Thursday, 28 March 2013

St Patrick's Day cupcakes

With Saint Patrick's Day falling on a Sunday this year, my friends and I decided to celebrate in a relatively restrained fashion, with an afternoon spent baking green-tinged cupcakes (while quaffing green prosecco).

The basic sponge cupcake recipe below made 12 delicious cupcakes - we added green food colouring to keep with the theme and finished them off with some glitzy decorations.


115g caster sugar
115g butter
Dash vanilla essence
2 eggs
115g self-raising flour
Optional: few drops food colouting (green in this case!)


Cream the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl, and add - a little bit at a time - to your butter and sugar mixture, stirring all the while. Sift the flour into the mixing bowl and fold to combine with the wet mixture.

Spoon your cupcake mix into paper cases in a 12-cake baking tin and cook on the middle shelf of a pre-heated oven at 180C for 10-15 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into a cupcake emerges clean.

Remove from the baking tin and cool for 20 minutes or so before icing. Easy!

These tasted better than they looked, I promise!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Coffee at Kaffeine

After breakfasting at The Riding House Cafe with a friend, I couldn't resist nipping across the road to Kaffeine on my way home.

An Antipodean coffeeshop, in the spirit of Workshop Coffee Co, Kaffeine serves up excellent coffee alongside a tempting weekly-changing menu of light bites and tasty baked treats (tragically there were no Afghan biscuits on the day of my visit, but if you ever get a chance to try them, do - these rich crumbly chocolate cookies are one of my all-time favourites!).

The coffee was - predictably - excellent, although the portions are very small (something I always struggle with, having grown up on Starbucks venti lattes!). The food looked great too, and I'll definitely be heading back for lunch one day to check out the tempting array of salads and foccacias.

Kaffeine on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Friday, 22 March 2013

Haddock with a Philadelhia and king prawn topping

I adapted this dish from a recipe I found on the Philadelphia website, and it's my boyfriend's new favourite. Juicy haddock fillets are topped with a creamy mixture of diced king prawns, Philadelphia cheese, English mustard, white wine and lemon juice and baked in the oven for 15 minutes, before being finished off with a sprinkling of Parmesan and breadcrumbs and a final few minutes under the grill (for that lovely crisp crust).

This dish is healthy but satisfyingly rich, and goes perfectly with steamed vegetables and a big dollop of creamy mashed potato.


4 haddock fillets (or any other white fish) - around 500g
150g king prawns
2 tbsp Philadephia cream cheese
1 teaspoon English mustard
Dash of white wine
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese
Dried breadcrumbs
Grated mozzarella (optional - I had some in my fridge I wanted to use up, but it's just as good without)

Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Drizzle a non-stick baking tray with cooking oil, and place your four haddock fillets onto the tray. In a small bowl, combine the Philadelphia, English mustard, white wine, and lemon juice, and season to taste. Chop your king prawns into rough pices (around six per prawn) and stir into the cream cheese mixture.

Spread the cream cheese and prawn mixture onto your haddock fillets, and cook near the top of the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. After this time, remove the fish from the oven and sprinkle with Parmesan and dried breadcrumbs (and grated mozzarella, if you fancy!), before cooking under the grill on high heat for a further 3 minutes or so, or until the cheese and breadcrumbs are golden and crispy.

Served with steamed vegetable and mashed potatoes.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Girly lunch at Haz

After our trip to Kurumaya last month, the girls and I decided it was time for another get together (especially since I'm soon to be leaving my current job - cue multiple leaving lunches!). So we headed to Haz for some Turkish cuisine.

Karisik kizartma - almost too pretty to eat!

There are a few good set lunch menus on offer - including an impressive selection of mixed mezze for just £9.95 - but we were all in the mood for something a bit heartier. Instead we went A La Carte, with four of us ordering dishes from the Charcoal Grill menu (which come with rice and vegetables) and one from the vegetarian menu.

The meal started with olives and baskets of delicious Turkish flatbread. Still very slightly warm, this was thick, doughy and incredibly good, and I ate far more than my fair share. And the main courses were equally tasty.

My tavuk shisk chicken was lovely - big meaty chunks of chicken, with a spicy exterior and a fantastic chargrill flavour served alongside a portion of tasty stir-fried vegetables*. My own quibble was that the meat was very slightly dry - it could probably have benefitted from a portion of yoghurt dip or spicy tomato sauce, and if I go again, I'll make sure I order some on the side.

The cevizli kasarli kofte - skewers of minced lamb with halloumi and walnuts - also went down very well, as did the kuzu shish (juicy cubes of spicy chargrilled lamb - simple but delicious).

The vegetarian karisik kizartma was a particularly attractive dish: a colourful selection of fried aubergine, peppers, carrot and courgette, arranged in a sunburst around a mound of thick Turkish yoghurt and finished with a drizzle of rich tomato and onion sauce.

Haz also has a take-out counter, and if the food there is anywhere near as tasty as that in the restaurant proper, it could definitely be a very appealing alternative to my standard Eat/Itsu lunchtime fare! I'm sure I'll be checking it out soon...

*I asked for a double portion of veg in exchange for my rice...but I'm not sure if they forgot or if the portions are just very small!

 Haz on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Monday, 18 March 2013

Dinner at Polpo and cocktails at the Zetter Townhouse

I had been meaning to go to Polpo for so long that it was starting to become a bit of a joke (especially considering that the Farringdon branch lies a mere 10 minutes from my flat). So I was very glad to finally get an excuse to try it out the other week on double date with my brother and his girlfriend.

Situated on a side-street just across from Smithfields meat market, the restaurant has a great atmosphere - dimly lit, but not overly so, with a nice bar and a cosy dining area. We started off with drinks at the bar, before moving to a snug table in the corner of the restaurant. Polpo has a fantastic menu - everything is designed to be shared (my favourite way of eating) and while the availability of house wine in litre bottles was reminiscent of my uni years*, the quality of the food definitely wasn't.

We began our meal with a selection of cicheti (traditional Venetian-style tapas). Unable to decide between the array of tempting dishes on offer, we ordered a couple of sampling plates and tried everything. The eggplant and Parmesan involtini were excellent - silky slivers of aubergine wrapped around gooey cheese and salty Parmesan - but my surprise favourite had to be the arancini. These balls of rice, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried, may sound like a grease/carb overload, but were actually delicious and unexpectedly light; a creamy risotto-like interior in a crisp golden shell. The crostini, spread with anchovy and chickpea puree, were also delicious - the combination of salty anchovy and earthy chickpea was fantastic - and the potato and Parmesan crocchette were predictably tasty. Even the more challenging pairings - grilled fennel & white anchovy and the pickled cauliflower & fennel salami - worked well, and the four of us polished off the plate with ease.

Next to arrive was a platter of mixed seafood (deep-fried calamari, king prawns in their shell, and juicy chunks of white fish, all coated in a light golden batter) and two orders of meatballs - beef & pork and lamb & mint. Tender and meaty, and served with a richly flavoured tomato sauce, these went perfectly with our side of creamy cauliflower gratin.

We only ordered one pizzette between the four of us, but I would have happily eaten more - it was delicious! A much lighter take on pizza, with a thin, perfectly crisp flat-bread base, our Fiorentina featured a heavenly melding of wilted spinach, gooey mozarella and soft-cooked egg, all dusted with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan shavings. Yum.

For the meat course we shared sliced flank steak with rocket and white truffle cream, chicken involtini, layered with pancetta and flavoured with sweet balsamic vinegar, a dish of tasty chilli and garlic prawns, and a side of rosemary roasted potatoes (which made a surprisingly strong go at stealing the show).

The desserts were also fantastic. The panacotta - a delectable blend of vanilla, rhubarb, and pistachio - was one of the best I've had: rich, creamy and sumptously smooth, punctuated with juicy chunks of jewel-toned rhubarb and nutty slivers of green pistachio. The ice cream** - a scoop each of sweet vanilla and intense dark chocolate - was excellent, and the chocolate salami - crammed with nuts, chocolate, and chunks of biscuit and served in fat, crumbling slices - was also delicious.

After our meal, we headed North to the Zetter Townhouse. This elegant townhouse - filled with elegant sofas and carefully selected antique furniture - has the same homely-yet-exclusive feel as a Mayfair member's club, and boasts an impressive cocktail menu. We sampled the Master at Arms (rum, port and grenadine), Les Fleurs du Mal (rose vodka, lemon juice, and a hint of absinthe) and the Red Grape Kir Royale (red grape cordial with Perrier Jouet champagne). The cocktails were slightly too strong for my liking (I'm a raspberry mojito kind of girl, embarassingly enough), but the others enjoyed theirs, and they were 'manly' enough to keep the boys happy. A great place to end the night...

A boxing kangaroo - the perfect accompaniment to 'manly' cocktails

*Not in how it tasted, I hasten to add! Just in terms of serving size...
**This is usually served as one scoop in a cone, but we skipped the cone and had an extra scoop of ice-cream in its place

Polpo on UrbanspoonThe Zetter Townhouse on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Friday, 15 March 2013

Henry's Cafe Bar, West India Quay - review for Bon Appetit Card

My dinner - yum!

Henry's Cafe Bar is a stylish eatery with locations across London and the UK (including Covent Garden, Piccadilly, Cardiff and Leeds). Having recently signed on as a participating restaurant with the Bon Appetit Card, they invited me to their West India Quay branch for dinner and drinks. My brother's office is in Canary Wharf - just minutes away - so he popped by after work as my plus one.

Housed in a converted warehouse overlooking West India Quay - an oasis of calm amid the high-rise chaos of nearby Canary Wharf - Henry's has a fantastic waterside location. Sadly, the current weather conditions meant that we were unable to take advantage of the expansive outdoor seating area, but I'm guessing this is incredibly popular in the Summer months.

As one would expect for a "thirsty Thursday", the bar had a lively atmosphere, with plenty of people getting ready for the weekend with some post-work drinks. We were seated in a cosy booth, which afforded us privacy without cutting us off from the rest of the clientele.

We started our meal with a nice bottle of red - Malbec, my favourite - while we perused the food menu.
Henry's offers an unpretentious selection of solid, crowd-pleasing dishes; and with burgers, club sandwiches, British Classics like fish and chips and beef and stout pie, and a good range of pastas and salads, there really is something for everyone.

My brother opted for one of the daily specials - smoked salmon and artichoke carbonara on a bed of penne - while I went for one of the Henry's "Signature Dishes", a spicy chargrilled chicken breast served with sauteed potatoes, fresh guacamole salsa, and a refreshing mound of sour cream.

The food was very good: my blackened chicken was tender and full of flavour, its spiciness perfectly offset by the cool sour cream and creamy avocado, and the potatoes - with crisp golden skins and a pleasant hint of spice - were also delicious.

My brother's pasta went down equally well: with plenty of smoked salmon and artichoke in a rich cream sauce, it was an interesting take on the traditional carbonara, and he emptied his plate with enthusiasm.

Portions are generous, and I was pretty full after my main course and accompanying side salad. Luckily Henry's has a selection of mini desserts, which are perfect with coffee at the end of your meal. A dainty portion of two tasty profiteroles - served with a nice pot of tea - satisfied my need for something sweet (along with a few stolen forkfuls of my brother's rich vanilla cheesecake!). Served in a generous wedge, this decadent treat was drizzled with copious amounts of tasty chocolate and toffee sauce - definitely worth considering if you're in the mood for something a bit more substantial!

All in all, this was a great meal - the service was excellent (our lovely waitress was very helpful, and we felt well looked after despite the popularity of the venue), the food was very good, and the atmosphere and location were both spot on.

West India Quay is a bit out of the way for me - I work in the City and live further West - but my brother is already planning his return. Henry's is a fantastic venue for post-work drinks, with plenty of bar food and sharing platters to satisfy hungry drinkers, but it is equally well-suited for a family meal (the wide-ranging menu capable of satisfying even the fussiest eaters). And - if you need any more encouragement - you can get 50% off lunch or dinner with the Bon Appetit Card. Deal!

 Henry’s Café Bar – Canary Wharf on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Chicken breasts with creamy morel mushroom sauce and asparagus

One of my favourite dishes when I lived in Geneva as a teen was steak aux morilles: a thick slab of tasty meat in a creamy morel mushroom sauce, served with a tangle of spaghetti or tasty shoestring fries. Until recently I have never seen these tasty mushrooms sold in supermarkets, so I was delighted to find a packet of dried morels in the cooks section at Sainsbury's.

They aren't cheap - a 20g packet comes to around £7 - but they taste incredibly good, transforming an everyday meal into something really special. I served this sumptuous morel, cream, white wine and parmesan sauce with a bundle of asparagus, some gnocchi, and a couple of golden-seared chicken breasts, but it's just as tasty with steak, broccoli, spinach, potatoes, get creative!



One packet of dried morel mushrooms (around 20g)
(if you can't find morels, you can use dried porcini mushrooms instead)
100ml single cream
Splash white wine
Freshly ground black pepper


450g pack of chicken breasts (or steak)
Splash of cooking oil
Knob of butter
Bundle of asparagus (tenderstem broccoli, green beans, wilted spinach, or any other green vegetable are also good!)
Fresh gnocchi (or pasta, mashed or roasted potatoes, or chips)


Soak your dried morel mushrooms in a bowl with warm water for around twenty minutes to allow them to re-hydrate. Reserve the soaking fluid (which takes a lovely musky flavour from the morels) as it may be useful for thinning the sauce later on.

Heat a mixture of cooking oil and butter over a high heat and add your chicken breasts - the oil provides the high temperature needed to brown the meat (butter alone would burn) while the butter adds flavour.
After searing the chicken breasts until golden on both sides, reduce to a medium heat and continue to cook for another 8 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked through (you may want to make an exploratory cut in one of the breasts to check it's not pink).

Steam the asparagus for 4 or 5 minutes and cook the gnocchi according to the instructions on the packet.

Chop the morel mushrooms and add to the pan with the chicken. Add a dash of white wine and 100ml (give or take) of single cream and simmer for a minute or so until everything is heated through. If the sauce is too thick, add a splash of the liquid which was used to soak the dried morels.

Sprinkle in some grated Parmesan and lots of freshly ground black pepper, then plate everything up. Drizzle the sauce over the chicken breasts and gnocchi, and - if you want - sprinkle some more Parmesan over your asparagus (and maybe a knob of butter too!).

Monday, 11 March 2013

Bon Appetit Card

For the past few months I've been guest-blogging for Bon Appetit, an international dining club which gives its members discounts on participating restaurants across the UK, France and Spain. The Bon Appetit Card gives members access to some great deals across all three countries, making it perfect for diners who travel a lot, whether for business or pleasure.

While a fairly new initiative, Bon Appetit is already well established over on the Continent (with over 100 participating restaurants in France and Spain), and is gaining momentum in the UK. Cardholders can now take advantage of discounts at some great London restaurants (including Lena in Shoreditch and Cinnamon Tree on Exmouth Market, both of which I can personally recommend!), and Bon Appetit has started to receive recognition for the innovative nature of its dining club, winning second place at the Best E-Commerce Awards in Spain last week.

The next development is the launch of  the Bon Appetit Card Express which offers members the same benefits as the yearly card but valid only for 3 months (perfect if you're planning on travelling a lot over the Summer!). Check out the website for information on restaurants and how the Bon Appetit card works:

A weekend in Edinburgh

Since leaving university, my friends and I have kept up a tradition of twice-yearly trips to stay with my old housemate up in Edinburgh. It's always an amazing weekend, with plenty of drinking, dancing, eating, and general revelry, and February's visit was no exception.

View from Arthur's Seat

We kicked off the festivities with a big girly dinner at Indigo Yard on the Friday night. The last time I ate there was for a friend's 21st birthday four(?!) years ago, when a big group of us from Durham all headed up to his home town for a big meal, followed by drinks and dancing at a nearby hotel. This visit was a bit more low-key, but just as tasty, and after close to 3 years of London prices I was seriously impressed by how cheap it was, with a set menu offering two courses for just £10!

I began with the charred jerk chicken skewers with coriander and yoghurt dip, which was delicious; the spicy chicken complemented perfectly by the cool, herby yoghurt. Meanwhile my friends sampled the goats cheese crostini with red onion marmalade (I had a bite of this - it was really good!), smoked haddock fish cakes, and chicken Caesar salad.

For the main course, I unadventurously opted for the beef burger and fries (which I enjoyed immensely), while my companions tucked into a variety of dishes including slow roasted pork belly with bubble and squeak, pork and leek sausages with mash and onion gravy, and pan seared salmon.

And for pudding four of us split two desserts - something chocolatey (I'm sorry to say I can't remember what it was!) and a Bramley apple Eve's pudding with rich vanilla custard.

It was a lovely meal - complemented with plenty of red wine and fruity martinis - and we finished off the night with a good few hours of dancing at the lively Opal lounge.

The next day - after a long lie-in and a lovely studenty lunch with one of my cousins and her housemates - my friends and I went for tea at theTower Restaurant. Located above the National Museum of Scotland, this stylish eatery boasts breath-taking views from the open-air terrace (although we stayed nice and cosy inside the main restaurant area). While we only stopped for tea and coffee this time, the dinner menu looks fantastic - I might have to check it out on my next trip!

In the evening, I met with my aunt and uncle and a handful of cousins for dinner at Sweet Melindas, a fantastic seafood restaurant in Marchmont. The mussels - served with Black Forest ham, shallots, garlic and Fino sherry - were some of the best I've tried, and my main course of bream with ginger, lemongrass, sweet chilli and creme fraiche was exceptionally good. Even looking back at the menu is making my mouth water! Afterwards I headed out with my friends for more cocktails and dancing over on George Street.

The next morning - after a hang-over banishing fried breakfast at Snax Cafe (eggs, chips, beans, bacon and sausages) - we went for a wholesome hike to the top of Arthur's Seat. This impressive natural landmark looms over Edinburgh; a craggy and dramatic backdrop to the Georgian elegance of the city. While it may seem distant, it is in fact less than 20 minutes walk from the centre of town to the foot of the peak and only another 20 minutes or so (fairly steep!) climb to the top.

It was a beautiful day, one of the first properly sunny days of the year, and we had a lovely time hiking to the top in the sunshine (clearly identifiable as Londoners by our inappropriate walking attire of heeled boots and oversized handbags).

Before leaving for London we stocked up on tablet (an incredibly sweet fudge-like concoction) and specialty shortbread (stem ginger is a new favourite) at one of the tourist shops on the Royal Mile, and stopped for coffee and cake at the lovely Peter's Yard, a Scandi-style bakery-cum-cafe just off the meadows - a great spot for open-faced sandwiches and cardamon buns.

All in all, a lovely weekend - I'm already looking forward to my next visit!