Monthly Archives: February 2011

Think Pink! Roasted Rhubarb

Look outside. You see the start of green shoots on the trees, the occasional crocus and a few daffodils starting to peek out from the earth. Is Spring here? Maybe, but rhubarb most certainly is. Those vivid red stalks are a real sign that sunny days are on the way. And to badly misquote Kay Thompson in the Audrey Hepburn classic Funny Face, when faced with what can still be a rather drab time of year, Think Pink!

Mention rhubarb, and some wag usually sucks their teeth, and makes the a pronouncement along the lines of well, you know that it’s actually a vegetable. All well and good – tomatoes are fruit, bananas are berries and peanuts are legumes, so that doesn’t really bother me so much.

What does matter is how you cook rhubarb. Anyone who grew up in the UK would have memories from school of this fruit (ha!) boiled until it was reduced to a stringy, gloopy, grey-green pulp. Well, today’s recipe is nothing more than a way of preparing rhubarb that means you can forget the nightmares of childhood, and instead preserve the vibrant pinkness of the stalks and avoid the “stringy bits”. Sold yet?

Now, you might we wondering why on earth would I be looking to roast rhubarb? I know this sounds like an odd technique, and that poaching is more common. However, if you are cooking in water, you still run the risk of ending up with stringy gloop. Not by roasting though – it really is dead simple. Drench the rhubarb in sugar, cover, and bake in the oven until the rhubarb is pink and tender.

Like magic, the sugar has vanished, the colour is superb and you have a little bit of rich syrup at the bottom of the dish. Perfect to add to muesli, on ice-cream or to fill a rhubarb tart. All this, and you preserve the bright Barbie-pink colour, which might – might – even get kids to eat the stuff. Can’t be bad? And if you’re feeling fancy, use some of that syrup to make a Spring cocktail.

Just a note on quantities – you would want to use no more than about one-quarter the amount of sugar to rhubarb, but if you prefer to showcase the tartness of the fruit (ha!), feel free to use less sugar.

To make baked rhubarb:

• pink rhubarb
• white sugar (1/4 the weight of the rhubarb)

Preheat the oven to 160°C.

Clean the rhubarb stalks. Cut off the ends, slice into 1 inch /2-3 cm chunks. Place in a glass baking dish, and cover with the sugar.

Loosely cover the dish with foil but make sure it does not touch the rhubarb (rhubarb + foil = trouble)! Bake for 30 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved and the rhubarb is just starting to brown slightly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Worth making? Forget green, mushy rhubarb – cooking this way will keep the vivid pink colour of the fruit and makes it a great addition to yoghurt, custard or on ice-cream.

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Guest Chef: Onion Tartlets

Very exciting, as today’s recipe is not one of mine, but is something my mum made last time I was visiting up in Scotland. Just a couple of weeks ago, but we still had snow outside, so spent most of the time indoors trying to keep warm. The poor cat didn’t know what was happening – it’s been at the mercy of the white stuff since mid-November.

I digress. This is the classic pairing of sweet, caramelised onions with cheese. The onions as basically shredded (so a bit of weeping is likely), and cooked with a glug of olive oil and a little butter and sugar until they are caramelised. Finish with a glass of white wine and a squeeze of lemon juice, allow the liquid to evaporate, then bake in the oven with cheese. the key here is to go for something with a decent flavour – Gruyère is the usual pairing, but a sharp, tangy cheddar will work just as well. Or if you feel greedy, a bit of both. But the result is great, and really for minimal effort.

Minimal effort? But surely you made the pastry, and that’s a faff! Well…time for a little confession. When we made these, we decided to take the “relaxed” option of using pre-made cases. Making pastry is pretty easy, and something I can do quite happily, but you can also buy some good all-butter pastry cases, and so we did that. Minimal fuss, so rather than all that sift-rub-chill-roll-chill again business, we just had to take care of the onions. As all the cooking is on a gentle heat to allow the flavour of the onions to develop properly, you probably don’t need to spend more than 10 minutes actually working in the kitchen. Spend it with the cat, watching it chase a silver thing on a stick instead!

The result is impressive, tastes great, and you can still bask in the “oh-I-made-them-myself” glory, while saving ourselves quite a lot of the hard work. Just don’t tell the guests! Or if you feel guilty, make your own pastry.

We also thought about some adaptations that I have on my “to do” list – using red onions, replacing the dash of lemon juice with a little balsamic vinegar, and crumbling goats cheese on top before baking. I expect great things!

To make 6 onion tartlets:

• 7 large onions
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 25g butter
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 glass white wine
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• salt and pepper, to taste
• 6 pastry cases (8-10 cm diameter)

Peel the onions, cut in half, and slice very thinly. Place in a frying pan with the sugar, butter and olive oil, then cover and cook very gently for about an hour, stirring from time to time. The onions are ready once they are soft, translucent and starting to caramelise.

Set the oven to 180°C.

Add a glass of white wine and lemon juice to the onions, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir well, and cook off the liquid.

Divide the onions between the tartlet cases and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the top of the cheese has melted and is slightly brown.

Serve warm.

Worth making? These were great little tartlets, wich a rich and flavourful filling. The basic recipe can be easily customised depending on which onions and which cheeses you have to hand. If you’re ambitious, you could easily adapt them into amuse-bouche for those fancy parties we all host these days.

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Cardamom, Lemon and Olive Oil Madeleines

It’s the latter part of February, but we still sit under those leaden skies and cold light. All quite conducive to staying in and potting around a nice warm house!

This is a recipe that I came up with on a quiet afternoon. It’s based on a few signature ingredients that I thought would complement each other. Simple as that. The cakes themselves are a combination of traditional madeleines and olive oil magdelenas.

I also added the cardamom as I thought its citrus resin flavour  would work well with the fresh lemon and the spiciness of the olive oil. The result? Well, very happy to report  – they taste just great! Now, I fully accept that these are a bit far away from “proper”madeleines, but a little creativity in the kitchen from time to time surely  cannot be a bad thing?

To make 18 madeleines:

• 2 eggs
• 80g grams white caster sugar
• zest of one lemon
• 2 large pinches of cardamom, finely ground
• pinch salt
• 110g grams plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 85 grams olive oil

Put the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, cardamom and salt in a bowl. Whip for 5 minutes until the mixture becomes light and thick (an electric beater is easiest!).

In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder and sift. Add the flour mixture to the eggs and stir lightly with a spatula until combined.

Add the olive oil and incorporate using a spatula. Let the batter rest in the fridge for 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Place spoonfuls of the batter into madeleine moulds and bake for 15 minutes, until the “bumps” have appeared and the cakes are golden.

Once cooked, remove from the oven. When the silicone tray is cool enough to work with, press each madeleine out of the tray and move to a cooking rack. Just before serving, dust the shell side with icing sugar.

Worth making? I was very pleased with how these turned out. The freshness of the lemon and the cardamom work well together, and the olive oil keeps them very moist. What I did notice is that these cakes were actually at their best the day after baking – so once they are cool, leave overnight in a sealed container (with a slice of bread if you find them a little dry on the outside). The next day, they will be soft and fragrant when you come to eat them.

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Scottish food: the famous Ecclefechan Butter Tart

You thought I was done with the Scottish food? Guess again! It’s the Ecclefechan Butter Tart!


This is similar to one of the first sweet tarts I ever learned to make, called “Border Tart”. This was a simple pastry shell, filled with dried fruits, cherries and nuts, all in a soft mixture of sugar, eggs and ground almonds. Taking it up a notch, today’s recipe is the slightly fancier Ecclefechan Butter Tart, which originates in the Scottish Borders town of Ecclefechan. The difference between this and the Border Tart is (and from this point, I am probably just making parts of it up) seems to the loss of the almonds, a lot of butter, and a deeper filling in the Ecclefechan Tart. They might also have different fruit…


In fact, I know they have different fruit in them. Mixed dried fruit used to contain sultanas, raisins and – if you were lucky – a few small pieces of bright scarlet glacé cherry. The bag I picked up had two sorts of sultanas (normal! golden!) plus raisins, apricots, peel and dried cranberries. I’m sure granny wouldn’t approve. But no cherry, so I added a goodly amount of them too. It was interesting to see that the ones I found were “natural” and a deep reddish-purple. Probably better for you, but part of me misses the neon red cherries from back in the day.

This recipe came to prominence a couple of years ago, as these tarts were presented as an alternative to mince pies at Christmas. Leaving to one side why anyone would want to replace the mince pie (hey, we only eat them for one month of the year, hardly over-exposed!), I can see why this would be appealing – you have a buttery pastry, a filling of mixed dried fruits and chopped nuts, enrobed in brown sugar, but without any spices. And the texture? Ah, that’s where the magic happens. The best way to describe it is like the filling in similar to a pecan pie, but with lots of fruit instead of just the nuts. Most of the filling becomes a thick, rich, buttery caramel, while the surface becomes slightly puffed-up and lightly browned, contrasting with the dark inside.

As if all this were not enough, there is also one “mystery ingredient” to provoke a no, really? moment – a tablespoon of vinegar. I really have no idea what this does, but it works in this tart, so don’t skip this step. Just be sure to limit yourself to one spoonful, and use a wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar – industrial vinegar is just that little bit too sharp for me, and I don’t think it would work too well here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little gastronomic tour through Scottish cuisine – how often do you make traditional foods?


To make an Ecclefechan Butter Tart:

For the pastry:

• 100g plain flour
• 50g butter, cold, cut into cubes
• 25g caster sugar
• 1 egg yolk

In a bowl, rub the butter into the flour. Once the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, add the sugar and mix well. Add the egg yolk and just enough cold water so the mixture comes together (1-2 tablespoons of water is probably enough). Cover the pastry in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Use to line a 20cm loose-bottomed flan dish, and prick with a fork. Place the tart shell in the fridge while making the filling.

For the filling:

• 125g butter, melted and cooled
• 200g soft brown sugar
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
• 50g walnuts, chopped
• 250g dried mixed fruit
• 50g glacé cherries

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).

In a bowl, combine the sugar, butter and eggs. Stir in the vinegar, walnuts, dried fruit and cherries. Pour into the pastry shell.

Bake the tart for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden and the filling is slightly puffy and lightly browned in the centre (turn the tart during baking).

Worth making? Wow. This tart is superb. Lots of dried fruit might make you think of Christmas, the buttery filling is more like a pecan pie. It’s rich and sweet and a great afternoon treat, either as one large tart or individual little pies. I made it to take to afternoon tea with a housebound friend, and like to think that it helped with recuperation!

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Guest Chef: Brooklyn Berry Pancakes

For those that have missed the many, many hints at the end of 2010, I spent New Year in New York this time round and had an absolute blast.

On 30 December, we had a real Mad Men evening, and headed to Midtown for dinner at the super-swish Casa Lever. This place was, quite simply, stunning. A fantastic bar with well-made (i.e. strong) cocktails, and a funky 1950s-inspired retro interior. That selection of Warhol-style prints on the wall? Eh…no…they are Warhols. I loved, loved, loved this place. The menu is not vast, but even given this, I found the veggie selection to be pretty good, and – refreshingly – rather innovative. Mushroom risotto is all well and good, but ’twas not to be seen. Instead, it was a joy to eat  their fantastic baby beet salad, followed by pear ravioli with smoked butter. Sitting in the coveted corner table, all of us dressed up smartly, it was a superb meal. We rolled out of there, and straight into the nearby Monkey Bar for more, eh, cocktails. Just a quick Old Fashioned to finish off the evening. Then into a cab and whisked through the icy streets of Manhattan, over the bridge and into Brooklyn with the glittering skyscrapers of the city piercing the freezing night air…

…however, the next morning, it is fair to say that we were a little “delicate”. I put it down to the jet lag. Honest! But we were fortunate enough to wake up to the smell of the hostess’s pancakes. After a little persuasion, she agreed to let me take the pics and post the recipe. So here as her (almost) famous Brooklyn Berry Pancakes, which also makes her my first guest chef of 2011!

In this recipe, you are looking for large fruit, and then drop three or four sizeable berries (blackberries, raspberries – fresh or frozen) onto the top of the pancakes are they sizzle in the skillet (frying pan – this word confused me at first – we really are two nations separated by a common language).

All was peaceful until I asked for syrup. Maple syrup was promptly presented with a flourish (“the finest Vermont maple syrup from our trip up there in Autumn…”), and I made a throwaway comment about how great golden syrup is on pancakes. Don’t get me wrong, I love maple syrup, but I also love golden syrup and salty butter on pancakes. But this was the wrong crowd, and there was probably nothing I could do to bring them round. The American perspective about the wrongness of golden syrup was rammed home with a tale about glazing a holiday roast in England with golden syrup and the resulting “interesting” taste experience that followed. We left it agreeing I would never persuade them, and all was good when we later dropped by Dean & Deluca in the New Year, I picked up a full 16 fl oz of maple syrup to take home. With that, we were all friends once again, not that I think we were ever not.

To make American Berry Pancakes:

• 180g plain flour
• 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• pinch of salt
• 2 tablespoons melted butter (plus extra, for frying)
• 300ml milk
• 1 egg
• 2 handfuls berries (fresh or frozen)

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre, and add the melted butter, milk and egg. Whisk until smooth, adding more milk if the batter is too thick – it should be fairly thin (aim for single cream consistency) or it will thicken up too much when cooking. Pour batter into a measuring cup or something with a spout.

Put some butter in a frying pan and heat gently until melted. On a medium heat, pour enough batter the same size as “silver dollar” pancakes (about the size of your palm). When they start to bubble on top, drop a few berries on top. Flip over and when done, place on a plate in a warm oven until ready to serve.

Serve with sliced banana or apple and…pour maple syrup all over them!

Worth making? Tasty and always welcome first thing in the morning to give you the energy to head into town for sightseeing! And with that little jolt of fruit…well, you might even be able to claim that it is healthy.

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Oh, mon amour! Macarons à la framboise

You remember I said that I wanted to something a little bit different for Valentine’s Day? Well, I did it with the beetroot risotto, so now let’s balance that by going all traditional. I whipped up a batch of very fruity raspberry macarons, which as you can see were very pink and rather romantic.

Previously, when making macarons, I have tended to make nutty, spiced or chocolate variants, usually filled with ganache. Why? My issue has been around the filling – I find meringue-based buttercream a bit of a faff, and I am not a massive fan of the result in all cases. The alternative – using jam as the filling – didn’t strike me as too satisfying either. So I played around, and came up with a winning combination. A simple buttercream, with fresh raspberry puree folded in. The result is creamy, sweet and fruity all in one go, and they have the freshness that jam just does not bring. I realise that purists will shudder at the butter-plus-icing sugar filling (too grainy! not smooth! too easy!) but it worked here and tasted good, so that’s a success for me!

This was also a chance for me to try out some all-natural food colouring that I bought in [Mmmmh!] in Brussels last year. This one is a deep pinkish-red, and is a beetroot extract – and looks like dried beet juice, ground to a very fine powder. I like the natural food colouring. The shades are a little more muted, but actually quite pretty, and it does make you ask what actually goes into something that is blood red, royal blue or shocking purple?

While this powder was perfect for adding a delicate pink hue, I am afraid that I did over-reach myself. Inspired by raspberry and peppercorn macarons from Cannelle & Vanille, I used some of my beetroot powder as she used raspberry powder. I imagine that powdered raspberry is fruity and sharp, welcome on the tongue as a foil to the sweetness of the macaron shell and the smoothness of the filling. As I could not have guessed, mine had a vague taste of root vegetable to them. The ten macaron shells I tried this on went straight into the bin, poor things.

But look closer…you can see I have hidden something from you. In the spirit of surprises for St Valentine, I included a chunk of fresh raspberry in the middle of each macaron, for a sort of “maximum fruit” experience. And it worked well! So it would seem that I have overcome my mini-phobia of macarons with real fruit flavours. Bravo!

For raspberry macarons (makes around 25-30):

• 150g ground almonds
• 150g icing sugar
• 110g egg whites (4 egg whites – but weigh them to be sure)
• red food colouring (I used a natural beetroot-based colour)
• 165g white sugar (granulated or caster)
• 35ml water

Combine the icing sugar and ground almond, and sieve well. Set aside.

Put 55g of egg whites in a bowl. Add the food colouring (if using) and whisk very lightly – they will become a little frothy, but should remain liquid.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk the other 55g of egg whites until it reaches the firm peak stage.

Put the white sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat gently until it reaches the “soft ball” stage (118°C, or when you drop a little of the sugar into cold water, it forms a soft ball). I find this happens once all the sugar dissolves and the mixture boils. Once ready, pour in a thin stream into the whipped egg whites, beating continuously. This is best done using a Kitchen Aid or beater. Allow to cool to just above room temperature.

Pour the coloured liquid egg whites onto the almond mixture.

Add one-third of the meringue mixture to the almond mixture and combine. Add another third, combine, then add the remainder of the meringue. With a light hand, mix well until you have a smooth, glossy batter. It should flow slowly (think lava, not a mudslide).

Pipe the batter onto a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking sheet, so that you have a sheet with lots of little rounds, around 3-4cm across. Leave to sit in the open for 20-30 minutes, then bake at 150°C for 15 minutes. Half-way through cooking, turn the baking sheet around.

Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet. Assemble the macarons with the filling of your choice.

For the raspberry buttercream:

• 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 150g icing sugar
• 1 tablespoon cream
• 2-3 drops vanilla extract
• 50g raspberries, crushed

Combine the butter, icing sugar, cream and vanilla in a bowl. Begin with a spoon, then start to whisk with a beater until light and fluffy. Fold in the raspberries. If the mixture splits or seems too wet, add more icing sugar until you have a smooth, soft mass. Use in a piping bag to fill the macarons – pipe on one side, place 1/2 raspberry on top, then add a dot of filling to the top macaron shell, and press together very lightly.

Worth trying? These macarons are super-pretty and very romantic, so perfect if you are looking to impress on Valentine’s Day. The trick with the fresh fruit in the filling is, in my view, the best way to provide a flavourful raspberry macaron. And they provide just a little glimmer of the summer that is hopefully not too far away now.

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Oh, mon amour! Risotto aux betteraves rouges

Ah, ’tis nearly Valentine’s day! Blink, and you might miss it. Seem like only yesterday that all the Christmas decorations were up(*) but the local stores are already awash with chocolate Easter eggs. I am constantly amused how you can check the time of the year by the range of sweets and goodies on offer at the till.

Now, I could have made some form of heart-shaped biscuits or chocolates, or a red cupcake, but that would be (1) predictable, and (2) against the spirit of blogging more savoury dishes. Not to miss out on the luuuurve that is in the air at this time of year, I’ve produced something that is perfect for a romantic dinner with that special someone, and also keeps the red theme going. Just be sure that the relevant special someone likes beetroot.

This really is just a simple risotto, but chopped beetroot goes in with the first ladle of stock to make sure the colour is a vibrant dark magenta, and a few tweaks at the end of the cooking process to play on the flavour and colour of the beetroot.

The key thing is to use fresh beetroot, rather than the stuff that comes preserved in vinegar. I feel that it’s almost too obvious to point out, but something that has been sitting in acid for weeks and weeks is not going to be your best friend in a risotto. I appreciate that I am not speaking from experience here, and by all means give it a bash if you think that it would work, but it strikes me as a flavour combination I could happily miss. And really – who serves their beloved a plate of vinegar? But…that being said…a slight sharpness does work with beetroot, so I actually add a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar at the end, just to add the tiniest hint of sharpness. Just a touch though!

But let’s face it, the reason for making this is just the fantastic colour. It looks utterly stunning, and quite amazing to think this is completely natural. When I add the beetroot, I chop into a combination of larger and smaller pieces, so that you can still see the darker beetroot (which ends up looking like the dish is studded with garnets) next to the vibrant red rice. If you prefer, grate the beetroot – you’ll get more colour, but you’ll also have pink juice everywhere. Up to you…

To top this, I add a light sprinkling of Parmesan cheese (not too much, don’t hid the colour), plus some toasted pumpkin seeds and a little chopped chives. Their green colours contrast with the redness, and the flavours play well with the beetroot. However, toasted pine nuts and/or a light sprinkling of fresh dill would also work well.

(*) In fact, a certain house down our street seems to be stuck on 24 December, with the plastic tree still in the window…I’ve checked, and there are people alive in there, so not to worry.


To serve 4 (or 2, with lots left over):

• 25g butter
• 2 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 250g arborio rice
• 1 glass dry white wine
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
• 1 litre vegetable stock
• 300g beetroot, boiled, peeled and finely chopped or grated
• 50g Parmesan cheese
• 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
• 2 tablespoons cream

Warm the butter and olive oil in a pan. Add the onion and fry gently over a low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Add the rice and fry for 2 minutes, stirring all the time. Add the wine, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the rice seems “oily”. Tip in the beetroot and black pepper, and add the stock, one ladle at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add more when the previous addition has almost evaporated. The rice will start as light pink, but will change to a deep reddish-pink towards the end.

Once all the stock has been added, cook the risotto to the desired consistency (some like it runny, some like it thick). Add the Parmesan cheese, stir well, and remove from the heat. Stir in the cream and balsamic vinegar and allow to sit for two minutes with the pot covered.

Serve with a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan and a scattering of toasted pine nuts or pumpkin seeds, and a scattering of chopped chives or dill.

Worth making? I love risotto anyway, but this one looks stunning on the plate and has a fabulous flavour. The beetroot and dill make it a little more unusual, but I think this is a great combination.

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On Location: Hive (Brixton, London)

Buzzzzzzzzz…let’s head South of the River. After making honeycomb, let’s go to Hive.

If you don’t live in London, the whole issue about whether something is north or south of the Thames might be a little surprising/irrelevant, but there is still a hard-core of people who are staunchly in favour of one or the other, and those souls will just point blank refuse to cross a bridge unless really, really forced to do so.

Lucky, then, that I am not one of those people. I was in Oxford Street to buy a new camera, and got chatting to a friend who suggested lunch in Brixton. After too much travel between London and Brussels, she was tired and did not want to come into town, so I headed down to her neck of the woods. A bit of umming and aaahing and we headed to Hive for a late brunch/lunch affair. More laziness than anything, as we do have a tendency to go there quite a bit when I’m in Brixton.

I have to say, I quite like it here. The atmosphere is relaxed, testified by the tables of mums with a kid in tow (one kid per mother, both engaged with each other, rather than just wall-to-wall screaming), or people sitting on their own reading the weekend papers over a late brunch. The decor is great too – the bee motif is picked up throughout the venue, and there is a lot of character from the shabby-chic details.

Now, the bad news: if you are a strict vegetarian, there is not a huge amount of choice. Typically one starter and one main, plus some options on the sides(*). However, while the choice can be limited, what I have eaten here has always been tasty.

This time, I had gnocchi with tomato sauce and pesto on a bed of roasted squash and aubergine. Simple, but just perfect. The gnocchi were cooked perfectly, still plump but a little chewy, and fried just enough to provide the merest whisper of a crisp coating, but without been oily or too heavy. The sauces were both good – the tomato was fresh, fruity and juicy, and the pesto was nice and fresh (so easy to get wrong, so extra credit for getting this right!). All of this on top of well-cooked aubergine and squash, which fell apart nicely on the plate. It was a nice, simple combination of flavours and textures which I thought really worked well.

In contrast, if (unlike me) you are a fan of eggs, then there is a decent brunch selection to choose from. My lunch companion chirpily informed me that these dishes were tasty, and I have to admit that they certainly looked and smelled pretty good. I might not eat them, but I can appreciate when they look good on the plate. Fortunately, there is also a nice choice in desserts and cakes – I plumped for a slice of orange and carrot cake, which was moist, soft and beautifully spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon.

So would I go back? In all honesty, I would not come all the way to Brixton just to visit Hive. However, this is nothing really against Hive, and when I am in this part of town, I think it has a sufficiently relaxed atmosphere with reliably good food and friendly staff(**) that it is a great place to potter about, read the papers and while away a lazy Saturday afternoon.

(*) In terms of sides, the chips are pretty darn good – and come in a rather nifty little container with a paper collar, à la the newspaper from the chippy in days gone by.

(**) Really, they are always super-friendly. Chatty when you are in the mood for that, but leave you in peace if that’s what you want too. Keep it up!

Hive, 11-13 Brixton Station Road, London SW9 8PA. Tel: 020 7274 8383. Tube: Brixton

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Let’s make a Crunchie bar…

All this sugar…this really is not a good idea. Lucky that I am still keeping up the New Year fitness regime, and so this means that it is therefore a brilliant idea, provided that I exercise a bit to offset all the sweet stuff I’m probably about to consume. And by “consume” I mean of course “enjoy“.

Yes, honeycomb candy. Also called cinder candy or sponge toffee. But most of us know it as “the stuff in a Crunchie bar”. I used to wonder how the “crunchy bit” was made – and it turns out it’s just a simple flavoured caramel with a little something extra to provide the puffed-up look.

I’ve made this a few times, and I must confess that my early attempts were less than successful. This was down to my rather cavalier attitude to reading recipes. Baking powder, baking soda…all the same. Eh, well actually, no – when it comes to making honeycomb, baking soda/bicarbonate of soda is your friend, and baking power just gets messy and unpleasant. At least you can learn from my errors!

Now, the flavour. You could just use sugar and caramelise it, but the flavour is a little flat. I added some honey (hey, honeycomb, it needs to have some connection with a real bee!) and some golden syrup, plus just the tiniest pinch of salt. Boil, add baking soda, allow to foam up and pour into a tray. And you know what? This works like a dream. It looks like honeycomb should, and in fact, I have to be slightly big-headed as the texture is, in my view, even better than a Crunchie bar, as there were a few big bubbles that continued the honeycomb-theme.

As you can see below, it’s a simple case of putting everything into a saucepan, and then just getting to the right point where the caramel, when dropped into cold water, becomes a brittle, spindly mass. You can use a sugar thermometer to measure when it has caramelised properly, but the “bowl of cold water” test works just as well in my experience.

Now, the problem with making anything that is virtually 100% sugar is that it very quickly absorbs moisture from the air, gets sticky, and rapidly becomes rather a mess. To cure this, what could be better than to dip pieces in chocolate? You end up with something that is a bit like a Crunchie, but the flavour is different – I think it has more of an adult side to it, all thanks to the use of good-quality dark stuff. A naughty, comforting little petit four to serve with coffee.

To make honeycomb:

• 200g white caster sugar
• 50g honey (I used manuka honey)
• 50g golden syrup (or corn syrup)
• 1 tablespoon water
• pinch of salt
• 3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

Start by preparing a tin to hold the honeycomb. Line with foil, and grease lightly with just a little neutral oil (e.g. sunflower) or non-stick spray.

Put all the ingredients except the bicarbonate into a large saucepan. Heat gently until the sugar has melted and everything is combined. Keep cooking over a low heat until the mixture is caramelised – you know that the mixture is ready when it darkens in colour, and  some of the mixture dropped into cold water becomes brittle. If the mixture is still pliable when you do this, keep cooking – we need brittle, but be careful not to burn the caramel!

Remove the pan from the heat and add the baking soda, stirring well. The mixture will foam up very dramatically, so be careful! Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and allow to set. The mixture might expand a little more in the tray, so put the pan on a baking sheet to prevent any sticky mess.

Once the honeycomb is cool, break into chunks and store in an airtight container.

To dip in chocolate: melt 200g dark chocolate in a double boiler. Use your fingers to dip each piece of honeycomb, making sure it is coated all over. Share off any excess chocolate, and leave to set on greaseproof paper. If you find a “pool” of chocolate developing around the base of each piece of honeycomb, just lift and move to another piece of greaseproof paper. YOu can then re-use (or just eat) the chocolate left on the first sheet!

Worth making? Very easy and surprisingly delicious. Good fun to make if you don’t have the patience for fudge or tablet, and can be easily turned into a quasi-science lesson with children, followed by a messy afternoon dipping the pieces into chocolate. Healthy? No. Fun? Yes! So if you are stuck in a far away land and cannot get hold of the Crunchie bar you so desperately want, this might just keep you going in the meantime.

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Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things