Di Paolo café, Bexhill on Sea

Every so often, No 1 Boyfriend and I head to his place in Bexhill. A sort of a Pied à Mare I suppose.

We either go for a spot of much deserved RnR, where I squeak happily at the sea and have all the windows open so that I can fall asleep to the sound of the waves, or we go to utilise the much larger space for a photo shoot. Damn all this taking photos of our beautiful friends, life sucks eh?

Anyway. The two of us are both very much into good food. I just happen to be the one out of the two of us who's good at cooking it too. He is also king of the cheese based diet, so I feel it's a good idea that every once in a while vegetables or salads are presented, or food that is not served on a cracker is introduced. He does in fact like greens, though he'll not admit it until you poke him with a spoon and promise to put bacon with it or butter on it.

One of the times we stayed in Bexhill, we very much needed Lunch. Not just a quick snack, but your actual full on Lunch so it was decided that we should go to the local family run Italian café, Di Paolo, for it. They do amazing homemade Italian gelato (Great Grandad started off way back in the 1800s with a bicycle mounted ice cream cart!) but they also serve very good, simple food. I had a craving for fresh fish and chips, and they always have fish that has been caught locally.

We chose the table service area at the back of the café (through wooden double doors with checked curtains) because we could. The maître d' is a rosy cheeked young Italian chap with a charm offensive going on. He welcomed us in, and made sure we were comfortable. It is all so very...well, it's old fashioned and utterly appealing because of it. The waitress (skirt, blouse, sensible shoes and white pinny) took our order for tea, and then said "The young Sir will be over to take your order soon." We just love it in there. It is also the Sunday Lunch destination for many of the area's OAPs and the staff take very great care of them, knowing most of them by name and, possibly, ailment.

Young Sir (black trousers and waistcoat, white shirt, slicked back hair and a big smile) did indeed take our order. (I believe Old Sir, Papa, has retired.) Now, No 1 Boyfriend doesn't usually eat fish and chips outside of his twice yearly Whitby visits but on this occasion decided to take the plunge. He was well rewarded.

A pot of tea, some bread and butter, fresh haddock in a light, crispy batter and golden chips with the sea a stone's throw away and the art deco wonder of the De La Warr Pavilion visible out of the front window. Heaven. The fish was to die for, perfectly cooked and not oily at all. I did manage to at least take one photo of it before I wolfed down the rest of it but it was a struggle I can tell you.

Dessert had to be done. We both chose apple and sultana crumble with ice cream. You can select any of their ice cream flavours to have so I picked their gorgeous vanilla with morello cherry sauce through it and by golly it is good. Smooth, creamy but with a nice tart spike of cherry every so often. It went very well with the rich crumble. Very generously sprinkled with brown sugar, and with hints of nutmeg and cinnamon, it was sweet and homely. Just fabulous.

I have eaten a fair few of their ice creams - their gianduia ice cream which is like Nutella and cream, frozen, is probably my favourite.

The bill was very pleasing indeed. As was the paper it was written on. It felt like they had a stack of them in the cupboard that they'd bought way back when they first opened. There is an old style comfort and civility in this place and I wouldn't change it for the world.

Food Blogger meet ups: No 1

The 16th December dawned icy, snowy, sleety and cold. Not the best weather for a meet up but I donned many layers, sensible boots (like I own any other kind) a hoodie and my bestest red fraggle skin coat. I was on a mission and nothing was going to put me off it.

I had a date with destiny. My destiny being entirely full of the lure of dim sum. I managed to get through the morning at work, but all I could think of was small parcels of loveliness, served with tea and chopsticks.

My partner in crime for this mission - and we'd both chosen willingly to accept it - was Kavita of Kavey Eats. The only self-destruct that was going to happen was us being too full of dim sum to walk back to the station.

I had forgotten just how close to Chinatown I work, so I was there early. I took refuge in the pagoda and watched Chinatown bustle around me. It bustles really well. Seconds before I took this photo there was so much steam coming out of the stall on the left that I couldn't actually see them. I am going to have to go back and find out what they were doing. I kept thinking that Jackie Chan would appear at any moment and chaos would ensue.

Kavita met me under the bandstand, (which is what I keep calling the pagoda) resplendent in her lovely purple hat and green coat. "TO THE CRISPY DUCK!" we cried. Well, okay, we didn't but we would have done if a) I had know where we were going and b) we not have been so cold our teeth were chattering. We did go to the Crispy Duck though. http://www.chinatownlondon.org/cuisine_restaurant.php?ID=47

The dim sum menu has pictures of each dish. This is extremely helpful but also tends to lead to the choosing method which consists of a stabbing of the finger on the menu with an accompanying dialogue of  "I'll have this and this and that and oooh look at that" . I think we had decided to try and eat our own weight in dim sum anyway, so nae bother. They have another menu too, and that seems to be full of meat. I will be going back, and I will be eating my way through crispy duck and large amounts of roasted pig.

We chose Thai Style baby octopus, (bottom left) Char Siu buns (on the right) because you just have to, Deep Fried Taro Cakes - a minced beef dumpling covered in shredded taro - and paper wrapped prawns, (both on the top left of the photo) cheung fan, which is a very tasty translucent rice flour pancake wrapped around a deep fried savoury doughnut, and deep fried prawn beancurd rolls. I didn't get photos of all of it as we were too busy talking up a storm and, well, eating.

We also ordered a main dish, because we're just like that. Peppers, tofu and aubergine stuffed with a delicious prawn paste and covered in black bean sauce. Quite tricksy to eat with chopsticks but oh so worth the effort. We had lots of oolong tea to wash it all down.

The octopus was very nice, extremely flavourful but just a little too spicy for me. Yes, yes, I am a wuss. I left most of that to Kavey. The taro cakes were exquisite. Oddly reminiscent of a very grown up Findus crispy pancake to be truthful! The shredded taro covering is most odd, but in a good way. It's almost feather light and does get everywhere if you aren't careful when you eat it. I suspect we made quite a mess. I have a recipe for taro pastry somewhere so I shall be trying that out at some point, now that I know I like the taste of taro.

Paper wrapped prawns are pretty much what they say. Whole prawns wrapped up in rice paper squares, twisted to close and then deep fried. Very yummy indeed.

Char Siu buns are old favourites of mine. The soft wheat flour bun conceals a chopped mix of sweet barbecue pork filling. So very easy to eat. These also come in a puff pastry version. Seriously addictive.

Cheung Fan is another dish that is tricky to eat with chopsticks as the pancake covering is slippery, but oh it is worth the effort. The mix of slippery pancake covering, and deep fried crispy filling is a bit of a texture shock, but a very appealing one.

I really liked the prawn stuffed vegetables, even if they were quite hard to eat. The prawn paste is very flavourful, and the peppers still retained their shape and bite. The aubergine was soft enough to cut with chopsticks and had soaked up lots of black bean flavour.

I can say without a doubt that I will most definitely be going back. All that food plus copious buckets of tea came to just over £30. I can also say without a doubt that I will most definitely be meeting up with Kavey again. She's ace! Hurrah for food bloggers I say.

(Oh and yes, we made it back to the station. Via the Chinese bakery...)


Christmas 2010 reading haul!

I usually forget what I add to my Amazon wish list, but that is a bonus as then everything is a surprise! I got other books too, including a lovely signed copy of Maureen Lipman's biography - but these ones are for posting here.

My amazing Christmas Haul!

I also received At Elizabeth David's Table. It's a beautiful book, now with colour photographs, and that makes a hell of a difference. Truly exquisite photography, which brings the food to life. Cookbooks need photos, to be honest. If only to make the reader hungry and inspire them to cook something. I know that works for me.
Michael Psilakis - How To Roast a Lamb - well now. I cannot wait to sit down and read my way through that one, even if I hear the aunt from My Big Fat Greek Wedding speaking every time I read the word Lamb. I have a serious weakness for Greek cookery books, and the more I get the more recipes I gather together that I remember from my childhood. There's usually a couple in every book.

The Cook's Book. For the cook who's best at everything - this seems to be a book full of useful tips and hints. Thank you ma and pa in-law, I suspect sarcasm was in play here...

Heston Blumenthal - In Search of Perfection - aaah my lovely mad scientist turned chef. This man's thought processes utterly fascinate me. I love watching him take an idea, run with it and then develop it into something magical. Okay so many people think it isn't really cookery but my lord, it keeps me happy. He cooks for all the senses, and that appeals to me very much indeed. This is going to be a book to get utterly lost in. I love how he turns things on their heads and crosses all the accepted lines of what constitutes good food. He's also a geek, and I just adore my geek boys.

The Complete Book of Greek Cooking - I had this book may years ago but I loaned it to someone, and they never gave it back. They also moved country which made it rather difficult to just pop round and demand the return of it. However. Now I have it again and I can read through it like a novel. So many recipes collected from so many people, so much tradition in one place. It reads well, and it takes me back home, back to a home I have never really lived in, but one that fostered how I am.

Willie Harcourt-Cooze - Willie's Chocolate Bible - well, it's chocolate innit? What's not to like? It has some of the most delectable chocolate recipes going and you can buy his products online now. That's a treat book, one to take recipes from for Special Occasions or Special People.

Nigel Slater, Appetite. - what more is there to say about Nigel? I love his enthusiasm and his childlike wonder when it comes to fruit and vegetables, and fresh food. He cooks in a manner that is similar to mine, and I find him so very appealing. His love of food and his great knowledge shines through, but he isn't arrogant or big-headed in the slightest. I'd like to invite him round for dinner! I read his book Toast, and cried buckets for the poor, bereaved young boy that he was so in a way, it's grand to see him all grown up and happy now which is daft, but it's how it feels.

All in all, this is going to be me happy for months!

Le Garrick

The last time that I went out to an evening dinner with C it was to Acornhouse and we had a very good time indeed. http://cookwitch.blogspot.com/2010/11/acornhouse-restaurant-kings-cross.html

Last Thursday, after an email conversation that went along the lines of "I have a hankering for French. Can you look at Open Table." and then a flurry of "Oooh look...." we ended up with a reservation at Le Garrick. I have never been, which is a travesty considering I work 2 minutes' walk away. I didn't actually know that I worked that closely to it, which is why, when we found it,  I was very embarrassed to have gotten lost on the way...okay so we were coming at it from a different direction but even so.

Anyway. It's a very small restaurant, and on a cold, cold night it was a lovely, cosy - dare I say romantic -  place to be.

Once the Very Loud Group of Media Types had finally vacated the narrow space between the tables ("Please move your bottom away from my face or I will have to take a fork to it.") and moved into the bar area, it become an even nicer place to be. The ensuing braying from in there had us both in hysterics after a while, with me wanting to poke my head around the wall and say "Damn it Marjorie*! Damn it all to Hell!" but I didn't because La fondue était arrivée.

Oh my. It was not the 1970s saucepan with a ton of unidentified melted cheese and Blue Nun in it. No. It was a whole Vacherin cheese, baked in its wooden box with a dash of white wine and fresh thyme until it was almost liquid.  We were given pieces of baguette to tear apart and dunk into the cheese and that we did with accompanying food appreciation noises. It was gorgeous. Rich and creamy but not overpowering, and as it cooled the edges turned delightfully chewy. We finished that off in short order, with Col graciously letting me have the last bit of chewy cheese.

I did not take this photo. This is just to show you what Vacherin looks like in its wee box.

For the main course we had both decided on steak. Not just any steak though, oh no. It was on the menu as 'Entrecote grillée sauce poivre: 14 oz char-grilled 28-day hung rib-eye steak on the bone with pommes frites and the chef's pepper and cognac sauce.' They also offered béarnaise.

The waitress who looked after us was superb. Col had gone for blue and she said  "Ah oui, you want it still to moo? We will just pass it over the flame." and I chose medium rare as I like slightly more bite. Stop laughing at the back.

What arrived, gentle reader, was a 14oz beef chop. Quite possibly the tastiest beef chop I have had in a long while and I have eaten a lot of beef. Entrecote is, essentially, a rib-eye steak on the bone. Oh the joy of beef on the bone again! It was even better than the rib eye that I had eaten at Hawksmoor. Yes, really. The chef who cooked our steaks got them utterly spot on as to how we wanted them and the meat was as tender and juicy as any I have had at other, more pricey places, more so in fact. The béarnaise sauce which we chose to accompany the steak was also incredibly good. So many places don't get it right, and it ends up being a greasy, slightly vinegary glop more akin to cheap mayonnaise with a bit of greenery added but this...again, perfection. It was thick, and creamy but with the proper amount of shallot and tarragon. Tarragon can overpower but in this sauce, it didn't. Beautifully balanced.

The frites were as I have only had them in France. When the first frites you had were from a roadside stall in the mountains of France, every other plateful after that gets compared and these utterly lived up to the memory. Slim sticks of crisp, golden and salted potato, as perfect a pile of frites as I could have wanted. Belgo take note, that is what a plate of frites should be. Not a bowlful of frozen chips fried until they are vaguely done.

At this point I must apologise for the lack of photos as we simply dived straight in and only surfaced again when a steak induced coma was about to set in. I will state for the record that, as at Acornhouse, we simply had no room for dessert. We obtained the bill (I don't know what it came to but there ar eprices on the website) and then sloped off through the freezing night air to have a bit of a lie down at our hotel. One of us may have had a nap.

I will most definitely go there again, it was absolutely stunning. Anywhere that can cook steak that well is a Must Visit Again place in my book. Well done everyone at Le Garrick. You made our evening a very special one indeed.

10-12 Garrick Street
Covent Garden
London WC2E 9BH
020 7247 7649

 *from the TV show A Bit of Fry and Laurie

Christmas! Well good grief.

After many years of being a confirmed Christmas pudding hater, I finally tasted one that I liked. It took me by surprise I can tell you! Why did I taste it when I hate the stuff? Well, it smelled heavenly for one thing and for another, I have a habit of trying a foodstuff I don't like every few years or so, just to see if I have changed my mind. (Mussels? Still a definite NO on that one.)

This pudding wasn't the Heston miracle of candied orangeyness, though I admit I would like to try that to see what all the fuss was about - it was a Duchy Originals organic pud. (£7.99 from Waitrose)

Ma in law chose the steaming method to cook it, and the pudding was beautifully light whilst (in your face Campaign for Plain English) still being very rich and flavourful. Quite boozy tasting too though it didn't have any effect on me which I was quite grateful for. I am allergic, for want of a better word,  to alcohol, and usually the tiniest amount sets me off to feeling quite unwell but despite how boozy this pudding tasted, I was fine. We tried it first with custard and then with cream, and I think the cream won out. Custard made it a bit too claggy, but cold double cream was absolutely perfect.

9/10 there!


A Thank You.

I have many thank yous to say for this year. People have been outstanding in their gifts of time, and love and care.

In the foodie world, I would like to thank people too.

Kavita of Kavey Eats - http://www.kaveyeats.com/
Mimi of Meemalee's Kitchen - http://www.meemalee.com/
Danny of Food Urchin - http://foodurchin.blogspot.com/
Anne of Tales from the Tiny Kitchen - http://tinykitchentales.blogspot.com/

These four were my first foray into the reading of food blogs, and they got me hooked. I love how they write, how they cook and their sheer enthusiasm. I have so far managed to meet up with Kavey and hooray for she is My Kind of Woman. We are both death to a dim sum menu and seem to have similar ideas on many things.

Anne's writing style made me want to be her friend, she just sounds like so much fun!It was Anne's blog that I read first, and she made me want to write so you can all blame her.

Danny, now, there's a geezer. I have to be careful reading his blog and not ever drink tea whilst doing so because too many times there has been a tea + keyboard/screen interface. See here for an example. http://foodurchin.blogspot.com/2010/12/food-urchin-meets-manchester-egg.html
Soon I hope to cook a little extra, and feed a poor, starving print monkey.

Mimi is like a quickfire bundle of energy. I have no idea how she does all that she does, but boy am I glad she does. She also shares my...fondness for Andrew McCarthy. We so would.

I don't have a lot of time to read food blogs, but when I do, there are the ones I go to first so to you all, thank you for your words and your time and your inspirations. Long may you cook.

Food Bloggers I salute you.


Nigella's Devil's Food Cake

I did it. I actually followed a recipe for once. Ok. I tweaked it a wee bit *looks shifty* but only twice.

Today is our 11th wedding anniversary and as my husband had been away (I'd not seen him since the Thursday before last) I decided to make a cake.

Nigella's Devil's Food Cake looked like it would fit the bill and indeed it does.

The recipe is from Nigella Kitchen.

50g/2oz best-quality cocoa powder, sifted (I used Green & Black's)
100g/4oz dark muscovado sugar (I used Billingtons)
250ml/8fl oz boiling water
125g/4½oz soft unsalted butter, plus some for greasing (I used salted)
150g/5oz caster sugar (I used golden)
225g/8oz plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 free-range eggs

For the frosting
125ml/4fl oz water
30g/1oz dark muscovado sugar
175g/6oz unsalted butter, cubed
300g/10oz best-quality dark chocolate, finely chopped

3 bowls.

Method in Nigella's words.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line the bottoms of two 20cm/8in sandwich tins with baking parchment and butter the sides

Put the cocoa and the dark muscovado sugar into a large bowl and pour in the boiling water. Whisk to mix, then set aside.

Cream the butter and caster sugar together in a separate bowl, beating well until pale and fluffy; I find this easiest with a freestanding mixer, but by hand wouldn’t kill you.

Stir the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda together in another bowl and set aside for a moment.

Dribble the vanilla extract into the creamed butter and sugar – mixing all the while – then crack in one egg, quickly followed by a scoop of the flour mixture, then the second egg. Keep mixing after each addition.

Incorporate the rest of the flour mixture little by little, then finally mix and fold in the cocoa mixture, scraping the bowl well with a spatula.

Divide this fabulously chocolatey batter between the two prepared tins and put in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Take the tins out and leave them on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes, then turn the cakes out and set aside to cool.

As soon as the cakes are in the oven, get started on your frosting. Put the water, muscovado sugar and butter into a pan over a low heat until melted.

When this mixture begins to bubble, take the pan off the heat and add the chopped chocolate, swirling the pan so that all the chocolate is hit with heat, then leave for a minute to melt. Once melted, whisk until smooth and glossy.

Set the frosting aside for about one hour, whisking now and again – when you’re passing the pan – by which time the cakes will be cooled, and ready for the frosting.

Set one of the cooled cakes, with its top side facing downwards, onto a cake stand or plate, and spread with about one-third of the frosting. Top that with the second cake, regular way up, and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides, swirling away with your spatula. You can go for a smooth look, but I never do and probably couldn’t.

  • Lisa's notes:
  • I added 1/2 tsp cinnamon to the batter and that works a treat.
  • The chocolate was 200g 75% Tesco's plain and 100g Coop Orange and Spice. Bloody lovely!
  • I mixed it all with a hand held electric mixer.
  • It takes a LONG TIME for the frosting to set up. Don't panic. I put mine in the fridge for a while as it was taking so long but do keep an eye on it or it will set solid. *coff*
  • I added some wild cherry jam in the middle to break the richness.
  • You could probably do this in two steps and not need three bowls. Make the cocoa mixture, then cream sugar and butter, then add the rest of the dry ingredients and then the cocoa mix. Saves on one bowl but hey.


Should you wish to see Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall...

in velvet flares, platform heels and with a glittery hair-do, go here and watch part one.


Camp as Christmas, and bloody brilliant.


The Tommyfield - Kennington

It was Boyfriend's Birthday last week so A Meal was arranged. K and I had read reviews of a few gastropubs, because that's what we do for fun, and The Tommyfield looked rather good. A booking was made and so on a very cold Saturday evening Boyfriend and I set out from the exotic climes of East Croydon and tootled an hour across London to darkest Kennington. It's only a short walk from the tube station through a pretty square.

The pub looks very warm and inviting. It was very warm and inviting. Full marks there. I love being able to see into the kitchen, especially when Smoking Pans and Flames happen as you can see the chefs grinning.

The table wasn't quite ready but we were early so we sat at the bar. Well, sort of sat. The amount of time it took me to get up on the bar stool was exactly the amount of time it took them to ready the table. I'm useless at bar stools. Being utterly teetotal means that I have not had the chance to practice the technique as I don't visit pubs enough.

Anyway. The one drawback of the pub was evident at the bar. The music is way too loud. If you cannot hear what your customers are ordering then you need to turn it down sharpish. I know it's all hip and cool and happening but, well, really.

The chairs at our table were very comfortable, which is a bonus point in their favour because bad seating makes for a Lisa who ends up not being able to walk. This did not happen! Hurrah!

After the usual umming and aahing over the menu - http://www.thetommyfield.com/menus.php?menu=6741 - (grocer's apostrophe on pie's!) we all chose what we needed.

The Pies of the Day were beef and stout, and Shepherd's.

Starters (no photo, sorry, we ate too fast!)
The girls: Ham hock and guinea fowl terrine with piccalilli and damson chutney
The Boy: Smoked salmon and crayfish croquette, baby red chard salad, crème fraiche

ALL excellent. The one thing I will say is that the toast needed butter. It was very thick white bread, gorgeous flavour but...well, butter please! The damson chutney was amazing, sweet and unctuous. I could happily have eaten more of that.

The croquette was creamy but not too much, and had a lovely smokey flavour. Good crisp coating too. That disappeared very quickly indeed.

The Mains
The girls: Shank of venison, parsnip tart, devils on horseback (sides of clapshot and brussel tops)
The Boy: Wild Bass, braised fennel, tomato and mussel velouté

The venison was very good indeed. Properly hung as the gamey flavour was very evident, and the meat simply fell off the bone. The parsnip tart was very nice too, though K felt it was a bit too sweet for her taste. The filling was a little too liquid, but I'd rather that than dry. The pastry was very good, and there was a decent hint of nutmeg in there. That's proper.

My devils on horseback were quite dry, and I felt that more gravy was needed with the meal.

The sides were nice again but the brussel tops needed either butter or bacon (we couldn't decide) and the clapshot, though incredibly tasty, well, that needed butter too. We came to the conclusion that we should just have asked for some butter...

The plates weren't really hot enough so everything cooled down quite fast though that didn't stop us.

I have it on good authority that the sea bass (with a side of chips) was truly delicious. I tasted a bit and pulled a face but that is totally a personal preference. The skin was brilliantly crisp though. I liked that bit!
Two of the mussels were closed, so really should not have been served but that is easy to miss I expect. Still, keeping a watchful eye out would be better. (I pointed out the closed ones to the waitress as people who don't know might have forced them open and eaten them That could be bad.)

It certainly disappeared fast enough and there were appreciative noises. It looks so very pretty too. Brussel tops were obviously in the veg box that week.

The girls: well we actually had different things for once. Sticky Toffee Pudding for K and The Boy and I ordered apple and blackberry crumble with damson ripple ice cream. We were undecided for a while but the damson ripple ice cream swung it.

The sticky toffee pudding was very light indeed, and had a decently toffeeish flavour. A lot lighter than anyone expected, to be honest, but seeing as we'd eaten half a bambi that was a good thing.

The crumble was excellent. Beautifully tart, with a good crunchy topping, and sweet pieces of apple very evident.

HOWEVER. There was no damson ripple ice cream. A wee pot of extremely good vanilla, yes, but where was our damson ripple? We asked if they had run out and were told, with very many apologies from the brilliant waitress, and a promise to bring it to the attention of the manager, that the crumble has always been served with vanilla ice cream, so the damson ripple must have been a mistake on the menu. We felt rightly cheated, seeing as it was that tantalising promise of deliciousness that had swung our choice. It's still on the Christmas menu on the site.

Back to the music problem; I had asked for a cup of tea, and it didn't turn up. When we enquired about it (different waitress) she said "Oh did you want it with your dessert?" Well, yes, I did really. So off she went and came back with three knives. She couldn't hear what we had said, so assumed cheese.
Really Tommyfield, turn the music down! I'm an old Goth and Rock clubber, and love my loud music but for heaven's sake guys, when it gets in the way of service, and your customers have to shout to each other, you are doing it wrong.

The tea, when it turned up was delicious though. Tea Pigs English Breakfast, gorgeous!

The bill wasn't too bad. Took me aback initially but then I forgot that there was alcohol involved as I never order it. All of that food, plus 4 pints of Thatchers, a port and a dessert wine and service (already added in btw) came to £123.00.

Our very perky blonde Northern Lass waitress was awesome and great fun, and we could have chatted to her all night.

All in all, were I in the area I'd go back. If they turned the music down!

Edit 16.12.2010: the nice people at Renaissance Pubs have read and responded on Twitter. Now THAT is service. Thank you guys!


Costa Coffee Christmas Sweet Treats Range

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to get sent a box of cakes. Did you see that? Maybe I didn't type it loudly enough. CAKES.

Ho yes. Very yummy cakes they were too. I decided to do A Taste Test in the office and, oddly, everyone wanted to help out. They never seem to want to help with the filing but that doesn't come with a cherry on the top or a sugar paste scarf.

The red ribbon was ceremoniously cut, the hordes beaten back with a spoon and then I allowed everyone to try one thing. They were all quite well behaved because there was the promise that they might be allowed to try another one later.

We had Gingerbread George, Mincemeat Tarts and Black Forest Cupcakes. There was a bit of a scuffle but order prevailed.

Gingerbread George: so cute! This is a very hard gingerbread, and some people said it was too hard but dunking in tea or coffee sorts that one out! Very good dipped in a latte. He could have done with a bit more ginger I thought, (sorry George) but then I like ginger.

Black Forest Cupcakes: Oh my. I loved the look of these and really enjoyed eating them too. The hit of cherry sauce in the middle is luscious. The sponge was a little too dry and it crumbled but that was sorted out by dint of the OMG CREAM CHEESE FROSTING. One of the lads said that there was too much frosting but we didn't really agree. We just ate his second one for him. The frosting was sweet and creamy but stood up well to both a fork and a feckless George falling on top of it.

Mincemeat Tarts: now these were a total hit with everyone. The mincemeat was spiced generously enough and not sickly at all, which can be a problem with mincemeat. (Mr Kipling I am looking at you here.) Mincemeat is not meant to be a sickly, gloopy jam with a bit of peel in it, it should have body and oomph, and I speak as someone who made her own Actual Meat Based version. This version was just lovely. The almond slivers gave it a lovely crunch and contrasted nicely with the beautifully short pastry.

Look at happy, smiley George there with his tasty scarf.

The tart! Lovely to look at and very good to eat. 

The Black Forest Cupcake. I blame the blur on the sugar rush shakes.

Thank you to Costa for creating a delicious Christmas range. I need to go and visit them now to get a slice of Chocolate Hazelnut Cake.



Those of you who are old enough will remember the colours of Mrs Slocombe's hair in Are You Being Served. I am old enough for this.

Today's recipe was inspired in part by my friend Mark making a white chocolate version of Nutella Cheesecake Brownies (which we christened Blondies), and a Gizzi Erskine recipe from a while back using sweet potatoes to replace the fat in a brownie recipe. Her brownies are rich and dark and very decadent. My version has turned out a lot lighter but that may be due to not using quite so much sweet potato. 500g of raw turned into only 300g once cooked so, er, oopsie there. Anyway.

A word of warning. Purple Mountain Sweet Potatoes (I found them in Tesco's Finest range) are rather more dense than other kinds. My old but  powerful stick blender actually got stuck so it was fork to the rescue and I had to add about 5 tablespoons of water to get it to a stiff puree. However, I had a hell of a lot of fun doing this, even if most things in my kitchen went purple.

Today's recipe went like this;

300g (cooked and skinned weight) purple mountain sweet potatoes (baked in their skins until soft, then cooled, peeled and pureed)
5 tbs water
3 free range eggs
140g white caster sugar
A pinch of salt
150g white chocolate, melted and cooled (Green and Blacks white)
100g ground almonds
2 tsp white flour
70g of good quality white chocolate drinking powder (I used Whittards white with praline flavour)
11/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 heaped tsp cinnamon
Handful of cinnamon chips as I had some in the cupboard but any chocolate chips would do.

Heat the oven to 160°C.
 Line a square brownie tin with greaseproof paper.
(I didn't have a square one, so my Slocombes are a bit on the thin side)
In a clean, dry bowl whisk eggs, sugars and salt until they become really voluminous and pale. This will take about 5 minutes. 

Scoop out the sweet potato from their skins and mash with a fork to a puree.  Add some of the water if it is too stiff.

Fold this into the egg mixture. along with the chocolate, ground almonds, flour, chocolate powder, cinnamon and vanilla extract until it is incorporated. 

Add the choc chips if using.

Pour into the lined brownie tin and bake for 35 minutes or until the top is firm.

They are soft, and moist with a vaguely ice cream smell about them. Quite moreish it has to be said! Next time I think I'll use slightly more ground almonds and 200g of melted chocolate, not 150g. They possibly needed a tad more vanilla, but that might just be me.


I thank you, Mr Levi Roots.

For providing me with a very delicious dinner.

It's cold and nasty out there and instead of being in East Croydon tonight as planned, I am at home in Essex because trains were running to here. I thought it would be easier to get to somewhere that the trains were going to as well. I'm clever like that.

Anyway. I do not do 'ping' food as a rule, unless I am caught out by circumstance. Today I was caught out by circumstance and so 'ping' food it was. This 'ping' food, however, is different. For one thing, it tastes gorgeous and for another thing, it has actual ingredients in it. Look, see?

And look what the stock has in it. CHICKEN CARCASS. Your actual chicken bones made into a stock. This is happy-making for me because that is the proper way to do things.