Monthly Archives: April 2010

On Location: Tapas Brindisa (Borough Market, London)

It was a lovely sunny day and I was on my way with my friend N to London’s Bankside for a spot of culture at the Tate Modern. We got out of the tube, and decided we needed sustenance before continuing, and I remembered Tapas Brindisa – I’ve been to their restaurant in Soho a couple of times (and utterly loved it) but never managed to get into the one at Borough Market by London Bridge, as it was always way too busy. A good sign, I guess. Well, it was the middle of the afternoon following the lunchtime rush, and hey, there was a table by the window which looked just perfect for watching the world go by. We went for it.

The bad news was that we arrived five minutes too late to order anything  hot, so we settled for the selection of Spanish cheeses. When it came, it was presented nicely and I liked the variety  of the platter. Of the four, three came with some sort of fruit affair, and I diligently tried each with and without this little extra to see if it made a difference.

First I tried a goat cheese, Garrotxa, which I liked and which went well on their bread rubbed with olive oil. I must admit that I missed the grapes that this was served with, so can’t say if eating the two together would have made a difference (I suspect not). It was pleasant enough, but not something I think I must have again if I see it. Next was the inevitable sheeps cheese with quince. This was Zamorano extra matured sheeps cheese with quince paste. I was not in love with this, but I am not a huge fan of manchego with membrillo, so if there is an issue here, it lies with me, not Brindisa.

The farm house Mahón came with a tomato jam. On its own, this was nice and if anything rather creamy. But adding the tomato jam released other notes – a rich smokiness and almost a “meatiness” to the cheese, and it was really delicious and the enhancement to the flavour quite unexpected. I’ll have this again. The one I was most dubious about was a blue cheese called Picos de Europe which came with slivers of a fig and almond wheel. Dubious, because I’ve never had Spanish blue cheese before and didn’t think this sounded right. Anyway, on its own, this was a great cheese after all, but in the way that blue cheese is something I like and it usually always packs a punch. However, add the fig, and it cut through the sharpness and combined with the cheese to highlight its creaminess and rounded out the flavour. Again, a great combination where the partner ingredient really made a valuable contribution to the overall taste experience.

I’ll go back – I like the sister restaurant, and the atmosphere at Borough Market is friendly and relaxed. My aim was to try some new Spanish cheeses, and I am glad that Tapas Brindisa introduced me to a couple of new things that I really liked. I might just try to be a little more organised and make it in time for the hot tapas next time I go!

Tapas Brindisa, 18-20 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TJ. Tel: 020 7357 8880. Tube: London Bridge.

LondonEats locations map here.

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Koninginnedag 2010

I was asked to prepare something to help celebrate the de facto Dutch national day, Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day). The country goes crazy in a blaze of orange to celebrate Queen Beatrix’s official birthday (like our own dear Queen Elizabeth, she has two birthdays. She’s the queen, so it’s obviously okay). So what to do? Small orange cakes, with lurid orange icing, and some flags with Beatrix’s picture on them. Enjoy!

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Spring Salad

After all that waiting…summer is here!

I spent most of the day in one of Stoke Newington’s green spots, the amazing Clissold Park. Just sitting on the grass, reading and chatting with friends and watching the world go by…all in all, life is good!

As it gets warmer, it is also time to say goodbye to winter favourites and bring lighter dishes on to the menu. In particular, I am a big fan of salads. I don’t mean just a couple of tomatoes, some iceberg lettuce and tinned sweetcorn. I like to add a lot of ingredients so that the final dish has a good combination of textures and tastes. Keeps things interesting. Today I made one with some torn cos lettuce, sliced vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, courgette, endives), croutons, fried halloumi, walnuts and toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds. To make this a bit more vibrant and in keeping with the season, I also added some shredded fresh mint.

I never work to a “salad recipe”, so instead here are a few general tips that I find work well for salads:

  • Use seeds – I love adding toasted seeds (pumpkin, sunflower) for a nice nutty flavour. Poppy or sesame work well too.
  • Add something substantial – salad makes a good summer meal if you add something to give it “body”. I love blue cheese (such as St Agur) with cold potatoes, feta with butternut squash, or just a few generous pieces of halloumi cheese.
  • Croutons – use good bread (I like flatbread or sourdough bread), cut into cubes, drizzle over a little olive oil and toss so everything is well-coated. Bake in the oven at around 170°C until golden. This also provides lighter (less oily) croutons as compared to frying them.
  • Dressing – I go with the simple 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar, add a scant half spoon of salt, a pinch of sugar and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Shake in a jam jar, and you get a light, clean salad dressing. If too runny, add more oil, and if too thick, add more vinegar. Jazz it up with lemon juice in place of vinegar for a citrus twist, or add finely chopped chilli, lime zest or fresh mint. You can also make this into a nice cream dressing by adding a few generous tablespoons of double cream and then shaking well.
  • Be seasonal – this is something that I really want to make a point of doing this year, so keep an eye out for what is local and/or seasonal. Asparagus, seasonal herbs, new potatoes…mmmm…


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Poppy Seed Cake

The fourth and final post from the Naming Day – poppy seed cake!

Everything else I have posted was simple and very sweet, so I wanted something to appeal to more sophisticated palates. And then I  remembered poppy seed cake. I’ve loved this taste ever since I first had it on a visit to Budapest. I was sent there with work and managed to tack on a couple of days to see the city. Once of my memories was of a café near to the Budapest opera house. It was all very elegant, but the highlight was the selection of cakes – dozens and dozens of them, each one sounding like a star in its own right. The one I went for in the end was a poppy seed cake, on the basis that I had no idea what it would be like. It was a cake made with a lot of poppy seeds and with layers of sweetened poppy seed paste. It was quite unlike anything I had ever tried before, and really a taste sensation. Since then, I’ve been hooked and always go for Mohnschnecke (lit. “poppy snail”, but “poppy danish” perhaps sounds nicer) if I’m in the German-speaking world.

The recipe I used today comes from the fantastic Chocolate and Zucchini blog, which I have been following for a couple of years. It’s really nice to read about someone who is just so enthusiastic about what they make. Anyway, the recipe is for a flourless poppy seed cake (see here) which produces a fantastic delicate, rich-yet-light, aromatic cake that is good for those avoiding gluten and which is also not overly sweet. The earthy flavour of the poppy seeds is enhanced with a little orange zest and almond butter, and you get a rather fun little “pop” in the mouth from the seeds. This recipe is great not only for making a cake, but also for muffins or even petit fours (just fill a mini-muffin tray and bake until golden – about 15 minutes).

The recipe does involve whipping egg whites, which is usually a sign that science is at work and you should leave quantities and ingredients well alone unless you are the kind of cook who likes to see things go haywire. But that has not stopped me from playing just a little with the recipe – I always add half a teaspoon of baking powder, and I have found the cake works very well with hazelnut butter and ground hazelnuts in place of almond, and/or lemon zest in place of the orange. For the icing, I think the simple glaze is the best way to finish it off. If you were to go for a more elaborate finish, cream cheese icing is probably best, so that it is tangy rather than just sweet.

Worth making? Yes! This is actually simple to make, and the result is both unusual and delicious. There is a great combination of flavours and texture, and is not too sweet (I said it was sophisticated!). It’s also useful to keep in mind for the moment you realise that your guest for tea tomorrow does not eat gluten. Remember, the good cook sees no problems, only chances to try out new recipes!


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Vanilla and Chocolate Cupcakes

The third posting from the Naming Day party – cupcakes!

I had made a chocolate cake for the afternoon, but I knew that it would be asking a lot of the children there to wait until the adults were ready. How to solve this? A tray of cupcakes. I used the recipe from the Magnolia Bakery (so ubiquitous that I haven’t reproduced it here, but see here). I did make one small tweak though – American cupcakes tend to be softer and moister due to using oil rather than butter (even if Magnolia’s are all-butter affairs). But as oil-based cakes are normally not very appealing to a British palate, I used four-fifths butter to one-fifth sunflower oil, and it yielded a good result.

I also split the mix, and made some vanilla cupcakes, and added 150g of chopped milk and plain chocolate to the rest of the batter for chocolate chip. I topped the vanilla cupcakes with yellow or pink butter frosting and covered in sprinkles, and covered the chocolate chip cakes with chocolate frosting and added some bling with silver balls.

For the butter frosting, I’ve tried Magnolia’s before but I find it way too sweet. This probably has something to do with the  high volume of milk in their recipe which seems to mop up sugar, so I cut down on the milk and also held back on the icing sugar – just adding enough so that it holds and doesn’t split. The result was great.

Magnolia’s chocolate frosting was superb. The recipe uses melted chocolate folded into butter frosting. When I’ve tried this before, I’ve used normal buttercream as the base, which was great at first but the mixture always set very hard. It turns out that the trick is to fold the chocolate into a buttercream with more butter and less sugar (so it is softer to start with). The result spreads like icing, holds perfectly, but has a light, mousse-like texture on top of the cake. Yum!

And did my target audience like them? Everything went, and was scoffed in silence. I take that as a big thumbs up.

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Jam Tarts

The second post from the Naming Day party – simple, traditional and ever-popular jam tarts!

We had glorious weather in London yesterday and spent all afternoon sitting in the back garden talking and playing games. It was a really great day, and I am glad that I took a selection of goodies that could be passed round, as it really suited the informality of the day. Sitting on the lawn in the sun meant that jam tarts seemed somehow very fitting. All very Alice in Wonderland next to the tulips and under the lilac tree.

These are really simple to make – you just need thin pastry and some good jam. I used blackberry jam that I made last year from fruit in Stoke Newington’s Abney Park and some raspberry jam made from fruit picked at the end of the summer at a house in Junglinster in Luxembourg (and yes, it was transported in a punnet across Belgium and on the Eurostar back to London). Both jams were made with a lot of fruit and as little sugar as I could get away with. The result was very fruity, flavoursome jam which were both great in these tarts.

For 12 jam tarts:

• pastry (I used 1/4 of the quantity in the rhubarb tart recipe)
• 1/2 jar of jam

Butter a tart pan. Roll the pastry very thin (I got mine to 1mm), and cut out circles with a cutter to line the tart pan. Put in the freezer until the pastry is solid.

To cook, preheat the oven to 150°C. Fill the pastry shells with baking beads, and cook for 10 minutes (you will end up with the slightly fluted edges – this was a happy accident in my case). Remove from the oven, allow to cool slightly, then remove the baking beads.

Add jam to each tart –  these were about 5cm across, and took one generous spoonful each. Don’t over-fill, as the jam will bubble in the oven and weld the tarts to the pan. Bake for around 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden. Once done, remove and allow to cool completely.

If the jam has leaked out and glued the tarts to the pan, heat the relevant tart very gently over a gas flame – the jam will soften and the tart comes right out.

Worth making? These are simple and delicious, so really worth trying. If you’ve made something else and have pastry left over (sweet or savoury), then this is a neat way to use them up.


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Beschuit met muisjes

From my recent trip to the Netherlands, I have a packet of pink muisjes (mini aniseed balls) and beschuit (rusk). The name apparently comes from the fact that the stem is still attached to some of the muisjes, so they look like little mice.

For the Dutch, it is a tradition to serve these up when a child is born – pink for girls and blue for boys. The exception is in the case of the birth of a new princess – in which case they issue limited edition orange muisjes in honour of the official colour of the Dutch Royal House (surprisingly, the House of Orange). I didn’t pick these up randomly, but in anticipation of a baby naming day in West London this weekend. I have been charged with making a birthday cake and cupcakes (which will appear over the coming days as separate posts), and I thought the muisjes would be a nice touch for the parents (who are living temporarily in Brussels) and the godfather (who is Dutch).

So what are they like? Ahead of the day, I tried it out as the Dutch serve them. One slice of beschuit, lightly buttered, and muisjes sprinkled on top. While the muisjes themselves have a strong aniseed taste, combined with the rusk it was a lot milder and they tasted pretty good. All in all, quite a fun thing to celebrate a new baby.

Postscript – I have since learned that the reason to use aniseed in the first place is that this was thought to help the new mother to feed her baby (as, in theory, aniseed stimulated “lactation”). Bizarre food fact!

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Oatmeal Sultana Cookies

Sultana and oats is a great combination. I’ve already covered them in the guise of flapjacks and today I’ve knocked up a batch of cookies.

The great thing about oatmeal sultana cookies is that you can almost imagine that they are good for you, so you can easily have two or three without feeling too guilty. Today’s recipe is the type that are made with quite a lot of butter and sugar but no egg, so they come out of the oven wonderfully dense and chewy but with crisp edges. In my view, the key is to use rolled oats and juicy sultanas (rather than just raisins).

This is a quick and easy recipe – as it contains no egg, you can easily rustle up a small batch in next to no time. The lack of egg also means you get a great cookie dough you can munch on without the tiresome baking bit (if that’s your thing).

For the cookies (makes around 40):

• 175g light brown sugar (or a mixture of white and dark brown sugar)
• 175g butter
• 2 tablespoons golden syrup
• 200g plain flour
• 125g rolled oats
• 100g sultanas

Preheat the oven to 175°C.

Cream the butter, sugar and golden syrup until fluffy. Add the flour and mix well.

Fold in the oats and the sultanas.

Roll walnut-sized pieces of the dough into balls. Place on a baking sheet and flatten to around 1cm thick.

Cook for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned. If the cookies have spread, you can push the edges back while the cookies are still warm.

Worth making? Yes – this is a really easy recipe. Once you know what you’re doing, you can go from empty bowl to a tray of cookies ready to go into the oven in about 15 minutes, which is less time that it would take to go to a shop and buy some. This recipe can also be tweaked according to preference – use dried fruit of your choice, or replace sultanas with chocolate chips. You can also add a little spice (cinnamon or nutmeg) which goes well with the buttery, caramalised cookies. I have also successfully frozen balls of the mixture – just allow to defrost and bake as usual. Simple!


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Scones and a visit to Scotland

I like to keep my posts limited to food and restaurants, but this week I am in Scotland and wanted to also share a few pictures. These are from the area around Pitlochry. It’s still quite “fresh” in this part of the world, and while Spring is clearly a few weeks behind London, there are still some amazing plants if you look for them. I loved the pink baby pine cones and a curiously photogenic fungus growing on tree stump amidst the moss.

But, as always, there needs to be a foodie element. No trip to Scotland is complete without some decent fresh scones. You can of course buy them in stores, but that is something of a scandal given just how simple they are to make and just how good they taste. Just flour, butter, eggs and milk.

These are great paired with lots of butter and either some local raspberry jam (another local favourite from great Perthshire raspberries) or heather honey, which has a fudge-like consistency and rich, intense flavour. I really recommend getting hold of either if you can.

For 12 scones:

• 275g self-raising flour
• 75g butter
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 egg, beaten
• 125ml milk

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Rub together the flour, baking powder and butter until it resembles rough breadcrumbs.

Mix the egg and milk, and add to the flour mixture. Stir until just combined – be careful not to over-mix. It will be quite soft and wet.

Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll out to around 2 cm thick. Use a cutter to form the scones. Place on a well-floured baking sheet a few inches apart and brush the tops with a little milk.

Bake for around 15 minutes until the scones are risen and golden.

Worth making? This recipe is super-easy and always goes down a storm. You can also vary the recipe is you want – either add a couple of handfuls of sultanas, or if you like them savoury, add 50g of grated strong cheddar. The secret is to keep the dough quite wet, so that the scones puff up in the oven.


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Rhubarb Tart

Ah, spring is in the air. The blossom is out and it is getting warmer. We’ve had a couple of false starts, but the temperature is starting to creep upwards and the signs of the changing season are all around us. With the warmer weather, we also get the first English rhubarb.

Anyone who grew up in Britain will have remember this “fruit” from their childhood with a combination of fear and trepidation. While it should change from astringent to pleasantly tart through cooking with enough sugar, too often this ended up as a sour green-brown pulp, maybe drowned in lumpy custard if you were lucky. I also recall the alarming fact that you should never cook it in aluminium as it will dissolve the metal (*). Now, does all this sound appealing? Nope, thought not.

How times change. I’m mentioned the rediscovery of childhood favourites and traditional food before, and it seems rhubarb has been part of this, except that it is now featuring in more sophisticated guises, including (to my amazement) the rather marvellous Rhubarb Martini at London’s fashionable Skylon cocktail bar.

Here is my take on the old favourite, rhubarb tart. I had tried a recipe from Nigella Lawson last year, but it was way too creamy. My version has a very thin pastry shell, bigs up the proportion of tangy fruit, and replaces the lashings of rich, sweet mascarpone cream with a little lightly whipped cream. However, Nigella’s tip for preparing the fruit is excellent – rather than stewing, she recommends gently roasting the rhubarb in the oven with a little sugar, which means you end up with tender chunks of rhubarb which burst with flavour and have a positively fluorescent pink colour.

For the tart:

Step 1 – the fruit

• 800g pink rhubarb
• 100g sugar

Step 2 – the pastry:

• 150g plain flour
• 75g butter
• pinch salt
• 2 tablespoon icing sugar
• cold water (to bind – I used 4 scant tablespoons)

Step 3 – the cream filling:

• 300ml double cream
• 2 tablespoons caster sugar
• few drops vanilla extract

Start with the fruit: wash, dry and trim the rhubarb. Cut into 2cm pieces with a sharp knife. Put into a glass oven dish, sprinkle with the sugar and mix gently. Put into an oven at 120°C for around an hour. Watch it like a hawk – the rhubarb should be pink and tender, but not starting to brown. You may also want to open the oven mid-cooking and mix gently so that everything is coated in the rhubarb syrup. Once ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Next, the pastry: Use your fingers to combine the flour, salt, icing sugar and butter in a bowl until it resembles breadcrumbs. Now add cold water, one teaspoon at a time, until the mixture just comes together. Cover with film, and allow to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Roll the chilled pastry as thinly as possible and use to line a 20cm loose-bottomed pie tin (try not to stretch it, otherwise it shrinks when you cook it). Put the lined tin into the freezer and allow to chill for 20 minutes. Bake blind at 150°C for around 25 minutes until the pastry is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

For the cream filling: whisk the cream, sugar and vanilla lightly until it is thick-ish but still floppy.

To assemble the tart: Spoon the cream into the pastry shell and spread evenly. Spoon the cooled rhubarb onto the pie (a little at a time), and drizzle any remaining syrup over the tart.

Worth making? In my view, this is the best way to cook rhubarb. The result is so nice that even those otherwise traumatised by their childhood memories of mushy rhubarb will like it. Even if you don’t make the tart, this is a lovely way to prepare rhubarb for serving with yoghurt or ice-cream. Just don’t add too much sugar, so that the sharpness of the rhubarb shines through.

(*) This is what I learned as a child, and duly tried it with a saucepan in the hope that the rhubarb would dissolve the pan before my eyes. As it turns out, the myth is not as dramatic as reality. The rhubarb will discolour and take on a metallic taste, and you don’t really want a dose of aluminum with your rhubarb. Stick to glass pots!


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