Archive | June, 2012

To the Batcakes!

21 Jun

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If I had Charm City Cakes levels of icing wizardry at my disposal, I’m sure I’d have produced a scale replica of the Batcave – or the very least a uniformly precise Bat-symbol – but alas, I’m just one girl. And a clumsy one who’s a disaster waiting to happen when she’s got a piping bag in hand, at that.

Still, my friend Louise is quite the Bat-fan, and it’s our last day in the office together tomorrow before she scarpers off back home to Scotland, so I thought I’d at least give these a go as a little treat for her – even if Alfred would probably turn his nose up at the idea of serving them to Master Wayne.

They’re nothing fancy, just made up using the basic cupcake recipe from the Sainsbury’s Baking Recipe Collection (a surprisingly useful little tome to have on standby, actually – this recipe in particular is my ever-reliable fallback), but I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out.

The little paper bats were absolute sods to cut out, mind. Could’ve been worse, though – at least she’s not a Spider-man fan…

The Milk Thistle and a taste of the high life

14 Jun

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When a friend insisted on taking me to The Milk Thistle, I was initially slightly ambivalent about the idea. On one hand, I loved the name (it reminded me of one of my favourite Conor Oberst songs, for a start) and I’m a sucker for a good cocktail; on the other, the bar’s website features a list of ‘house rules’ and I am at heart a small-scale scruffbag who gets intimidated by the idea of having to be approved just to enter a drinking establishment.

I needn’t have worried. Behind the unassuming central Bristol façade – you genuinely wouldn’t suspect there was anything there from the outside – was a cosy space reminiscent of a country house library. Complete with taxidermied badger sporting a necktie above the bar. The menus were glued into the pages of hardback novels (ambivalence? What? Where? Menus in books!), and the service was charm personified.

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I ordered a Mermaid’s Tears, involving rum, crème de violet, lime and rock salt, among other ingredients (sadly it’s not listed on the website’s menu, so I can’t be more specific). It tasted like someone had crossed a seriously decent Margarita with a Parma Violet, and had just the right delicate, salty twist at the end. I’m easily sold on anything involving salt, so I was veritably giddy with joy.

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My friend went for a Foux-Roux, which alas I can only be vaguer still about the contents of. It incorporated ginger, but was subtle and layered, rather than overpoweringly fiery.

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And oh, the bar snacks… I’m pretty sure that when Felicity Cloake wrote her recent Guardian Word of Mouth blog post about the perfect Scotch egg, she in no way involved confit duck. Judging by the Scotch quail’s eggs (served with grain mustard mayo) we had, she really should have. Meaty and dense, they were a delight. The same goes for the pork scratchings – elegantly presented in a teacup and not too greasy, lifting them out of the realm of ‘shamefully guilty pleasure’ – and the cutely named ‘wasabi pea shooter’.

While it’s not cheap – two cocktails and some nibbles came to just under £23 – it was definitely an experience I’d like to repeat. Although there is one thing I feel justified in my ambivalence about: I’ll never be content with a humble packet of Scampi Fries again. Sigh.

Anchovy and courgette ravioli

10 Jun

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Experimenting in the kitchen is one of my favourite things to do when I’ve got time to myself on a weekend. I can think of few better Sunday afternoons than those sent pottering about, putting in a bit more effort than I would during the week just to see how something turns out.

Today I decided to attempt ravioli. I’ve had a couple of goes at making my own pasta since I went to a workshop at Jamie Oliver’s wonderful Fifteen Cornwall and realised that all you really need to do so is a bit of patience and the ability to laugh rather than panic when it all seems to be going tits-up like this:

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I love the intense saltiness of anchovies, and I think courgettes are a great way of bulking a dish up, as they tend to take up the flavours of surrounding ingredients instead of overpowering everything else. I also blitzed in a green chilli to perk things up, having read in my trusty friend The Flavour Thesaurus that chilli and anchovy make a good combo. Once I’d sautéed the filling mixture, I stirred in some parmesan and left it to cool while I made the pasta dough.

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After rolling out the pasta dough and cutting it into circles, it was just a case of spooning filling on to them and popping a second circle on top, being extra careful to seal all the way around the edges. A few minutes’ boiling time and they were ready to serve with – which I did with a lemon and garlic butter sauce.

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Happy Sunday to me!

Eating The Apple Cart

8 Jun

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Last Sunday I went to The Apple Cart, in London’s Victoria Park. I have eaten plenty of bland, overpriced dreck at festivals (not all festivals – Glastonbury is of course another good example of a well-catered event) in my time. Still, given that the sophomore year of this boutique one-dayer boasted the Venn Street Market food area, I was hoping this wouldn’t be the case. And while the weather unfortunately dashed my expectations, what was on offer to eat thankfully did not.

We started out the day with some Apple Cart ale. Pre-midday drinking in a rainy field on a Sunday? Frankly, I can think of few more British ways to kick off a Jubilee weekend. Also, when a festival’s got its own ale, it’s rude not to…

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Lunch decisions were agonising, but eventually I went for an Agentine chorizo roll from Borough Market‘s Porteña’s stall.

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The chorizo itself was rich and spicy, the bun soft and the chimichurri sauce a pleasant undercurrent of umami to tie the whole thing together. It is one of the most unashamedly decadent things I have eaten in a long time, and days later I’m still trying to work out how often I could get away with attempting to recreate it at home

For dinner I’d been hoping to grab some pulled pork from the Bodean’s van – something I was genuinely excited about, seeing as there are only so many chances a non-London-dwelling girl gets to try such things. Alas, they were sold out. Still, the next best thing was a hog roast from a sadly nameless stall.

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The photo does not do the size of this beast justice. I could – stop sniggering – barely get my mouth around it. There were distinct notes of fennel, rosemary and garlic, and suffice to say my Bodean’s-less sulk did not last long.

Other things I could happily have feasted upon? Arancini, topped mac ‘n’ cheese, lamb flatbreads, 35-day aged steak burgers… Other things we did opt for? Crispy, comforting churros dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with hot chocolate, although the latter could have done with more of a kick of cocoa or chilli.

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Most impressive of all? All of this racked up to easily less than £20. I have paid the better part of a fiver for lank chips or a grey burger in the past at festivals. I’d love to see this approach to food permeate festivals as a whole. I wish I could say I was holding out more hope…