BEAUTY BLOGGER OF THE YEAR 2012

Recipe: Change All The Ingredients Chilli

Sunday, 26 October 2014


I have so many cookery books. They line shelves across the house and litter almost every surface that's big enough to house a book. I consciously try and take as many recipes as I can from these books, to justify to myself that it was okay to have spent this much money on buying them, as opposed to doing that really easy thing of pulling cooking ideas from the vast depths of the internet. It doesn't always work.

A couple of days ago I decided to make Chilli. Perfect, something that's bound to be in at least one cookery book, right? It was! Nigella's Kitchen housed a recipe for cheesy chilli, using chorizo and mozzarella. After a traumatising weekend spent cooking chorizo at a festival over the summer, I now can't bring myself to touch the stuff...so I instantly omitted that ingredient, and I don't have any mozzarella, so that went too. I figured the rest of the recipe would be fairly standard. I've made chilli a ton of times before so the basic principals were there, I just wanted to see Nigella's take on the it.
It became evident fairly early on in the cooking process that Nigella was obviously having 'one of those days' when she wrote this recipe. She doesn't use any onions, garlic or red peppers... she also doesn't use anything that could be considered at all spicy, in fact the only herb included is oregano, with no spices at all. What?

I didn't want my Chilli to be everything-less, so unfortunately on this occasion I made my excuses for Nigella and followed my (probably not so brilliant) instincts instead. What materialised is documented below for you, and is a hybrid jazzed up Chilli that turned out quite delicious. Sorry Nigella, don't hate me, you're a babe.

I made a fairly huge batch as I had 750g mince to use up, I'll give you my measurements and you can cut them accordingly!

Ingredients


750g beef mince
3/4 tsp dried oregano
45ml tomato puree
600g chopped tomatoes
1tsp cocoa powder
75ml water, swilled from empty tomato can
3 tsp Worcestershire sauce
600g kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 onion (although I used a few mini ones), chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped/crushed
1/2 red pepper, chopped 
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Method


Get as big a saucepan as you can spare, and drizzle with oil. Put the pan on a medium heat and allow to warm a little before adding the onions. Cook the onions and garlic, stirring occasionally, for around 3-5 minutes, or until the onions start to cook and go translucent. Add the mince and red pepper and fry until the mince is almost browned.


Sprinkle in the oregano, cocoa, cayenne and paprika over the mince, and stir in. Add the puree, stir and then follow with the chopped tomatoes. Add the kidney beans and as much Worcestershire sauce as you dare. Pour a little of the water into the saucepan, when it seems like the mix is getting a bit swampy, stop (it's a no brainer really), you can always add more later if it's getting a little dry, but it's a bitch to take it away again.


Bring your big pan o' beef to the boil, and then whack a lid on it. Lower the heat and simmer the Chilli for about 20 minutes, adding a little more water if it begins to look dry. When the Chilli is well and truly cooked, bring the mix back to the boil and serve!


I like mine in a wrap, served with brown rice and topped with grated cheddar and sour cream. Heaven.










Review: Chin Chin Laboratorists

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


This review has been a long time coming. In fact, so long that I've managed to visit Chin Chin Laboratorists twice since I started writing this post. I'm completely fine with this though, it meant that I had an excuse to eat double the amount of ice cream.

I'm definitely less of a fan of Camden than I was in my teens. The once appealing stalls selling all kinds of tat and knock offs were oh-so-exciting to 14 year old Laura, who revelled in finding hareem trouser bargains and £4 borderline-food-poisoning-inducing Chinese chicken deals, now just irritate me. The Ha-Ha Veggie Bar, home of the world's best veggie burgers (special shout out to the Monkey Burger, peanut butter and grilled banana heaven) is long gone as is Artbox, and there's only so many times you can visit Cyberdog and titter over bizarre sex toys and PVC baby clothes before it too loses appeal.

However, that being said, there are a couple of redeeming spots in Camden, and I seem to be finding more gems with every visit. Market stall interest is being replaced with love for the niche cafes, bars and restaurants (surprise surprise) of Camden. Obviously I am utterly and hopelessly in love with Whole Foods Market, who isn't? Other than that I've recently become a fan of Our Black Heart (bar) and Hook (fish restaurant, review to follow), and of course Brew Dog is pretty lovely too. My one undying love in Camden has to be Chin Chin Laboratorists though. 

Chin Chin Labs has a fairly minimal menu, offering their year round flavours, plus a couple of extra 'specials' which change frequently. They also combine the most unlikely of ingredients to create superb toppings and sauces. If you don't fancy ice cream they also sell Monmouth Coffee (another favourite) and other bits and pieces.


So let's start with the concept behind Chin Chin Labs; they are Europe's first Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Parlour and the whole shop is scientifically themed, with toppings presented in measuring flasks and jugs, and ice cream served with medicine spoons to scoop with. The menu is viewable from an official looking clipboard, and the friendly servers often don industrial gloves and goggles to protect them from the Liquid Nitrogen (and to add to the theme, naturally). 


The ice cream starts as a liquid, poured into a Kitchen Aid mixer (oh gosh, the dream!) and is churned to an ice cream consistency with the addition of the smokey Liquid Nitrogen which tumbles over the sides of the mixing bowl and fills the shop. It's quite a sight, and it is worth going in just to see this process in action, but the fact that you get to eat delicious ice cream at the end makes your trip all more sweet.

Toppings and Sauces


The majority of flavours come with the option of 1 topping or sauce included in the price, of course sometimes one isn't enough, and an additional one will only set you back another 55p (which I think is pretty good going). It's also possible to buy bags of just toppings to take home, this is dangerous! The 'specials' tend to come with their own topping or sauce, which is an integral element of the ice cream flavour. Who are we to argue with (ice cream) science? There's also a dairy free option too, so you vegan folk can enjoy too!

Sauces include:
Raspberry
Fleur de Sel Caramel
Vairhona Chocolate

Toppings include:
Hazelnut Crunch
Heather Honeycomb
Pistachio & Cardamom Powder
Grilled White Chocolate (my absolute favourite)
Caramelised Pretzels
Truffle Crumble

Basic Flavours
These guys are always available, and a it's a good thing too, because they're delicious.


Pondicherry Vanilla (£3.95)

I like mine topped with Grilled White Chocolate and Raspberry Sauce. This ice cream is beautiful. Speckled with dots of vanilla and creamy and rich in taste, it puts store-bought tubs to shame. The team are happy to make your ice cream as soft or as hard as you like (just ask), and for me the perfect consistency is almost gelato like. It's always a tough decision, but if the specials don't entice me (or I simply can't choose) then this is my go-to choice. The grilled white chocolate is exceptional, and I've never tasted anything quite like it. Big nuggets of smokey, caramelised white chocolate make for great chomping, and the little crumby nibble-y bits that come with them are more than welcome too. Yum.


Valrhona Chocolate (£3.95)

I'm not the world's biggest fan of chocolate ice cream, but I snuck my spoon into this beast when my companion wasn't looking. The chocolate is super dark (80%) and ganache-y in texture and taste. Yet again, a beautiful creamy consistency and not too sweet. Definitely one for the fans of dark chocolate. This was topped with Pistachio and Cardamom powder, which added a great crunch to the consistency, but not a whole ton of flavour to the taste.

The 'Brown-wich' (£4.95)
I have to confess, I've never eaten The 'Brown-wich', but it sure as hell sounds delicious. Pondicherry Vanilla sandwiched between two cookie shaped brownies. Oh gosh

Specials


Passionfruit, Chilli & Lime (Dairy Free, £3.95)
Alas, you won't be able to find this guy in the shop anymore, but there are many delicious new flavours coming in all the time, so don't be too sad. This ice cream was almost a cross between a sorbet and a frozen curd. I am a sucker for anything passionfruit, so this was an obvious choice for me, no other flavours really got a look in. The flavour was sharp and not too sweet. The Chilli and Lime dust was optional, and you were (luckily) able to choose your level of spice. This addition definitely enhanced the flavour of the passionfruit, and added a warmth to the sharpness of the fruit. Yet again I topped it with grilled white chocolate. I can't resist.

Past 'specials' flavours have included: 
Fig Jam Doughnut
Caramel Apple & Crispy Sage (Which my friend Caroline can confirm is also delicious)
Nutella & Crunchy Bread
Rhubarb Lemonade
Purple Basil Choc Chip

So that's it, Chin Chin Laboratorists summarised in more sentences than is probably necessary. As you can tell, I'm a fan. The ice cream is great quality, watching it being made is a treat, and although it'll set you back about £4, that's only the money you were going to spend on that horrible Chinese chicken anyway. Most definitely worth it. You're also able to buy tubs to take away too, luckily they'd melt before getting back to Bournemouth, so I don't have an excuse to buy them! 


Terrible Shirts and Temples

Thursday, 25 September 2014



When you sign up for the low budget 'travelling experience', you throw away any distant hope of having a comfortable night's sleep. But it's okay, because at least you're not sat behind a desk in a stuffy office. 

We awoke early enough to try the delights of the complimentary hostel breakfast, and bounded down the many stairs to the communal river-side balcony (less classy than it sounds) to stock up on toast, juice and tiny bananas. Not particularly delicious or filling, but it was free, and you never look a gift tiny-banana horse in the mouth.

After our less than relaxing first Thai massage experience, we contemplated giving up on being touched by strangers in exchange for money, but thought better of it and (rather naively) headed back in the direction of Khao San Road for massage number 2. We figured that we may have just had a bad group of masseuses, and we couldn't judge the whole of the Thailand beauty industry on our traumatic topless experience! We attempted to seek out a classier looking massage establishment, couldn't find one, gave up, and headed into the nearest one instead. 

Our second massage started in much the same fashion as our first. We were led to a row of (raised!) mattresses, instructed quite aggressively to take our tops off, and quickly found ourselves face down and covered in oil. The massage consisted of a fair amount of rubbing, with a little less bum action than our first experience, and a whole lot more gossiping amongst our masseuse-y ladies.
After our initial rub, we were told to sit up, we were then treated to an ear massage before being rubbed on the face, forehead, head and then being sat on for a round of back clicking. Delightful.

We then had the fun game of re-robing whilst greased up, before being ushered to the door and relieved of our money. On comparing notes it became apparent that, although we'd all gone in for the same back, neck and shoulders massage package, we'd ended up with three entirely different experiences. Livi's massage involved more than a normal amount of whacking, and Chantelle seemed to spend most of hers forced into spinning her arms around in therapeutic airplane-like movements. Seems I got off lightly, although our massages all had one thing in common, we all left with backache. 

We took a stroll in the direction of the river taxi stop, stopping at a Mexican cafe for a Thai lunch (as you do). Livi and I lunched on slightly cold chicken pad Thai and Chantelle ordered all of the salads. We washed our food down with strawberry and watermelon shakes (man, how I miss those shakes now. This third of a mug of lukewarm camomile tea just isn't doing it for me).



With food in our bellies and our backaches starting to ease a little, we bounded over to the river taxi stop, stopping once more so that I could purchase a stupidly tiny silk scarf (I didn't realise quite how tiny the scarf was at the time, it was in a packet, but further investigation revealed the scarf to be laughably miniscule) to provide 'modesty' on our trip to temples. Scarf in hand, we hopped on the river taxi, and then attempted to walk to the National Palace (Livi's choice) for an explore. We walked for a quite a while, fending off tuk tuk drivers and stall holders, trying to maintain a 'we totally know where we're going, we're just taking the long route and we enjoy map reading' demeanor. Eventually we came to an entrance and breathed a sigh of relief, we'd been walking for quite a while in the heat of the Thai afternoon, and were getting a little angsty. Unfortunately for us the entrance was only for Thai natives, and we were waved onwards to the next gate, which was another mission of a walk.

We finally found the 'foreigners' entrance and queued with the rest of the bemused holiday makers to enter. We watched girls in shorts and strap tops get turned away by the sassy security chap (he clearly loved his job a little too much), we felt smug in the knowledge that we'd anticipated temple-times and had turned up in semi-conservative outfits, with scarves a-plenty. Alas, we were thwarted by this over-zealous chap and his love of full sleeves. We were pointed in the direction of the 'should have worn better clothing' hut, and queued up, less than amused. The staff demanded a 400bt deposit, thrust a pile of hideous items at us, and sent us on our way. Chantelle and I struggled into some 80's style shirts in nauseating pastel shades, that made us look a little like Eddie and Patsy on a bad day, and wrap around skirts that restricted leg movements and made us warmer than we already were, Livi looked on smugly in her 'appropriate outfit'. Dick.


We coughed up another 500bt each at the gate, and finally we were allowed to enter. We then found out that the palace closed at 6pm, and it was already 4:30. We came to the realisation that the palace was big, the temperature was high and the map that we'd been so kindly provided with was terrible. Livi was definitely more into exploring than Chantelle and I, and we sent her off on a jolly to soak up the culture...and the gold. We tried to leisurely peruse the area, but we were starting to melt, and the wrap around skirt made it difficult to amble nimbly. We stared at many gold things, and yes, it was beautiful. After walking around for an hour and a half I managed to gather only one piece of information about the National Palace, that it houses a glittering emerald Buddha. The Buddha's clothes are changed three times a year.

Livi probably got far more out of the experience than I did, but we did enjoy looking at all of the ridiculously intricate statues, buildings and trinkets. In hindsight an hour and a half was probably more than enough to explore, but a parasol and some 'appropriate clothing' would have definitely enhanced our experience. We spent a fair amount of our time spying on the monks taking selfies in front of the statues. Tut tut.

(I'd like to tell you what all of these things are, but I honestly can't remember. Some tall pointy gold building)
 
(Taking a selfie in front of a man taking a selfie in front of the building where the fashionista Buddha lives)




(Standard touristy photo. Note Livi's cunning makeshift skirt)


At 6pm we trundled out of the National Palace and into a waiting tuktuk.  Of course we contemplated keeping our trendy shirts as exceptional additions to our wardrobes, but we decided that it was probably better for everybody if we traded them back in. We figured that we'd ticked our 'culture' box for the day, and headed back to Siam Paragon to try out the 4D cinema we'd heard about. Moving seats, fans, spray, smoke, strobes, bubbles, it's safe to say we were more than a little intrigued, and all this for 450bt, beats paying £10.70 for 3D at the Odeon in Bournemouth. Unfortunately, unlike the Odeon in Bournemouth, cinemas in Thailand seem to show films as and when they want, and despite checking times ahead of arriving, we somehow managed to miss the film screening (perhaps they just decided to change it on a whim, we'll never know...).


We figured we might as well spend a little time exploring more of Siam Paragon, well the food courts at least. There are a ridiculous amount of eateries inside this huge shopping centre (it's so big that it not only houses the cinema, it also houses an entire aquarium....what?!) and we spent a fair amount of time bimbling around trying to decide on what to eat, before going our separate ways once more to search for the perfect meal. I'd seen Mos Burger branches on our travels through Asia, and had never really given them a second glance. However, this time a board advertising their Rice Burger caught my eye, and I popped in to investigate further.

I decided to order a Yakiniku Rice Burger. I like rice, I like beef. Seemed like a good combination to me. I wasn't disappointed. The beef was thinly sliced and perfectly seasoned, the rice was sticky and soy-y and super good. I was a convert. Goodbye burger bun, hello rice! I'm not entirely sure what the others decided on eating in the end, I was too caught up in my Mos Burger bliss to really pay any attention.


Post dinner we took a trip to Siam Paragon's huge gourmet food hall. So. Much. Food. We perused the shelves, finding all sorts of oddities and delicious things from countries across the world. Weirdly we found tens of flavours of kit kats that we weren't able to scout out in Japan, including sweet purple potato, which obviously sounds delicious...or not. Unfortunately these international delicacies came at high prices, and we could only afford to stock up on Thai nibbles.



We headed back to the Khao San Road district for a dessert of delicious Sticky Mango Rice. Oh my. I'd never had it before visiting Thailand and don't usually like mango much...but Thai mangoes are so ripe and juicy, and combined with the warm sweet rice and coconut milk, they're basically heaven. They quickly became a trip staple.


Not content with feeling damaged from our first massage of the day, we (foolishly) decided to give foot massages a go. I don't really like people touching my feet, but, when in Rome...
Turns out that the foot massages are almost as horrible as the back massages. My first mistake was not going for a wee pre-rub, my second was agreeing to pay someone to touch my feet.
The massage consisted of lots of rubbing, followed by lots of jabbing with a foot-stick, followed by a fair amount of squishing. We then were forced into some knees-up routine (which didn't help my bladder situation) before being relieved of our money once more and turfed out onto the streets of Bangkok. Chantelle's masseur listened to music through the entirety of the ordeal, and stopped halfway through the massage to make some sort of deal with a man on a motorbike. I guess you get what you pay for.

(Other people enjoying their massages as much as we did)

After all that culture, eating, jabbing and squishing, it was time to snuggle back down onto our plastic covered mattresses for the night. Phew.







TablePouncer, Dinner's On Me

Thursday, 11 September 2014

I'm not really a chain restaurant kind of girl. I'm all about the independent eateries. Bournemouth and the surrounding areas aren't too hot on letting the local businesses do their thing, we've got more than our fair share of Prezzo,  Zizzi, Pizza Express, Frankie and Benny's and all that crap. Sure, they're fine for a meal if you're eating with fans of bland, but I want something more for my money. I like to have a little passion with my food. That being said, there are a few gems (often hidden) on the sunny South coast, and I like to explore as many as my penniless pockets will allow.

A few years ago I was given a membership to the Gourmet Society at a marketing conference, I also ended up with a Taste Card a while back. I rarely used them, because I wasn't really interested in the restaurants you can use them at, but they were useful on occasion for last minute generic dinners, although I'd never pay to subscribe to them. For those of you who aren't familiar with these cards, let me tell you a little more. You pay to subscribe for the year to the society/club (although you usually get a month's free trial), and they offer you up to 50% off or 2 for 1 at a range of restaurants across the country, although there are a bunch of time frames and things you have to fit to, and they tend not to work on weekends. It's a great concept, if they offer the discounts for the places you go, but pretty useless if you don't want to eat another mediocre pizza.

Recently Patrick from TablePouncer got in contact and offered a free promo code for all of my blog readers, so I thought I'd share this with you!

TablePouncer is different to the other memberships in a couple of ways. Firstly, it works for much better independent restaurants in a fair few cities across the UK; so you can actually get a huge discount on places you want to eat. That instantly makes it a winner in my books. Secondly, you don't have to subscribe for the year (although you can, for £49.95, if you'd rather do that), instead you pay a booking fee of £2.50 per person, and the voucher is sent through to your phone/email for you to use. It very much works on a first come, first served basis, and there are only a certain number of spaces each day for the restaurants; it can get a bit tricky as you can only buy for the day or day after booking. You choose where you want to eat, the number of guests, and the time, and it will show you the deals available to you. You just follow the process and get yourself the voucher, and then pop along to the restaurant and dig into all the tasty foods.

We've used it in a couple of places so far, Lemongrass Thai Restaurant in Ringwood, and Beirut Lounge in Bournemouth. I'll review both restaurants separately soon on the blog, so that you can hear about our experiences, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that the team at Lemongrass allowed us 50% off of everything in our meal, excluding drinks, so we were able to get the set menu (usually £19.95 per person) for £10 each, which was exceptionally good value. They even included dessert in the discount, which, in my past experience, a lot of restaurants don't with this kind of deal.

It seems like a great idea to me, I believe in supporting local businesses, and TablePouncer not only lets you eat out affordably, but helps restaurants to book up their last minute tables. You're also not signing up for a card you're not going to use, you're paying per booking and you're getting discounts that you can't find elsewhere, unlike the bigger chains where there are tons of voucher codes online that you're able to use instead of the discount cards.

So yes, give it a go.
Head over to TablePouncer, choose your restaurant, day, time, deal and number of diners, click 'book now', enter pinchofsalt into the promo code box, wait for your deal to be sent to you...and enjoy! You can use the code for up to 8 diners, and it can only be used once by each user, so choose wisely.

Let me know where you choose to eat and what your experience was. I guess this is another excuse for us all to go out to dinner, eh?
 

Review: Candy Japan Subscription

Wednesday, 10 September 2014




As those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will know, I recently went on an Asian adventure, with the trip starting in Japan. A massive part of the excitement of the entire trip for me was food. No surprises there. Every country we visited (bar India, which had a few delicious gems but a ton of less than delicious ones too) had exceptional food. So many noms. We basically woke up to eat, then ate a little more, took some trips (punctuated by snacks), stopped for lunch, had some sort of afternoon tea, ate an early dinner and then had supper. Think hobbit eating patterns, that's us. As well as full meals, we also reveled in the delights of snacks, treats and sweets.

Japan in particular has a more than impressive array of sweets and treats, the likes of which are sometimes spotted in candy specific stores here in the UK (at one bajillion times the price), but there are many that are yet to be spotted round these parts, including the tens of flavours of Kit Kats that we searched high and low for on behalf of the kitkataholic, Sara.

I was recently sent a bag of sweets from Bemmu at Candy Japan. Now I really enjoy getting post, I'm an active snail mail sender and spend a fair amount of my time coercing people into writing me nice things so that I don't feel sad when the only action my letter box gets is flip-flapping borderline-aggressive messages from the Student Loan hate squad grumbling that I'm not rich enough yet. Poop.

Candy Japan is a lovely little subscription company that send out a selection of sweets to you from Japan twice a month. The packages are twinned with emails explaining the sweets (as a lot of the labels are in Japanese). It's a fairly simple system, you pay $25 a month (about £15) and Candy Japan send you two orders a month, stuffed with as much candy as they can fit in the envelopes (usually between 2 and 6 packs).

I received 3 items in my envelope, Super Mario Gummy, Honey Kumquat Jelly, and Salt Milk Caramel.



Super Mario Gummy

'Super Mario is a video game character loved by people all over the world. There are many products based on this popular character and candy is no exception. The taste is cola. If the package contains other shapes than just Mario, consider yourself lucky. For example you can find gummies shaped like power up stars, coins, mushrooms or question mark mystery cubes. "Mario became a gummy!" proclaims the packaging.'


I've been a fan of Super Mario almost as long as I've been a fan of food, and I was pretty excited to receive this little packet in my envelope. Brightly coloured and super jolly, with a handy and practical resealable top (because we totally need this function and won't just eat the whole pack in one go), the packet had already won me over before I set eyes on the sweets.

After filtering through and ensuring we had indeed collected a variety of shapes (mystery box, Mario, Toad and a coin) we gave these candies a little nibble. Although they're cola flavoured, and I'm not the world's biggest fan, they were surprisingly tasty, with a really tough chewy consistency that I liked. I probably wouldn't opt to buy them, but if someone was offering them around I'd definitely have a chomp, and I'd love to try other flavours, if they make them!



Honey Kumquat Jelly

'What is a kumquat? They are a type of citrus fruit that is cultivated in Japan among other places and used to make jelly. The outer layer of the candy is sweet and sour, with kumquat syrup inside. If you look at the character in the wrapping, you can see that the bear with a green hat actually resembles a kumquat fruit. The candies have a very soft texture.'

Definitely the wild card of the envelope, I'm still not entirely sure what I think of these guys, even though I'm chewing on one as I type (in an attempt to gather creative inspiration of course). Flavour wise, they're pretty delicious, and I really like the packaging, who can resist a happy kumquat bear? They're a bit too sticky and wet for me to fall in love with them though. The sweets are covered in a sugary layer, and are squidgy to the touch; the centre is a soft jelly filled with a syrupy middle. They're quite unusual tasting, and I've not tried anything similar in the UK, so you're definitely getting your Japanese sweet experience here!



Salt Milk Caramel

'Even though the name contains the word "salt", these are actually not all that salty. They are made from cream that comes from Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. The rock salt used in this is made in Lorraine, which is an area in France. The candies are chewy in texture and as is common in Japan, individually wrapped.'

The most conservatively dressed sweets in the envelope, but surprisingly the most delicious! I left these 'til last, as their name and packaging didn't fill me with too much confidence that they were going to make me grin; however, I was wrong. Chewy, tasty and bizarrely mouth-wateringly good, these salt milk caramels were our favourite sweet in the envelope, and we accidentally worked our way through the majority of the packet in a couple of minutes. If I saw them on a shelf, I'd stock up on a couple of packets.

I thoroughly enjoyed my envelope of mystery sweets, and would definitely consider subscribing sometime in the future (when I've sorted my life out a bit, and have a few spare pounds kicking about). Great to share with family and friends, not too expensive, and a lovely treat to receive in the post. If you're a fan of quirky sweets or Japanese food then this is the subscription service for you!

*This package was gifted to me for consideration of review from the team at Candy Japan, no further compensation was received.

Recipe: Almond Cake With Raspberries

Saturday, 16 August 2014




There aren't many cakes I'd turn down. I'm not such a fan of cupcakes these days, and I'm not really one to go in for anything Death By Chocolate, but I do have my firm favourites, and it takes a lot to steer me away from just mixing up a lemon drizzle cake because it's super quick, really easy and (most importantly) delicious. Now and then I commit myself to making a cake that requires more effort than just tossing a couple of ingredients in a bowl.

This recipe takes a little more effort than the easiest cake in the world, but far less effort than tarts and all that fiddly stuff... plus it's full of almonds, and I love almonds! This is the sort of cake that can be shown off, will impress other peoples parents, and will make friends come back for a second (or even third) slice. It also gets better with age, resist eating the cake as soon as you pull it out of the oven (I know I'm asking you to do something difficult, but trust me on this one). Definitely a 'second day cake' if ever I knew one. This is actually the recipe that I mentioned months ago in my Easternoon Tea post, taken from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, written (of course) by the lovely Nigella Lawson ; it's had a little fine tuning and is ready to be presented to you! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! 

Now, you don't have to add the raspberries if you don't want to, but they taste delicious with the cake, and I think the contrast is pretty important to the overall flavour. So go on, splash out and buy a punnet, it makes this cake an integral part of your 5 a day. 

Ingredients

250g softened marzipan
250g softened butter
150g caster sugar
150g self raising flour
6 large eggs (I know it's a lot, but it's worth it, promise)
1/4 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 tsp almond essence
1 punnet fresh raspberries

Method

Preheat oven to 170 degrees/ GM3. Smash/cube/chop the butter and marzipan until it's in the smallest/softest pieces you can be bothered to battle with. 


Chuck into a food processor with the caster sugar and process until combined and smooth. 


Add the essences and process again. Continue to process, adding the eggs, one at a time, through the top hole of the food processor, ensuring each egg is mixed in before adding the next. 


Pour the flour through the hole, and process until well combined. Pour into a well greased, fairly large (Nigella recommends 25 inches) tin and level the top (preferably with a piece of baking parchment in the bottom).


Cook for around 50 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer inserted comes out clean. 


Leave the cake in the tin until cool (resist that temptation!). Turn out and top with raspberries. Serve (or wait) and eat! 

(Finished and delicious)

(Lovely and dense)


(Perfect with a cup of tea, mmm)

Review- Bun & Bowl

Wednesday, 13 August 2014


I love exploring new cities, who doesn’t? Birmingham and I have crossed paths once or twice before, but never really in any depth, and not for any real length of time. This time I managed to get a good few days of exploring in before heading back to the sunny south. Tied in with our Birmingham jaunt, Sara and I took a trip to the recently opened Bun &Bowl, situated in The Cube near Birmingham town centre, and were offered a meal and drinks. How could we refuse?

Bun & Bowl is one of 3 eateries owned by Birmingham restaurant entrepreneur, Mike Nayla, and is a swanky kind of place with a loose speakeasy vibe, exposed brickwork and boys-in-braces serving your food. 

We were met at the door by Jai and his team, and the two delicious looking cocktails they’d conjured up for us (always a good sign). Unbeknownst to us, we’d managed to time our visit with 4th July, which of course is American Independence Day, and the team put together themed Lemon Cheesecake cocktails to suit the occasion. We definitely weren’t complaining.


The cocktails were delicious; I'm not usually a white wine girl, but surprisingly this combination of  wine, gingerbread syrup, Limoncello, cinnamon and cream totally hit the spot after a day of traipsing around the city in the heat. 

We perched ourselves in a booth (never opt for a table when there's a booth to be sat in) and set to work choosing starters. As Bun & Bowl is a burger and shrimp restaurant, I felt it only right to sample both! I decided to go with the Shrimp in Garlic, Lemon and Parsley Sauce (at the waitress' recommendation) for starters, and oh what a choice it was. Sara chose the Grilled Halloumi Cheese, a clear winner; and we sipped cocktail shots of Baileys, Malibu and chocolate liquor that had somehow made their way over to our table, whilst waiting for the food to arrive. 





The Shrimp in Garlic, Lemon and Parsley Sauce (£5.95) blew me away. Big meaty shrimp, swimming in a gorgeous clear broth. I'm quite fussy about shrimp/prawns (what is the difference anyway?!) and am rarely impressed by shrimp dishes in restaurants where meals cost less than diamonds, but the chefs at Bun & Bowl have a great thing going on. Sara, definitely not the world's biggest shrimp fan, was coaxed into a nibble, and was soon dipping her pita bread in the garlic-y broth. The ciabatta was a nice addition to the dish, and provided ample mopping material when the shrimps were no more. 


Sara's Grilled Halloumi Cheese (£4.90) was tasty, as expected, and the portion generous; but it's hard to compare to halloumi elsewhere, as it's always fairly delicious! The dish was served with a side of cucumber slices and warm pita (perfect for broth thieving).

For mains I toyed with the idea of ordering the 3 Burger Sliders (as I'm terrible at deciding), but was won over by the Pulled Beef Ribs Sandwich. Sara chose The Naughty Chicken Burger. As always, it was a hard decision to make, with 5 choices of shrimp dishes, and 16 burger choices, as well as a couple of salads to choose from. 

Choosing sides was another toughie, however I managed to coerce Sara into sharing portions of Potato Frites (£2.95) and Sweet Potato Frites (£3.50) with me. We also ordered a Sour Cream dip (£1.50). Sour cream is definitely my dip of choice,. If it's an option, I'll have it- regardless of what I'm putting it with. Unfortunately the Sour Cream was the low-light of the meal for me. It was single cream consistency rather than the whipped double cream consistency that we all know and love; however, the Sour Cream being just an extra meal component meant that no tears of sadness were shed. 



The Sweet Potato Frites were as delicious as they look. A generous portion served beautifully in a cone, the frites did all you want fried sweet potatoes to do. Crispy outside, soft, perfectly cooked inside.  They definitely ticked all the boxes, and there were so many that we didn't even manage to eat our way to the bottom of the cone. 



The Potato Frites were plentify, tasty and hot; however they were nothing spectacular. In a battle of fried sides, sweet potato would trump these guys every time. 



My Beef Ribs Sandwich (£9.25) was huge. We renamed it the 'man-wich' and I tried my goddamned hardest to plough through it. Beautifully presented on a wooden board in a (giant) ciabatta roll, stuffed with lettuce and slices of beef tomato and piled high with sticky beef, pulled from the bone; this sandwich did everything it said on the tin. I'd chosen to have my beef topped with BBQ sauce, which was tasty but a little overpowering. It seems a shame to cover great meat with such a strong flavoured sauce, and next time I'd like to try the sandwich 'naked'. The meat was a little chewy, a little tender, and quite a lot delicious. It'd have been really nice to have had the BBQ sauce in a little pot on the side, that way the eater can add as much or as little as they like! It would also be interesting to see the team experiment with different BBQ sauce recipes, a sticky bourbon and brown sugar style BBQ would make this dish heavenly! Regardless, I'd describe this guy as a winner.

Sara's Naughty Chicken (£9) did everything a chicken burger should do, and, even though she wasn't able to fit the whole thing in her mouth, this feast was met with all the right 'you're delicious, please get in my belly' noises. No complaints here. 


Our meal was followed with a (much welcomed) trio of cocktails; Espresso Martini, Mango Daiquiri and a cola-replaced-with-cranberry Long Island Iced Tea style little number, that I can't remember the actual name of. All beautifully made, and presented by the excellent bar team. 

Although Bun & Bowl doesn't have an extensive dessert menu (yet) their sister cafe, joined to the restaurant by a small corridor, has an extensive selection of french pastries, puddings and desserts. Unfortunately we were stuffed to the brim, and couldn't manage a crumb more. Next time. 

We had a lovely afternoon at Bun & Bowl, and managed to spend a good few hours there, drinking, slurping, chomping and chatting, before making our way (well, stumbling) home. The staff were friendly, professional and smartly dressed, the atmosphere, relaxed and warm and the menu was concise and well thought out. The food was evidently of a high quality and was extremely well priced, and the portion sizes were plentiful, with lots left over to share . I'm looking forward to heading back to the restaurant sometime soon and exploring the menu further... I'll definitely be getting a mains sized bowl of prawns next time though! Delicious.