In pictures: Twenty little snapshots of Zurich

“Switzerland is simply a large, lumpy, solid rock with a thin skin of grass stretched over it” – Mark Twain

It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for a country, is it.

But, when I visited Zurich on the Germany side of this split-cultured city, I was delighted to discover that there is beauty to be found, from the lazy aqua green river that scythes through the turreted and cobbled centre of old town to the hidden pockets of foodie paradise dotted around this terribly modern, yet terribly traditional financial hub.

Much more on that later, but for now, here’re just a few snapshots of my oh-so-brief encounter with Zurich.

Last of the summer wine: Bourne & Hollingsworth

28 Rathbone Place, London W1T 1JF www.bourneandhollingsworth.com/bournes/

Bourne & Hollingsworth isn’t the easiest bar to find. It’s tucked away down a side street off Oxford Street and, even then, you’ll only find the front door by stepping down from the Fitzrovia streets, leaving the balmy sunshine behind and walking into the gloom below. It’s worth it when you do, however.

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The bijoux bar itself has been described as many things – “as twee as you can get” being one and “incredibly quirky” another – what sticks, though, is the bar’s incredible ability to make you feel as though you’re settling in for a knees up in your granny’s parlour.

This place is all retro vintage accents and booze-orientated quirks, from the alchemists bar that stretches to the ceiling and heaves with intriguing bottles, potions and unguents and the hidden bathroom door with its touch of Narnia-inspired charm to the flock wallpaper that’s replicated on practically every flat surface. But the draw card here is the cocktails, and the care with which the unhurried, laid-back staff make them.

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Even the menu is charming, unfolding like origami and scrawled with bistro-chic sketches with neat little sections dedicated to the art of drinking. The cocktail list here is enticingly diverse, with plenty of gin-based options, which, as a gin fanatic, couldn’t have pleased me more.

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Standouts included the gin-rich and cucumber-heavy Gardener’s cocktail, which came in a bone china teacup complete with a single cucumber sandwich balanced on the rim of the saucer…naturally.

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Other temptations involved the new range of summer-themed drinks introduced to encapsulate the flavours of an English country garden – think a muddle of rhubarb syrup and ginger with tequila in the Rhuba Club or The Rathbone Spring Punch with raspberries, lemons and the childhood flavour of dandelion & burdock made grownup with a glug of vodka.

But, alas, I only managed to squeeze in a couple of drinks here before I bumbled off in a gin-soaked haze, so plumped for the following and wasn’t disappointed.

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The Wibble

This blackberry-spiked blend was as sharp as a cool English morning spent scratching for blackberries along the hedgerows. It finished with a sour-sweet flash of mouth-clenchingly tangy grapefruit.

The Pink Jaguar

This fuchsia concoction was the brainchild of Bourne & Hollingsworth’s Kelley Hill and, despite being the kind of shade of drink that Del Boy might order, the taste was impressively complex. A fruity mashup of club tropicana Yaguara Cachaca with rosé vermouth, raspberries and a touch of toasted spice courtesy of a home-made cinnamon & white pepper syrup. Surprisingly refreshing and warm at the same time and a real winner.

Review: The restaurant at Leicester House Hotel

1 Leicester St, London WC2H 7BL, www.leicesterhouse.com

On the face of it, French and Asian fusion cuisine seems gastronomically baffling. How can those classically butter-drenched sauces meet those flashes of fire and flavour from the sun-soaked climes of South East Asia without a fight?

In truth, there are influences and culinary inflections sewn into the cultural fabric of countries like Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos that date back to colonial rule and Napoleonic occupation in the 19th Century, and little inflections have remained: a mastery of pastry, the use of French language and, possibly the most telling – the adoption of that oh so Gallic bread edifice: the baguette, or as the Vietnamese made it, the bánh mì.

When I travelled around there I lived on a daily supply of these freshly baked loaves, bought from the carts that lined up along the pavements with veritable trees of bread sticks poking out of recycled plastic bags. The baguettes would burst open with a puff of steam as the vendors tore them apart to smear each half with laughing cow cheese and squashed overripe tomatoes or slicks of slowly melting nutella or slivers of paper-thin ham and damp lettuce smothered in a greasy layer of mayonnaise and sweet chilli sauce.

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So, all in all I was rather happy to be revisiting this intriguing food amalgamation when I went down to chinatown to sample the French Vietnamese menu on offer at the restaurant at Leicester House Hotel.

The place itself was tucked away in a discreet corner – if that’s even possible around this area – that seems a world away from the mass orders of sweet and sour pork and the tourist hordes taking snaps under the faux-dynasty arching gateways that characterises this particular pocket of London. Inside, its more bafflingly seperate still with its steel blue painted panelling, high-shine parquet floors and crayon-bright red and green chairs that reminded me of the sort of  drawing room you’d find in a nouveau riche stately home.

The menu here is an intriguing mix of enticing and incredulous too, with Asian classics like blackened squid sitting uncomfortably next to riviera chic moules mariniere. And it was this thread of flavour juxtaposition that continued throughout the meal with varying degrees of success.

The thing with a menu like this is that it has to be bang on to be credible. When it was it was heaven, when it was off, even by a few degrees, it clanged.

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It’s lucky then, that there were plenty of high notes to be found to counter those clangers. The squid in question, with its spicy coat of pepper, lime, chilli and salty samphire, was delicious; the marshmallow-soft steamed buns stuffed with crispy pork belly and pickled cucumber were lovely (after I’d scraped off the cloying chilli mayonnaise) and I found perfection in the simplest of things, namely their slaw, which is a crisp, zesty confusion of shredded green papaya, shards of daikon and nuggets of cashew in a mouth-tingling dressing.

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There were detours along the way though. The rich, fruity pâté covered in a golden disk of clarified butter studded with softened peppers was a lovely thing, but it came next to a pile of spiced carrot and radish salad, which was nudged to one side while I scoffed the pâté spread over toast. My tastebuds were sent packing Euro-wards again with the arrival of a huge plate of pink charcuterie only to be hauled back again with a follow up of caramelised scallops swimming happily in an Asian-infused bone (really, is there any other kind?) broth.

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By the end, I was left feeling a little foodie jetlagged when the cardamom-custard stuffed doughnuts and richly spiced, bitingly bitter chocolate pot with hazelnut cha fee arrived for dessert.

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All in all, eating at Leicester House occasionally felt like being smacked around the long haul departures lounge – in a pleasant way mind you, and with delicious flavours and an excellent cocktail list to soften the blows. In conclusion, if you want to take your tastebuds on an adventure without leaving the city, this is the place.

Smoking Gunn: When Tramshed met Innis & Gunn

It took me an embarrassingly long time to appreciate beer. After my quality drinking teenage years were squandered (or savoured, depending on how you look at it) testing the fine wine waters, it was only in my twenties that I started to experiment with the myriad of real beer on offer. From choking down my first pint of Hobgoblin or Tanglefoot or Moondance or whatever craft ale they were serving at my local beer festival in the brewing county of Hampshire to swilling honey-coloured lagers on my gap-yah in Asia, my passion for proper beer was a slow burner.

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Now, as an occasionally mature very-nearly-30-year-old, my love affair with beer has fully blossomed; so when Innis & Gunn– Edinburgh brewers extraordinaire – invited me to not only brew my own beer, but to sample a five course, beer-infused menu hosted at Mark Hix’s Tramshed, Shoreditch, I didn’t take much convincing.

“Innis & Gunn was created by chance when a whisky distiller approached them for help 12 years ago. Wanting a sweet-malty flavour to season their oak casks Innis & Gunn created a custom-made brew to rest in the whisky barrels. Thirty days on, our beer was thrown out and the whisky went in. Meanwhile, some inquisitive souls at the distillery had sampled the beer after its time in casks which had been transformed by the oak into an unusually refined brew. And the rest as they say…. is history.”

Also, lets be honest, how often are you invited into Mark Hix’s private library, which you have to get to by wandering under the unnecessarily macabre Damien Hirst installation and practically past the kitchen, out through the swing doors that have more than a hint of hospital about them and out the back of his cavernous East London haunt.

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On arrival, there was barely enough time to peruse Hix’s eclectic mix of anatomical and culinary literature before Innis & Gunn’s grandmaster brewer himself, Dougal Sharp, launched into a speedy lesson in everything from how to properly pour a beer to how to taste it, using the malty, honeyed Innis & Gunn original as a tester.

According to Dougal, a bottle of beer should be chucked into the glass with none of this champagne tipping nonsense, and it turned out that tasting it effectively involved some unexpected facial acrobatics as we all attempted to sip from different depths of the glass to experience the surprisingly complex variations of intensity in flavour and aroma.

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We were also introduced to the Grainfather, a portable brewing machine that was going to brew up what would eventually become our very own, personalised Innis & Gunn beer. After taking turns to make a mash by throwing in hops and hot water, the air became heavy with the smell of scalded hops and roasting grain and we left it to ferment while we tucked into five courses of beer-tinted food paired with, yep, more beer.

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Pairing beer with food is no longer considered avant garde or even particularly innovative. Pairing it with food well, however, is something else entirely, and the team at Innis & Gunn and Tramshed had it down to a fine art.

Tiny crispy pearls of beer-fried oysters came branded with ‘holy fff’ mayonnaise – a sauce as filthy and punchy as it is addictive that’s made by Brick Lane’s most famous meat purveyor: the ribman – and matched with Innis & Gunn’s nutty, ballsy Toasted Oak IPA, possibly the only beer that could take the heat of the sauce while still showing letting the delicate morsel of salty oyster shine.

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Wye Valley asparagus salad with Herefordshire goat’s curd and land cress came alongside White Oak Wheat Beer, which smelled like a meadow and left a lingering hint of bergamot and orange. Next, sugar roasted and blackened beef ribs came gleaming and slick with a Guinness mustard that was cut with Innis & Gunn’s honeyed original brew and was followed by a freshly blow torched zabaglione and a bottle of one of Innis & Gunn’s most curious brews: the Rum finish – a complex, heady amalgamation of spice and hops that became a perfect counterpoint for the pudding’s creamy sweetness.

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It all became a little hazy as the final, ill-judged course of a bubbling vat of beer-tinged cheese fondue was ladled out next to thimblefuls of Whiskey Porter, a beer that’s made distinctive by its time spent fermentation in old whiskey crates, but one thought from this night kept it’s clarity: if the beer I made earlier on in the evening was even half as good as the stuff Innis & Gunn churn out on a daily basis, then at some point in the near future, I’m in for a treat.

Originally written for Foodepedia.co.uk and can be found, here

In pictures: Lucca and Ponte a Moriano, Tuscany

What feels like a lifetime ago now, but was, in reality, just a few short months ago, I visited a little pocket of heaven on a foodie holiday to Tuscany.

It was, in short, idyllic. Heart-burstingly wonderful. And, as per usual, almost all too difficult to put into words. So I won’t, yet, I’ll say it with pictures.

Food pictures, naturally.

My arrival on this particular gastronomic trip, however, was anything but idyllic.

Landing late from a dreary london into the sweltering, disorganised melee of Pisa airport isn’t much on the best of days. Even less so on a sleepy Monday afternoon, when most members of staff seem to have decided to take an impromptu holiday and the ones who are there look at you with undisguised hostility at your audacity at interrupting their espresso break to ask in broken Italian about local trains.

A frantic sprint, a rickety train to Lucca and a taxi later, I was sitting, panting, dishevelled and probably looking every inch the pink-skinned idiot tourist, in the back of a taxi whose metre was currently reading a four-person plus luggage load and whose charge was soaring about on a par with my irritation levels.

As I smiled through gritted teeth at the grinning taxi driver, we rolled out of Lucca’s heaving city centre towards the the tiny green speck of Ponte a Moriano and, along the way, something miraculous happened.

As we began to climb the winding roads with the heat of an orange sunset spilling through the windshield, the stress of travelling began to melt away and, as we swung through the ornate gates of Villa Bocella, it felt less like arriving, and rather more like I was coming home.

Weekend bake: plum and frangipane tart

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I never liked plums much growing up. They seemed like a sad, sour cousin of the much sweeter and more tempting cherries that you would only really eat under duress (or in times of cherry famine). I never particularly liked the marzipan-flavoured denseness of frangipane either, mainly because an almond slice was the last thing I remember eating before my family – excluding my iron-gutted father – came down with food poisoning at Club Med in Morocco when I was eight and was only able to stomach crackers and laughing cow cheese for the rest of the trip.

As a grownup, I’ve started to appreciate that uniquely sharp-sweet, almost fizzy tang that only plums have and have come to my senses about the true glory of a proper slice of fruit tart bubbling over with golden-brown, fluffy frangipane. We’re now coming into peak British plum season so it seemed the perfect time to showcase one of the plum’s more unusual varieties: the redgage.

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I’ve found this particular plum variety, which is a smaller, sweeter, pinker version of a traditional red plum, embarrassingly fascinating. Mainly because I made it my mission to track some down to feature for my weekly editor’s pick at work, but also because they’re notoriously difficult to find. Marks & Spencer are the only place you can pick these little ruby beauties up this summer, and only for a limited time.

Redgages are so exclusive to M&S, in fact, that they’ve trademarked their name. Bitchin’. But I won’t go on too much, as I’ve already probably bored the nation silly rambling on about them on Style & Living, but suffice to say, as soon as I tried them all I could think about was putting them into some sort of dessert.

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No pudding is quite as good at showing off a ripe soft fruit like a traditional tart and this easy-peasy recipe for shortcrust pastry filled with pillowy mounds of almond and vanilla and studded with juicy redgages is as good as Sunday afternoon tea gets.

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Ingredients

for the pastry
185g (plus extra for dusting) plain four
85g cold diced salted butter
35g caster sugar
1 egg

for the filling
12 redgages (you can use normal plums if you can’t track any down)
1 vanilla pod
85g ground almonds
85g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
85g soft, salted butter

Method

  • Start by washing, drying and halving your redgages, carefully removing the stones.

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  • Make your pastry by rubbing the flour and butter together by hand until the mixture has reached a breadcrumb consistency. Then stir through the sugar and egg to bind the dough.
  • When it’s just holding together, tip it onto a lightly floured surface and roll it out until it’s about 2cm thin. Don;t overwork the party or it will become tough. If the butter starts to melt in the heat of the kitchen, wrap it in cling film and pop it into the fridge for 10 mins to cool down again.
  • Gently drape the dough over a 12-inch fluted tart tin and prick with a fork all over to stop it rising. The pastry in this tart is so thin that you don’t have to blind bake it first to ensure a crispy base.

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  • Make the filling for the tart by creaming the butter and the sugar and mixing through the found almonds, eggs and the scrapings from your vanilla pod.

“Sprinkling extra ground almonds on the cooked pastry base before adding fruit helps to absorb extra moisture.” – Mary Berry

  • Sprinkle a handful of ground almonds over the base of your tart before smoothing over the frangipane with a pallet knife.
  • Push the redgage halves into the frangipane and blob any leftover mix around the fruit.

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  • Bake in the oven at 180 degrees centigrade for around 30-45 minutes until it’s golden brown and serve with a cup of tea and a blob of cream.

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Lazy Sunday heaven.

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Weekend bake: Pact Coffee meringues with coffee cream, chocolate & crushed pistachios

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It seems like everyone on Twitter and Instagram has been going mad for Pact Coffee, from yoga goddesses in printed lycra balancing steaming cups of the stuff on various twisted and contorted limbs to the mention that the brand is getting on an almost daily basis when it appears artfully arranged alongside Symmetry Breakfast’s latest creation.

So, when the inevitable email dropped into my inbox asking if I’d like to try some, I was intrigued.

Unless you’ve been brought up on babychinos by your yummy mummy, few people can say that they loved a cup of coffee when they were little. I first started appreciating it when I worked at an Italian restaurant and began knocking back creamy cappuccinos and jolts of espresso on the advice of my manager, who had a special sort of disregard for the average Englishman’s coffee making skills.

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Nowadays, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve turned into a bit of a closet coffee snob and have been lucky enough to guzzle some delicious mouthfuls of the black gold, from fruity almost floral beans in Ethiopia to rugged, rip your tastebuds off tar in Turkey and heavenly burnt butter-rich brews in Laos and Vietnam.

That being said, i’ve never considered shelling out monthly for a regular supply of curated coffee, which is what the ethos of Pact is: an on-demand, to-your-door delivery coffee subscription service.

“At Pact we are on a mission to get the UK drinking better coffee by making incredible, freshly roasted coffee accessible to everyone. Our world-class beans are bought from dedicated farmers, roasted in small batches at Pact HQ in Bermondsey and shipped within 7 days.”

Ed, who contacted me, was thorough to say the least, taking particular care to find out exactly how I made my coffee and what utensils I used to make sure he sent me exactly the right sort of blend for my tastes and coffee making capabilities – somewhat of a rarity when it comes to free samples!

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When it arrived, I could smell the blend before I’d even ripped open the envelope and, when I finally did, the whole kitchen was flooded with the luscious, almost acrid burnt sugar smell of freshly roasted coffee.

I’d been sent a fudge, figgy smokey blend called Farenda Lagoa from the Sul de Minas region in the heart of Minas Gerais, Brazil, where the beans are grown on the slopes of Serra do Pau D’Alho and the coffee is produced at altitudes of up to 1200 metres.

One of Pact’s head honchos had tasted this blend and decided that it reminded him of juicy raisins and buttery pastry, hence it’s moniker ‘Pain au Raison’, and, after trying, I can’t disagree. It’s a delicate flavour and takes a lot of coffee to produce a brew with enough punch to give a decent whack of flavour, but, when you do get enough into it, the result is delicious: nutty, sweet and incredibly mellow.

After making it for the first time all I could think was how well this coffee’s inherent dessert flavour would translate into a sweet recipe.

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So, after a few more tastings, I came up with the following: crispy, chewy meringues that combine this fruity coffee with rich, dark chocolate, crunchy nuts and lashing of freshly whipped, coffee-swirled cream.

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PACT coffee meringues with coffee cream, chocolate & crushed pistachios

This makes around six cream-filled bites. Double it if you’re having a bigger feast or more people over.

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Ingredients
for the meringues

3 egg whites
100g caster sugar
2tbs strong black coffee

for the filling and topping

2-4tbs strong black coffee
300ml whipping cream
1tbs icing sugar
a handful of pistachios
100g dark chocolate

DSC_5669I was using my favourite new toy for this: The Kenwood Multione and my Lakeland piping bags

Method
  • Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and pre-heat your oven to 100 degrees.
  • Make a small cafetiere of strong coffee and pour it into a bowl once brewed to get cold.
  • Make sure your bowl is utterly dry and grease free otherwise you’ll end up with soggy, split egg whites that won’t whip well. Separate your eggs (I always keep my egg yolks to make mayonnaise or lemon curd with them later on) and whisk the  three egg whites with the whisk attachment on your mixer.
  • When the eggs begin to puff up and become frothy, start to add the caster sugar a spoonful at a time and whip until the mixture has become glossy, smooth and forms stiff peaks.
  • Gently drizzle through most of the 2tbs of coffee and turn with a spatula before scooping the mix up and pushing it into a piping bag.

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  • Pipe fat blobs into your baking sheet and drizzle over with drops of the remaining coffee – this mixes with the sugary meringues to make a sort of sticky coffee toffee that adds a wonderful chew to the cooked meringues. If you don’t have a piping bag you can just spoon the mixture onto the baking sheet.

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  • Bake in your preheated oven for between 2-3 hours. After two hours your meringues will be soft and chewy on the inside, after three they’ll be crisp and crunchy so it entirely depends on how you like them!
  • Leave the meringues to cool while you whip your cream and icing sugar into stiff peaks. Swirl through the cold coffee you’ve set aside for the cream. You can always add more icing sugar or a drop more coffee if you’d like it a little sweeter or stronger.
  • Set aside your whipped cream in the fridge until you’re ready to pipe it onto the meringues. Meanwhile, melt your dark chocolate in a bowl above a saucepan of simmering water before dipping the bottom of your cooled meringue halves into the rich chocolate goo.
  • Leave these to set and let the chocolate harden before piping one half with cream and sandwiching your meringues together.
  • Crush or chop your handful of pistachios and drizzle the meringues with the remaining chocolate before chucking over the nuts.

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You can keep these in the fridge for 24 hours before the meringues start to go soggy…but to be honest I doubt that they’ll last that long!

Weekend bake: Pink grapefruit posset with lavender & almond shortbread

It’s a bit late in the day for a weekend bake. Then again, I seem to be late for a lot of things recently as I am exhausting all of my energies juggling a new job and trying to find a new place to live in London, which, if you’ve ever run the Spareroom gauntlet, you’ll understand is no mean feat.

But, aside from all of that and preparing for the imminent struggle of hauling my life from one end of this busy city to other in a few weeks time, I did manage to enjoy this glorious weather we’ve been having this weekend and slip in a picnic with close friends in Battersea Park.

I also managed to indulge my insatiable sweet tooth and knock up a little afternoon treat: a zingy, creamy blush-coloured posset that’s simply bursting with sweet sunshine.

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I can never resist creamy desserts. I remember I used to spend half my working evening at my first restaurant job lusting over the homemade panna cottas that wobbled seductively at me every time I opened the kitchen fridge.

This posset is similar to a panna cotta, only much simpler to make and it really is as creamy a dessert as you can get…in fact it only has three ingredients: cream, sugar and fruit.

Possets are ancient puddings made from cooked cream that used to be curdled with alcohol instead of the acid from fruit that is used today.

They were originally given as curative medication for fevers or colds…it’s unlikely that I’m going to find that prescription recommended on the NHS website these days but it’s definitely something I’ll remember next time I come down with a cold!

“It is mentioned in the Journals of the House of Lords in the year 1620 that King Charles I was given a posset drink from his physician… Shakespeare mentions possets several times in his writings, in Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 5, he mentions the posset’s medicinal properties and that it is made from curds”
– British Food History 

I’m not convinced I’m suffering from any particularly life threatening fevers at the moment (unless Spring fever counts), but there’s no doubt that this little pot of soft, unctuous goo did me the world of good and hopefully it’ll brighten anyone’s weekend who needs a little sugary boost.

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This is the perfect dinner party pudding for summer as you can make it hours in advance. You’ll probably want to use fancier glasses than I did if you’re making it for a party…that’s one of the things about house sharing, all of your crockery and utensils are a mish-mash of collected and found pieces.

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Pink grapefruit posset with lavender & almond shortbread

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Ingredients
for the posset

300ml double cream
100g caster sugar
2 pink grapefruits (100ml freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and the rind from two grapefruits)

for the shortbread

125g salted butter
55g caster sugar
130g plain flour
50g ground almonds
1 tsp dried lavender – I like to use delicately dried lavender from Bart. Be careful not to put too much in or your biscuits run the risk of tasting a bit like an old lady’s knicker drawer!

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Method
  • Pop some assorted small glasses into the fridge to keep cool.
  • The possets take up to three hours to set in the fridge so get these out of the way first. Grate the rind from your two grapefruits before slicing and squeezing them to make 100ml of juice.
  • Pour the cream and sugar into a saucepan and heat over a medium heat and keep stirring it until the sugar has dissolved. Let it come to the boil for a minute before taking off the heat and quickly stirring through the grapefruit juice and rind.
  • Pour into your cooled glasses and put back in the fridge until set and firm with a little wiggle – this should take 2-3 hours.
  • Make these quick shortbread biscuits by beating the butter and sugar together to a creamy pulp before adding the flour, ground almonds and lavender.
  • Mix together until it forms a soft dough. Shape balls of the dough into rounds or soft ovals with your hands and push down onto a greased baking sheet.
  • Leave these to cool down and firm up in the fridge before cooking – too much handling makes the butter in these break down into an oily mess.
  • Bake at 180 degrees for 10-12 minutes until they turn a soft golden brown and leave to cool before dusting with icing sugar and serving with the possets.

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Weekend bake: Hot cross bun bread & butter pudding

This ridiculously quick and easy bread and butter pudding makes the perfect afternoon tea treat for Easter Sunday.

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It’s ideal for that no man’s land stretch of time on a Sunday when you’ve already reached peak chocolate intake and that roast lunch seems like a distant memory.

I used to hate bread and butter pudding. They served it on fridays at my secondary school in a soggy, glutenous mass and the only thing I used to eat was the burnt piece of crunchy, sugar-covered toast on the top … the gloopy, suspiciously yellow stuff underneath would only ever get a cursory poke with my spoon.

I changed my mind about bread and butter pudding a year or so ago when I ordered it on a whim at Ginger & White. When it arrived, glimpses of golden brown croissant just poking their edges above the wobbly, creamy eggy custard beneath, it was a revelation and I was determined to discover a super-easy way of recreating it at home.

This is the easiest pudding I’ve made in a long, LONG time and it uses one of my favourite Easter treats — delicious hot cross buns. I’m afraid I didn’t make my own buns for this recipe, I shamefully cheated with hot cross buns from Marks & Spencer … although, to be fair, these chubby beauties are so delicious with their chunks of juicy berries and cherries that I’m really not that sorry at all.

This recipe makes just enough for two hungry people, just double or triple the recipe (and the size of your dish) if you have more mouths to feed.

Hot cross bun bread & butter pudding

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Ingredients

2 Berries & Cherries hot cross buns from Marks & Spencer sliced into three slim rounds
175ml double cream and milk mixed together
1 egg, beaten
1 tbs caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
20g salted butter
dusting ground nutmeg
pinch of brown sugar

Method
  • Gently toast your rounds of bun and butter them before layering into an oven proof dish or bowl.
  • Mix the egg, cream and milk mixture, vanilla and caster sugar in a jug and pour over the buns.
  • Dust with nutmeg and sprinkle with the brown sugar before popping into a preheated oven at 175 degrees centigrade for about 25-30 minutes until the pudding has a seductive little wobble and has puffed up to a golden, toasted brown.

Serve with lashings of cream if you’re feeling extra indulgent and try not to count the calories too much — the diet can start after Easter!

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Black & white bark with salted pistachio brittle & edible flowers

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I’ve found, rather tragically, that as you get older the amount of Easter chocolate you are given dwindles.

When I was little there were Easter egg hunts in my grandfather’s vegetable patch and endless aunties and uncles and godparents who seemed determined for me and my brothers to eat our weight in chocolate.

There was even one fateful Easter when my father — convinced that we’d been given too much chocolate for our tiny tummies to handle — hid our eggs to “keep them safe”… he ate them ALL and we’ve never quite forgiven him for it!

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As it’s Good Friday and I’ve got a blissful day off from my new job, I thought it would be nice to create a more grown up chocolaty treat that’s perfect for Easter indulging.

This recipe for bark uses easy-to-make cheats tempered chocolate to give it that satisfyingly brittle snap when you crack into it and is decorated with a mixture of salted pistachio brittle (one of my favourite things to make for a sweet treat) and a scattering of vibrant edible petals that are busting with Spring colour.

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“Tempering chocolate is an essential step for making smooth, glossy, evenly coloured coating for your dipped chocolates. Tempering prevents the dull grayish color and waxy texture that happens when the cocoa fat separates out. Tempered chocolate produces a crisp, satisfying snap when you bite into it.”

If you’re unsure about which flowers you can and can’t eat, have a look at this pretty picture guide I unearthed on Pintrest: Edible-Flowers-Product-Guide-2013 copy Image: http://www.mayesh.com/Blog/tabid/67/EntryId/287/Product-Guide-Edible-Flowers.aspx

Black & white bark with salted pistachio brittle & edible flowers

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Ingredients

25g pistachios
75g caster sugar
A good pinch of sea salt flakes – I love the texture and intensity of Maldon sea salt
200g good quality dark chocolate – I used a bar with 85% cocoa solids for mine
200g white chocolate
Petals from a few brightly coloured edible flowers – I used chrysanthemums for this as they are such a festive riot of colour in rich burgundy, burnt orange and sunshine yellow and they have a distinctive, peppery flavour that cuts through the dense white chocolate

Method
  • Rinse your petals in cold water and blot them dry on kitchen roll.

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  • Weigh out 50g each of the dark and white chocolate and chop very finely with a sharp knife, keeping the chopped shades of chocolate separate so you don’t mix up the colours. These will be the bits of chocolate you use to temper your melted hot chocolate. When added gradually, they’ll bring down the temperature of the chocolate until it turns into a rich, thick, spreadable goo that hardens with a glossy shine.

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  • Make the brittle by heating the caster sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until it turns into a light caramel. Don’t stir it and be careful not to burn it. You can tip the pan from side to side gently to move the sugar around if you think it is caramelising unevenly. When it’s liquid and golden, quickly stir in the pistachios and drop the mix onto a piece of greaseproof paper. When your caramelised nuts have hardened you can bash the mix into chunky shards with a rolling pin.
  • Bring a large saucepan of water up to a simmer and put a mixing bowl over it, taking care that the bottom of the mixing bowl rests above the water and not in it. Drop in your remaining 150g of dark chocolate and leave until it’s completely melted.
  • Take the bowl off the water and wrap the base in a tea towel to keep warm while you begin to add in the dark chocolate shavings, mixing with a spatula at all times to keep the mixture moving – otherwise it will start to set.
  • When the chocolate has all melted, pour it into one half of a lined baking tray. You can use a strip of tin foil to separate the two halves of the tray if you are worried about the two chocolates meeting in the middle.
  • Scatter over the crushed pistachio brittle and the pinch of sea salt and leave in a cool place to set.
  • Repeat the above steps with the white chocolate before covering it in a dusting of the edible flower petals and leaving to set.

DSC_5609 The bark should take a good few hours to harden depending on how thickly you’ve layered on the chocolate. When it’s completely set, just break it into shards and dig in. This is a recipe that I might have to hide from my dad this Easter! DSC_5650

Bites of travel, food, culture and creative writing peppered with reviews and the occasional rant. Generally soused in gin

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