie flavours and combos they’re keen to share?

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Greek spinach and feta pie




The rain is lashing down outside and I have the central heating turned on. I long for the scorching heat of a holiday in the Greek islands, with enough cheap pink wine to sink a ship, sandy beaches and Euro pop blaring out of cafes and rolled-down taxi windows. I want to go to a cheesy nightclub where they serve dreadful cocktails containing weird mixtures of blue curacao, Baileys and cream (urgh!) and dance the night away. One of my happiest memories is being on holiday in Naxos years ago and being brought glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice and little deep-fried cheese pies to where we wallowed on our sun loungers – total bliss. Right now, I want food to remind me of all of this, so I’ll settle for a slab of spinach and feta pie, spanakopita.

Cooking holiday food is a good way to lift a gloomy autumnal day, and to be honest, a piece of this feta and spinach pie is good all year round. It’s pretty easy to make, as you don’t need to make the pastry, you use shop-bought filo.

Serves 6

You will need:

1kg bag frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
2 medium white onions, chopped into small dice
2 bunches spring onions, chopped into small pieces
1 bunch each of fresh dill (approx 25g), mint and parsley, finely chopped
4 large organic eggs
400g feta cheese
250g ricotta
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper
1 packet frozen filo pastry, 270g – defrost before use

Put your defrosted spinach into a saucepan and cook almost all the water out of it over a medium flame – takes about 20 minutes. While you are doing this, shallow-fry your chopped white onion until translucent, then add the chopped spring onions and cook until wilted, about five minutes. Set aside, with the spinach.

Beat the eggs together, then add the ricotta and crumble the feta into the same bowl. Add the nutmeg and a few grinds of salt (go easy, as feta is salty anyway) and pepper, and roughly mix together.


Tip in the chopped fresh herbs. Add the spinach and fried onions as soon as they are cool, then mix everything together.

Grease a rectangular baking dish with olive oil. Line the dish with two layers of filo, making sure to brush in between each layer of pastry with olive oil, then add half the spinach/cheese filling, then add another two layers of filo on top of this, with olive oil brushed between them, then repeat, adding the rest of the filling, then finishing with 2 layers of filo pastry to make the top. Generously brush the top of the pie with more olive oil. You can roughly fold in the edges, and don’t have to be neat about it.



Bake in a preheated oven at 180C, for about 35 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown on top. Serve wedges of pie with a nice tomato salad and a carafe of wine. Darned good!


Monday, 17 October 2011

Mighty big bangers


My husband N loves sausages almost more than life itself, and probably slightly more than me and our baby. If he’s not eating sausages, he’s thinking about when he can next eat them. He takes his sausage-worship to almost evangelical heights – not only does he have selected friends that he talks about sausages with in great detail (stop tittering at the back) but he’s now taken it upon himself to make his own bangers at home, using a meat grinder that his sister gave him for his birthday, that of course came with a special sausage attachment!

You have to be serious about sausages to want to make them, as it’s a loooong laborious process. For starters, you have to order hog casings from a specialist on the internet. (There are sites that actually sell these kinds of things!) The slippery looking casings are basically pig intestines stored in salt, which need soaking in water for 2 hours prior to sausage making. Then you have to peruse various sausage recipes and pick the type of bangers you want to make. Then it’s off to the butcher to buy a tonne of pork belly and pork shoulder meat, then you have to sort out your seasonings – for example, fresh herbs and spices and salt. After this, you come home and chop the meat into dice, before chilling it for two hours. Then you grind the meat into mince, prepare your seasonings, then mix everything together. Now you’re ready to push the hog casings onto the mincer’s sausage attachment, then squeeze the meat mixture into it (it’s hard not to think of condoms when you do this!) and then watch your sausages come out. It’s really fun to do, but quite a palaver – you totally need an entire day!


 IMG_8553 IMG_8554 IMG_8558





We made pork sausages with fennel, lemon and garlic, and another batch of pork sausages with lemon thyme, sage, nutmeg and coriander. They were impressively chunky, didn’t shrink disappointingly in the oven and tasted absolutely delicious. N thought the texture might be better next time using proper sausage rusk instead of fresh breadcrumbs to bind everything together, but I cared not, I was too busy devouring them. Not sure how cost-effective making your own sausages actually is, but it’s satisfying to do. And makes one feel rather smug. This was our Sunday lunch:


For what are bangers without mash?



If you want to make the sausages above, this is what you need:

Makes approx 10 big bangers

290g pork belly
630g pork shoulder
18g salt
110g fresh breadcrumbs or sausage rusk

- Flavouring for the fennel sausages:

Juice of 1 lemon, made up to 165ml with water
Zest of 3 lemons
10g crushed fennel seeds
6 cloves crushed garlic

- or, flavouring for the herby sausages:

165ml liquid – half water, half white wine
15 small fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
2 tbsps finely chopped lemon thyme
2 tsps ground coriander
1/4 nutmeg, grated
2 tsps ground white pepper

Pre-soak your sausage casings for 2 hours. Chop the meat into small chunks, then put in the freezer for 45 minutes, which makes mincing easier. Then feed it through the mincer. Mix in the liquid and flavourings by hand until you have a sausagemeat consistency. Then feed the mixture through your mincer and sausage stuffing attachment into your hog casings, making sure that once the mixture nearly reaches the end of the tube that you have tied a knot in the casing. Pinch the sausagemeat at each place where you want your sausages to begin and end, then twist four times to create the divisions. Voila, you have created sausages! Chill them in the fridge for 24 hours to develop the flavour and texture, before cooking in the oven at 180C for about 40 minutes, or until nicely browned.

We took inspiration from here and here.

The Dogfather

You might be amused to know that this same day revolved around sausages in its entirety – even before we’d gone to the butcher for the sausage ingredients, we lunched at a great street food stall in East Dulwich called ‘The Dogfather’ which served posh hotdogs, or ‘Haute Dogs’. I’d never eaten a gourmet hotdog before, and was seriously impressed by these bad boys – no nasty mechanically-recovered meat, but instead tasty kosher beef sausages that have a pleasing bouncy texture to them when you bite in:

The ‘Boss Hogg’: beef dog, chorizo, onions, red pepper sauce – mmm savoury goodness!



‘The Mexican’ – beef dog, guacamole, cheese, hot sauce, beans, peppers, onions – arriba!


Spot the dawg:



I’ll be back soon to try the ‘Snoop Dog’, ya dig…

The Dogfather
North Cross Road Market
East Dulwich
SE22 9EV

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Brixton market: revitalised!

I have a real fondness for Brixton and its outdoor and covered markets. When I was a penniless freelancer for a number of years, I used to traipse there on the bus and spend an hour or two rootling among the fruit and veg stalls for my weekly shop, grabbing great bargains and soaking up the sounds of booming reggae and dancehall from various shops, wandering the covered arcades and soaking up the diversity of the produce – tiny colourful booths selling anything from giant piles of soap and Brillo pads, to a shop selling nothing but wigs, and others selling yams and African land snails. There was – and still is – a shop that terrifies and fascinates me in equal measure – it sells religious items and accessories for what I can only guess to be black magic rituals – black wax heads, spells, pungent smelling unguents in bottles. I once bought a friend a Virgin Mary candle there as a present, and we fell out irreparably about a year later – but that’s another story…

As much as I loved my trips to Brixton in those days (we’re talking about five-ish years ago) there was something a little mournful about it. The arcades were often empty of people during the week, and many shops spaces were unoccupied. I would trudge around the corridors sometimes feeling a bit forlorn, feeling sad at the sight of so many unused shop spaces and closed down businesses.

But all that has changed…a few years ago, the legendary pizzaria Franco Manca set up in the Market Row arcade, and before long people were queuing round the block to get their teeth into their amazing pizzas. Rosie’s Deli Cafe was turning brisk trade in fantastic home cooked seasonal lunches, great deli produce and coffees. A few new shops and cafes opened nearby, continuing the trend, and soon there was a sense of regeneration in the markets. Then an organisation called ‘Space Makers’ saw the potential in the arcades’ empty shop spaces and decided to pave the way for small businesses setting up shop here for low rents, and the transformation has been really positive, especially for those that like eating! There has literally been a food revolution, with what seems like about 15 new restaurants and cafes opening here…and I have been to taste a little crumb of it. Now that the arcades are open on Thursday and Friday evenings until 10pm, it’s a great place to come and hang out – why not have a main course at one place, dessert at another, and coffee somewhere else?

Cornucopia restaurant – tasty British produce cooked seasonally and with skill. Daily changing menu, and you sit on hessian cushions at rustic trestle tables and eat off enamelware – rustically trendy, but not annoyingly so, and the staff are really friendly:


White onion soup with truffle oil:


Chicken liver pate with fruit jelly and toast:


John Dory with mussels and clams:


Pork belly:


Sticky date pudding with cream:


Saffron pear with pistachio cake:



Pizzas at Franco Manca – total perfection and very addictive:



Get your caffeine fix at Federation Coffee:



Ice creams from Italy and Argentina opposite Franco Manca pizzeria – the mango and passion fruit sorbets are to die for:


The arcades come to life in the evenings:




I’m hoping to go back soon to try Mexican, Thai and Columbian food – and I also spied this great looking burger place too:


There are also cake stalls, an old-fashioned sweet shop, a sourdough bread bakery, cool little boutiques selling vintage wares and jewellery, and more. No excuses not to get your booty down here!

- Space Makers and the Brixton Village project – read all about it.

- More info on Brixton Village

Friday, 9 September 2011


I wish I had taken photos of my dinner here, but I just couldn’t stop eating for long enough to get the camera out. And some nights, I just don’t feel like taking pictures – it really is ALL about the food. Needless to say, the meal we had at this dinky Japanese noodle bar in Soho last week was beyond excellent.

If you’ve been a bit ‘blah-ed out’ by the bland bowls of Japanese-style noodle soup in chains such as Wagamamas (which I find about as exciting as dish water), you should really give Koya a go, as the soups here don’t resemble these at whatsoever. The restaurant makes its own fresh udon noodles from scratch. These are the fat, wormy ones that have a satisfying chew to them. You can get them in hot or cold broths with all sorts of seasonings, toppings and adornments. The broths are out of this world - they all taste different, according to which soup you choose. I blissed out with a bowl of clear, smoky bonfire-flavoured broth, chewy udon noodles on the side, and a plateful of crispy tempura prawns and veg to add in whatever amounts I chose. My husband had a bear-hug of a bowl of warm miso broth with pork, really salty and satisfying, with side dishes of fermented beans and a jewel-bright mound of seaweed.

Starter plates are not to be missed either – we wolfed down the crispiest tempura treats, such as sand eel with samphire, and prawns coated in jagged fragile light batter. House pickles were thin disks of beetroot marinated in spicy vinegar. I had a strange but not unpleasant cold Oolong tea that came in a can like a Coke.

We ate like lords, seated at the ‘bar-style’ counter at the back of the restaurant where we could observe the chefs making the noodles by hand. There was a great atmosphere – staff were attentive but not overbearing, the hubbub from the diners rose to the rafters, and the chefs focussed silently on their tasks, churning out plate after plate of beautiful tempura and steaming bowls of aromatic soups. This is food that makes you feel good on the inside, and it’s really good value too.

49 Frith Street

Thursday, 1 September 2011

It’s all about the cake…

My life revolves mainly in a tight orbit around cake. Even more so than usual these last few months, cause a girl has to keep her strength up. I have been lucky enough to consume a great deal of very wondrous cakes and puds of late, and I hope you enjoy these pictures of what I have been hoovering:


C’s death-defyingly-good pavlova which we devoured at a summer barbecue (I still have dreams about it):




Macaroons at Bar Boulud:




A Victoria Sponge filled with blackberries from my garden:




'Come hither, you are defenceless against my vanilla-soaked sponge and indecent fillings…’




Little apple and orange zest muffins, perfectly handbag or fist-sized:




C and K’s wedding cake – guys please tell me I wasn’t the only one stuffing a large section of this into my bag to take home? It was a delicious lemony sponge, just heavenly…



My godson A’s chocolate birthday cake complete with animals wading knee-deep in chocolate – that’s what I want to be doing…




Hope those have got you sprinting to the nearest establishment of baked goods…remember: a daily injection of cake brings spiritual happiness. Just ignore the increasing circumference of your thighs!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Kitchen coq-ups!



Of late I have been clumsier than usual in the kitchen. Thank goodness I have a sense of humour, that is all I can say. Because the latest disasters have been on a fairly surreal scale.

Recently some good friends asked me to make salted caramel brownies for their wedding dessert – enough for 100 people. No problem, I said. I’ve made hundreds of these over the past few years. But for some reason the trusty hardwearing plastic bowl I had always used to melt the chocolate in, using the bain marie method, decided to melt itself over the edge of the saucepan, filling the kitchen with lovely chemical fumes. Then the melted chocolate inside it escaped into the seething heat below via a melted hole in the base of the bowl, burning and crusting into an angry black carbonised layer on the saucepan base. I had actually left the room for a few moments (duh) and on my return almost wept to see the mess, and the waste of good chocolate. Scarier, though, was the thought that I could have poisoned the wedding guests with melted plastic in their brownies. What a total plonker I was thinking that a plastic bowl would have ever done well for the job of melting the chocolate and butter mixture, but it served me well for several years despite this gap in my brain. Jesus!

Today I decided to make an industrial quantity of coq au vin, since a friend gave us a massive bladder of red wine and we’ve been making lots of wine-based food. Nice. It’s also a great thing to have something large to bung in the freezer and eat on nights when we are too tired to cook. I found a great recipe and got going. There were lots of components to the dish – infusing and reducing the wine, browning the chicken pieces in butter, peeling vast amounts of shallots, scraping leaves off a bush of thyme and so forth – it’s no wonder my brain was a bit addled by the time I got to strain the wine through a colander. I then dropped the pan of wine onto the colander because it was a bit heavy, which then smashed the ceramic bowl beneath it, causing the 1.5 litres of wine that I had been reducing for OVER AN HOUR to pour down the sink amid smashed pieces of porcelain. Poor hubby was dispatched to fetch another load of cheap red plonk, and I had to start that part all over again. I then burnt myself when a hot piece of butter fat spat itself out of the pan at my face, and hubby had to administer an ice cube wrapped in a cloth to a small burn…needless to say, the later part of the recipe where I had to set fire to some cognac poured over the chicken made him very nervous (actually he mainly did this bit for me)…

Chicken + cognac + fire = this:



Perhaps at the moment I can only be trusted to make toast – oh, wait, I burned that at the weekend too…spectacular plumes of smoke rose from the toaster, breakfast had to be started again…

I am taking my poor friends C and M some lunch tomorrow, and if they read this they might think twice!

Anyone else going gaga in the kitchen? I don’t want to feel too alone with my ineptitude…I must now go and singe something in the oven…

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Blackberry and cassis compote



Not known for my love of raiding a JD Sports for a pair of crap trainers, I prefer to do non-aggressive form of looting: foraging for free fruit. It’s not stealing as such, it’s just picking fruit off the bushes, but not having to pay for it. I probably sound like a smug middle class bore. Oh well – at least I haven’t set fire to someone’s house or mugged someone for no good reason. (Come on London, grow up!)

So having just come into possession of a terrifyingly overgrown garden, which has triffid-like brambles, I have had my paws on the blackberries for the last few weeks. They are ripe right now, and even though it feels a little early in the year to be picking them, the strange hot/wet weather we’ve had means that they have ripened early. Brambles grow literally everywhere, from urban spaces to country lanes, so get out there and loot some free fruit while it lasts – it feels really satisfying to see the berries glistening beadily in the sunshine, then popping them into a tub, knowing that less tasty versions are being flogged in supermarkets for silly money.


All I have done with the berries recently is make them into a sort of compote, laced with a little booze and sugar. Delicious served with thick Greek yoghurt (I use Total full fat), or draped onto scoops of vanilla ice cream.

You will need:

600g (ish) blackberries
About 2 tablespoons golden caster sugar
Creme de Cassis (blackcurrant) liqueur (I use the French Gabriel Boudoir of Dijon one)

Take your blackberries and rinse well, removing all bits of twig, grit and cobweb. Let them drain for a little while in a colander. Tip into a heavy based saucepan and sprinkle over the golden caster sugar and 2 capfuls of cassis (or more, depending on how boozy you like your berries, but don’t add too much more because it will overpower the flavour of the blackberry).

Simmer over a low heat for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until you have a bit of bubbling up and a dark purple syrup. They are ready to go! Let them cool down.


You could use the compote mixed with apple for an awesome crumble or pie, or even strain it to make ice cream (which I intend to do soon, watch this space).

You could also make a refreshing drink with a spoonful of compote at the bottom of the glass, topped with fizzy water:



I have also foraged these elderberries – anyone got any idea what I can do with them? I hear that if you eat too many of them, they have a laxative effect!