Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Smoked Salmon Pasta

I have, in all seriousness, made this dish at least once a week for the last month. It is so quick, and so much like a warm, creamy comfort food, that it is almost impossible to believe that it's pretty healthy as well. It reheats well for packed lunches and second dinners. Plus it's cheap to boot, which means I am now in the habit of constantly stocking cream cheese and smoked salmon trimmings. I particularly like broccoli in it, though tonight I added in spinach as well which made it seem extra virtuous. I'm sure we'll get bored of it at some point, but for now, I'm going to stuff myself with this dish.

Smoked Salmon Pasta
Serves 4


500g pasta (I like penne or fusilli for this)
A head of broccoli, approximately 350g
150g spinach (optional)
120g package of smoked salmon trimmings
1 package of cream cheese (or soft cheese as they call it in the UK)
salt and pepper


1. Bring a large pot of water to boil (one large enough to hold all of the pasta and veg comfortably). Add a generous amount of salt to the water, the way you would when just cooking pasta.

2. While you are waiting for the water to boil, wash the broccoli and cut it up into small chunks and florets. You can use the entire stalk in this dish as well, as long as you cut it up into small bits so it cooks through.

3. Add pasta to boiling water and cook for 7 minutes. Add broccoli and cook for 3 minutes more. If you're adding spinach, pop that in 1 minute before everything is done.

4. Drain the pasta and veg. Return it all to the pot and then stir in the cream cheese and smoked salmon. Add pepper to taste. Dive in.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Lemon Almond and Polenta Cake

Yet another cake recipe that makes use of bits I have floating around the cupboards, such as ground almonds and cornmeal/polenta. Nigella's recipes haven't failed me yet - she's brilliant for the home cook. While I made the stupid mistake of leaving out the lemon zest from the cake batter, I just stirred it into the lemon syrup at the end and think everything still turned out alright, though I'd recommend sticking with the original recipe here.

Lemon Almond and Polenta Cake

Adapted from Nigella.com


for the cake
200 grams soft unsalted butter 

200 grams caster sugar
200 grams ground almonds
100 grams fine polenta (or cornmeal)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder 

3 large eggs

for the syrup 
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 2 lemons
100 grams icing sugar (originally calls for 125 but I only had 100 and it was sweet enough)


  1. Line the base of a 23cm / 9inch springform cake tin with baking parchment and grease its sides lightly with butter. I used a 10 inch silicone round cake tin as it's what I had.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4/ 350°F.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar till pale and whipped, either by hand in a bowl with a wooden spoon, or using a freestanding mixer.
  4. Mix together the almonds, polenta and baking powder, and beat some of this into the butter-sugar mixture, followed by 1 egg, then alternate dry ingredients and eggs, beating all the while.
  5. Finally, beat in the lemon zest* and pour, spoon or scrape the mixture into your prepared tin and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. (If you use smaller tin, and your cake is thicker, it may be closer to 40 minutes, as in original recipe.)
  6. It may seem wibbly but, if the cake is cooked, a cake tester should come out cleanish and, most significantly, the edges of the cake will have begun to shrink away from the sides of the tin. remove from the oven to a wire cooling rack, but leave in its tin.
  7. Make the syrup by boiling together the lemon zest*, lemon juice and icing sugar in a smallish saucepan.
  8. Once the icing sugar’s dissolved into the juice, you’re done.
  9. Prick the top of the cake all over with a cake tester (a skewer would be too destructive), pour the warm syrup over the cake, and leave to cool before taking it out of its tin.
*As mentioned, I would include the lemon zest in the batter in step 5 rather than in the syrup in step 7. But when I made it, I had to put the zest in step 7 due to my earlier mistake, which is why it is written out this way.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Soup of Cannellini Beans with Pasta and Rosemary

It's time for a hearty, filling soup recipe. Gray skies and dreary drizzle make me want to grab a warm bowl of soup with plenty of textures and a homey, comforting taste - and this one is just the recipe for it. You get the soft slippery texture of the pasta, and the creamy bite of the cannelini beans, and you feel virtuous as you slurp down spoonfuls of veg in the form of tomatoes, cabbage, carrots and celery and onion. The rosemary makes this an autumnal winner of a soup, and the pancetta is just that bit of meaty luxury that you keep dipping your spoon in for.

Soup of Cannellini Beans with Pasta and Rosemary
Adapted from The Amateur Gourmet, who adapted it from Chez Panisse Cooking



140g pancetta, diced
2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
4 medium carrots, finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, sliced
3 3-inch sprigs rosemary
500g dried cannellini beans, covered with cold water and soaked for 8 to 12 hours
3 cups Savoy cabbage, sliced into thin ribbons
8 cups water
1 can diced tomatoes
250g macaroni elbows
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
More olive oil for drizzling


Add the pancetta to a large saucepot over low-medium heat to let some of the fat render out. Then add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and rosemary and soften over low heat, without browning, for 8 to 10 minutes. 

Drain the beans, add them and the cabbage, pour in the water and tomatoes, bring to a simmer, and cover the pot. Taste the liquid after 30 minutes. It should be slightly salty from the pancetta, but add additional salt to taste. 

Cook slowly for about 1 hour and 10 minutes more or until the beans have softened throughout.

When the beans are cooked (and you can only know by tasting: they should taste creamy), transfer 2 cups of the broth and beans to a blender and puree them thoroughly. Return the puree to the pot. 

Check to see if you think the soup is too thick for adding pasta - I added another 2 cups of water. Stir in the pasta; correct the soup to your taste with salt and pepper, and cook until pasta is al dente. 

Remove the rosemary sprigs and dish it up into warm bowls. Sprinkle the Parmesan and about a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil over each portion at the table if you'd like.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fajita Seasoning

I used to make fajitas all the time when I lived with N & E in our student days. I can't even remember what we did back then for fajita seasoning - I think it was circa the era in London where Old El Paso box sets were the only way to get taco shells and tortillas, so they probaby also came with a seasoning pack. Thank goodness things have moved along since then (though not to worry, those silly box sets are still available). 

Anyway. I did not buy a box set this time, so was lacking something to season the chicken with. The internet to the rescue, as usual - so here's a nifty little recipe that I adapted to fit what I already had in the house.

Fajita Seasoning
Adapted from Kathy at Food.com
Makes about 4 tablespoons


1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon crushed chicken bouillon cube (I used one cube)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (I used one clove of fresh garlic instead)
1/2 teaspoon cumin

Original recipe also called for onion powder, but I just cooked some onions to go with the fajitas, and cayenne pepper, which I just didn't have.


Mix all ingredients together in a mortar and pestle, crushing the stock cube and garlic clove as you go.

Use in fajita recipes whereever it calls for seasoning (I think 1 tablespoon per 400-500g of meat is probably about right).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Hackney Picturehouse - The Kitchen

270 Mare Street

E8 1HE

The Hackney Picturehouse is my favorite movie theater in London. The seats are all stadium so you always get a good view, they're super comfy and recline a bit for an even more relaxing experience, and it's actually reasonably priced (for London). After seeing Alpha Papa there, T, A-M, P, A and I all decided to stick around for dinner. The Kitchen is right in the lobby of the movie theater and serves a menu of specials - the night we were there I had the salmon fishcakes. What came out was three giant hockey-puck sized fishcakes full of flaky pink salmon, with very little filler. They were tasty but actually too filling for me, so I had to share them around (don't worry, none of them went to waste!) The crispy fries were great as well - fluffy on the inside and crunchy on the outside. Is it possible to love the Hackney Picturehouse even more? If so I do.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mamounia Lounge - Mayfair

37a Curzon Street


When Mamounia Lounge invited me to review their newly refurbished restaurant in Mayfair, I said yes - I had gone to their Knightsbridge location and thought the cooking was excellent so was excited to see if the kitchen in Mayfair was equally as accomplished. I'm not sure if we ordered better dishes this time or if the chef is even more skilled - but we had a meal with some astonishingly good flavors and textures.

We kicked off with a classic gin martini that A really enjoyed, and the Sheik Royal for me - elderflower vodka and champagne. To compare Mayfair to the Knightsbridge location, we ordered the same starters as last time. Hommus Shawarma - Creamy Chickpea puree served with a centre of marinated Lamb Shawarma, and Calamari – Fried & Served on a Mixed Leaf Salad with a Sweet Chili, and Lemon Dip. The hommus was as creamy and rich as we remembered, with crisp smoky grilled shawarma piled on top - I could eat endless piles of this with the fresh pita bread provided. The calamari was crunchy with just the lightest coating of batter, though not as tender as last time.

For mains, I ordered the Seafood Tagine – Seabass, King Prawns, Mussels & Calamari served in a Charmoula, Coriander and Spicy Tomato Sauce. The portion of seafood was incredibly generous and the sauce kept me dipping my fork in for more. I'm glad I ordered couscous to soak it up. Eat quickly, as the residual heat in the tagine will continue cooking the seafood - the last few bites of prawns were getting increasingly rubbery even though it arrived perfectly cooked. 

A's order of Meshoui - Traditional Shoulder of Lamb, slowly roasted for 8 hours, marinated in Moroccan Spices and served with fresh Dates, Orange and Apricots, was one of the best lamb dishes we've ever eaten. He couldn't stop raving about how tender the lamb was - a mere push of a fork and it would fall apart. We'll be keeping an eye out for this dish in the future, but if you want a wonderful example of it, I would highly recommend this one.

We were stuffed at this point so just managed some Moroccan tea (mint tea with sugar in it) and a mango platter - but Mamounia Lounge clearly knows how to source mangoes as I've never tasted mangoes so good in the UK. We polished off the entire platter despite our fullness - it was just impossible to not finish every slice.

Mamounia Lounge is very lively on a Saturday night - musicians and belly dancing make it feel more like a club/lounge than restaurant, so if you want a quieter meal, I'd go on a non-weekend night. The food is top notch, so just pick your preferred atmosphere - either way you'll get a great meal.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


197 Richmond Road
E8 3NJ
Before seeing Blue Jasmine, F, C, A and I all wanted to get some brunch. I'd heard about a couple of new-ish places on Richmond Road, including Lardo, but seeing as how A and I had just returned from our Italian holiday the night before, it seemed like a good idea to go with a non-Italian option. I was pleased to see Unpackaged had opened up a bigger shop that includes a cafe (and I was also trying to hunt down caraway seeds) so it seemed like an ideal place to meet. I went with the simple grilled mushrooms on toast, which was so incredibly rich that I could barely finish it. There must be a ton of butter/cream/fat in those mushrooms, but that also explains why it was SO GOOD. A and C liked their pancakes, and F was happy with his bacon and eggs, but if I may say so myself, those mushrooms kicked the ass of all those other dishes.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Ireland Day 6

So the best breakfast of the whole trip was the one we made for ourselves in Kinvara with local ingredients. The grocery store in Kinvara is chock full of fresh, wonderful treats, so we picked up Kinvara smoked salmon, Irish granola and buttermilk soda bread. After stuffing ourselves, we packed up all our things for the last time this trip.

We headed off to Galway, our last stop before Dublin airport. There was a nice river walk.

But just when we thought Galway was too quiet, we stumbled across a cute pedestrian area. This is what happens when you don't do any research beforehand - but thankfully central Galway is small enough that we managed to find the interesting bit even without any guidance. Despite our enormous breakfast, we still managed to find room for a light lunch at The Quay Street Kitchen. The potted crab was excellent - fennel and chili made it so much more interesting than your average potted crab, and it was packed full of fresh crab meat. A had some battered hake since we somehow didn't manage to have fish and chips during the trip before this. I think P had some carrot soup while C stuck to a cappucino.

Soon it was time to head back to Dublin airport - so we got ready for a three hour drive through some more beautiful countryside and then said a fond farewell to Ireland. The company, the food, the music, and the sights made for a wonderful holiday.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ireland Day 5

After our night on the Dingle peninsula, we were off to catch a ferry (great advice that our hostess gave us so that we could cut about 1.5 hours of driving from the trip. On the way to the ferry, we stopped in Tralee for the requisite coffees and some breakfast - we happened across Aine's Cafe on the Square. You can see my bagel with bacon and eggs below. It was perfectly decent, though the tortilla chip garnish was a bit strange.

We pulled up to the Tarbert - Killimer ferry with five minutes to spare, lucky us. It only took about 20 minutes to cross, and then we headed to Kilkee for our first cliff walk. From Kilkee, you can park at the westernmost bit of the road that runs along the seafront and then go for a stunning walk - it's pretty steep at points but worth it for the views you get from the top.

We were all feeling refreshed from the brisk sea air and sunshine and piled back into the car to head to Lahinch beach. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Ireland's beaches - they were much better than any beaches I've been to in the UK and seemed to have beautiful sandy and clean expanses.

But the real centerpiece of the day was the Cliffs of Moher. P's friend gave us a tip to go past the visitor's center - about 800m away there's a little place to pull over and park, and then you can follow the footpath to get a much better view of the cliffs, without all the busloads of tourists. Again, the hike is a steep one - some parts of it seem close to vertical - but there are some rough steps carved in to help and once you get to the top you won't mind the hard work getting there.

We eventually pulled ourselves away from the view and headed back down as we knew we still had a way to go to get to our resting place for the evening. The drive around Black Head and the Burren showed us some of the most unusual scenery of the trip (sadly I was driving so I don't have any pictures, but imaging a rocky landscape that looks like it would fit right in on another planet). As we passed through Ballyvaughn, there was a lovely harbor and a pretty little pub nearby, so we stopped for a pint. After arranging our arrival time with our last host, we got to our Airbnb in Kinvara, which was undoubtedly the best accommodation of the whole trip. Since the house was right in the middle of town, we scrapped our original plans to drive to Galway for the evening and decided to have dinner in Kinvara and find some live music afterwards. This turned out to be an excellent choice.

Our Airbnb host recommended the Pier Head for dinner. It is situated on the water, with gorgeous views and a warm atmosphere inside. The waiter sold me on the fresh Irish lobster that had been caught that morning, while A and P opted for steaks, and C had some enormous prawns. We washed it all down with a couple of bottles of Y series Yalumba wine (letting P pick Australian wine was a good idea).

Full and happy, we walked about 50 meters to Connolly's for more Irish trad music. This night, there was a fiddler, accordionist and lute player - a guitarist also showed up later to join in. 

We had heard that Kinvara pubs would all be full of live music, so left briefly to see if there was anything else we wanted to catch, but quickly realized that Connolly's was the only game in town. But it was enough for us to have an excellent last evening in Ireland.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ireland Day 4

The whole day was reserved for the Ring of Kerry, one of the most scenic parts of the whole trip. First stop of the day was Killarney, which seemed like a very touristy town. Great if you like shopping, but we weren't so interested so we didn't spend much time there. Off to Muckross House, where you can start a lovely two mile walk to Torc waterfall, which we did. There are also horse and carriage rides if you don't want to walk.

Next stop was Ladies View, an incredible vista across a valley. Supposedly Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting stopped here to gasp at the view which is how it got its name.

By this time we were hungry for lunch so stopped in Kenmare (renowned for seafood). A asked the owner of a candy store for a recommendation and she directed us to Davitt's where we had some goat's cheese and nachos for starters, and then a seafood platter to finish us off.

As we drove along, admiring the views out of both sides of the car, we spotted O'Carrolls Cove due to the stunning beach and incredibly blue waters. No way to pass this up - we went for a little wade and enjoyed the sand beneath our toes.

More views.

From the Ring of Kerry we had a crazy drive down a narrow mountain path to Dingle - the fog was so thick we could barely see a thing, and every once in a while sheep would loom out of the haze (some with fluorescent pink paint on them). But we reached our Airbnb place in Camp safely, and then headed out to Dingle town for some dinner and Irish trad music. We started at The Dingle Pub since A really wanted Irish stew. I went with the beef and Guinness pie, which was as filling as it looks. There was a singer/guitarist there but it wasn't quite the style of music we were seeking, so we headed on to the next place.

An Droichead Beag was lively, with a fiddle and guitar combo that were incredibly talented. Probably my favorite act of the night. We also went to O'Sullivans, where an accordion player and a singer/guitarist were entertaining a large crowd that included quite a few rowdy Americans. If we had been staying overnight in Dingle town, we probably would have tried some more places more music, but we had to drive back to Camp - next time I'd make sure to get accommodation in Dingle to fully enjoy their live music scene.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ireland Day 3

We knew we were heading to the Rock of Cashel first, but really needed to find some breakfast (and especially coffee for A, C and P). We happened across Fethard, which is a beautiful place with a well preserved medieval wall and church. A sign for a delicatessen led us to Emily's, where I had a great bagel with cream cheese and bacon (I have never seen this combo before but it appeared several times in Ireland).

Onwards to the Rock of Cashel, which is indeed impressive, though there is a lot of renovation work going on so parts were closed off to the public.

And then another castle that tourists just can't miss - Blarney Castle. We all kissed the Blarney stone (narrowly beating a giant tour group) and then had a relaxing wander around the grounds, which are well worth spending some time in. I could've easily walked around for another hour, but the whisky-lovers in the group were raring to get to Midleton so we had to get in the car again.

To be fair, we had no idea that the Midleton distillery offered pretty much exactly the same range as the Jameson distillery in Dublin. So if you go, pick one to do - I wouldn't do both. 

But one benefit is that it made a stop in Cobh possible on the way into Cork.  We knew very little about the place except that it had great harbor views, so when we saw Cobh cathedral we were all a bit stunned.

After a drink on a pier to enjoy the late afternoon, we headed into Cork for dinner. A friendly couple that we asked for directions gave us a recommendation for dinner - the Cornstore. A, P and I all had duck for dinner, which we really enjoyed - the yogurt sauce on top was lovely.

Afterwards we headed to a couple of pubs that were recommended by our waitress - Bierhaus and The Franciscan Well. A got chatting to the bartenders about homebrew and it inspired him to try it out. And finally, we were off to Kinsale for our third Airbnb accommodation - this was another really great place but it was again a bit remote and difficult to find in the dark. It was sad we didn't arrive earlier, actually, as the views from the house were absolutely stunning the next morning.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Ireland Day 2

We started our Sunday by finishing the Dublin hop-on hop-off bus tour that we abandoned the day before - thankfully the tour guides were all much easier to understand and we had an informative trip (if a bit chilly and blowy) before leaving the city.

Next up, the Wicklow mountains. We decided to drive through them on our way to Kilkenny since our travel guide said they were worth a visit, and they were - some of the scenic landscapes were unusual and stunning. We got a little hungry at one point and stopped by a stream for a lunch picnic - only to realize after a little while that there was a plaque on the bridge to commemorate someone who died in an accident there.

We arrived in Kilkenny and went to the castle first - due to a stroke of luck entry was free so we toured the rooms inside and learned a bit about how much went into renovating and preserving it. A quick stop at the Kilkenny Design Centre afterwards mostly served to show us all that we weren't particularly interested in Irish crafts... but enthusiasm was soon regained when we headed to Kyteler's Inn, one of the oldest pubs in Ireland, for a pint of Kilkenny ale.

After Kilkenny we headed to Thomastown to see Kilfane Glen and Waterfall. While it was quite pretty, it wasn't exactly a huge waterfall - I wouldn't go out of the way to see it but if you're in the area, it's nice. Also, most of the year it isn't open to the public so definitely check before you go, and also make sure you go before 5pm!

The next stop was Inistioge, where we thought we'd be able to have dinner at Footlights, only to find that it closed a few years ago. So we went for a wander through one of the most picturesque villages of the trip - it's where Circle of Friends was shot and for good reason. 

We also discovered another restaurant (aptly called Circle of Friends) where we decided to have dinner instead, and I'm really glad we did as we had some of the best chips I've ever eaten! The menu outside seemed really basic but just inside the door was a list of specials which were much more appetizing. I had a wonderful whole grilled trout (so did C).

A's mussels were superb. And P loved his pizza (even though I didn't take a picture).

And then we headed off to find our next Airbnb night in Owning, which was a beautiful and spacious house but a little bit in the middle of nowhere. If you don't mind staying somewhere without nightlife, go for it.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Ireland Day 1

Sorry for the long delays in posting. I went on a few too many holidays and am now terribly behind, but it just means I have a lot of writing to do - let's hope my memory keeps up. In August I went to Ireland with A, C and P - the four of us drove around to a lot of beautiful spots in six days. It definitely takes a lot longer to get around than you might expect though - the best places are not always on major roads, and plus you want to leave enough time to stop in scenic bits - so if I could do it again I'd probably extend the trip by a day or two. But let's see what we managed to do!

We flew into Dublin (I would highly recommend the Air France flight from London City Airport to Dublin, as it is SO MUCH EASIER to fly from LCA - you only have to be there 30 minutes before your flight!) After picking up our rental car, we went straight to our first Airbnb apartment to drop off our bags, before heading next door to the Guinness factory. It's very cleverly designed - many floors of Guinness history for you to progress to before you get to the very top for your free pint, by which point it tastes like one of the best things ever. A quick and simple lunch of potato, bacon and lovage soup with brown bread fueled us right up for the rest of the afternoon.

Afterwards we got onto the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tour of Dublin to make the most of our day there. But unfortunately the first bus driver we had was impossible to understand due to one of the thickest Irish accents I have ever heard. We hopped off. And guess what, we were in front of the Jameson distillery! So we popped in for some Jameson cocktails (do not get the hot chocolate cocktail, but the Irish coffees were good).

After a drink at a great pub (Porterhouse Central) we had one of the best dinners of the entire trip at The Pig's Ear (4 Nassau Street, Dublin). A's dish of pork belly is beautiful, isn't it?

And mine was cod, with boneless chicken wings, cauliflower, micro potatoes and golden raisins. Absolutely astonishingly good, especially the boneless wings.

Our only quibble was that the pea and bacon salad had almost no discernible bacon in it, and the duck fat potatoes side dish was tasty but not as crispy as I would have liked. C's salmon and P's short rib were raved about, so overall I would definitely recommend it.

After dinner, we went to KC Peaches (28-29 Nassau Street, Dublin) as there was a live jazz band playing that night. A bottle of Rioja went extremely well with the cheese plate, which was more like a work of art as you can see.

And to finish off the night, we ended up in Temple Bar to find some Irish trad music. Unfortunately it was Saturday and we are all too old to put up with the crowds and noise - we tried a couple of places but it quickly became obvious we all wanted to get back to the peace and quiet of our accommodation, so we called it a night.