my kitchen

Sticky toffee apple cake

This Halloween was probably my spookiest to date. I attended a party which was decked out to the masses- broomsticks hanging out the windows, sharp toothed vampires, weird big babies with milk squiriting out of bottles, jack o’lantern sculptures galore and, of course a Halloween bake off.

Baking has been the focus of social gatherings for like ever, but never as inventive and complex as these days. The world’s gone bake off mad lately. When we’re not worrying about Brexit, we are worrying who will be the next Mel and Sue, and how Paul Hollywood could sell out to Channel 4. I haven’t watched this latest series, but was excited at the prospect of a seasonal bake- I love a good theme, and so at the annoucement of a Halloween bake off I went in search of autumnal flavours. Toffee apples are symbolic of this time of  year for me, one of wrapping up warm, getting out in the fog to see the fireworks and breaking your teeth on illuminious red toffee apples. Or rather, like this year, staying in trying to be all smug and #hygge but proceeding to sweat over various mixing bowls, concocting a monster of a cake. This one is complete with a Snow White style poisonous apple and sharp edged confectionary to truly capture the spirit of Halloween.

 

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I wanted to make something quite carrot cakey- sweet and spicy with cream cheese frosting, and found this amazing recipe from the Sylvia’s kitchen blog. I followed this,  but found it was quite dense- more of a banana bread texture than a fluffy sponge, due to the huge measures of dates and apple. Fine, but a bit stodgy when you have a 2 layer 9 inch cake to get through. So if you want a lighter version, with less fruit, less soggy bottoms and cream cheese over buttercream, try out my recipe…

sponge:

200g chopped dates

400g cooking apples peeled and grated

350g self raising flour

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

3 tsp mixed spice

250g soft brown sugar

4 large free range eggs

150g butter, melted

a mug of english breakfast tea (no milk no sugar)

Salted caramel sauce-I used a jar of the Tesco Finest one (soz but this recipe takes long enough without knocking out a caramel)

icing:

80g butter

280g cream cheese

100g icing sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºc and grease and line two, 8 or 9 inch cake tins.  (You could also use half this recipe and 6 inch tins and a reduced baking time of 25-30mins)
Put the dates in a saucepan with the mug of tea and slowly bring it to the boil,  let it simmer and bubble for five minutes, then whizz in a blender until smooth.  Whisk the eggs and sugar and together for a good five minutes until they are nice and pale and fluffy-this is important to really get the air in!- then gradually whisk in the melted butter.  Fold in the apple and date paste, then sieve over flour, bicarb and mixed spice. Gently fold it in so you don’t knock all the air out, and then split evenly between your two tins and bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean from the middle.

When you take your cakes out of the oven, prick all over with a skewer and drizzle some of the caramel sauce over both sponges, then take out the tins and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile… make the icing. Soften your butter very briefly in the microwave and beat it up until smooth. If you have a kitchen aid that is helpful. I don’t and broke my whisk in the process. Add the cream cheese and mix further, and then sieve in the icing sugar. Blend it all together- a hand blender is ideal for this- then put it in the fridge to firm up. You could also add some salted caramel sauce here and take it up a level. I forgot to do this and was gutted.

When the cakes are cooled, sandwich them together with a good generous layer of the icing in between and the rest piled on top. Then the fun part- decoration. Contrasting textures to the cake are good so i went for ahopped up Crunchie, which looks quite like little twigs and forest debris when artfully arranged, see above. Fudge chopped into mini chunks were also scattered which worked well. You might consider drizzling some of the sauce over in a nice pattern, decorating with crushed Werther’s Originals, or foraging some cinder toffee to ‘shave’ on top. Whatever fanciness you decide, if it is caramelly or salty it will taste great.

 

This is the ultimate cake to see you through from Halloween  to Bonfire night- literally that entire week given the size of it! Let me know how you get on if you give it a go x
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BabaBoom, Battersea

BabaBoom is a new charcoal kebab kitchen on Battersea Rise, the junction end of Clapham Common that is lively with young professionals most nights and home to several chain restaurants including the brunch hotspot The Breakfast Club, whose popularity is indicated by its queues which I included have subjected myself to (once, in the rain). So it’s nice to see a new independent restaurant with middle eastern flavours establish itself. The focus is on lovingly made kebabs, which have had a bit of a renaissance as of late; Le Bab in Kingly Court and Black Axe Mangal are high on my to do list and just two of many glamorising this fast food dining experience.

Officially opening on 6th September, I was quick (and keen) enough to enjoy 2 meals at BabaBoom last week for their soft launch, sampling discounted food while they tested the water.

The menu is short and simple, and I like that they offer a twist on classics- tahini, a condiment I usually avoid, was blended with sweet potato and gentle spices, served with veg crudités and flatbread; whitebait was fried and dusted in dukkah and a squeeze of lime which went really well with their house made sauces- a cooling yoghurty mint and a harissa ketchup with a hot sweet tang.

We ordered another of the nibbles- red hot sweet pickled chillies, which blew my gob off- though I was warned by our waiter that they were just 10 days into pickling and at max heat. Considerably served on a swoosh of that cool mint sauce and labneh, I thought they were a bit expensive at £3.50 for 3. They were delicious though,  and was glad to see they reappeared on our kebabs.

The kebab process is explained- choose your grilled meat or falafel, have it on a flatbread or salad , then choose a side. I tried the lamb shoulder kebab, succulent meat topped with slaw and coal fire red peppers plus all 4 of the sides to share (2 for £6). My top 2 were the smashed aubergine- mushed and caramelised to a sweet rich flavour topped with labneh and pommegranate; and the freekeh tabbouleh, a fresh herby salad with a nutty texture including perhaps peanuts? which was a well executed twist.

The second visit I had my now favourite kebab- the chicken shish with saffron and orange- a sticky marmalade like glaze coated the charred meat which was generously portioned.I added some grilled mastelo cheese (£2) which I’ve not encountered before but am glad I did- it’s a less mainstream version of halloumi.

We also ordered the broad bean falafel (as a side to share between 3!) which was a more delicate and less crunchy version of your standard falafel. The doughy flatbread deserves mention- it’s a step up from your average pitta, and the perfect vehicle for the charred meats, not sogging under the weight and so substantial it would make a monstrous wrap should you opt to pick it up and get stuck in that way. I preferred to tear it apart to dip in all the lovely juices and sauces mixing together whilst the meat sat atop.

Attention to detail is paid: sauces are in classic squeezy takeaway shop bottles on each table for repeatedly drizzling and tap water is served with cucumber and mint which is a god send with the chilli pickles. I drank a lovely sauvignon blanc from the short wine list, which was £19 a bottle.

BabaBoom do a late night offering, a feast menu which looks good value and brunch of a weekend. Refreshingly, they do not add service charge to the bill, so we tip knowing it goes straight to staff. At half price (including drinks) it came to £14 a head which is pretty good, but can’t help feel it is a tad expensive at full whack in comparison to other similar informal restaurants with short street food themed menus. Regardless,  both times I left happy and satisfied, by the food, atmosphere and prospect of future visits when in the area- it’s a real welcome change to the chains and to I can’t wait to satiate a craving for the one kebab I am yet to try!

Check out the menu here

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Chick n Sours, Dalston

So last month I heard of a new opening on Kingsland Road;  a fried chicken and sour cocktails joint, a niche combo that commands attention on the strip otherwise saturated with Vietnamese eateries. Lucky enough to bag a spot on the soft launch, I booked in early doors to enjoy 50% off food.


We were greeted by the friendly staff and owner Carl who threw in a free welcome cocktail, obviously knowing the key to my heart. We chose the House Sour, which came generously sloshed in a tankard and topped with freeze dried strawberries, the type you get in Special K that go tangy with the addition of milk, and unsurprisingly are much better on cocktails.

 

The menu had an Asian influence with lots of sweet and spicy and tangy combos, highly preferable to the standard chicken/lettuce/mayo/bun which is now all too reminiscent of KFC. We ordered some strips to start with a blue cheese sauce which was robust in flavour and generously portioned, always highly appreciated as a sauce obsessive. Note the little pot of chilli oil on each table. Nice touch- it was cordially drained.

As our main dish we ordered the ‘House Fry’- 2 large pieces of fried chicken smothered in a sweet and sour sauce topped with toasted cashews, coriander and fresh chilli. It was SO GOOD, the Korean flavours airing more to the sweet than the salty, but still with a kick akin to rib n saucy Nik Naks. We chose a side of pickled watermelon salad- I am a fan of wacky sides so it was right up my street and it worked really well. Topped with chopped nuts and coriander it was a refreshing contrast to the indulgent chicken coating and had a lovely mix of textures that every salad should embrace.  We also had the fries which were very similar to those at McDonalds ( a good thing) and chose the XO Mayo (peanut- satay twist- again a nice element of asian fusion) to dip.

 

Other menu options included the Korean bun which was going down a storm and no wonder as it was huge, one you would find difficult getting your chops around even if you cut it in half; I had food envy. Overall the menu was small and concise, concentrating on what they do well like most places in London now, reflecting that quality and imaginative combos are the way forward.

To finish we sampled their Mr Whippy style ice cream topped with shredded Weetabix. This was a nice malty crunchy topping for the soft serve, but it could have done with a bit of sauce. The raspberry one traditionally drizzled on 99ers would be perfect and surely slot in nicely with the sweet and sour theme.

Chick n Sours is the ideal Friday night destination for a few after work cocktails to warm you up for the night ahead. If I didn’t live in Brixton, I’d make it my local for the friendly vibes and good balance of an intimate and buzzing atmosphere.

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my kitchen

Banana Loaf 

  

Old bruised bananas in their finest form- if you have some ready for the bin spare them a thought and make this loaf cake which requires very little baking finesse!

Cream 130g each of butter and caster sugar in a bowl – Mix in 2 beaten eggs, 160g self raising flour, 1 tbsp of both nutmeg and baking powder and 2 mashed up bananas – Pour into a greaseproof paper lined loaf tin – Bake. Leave in for around 35 mins at 180 Celsius, or until the knife test gives the go ahead and the crust is crunchy. Dead easy! 

Add an extra mashed banana for a denser, moister texture that melts in the mouth and make it look pretty by drizzling icing over the top. The hardest part is leaving it to cool without slicing yourself a wedge.

 

  

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Burger & Bacon Bender 

   

 

This weekend I had the good fortune of trying out 2 eateries that had been on my list for a while; Electric Diner in Notting Hill, and Lerryn’s cafe in Peckham. 

As I was taking it easy on the wine this weekend, it only seemed fitting to indulge on eating out and ordering the most calorific comfort food one can only truly appreciate without a hangover and so Saturday afternoon’s sober burger craving was confronted at Electric Diner. 

For a catch up with a bezzie over casual food this place provided a great backdrop- tables were perhaps a little squeezed together and sittings ushered in and out (we were given an hour for our table, and presented with the bill without asking) but this is Portobello Road, and the buzzing, exclusive atmosphere was too good to pass up.  

I ordered the single cheeseburger (£9) and fries (£5) which is steep. I don’t know anywhere that charges a fiver for a side of spuds, and I thought this price was a bit ridic- when somewhere like Honest burgers gives you fries with your burger at no extra cost, a benchmark is set and if Electric Diner wants to rattle up the burger scene then it’s going the wrong way about it. However, I had not come to a burger restaurant, and it was packed with people ordering steak, knickerbockerglories and honey fried chicken which all looked very good. For the record, my burger was very tasty, held together well with good brioche, but when Honest Burgers is a couple of doors down, you can’t help make comparisons and theirs is better!

My friend ordered the hot dog and this was well sized, generously sauced and seasoned and came with a pot of caramelised onions and a pickle. She was very pleased, and she is German therefore not to be contested. 

   

 

The brunch is big news here and since it had such a good atmosphere- low lighting, upmarket twists on classic diner decor and good music- I’d defo go back and be sure to watch a film too. 

The following morning a trip out to Peckham for a nose in Rye Wax records with my boyfriend required a stop off so we strolled down a sun basked Rye Lane to Lerryn’s – I’d heard Lerryn’s was a no fuss, top quality cafe serving good coffee and sandwiches so we decided to check it out. 

A specific hipster demographic had collected here, both stark contrast and ironically familiar in style to the rough and tumble that is Rye Lane, and as we slotted in and suitably ordered our soy latte and Americano, we rolled our eyes when it arrived in a glass jar, of course, to mark it’s alternative stance. Although this looks nice, and the use of handleless mugs is well practiced in Northern Europe, I do prefer to be able to pick up my coffee without scalding my fingertips! 

  

I am by no means slating Lerryn’s- it serves great coffee, food is made fresh In the exposed mini kitchen and it has attracted good loyal clientele who appreciate the bright side of gentrification in this area. We ordered bacon butties which came on thick toasted sourdough with chilli jam and optional extras – I went for the fried egg. The menu was centered around the sourdough, with halloumi, avocado and peanut butter all possible variations and they all looked good. Sunday papers were provided which was a nice touch and service was with a smile. 

At just over £12 for breakfast for 2, it’s very reasonable for such a popular area, and is a great place to spend a few hours on a Sunday without breaking the bank.  

 

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my kitchen

Cinnamon & Raisin Granola 


 

Granola is one of my favourite brekkies and the best way to jazz up rolled oats once I’ve exhausted porridge through winter. With a dollop of yoghurt and honey, it feels more of a dessert than a breakfast, and although the most thrify option is to buy it by the kilo from Tesco, I mostly avoid it as this can disappear as fast as a bag of popcorn, which is very fast in my company. If you have a good stock of nuts and seeds, I’ve found you can make your own over and over for next to nothing, and play around with combinations you won’t find in the supermarket. 

I never properly measure ingredients in cooking, not because I’m a culinary expert but simply because I can’t be arsed and am more of a ‘throw it in’ kind of girl, living by the belief that cooking is more of an art than a science of precision. As such my baking efforts are hit or miss, although I have generally aired on the lucky side having recently won the wooden spoon award at a bake off competition at work (brag alert). I estimated my granola ratios at around 3 parts oats to 1 part nuts and seeds, plus a generous gloop of honey and golden syrup- the more used, the crunchier granola you get. I love anything with a sweet and salty balance so I made this batch with a sprinkle of cinnamon and Maldon sea salt, and nuts wise opted for almonds and Brazil nuts for their buttery texture. I’ve seen recipes using whole nuts, but I found chopped made sure they were evenly distributed and toasted. 

Recipe: 

Approx 300g oats

100g chopped nuts 

50g – 100g pumpkin and sunflower seeds 

100g honey 

50g golden syrup 

3 tablespoons of coconut oil

Handful of large raisins

Sea salt and cinnamon seasoning 

Preheat the oven to 150 C. Mix all the dry ingredients including the seasoning in a large bowl. Gently heat the syrup, coconut oil and honey and pour into the oat mix, stirring with a couple of spatulas or wooden spoons. Add more if necessary making sure it all clumps together, then spread out onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Bake in the oven for 30-35 mins, stirring halfway through to make sure everything gets toasted. Don’t be tempted to leave it in for longer as this easily burns- you will taste the burn on your nuts and seeds and you will be sorry! Once done allow to cool and mix with your raisins before transferring to an airtight container. 

Delish with coconut yoghurt and sliced banana, this definitely tastes more wholesome and flavoursome without the addtitives of shop bought granola.  If you have any more experimental granola flavour combinations for me to try, I’d love to hear them.

 

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Brew Cafe, Clapham

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Having racked up a brunch bucket list that that has been too long neglected due to the indulgence of hangovers and homemade bacon butties, this weekends pre holiday prep called for an early start, and so it was time to tick off a trip to Brew cafe on Northcote Road.

Inspired by Aussie all day cafés in Sydney, Brew has a chilled out atmosphere and a menu boasting creative twists on brunch classics, burgers, pizzas, juices and cocktails to take you into the evening . I’ve heard it even does a breakfast in bed special where you can lie and sip prosecco, horizontal as you please, though only at their Putney branch. Dishes such as Turkish pide, one of 2015’s NBTs, and panko crumbed chicken burger showed influences from worldwide cuisines, and it’s spot on with it’s menu buzzwords such as ‘folded’ eggs, which sound much more sophisticated that scrambled eggs.

We got the blueberry pancakes which came stacked with creme fraiche, hot caramelised banana and obv maple syrup. I have a bit of a soft spot for pancakes; I often pick up a 6 pack of scotch for a quick fix at work, and was pleased to find that these lived up to expectations. They were American style, thick and hot out of the pan which is vital. The ratio of egg to flour was higher than that I would use at home, but this didn’t detract from the from the fluffiness. The maple syrup was a little stingy, and had it not been for the crème fraiche I’d have requested some on the side.

To drink I had a sweet and spicy cinnamon latte, and opted for a brownie bite on the side which was a dense chocolately chunk studded with hazelnuts, with more of a truffley than cakey brownie texture. It was deliciously rich, and only 50p extra.

Brew on the whole isn’t cheap- this set me back £13.50 (including 12.5% service charge) and it wasn’t the biggest portion. This isn’t the kind of place you can while away the afternoon with your papers, not least for fear of the bill you could rack up but for the glares from hungry locals waiting for your table. Taking this as a good sign, and with temptations such as toasted banana bread with pistachios and red velvet cake, its somewhere I’d happily revisit for a weekend sweet fix. For dinner and drinks, I’d head to their bigger Putney venue.

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