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Hello! A little break over the Christmas and new year period turned into a much longer blog hiatus than expected. But I am back! And I have a lot of great stuff to share.

This salad is a favourite that I have been meaning to blog for a really long time. Like some of my other much loved salads this combines fresh herb goodness with a grain. The original recipe called for burghal wheat here, but I swapped it out for buckwheat due to my wheat intolerance. I really like the nuttiness of the buckwheat in this dish and think it is a very good substitute.

I always think you should use the best ingredients you can get your hands on and here I think it is particularly important to buy good olives. Over the years I have tried this recipe with a range of types of olives and unfortunately, I have also tried it with olives of varying quality. I really believe that Sicilian green olives are the winner here and you should try to go our of your way to get your hands on some nice olives from a deli. I have of course used Sicilian green olives from a jar but I have found that even the more expensive brands are still not quite there. Of course, if anyone has a fabulous brand of Sicilian green olives at hand, please let me know in the comments!

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The most laborious element of this dish is pitting the olives – being somewhat uncoordinated I find it time consuming and somewhat dangerous to try to pit the olives with a knife. However, my trusty cherry and oliver pitter has changed all this. This little contraption is definitely worth the $8 I spent on it!

Olive related ramblings aside, this really is a stellar salad. The nuttiness of the buckwheat paired with salty olives, crunchy pistachios, fresh herbs and the zing of lemon all work so well together. Give it a try!

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Pistachio and green olive tabbouleh

Adapted from a recipe by Shane Delia featured in Gourmet Traveller - I swapped the wheat for buckwheat, adjusted the quantities and omitted the garlic. In my view, four cloves of garlic tends to overpower the fine balance between the flavours. But give it a try if you like!

200g pistachio kernels
150g buckwheat
1 cup, flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/3 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
150g Sicilian green olives, pitted and chopped
finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
olive oil

  • Toast pistachios in a warm oven until golden (4-6 minutes). Leave to cool, then coarsely crush in a mortar and pestle and set aside in a salad bowl.
  • Wash the buckwheat, then place in a saucepan and cover in boiling water. Cook over medium heat until soft with a little bite (a few minutes). Drain, then set aside to cool.
  • Mix the herbs, olives, lemon and olive oil with the cooled pistachios and buckwheat. Season to taste.
  • Enjoy!
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This year my Christmas baking hasn’t been quite what it usually is. Unfortunately I’m yet to experience the pre-Christmas wind down. But I did find the time to make these little babies.

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I wanted to make something else with my festive spice mix that would be an all around crowd pleaser. A vanilla cupcake with delicate spice coming through sounded promising and I added a maple cream cheese frosting. I chose to make a cream cheese frosting so it wouldn’t be too sweet and the result was (if I say so myself) pretty darn perfect.

Have a very merry and delicious Christmas!

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Spiced vanilla cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting

The cupcake recipe is from Peyton & Byrne’s British Baking, a book I came across in London thanks to the lovely Meg! I adapted it and added the spice mix. The frosting was experimental and delicious!

Makes 12 full sized cupcakes.

For the cupcakes

100g unsalted butter, softened
175g caster sugar
2 eggs
150g plain flour (or 180g spelt flour)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
60g natural yoghurt
1 tsp festive spice (see recipe here, or substitute with cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg mix)

  • Pre-heat the oven to 170C / 340F and line a muffin tin with baking cases.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, waiting until incorporated before adding the next.

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  • Sift the flour and baking powder in and mix until well incorporated.

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  • Add the vanilla and yoghurt and mix lightly until incorporated. Stir through the spice mix.

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  • Fill the cases 3/4 full and bake for about 15 minutes, until cooked through. Cool completely before icing.

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Maple cream cheese frosting

100g unsalted butter, softened
400g cream cheese, softened
500g icing sugar
just under a tablespoon of maple syrup

  • Beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the cream cheese and beat until well incorporated. Note I grated the cream cheese in as it was really cold.

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  • Sift the icing sugar into the mix in 3 batches – add it at low speed and wait until it is well mixed before adding the next batch.
  • Add the maple and beat until a creamy consistency.
  • Chill for 15 minutes before using – to decorate, put the frosting in a piping bag and pipe on, or use a knife.

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  • Sprinkle with decorations of your choice.
  • Enjoy!
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I cannot believe that December is upon us! It’s unbelievable that the year is drawing to a close and we are hurtling rapidly towards Christmas and some much needed holidays.

In realising that the festive season is moving to full swing, I also realised that I needed to get my festive baking on (you can check out some of my other festive treats here).

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I recently attended a cooking course at the Essential Ingredient (thanks for the gift S, M and J!), in the context of discussing his ‘sophisticated chocolate desserts’, Lindt master chocolatier Thomas Schnetzler also shared his recipe for gingerbread spice mix. The mix was heady, musty and quite savoury in aroma and I decided immediately that I needed to make it and to find a vehicle to use it.

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This weekend I finally made the mix and put it to use in a crumbly chocolate shortbread from Thomas Keller. Mr M and I found the biscuits undeniably moreish and had a lot of difficulty preventing ourselves from eating them. I took the leftover biscuits into the office to share with colleagues and came to a startling observation – these are divisive biscuits. Some of my workmates loved them and others were left cold. I think the issue was the amount of spice, and in the recipe below I’ve made some suggestions which should make the recipe an all around crowd pleaser. But personally, when I make these again I wouldn’t change a thing… the savoury, aniseedy notes of the spice mix were perfect to me!

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Spiced chocolate shortbread

The spice mix is adapted from a recipe from Thomas Schnetzler. In the end, I tweaked the recipe a bit – reducing the quantities and amping up the ginger and cinnamon to suit my tastes. The shortbread recipe is from Thomas Keller’s AdHoc at Home. The idea to marry the two together was all me.

The festive spice recipe will yield around half a small jar – but it should be enough for most of your festive baking needs. The number of biscuits you get will depend on the size of your cutter and the thickness you roll them out. I recommend rolling the biscuits thicker than I did, as the thicker biscuits were far more delicious. I used mostly a very small cutter and had more than 3 dozen to share.

Festive spice

15g coriander seeds
15g star anise
20g ground cinnamon
8g cloves
5g nutmeg
10g ground ginger
5g fennel seeds

  • Toast the coriander and star anise in a dry frypan over low heat for a few minutes, until they start to smell delicious. Be careful not to burn the spices.
  • Transfer the coriander, star anise and remaining spices into a spice grinder/coffee grinder or other small mixer and blitz until the mixture is a fairly fine powder.
  • Pass the mixture through a sieve to get rid of any larger spice pieces. Transfer to an airtight container, ready to use for festive baking!

Spiced chocolate shortbread 

170g caster sugar
225g plain flour (or 275g spelt flour)
80g dutch cocoa
2 tbsp festive spice (Note: you could reduce the spice here to 1 tbsp, just add in an extra tbsp of cocoa)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
2 pinches of salt
210g butter – cut into small cubes, at room temperature.

  • Place all the ingredients except the butter in the mixing bowl. Briefly blitz with electric beaters so everything is combined.
  • Gradually add in cubes of butter. The mixture will at first have a sandy texture, then begin to cling to the paddle.
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  • Continue mixing a little longer until the mixture no longer looks dry. Stop beating the mixture before it becomes a single solid mass.
  • Dump the mixture on a board and bring it together, kneading with the heel of your hands. Cover in cling film and refrigerate for an hour.
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  • Pre-heat the oven to 350 F/ 175 C.
  • Cut the dough in half, then place half the dough between 2 sheets of baking paper (pop the other half back in the fridge). Roll the dough out to be about 1/4 of an inch or just over half a centimitre thick. Note that I rolled mine a little too thinly.
  • Cut into pieces or use a cookie cutter.

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  • Transfer the shapes onto a plate lined with baking paper and refrigerate for 15 minutes. While these biscuits are in the fridge continue rolling the leftover pieces and the other part of the dough.
  • After the biscuits have been in the fridge for 15 minutes transfer them on the baking paper to a baking tray – leave them a couple of centimetres apart.
  • Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until the biscuits no longer look shiny. Let them cool slightly on the tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
  • Enjoy!

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Double lemon layer cake

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I’m currently going through a spate of thirtieth birthdays (it must be my age!). An enjoyable part of all of these birthdays is having an excuse to bake something special for the birthday – I love having the opportunity to make a decadent layer cake (you can check out some of my previous efforts here, including a lamington layer cake and a chocolate and raspberry extravaganza).

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For celebration cakes I always think of chocolate, however one of the girls has a problem with cocoa so I had to put my thinking cap on. I received a set of Boyajian citrus oils from friends B & Z a while ago, and thought that a citrus scented cake would be lovely for a birthday. Naturally, I decided to go the layer cake option, even if my need for perfection is not matched by my skill level (I always want the layers to be exactly perfect and always fail at it). I’ve since invested (at $6, big spender!) in a Wilton Cake Leveler, which promises to cut perfectly even layers – I’m ridiculously excited about it and will hopefully put it to use and share my (perfect?!?) results here.

The lemon cake is sandwiched with lemon curd, to double up the citrus factor. I was reasonably sparing with the lemon curd in the version I made, but I think it could do with a bit more and I’ve adjusted the quantities in the recipe below. The frosting is a simple vanilla number, although a white chocolate frosting would be pretty great here too. We served it with birthday candles and some double cream (it’s a celebration!).

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Double lemon layer cake

The cake recipe is from Martha Stewart, with a couple of tweaks. I chose to use citrus oil in the cake as I had some around, but if you do not have citrus oil, you could substitute with lemon essence or the grated zest of 2 lemons. The curd recipe is from Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion and the frosting is an old standby.

This 4 layer cake served 8 people and there were plenty of leftovers.

Note: for your sanity, I would recommend making the cake over two days – bake the cakes and make the curd the day before the party and on the day make the frosting and assemble the cake.

For the cake

225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
375g flour, plus more for the pans (450g if using spelt flour)
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
1/2 tsp salt
450g caster sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
300ml buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp lemon oil

For the lemon curd

6 egg yolks
1 cup caster sugar
90g unsalted butter
3 tsp grated lemon zest
150ml lemon juice

For the frosting

250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
500g icing sugar, sifted
4 tsp hot milk
2 tsp vanilla
few drops of yellow food colouring

Make the cakes

  • Pre-heat oven to 175C/ 350F. Butter two 8 inch round cake tins, line bottom with baking paper and dust bottoms and sides with flour. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt.
  • Cream the butter with electric beaters or in a stand mixer for 1-2 minutes, until softened. Add the caster sugar and continue beating until lightened, about 3-4 minutes. Add a little bit of the eggs, beat further, then incorporate the rest. Continue beating for about 5 minutes.
  • On low speed, add one third of the flour mixture and beat to incorporate. Add half the buttermilk and beat to incorporate. Alternate with the next third of flour mixture, then remaining buttermilk, then remaining flour mixture, pausing after each addition to mix until incorporated. Beat in the vanilla and the lemon oil.
  • Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 35 – 45 minutes, until cooked through. Leave to cool completely before assembling the cake.

Make the curd

  • While the cakes are baking, make the lemon curd.
  • Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until combined, but not frothy.
  • Tip into a heavy based saucepan and add butter, zest and lemon juice. Stir constantly over a medium-high heat until the mixture is simmering (about 5 minutes). Once bubbles appear, remove from heat and continue to stir until cooled.
  • Cool completely before using.
  • Note: If you want to make the curd ahead of time, cover with plastic wrap (with the wrap touching the top of the curd) and refrigerate.

Make the frosting

  • Beat the butter with electric beaters until light and fluffy.
  • Add in the icing sugar, milk and vanilla and continue beating until it is at a spreadable consistency.
  • Add in a few drops of food colouring and stir to incorporate.

To assemble

  • Slice the cooled cakes in half horizontally.
  • Place the first layer on the cake plate. Spread the top of the first layer with 1/3 of the lemon curd. Place the second layer on top and repeat process with another 1/3 of the lemon curd. Place the third layer on top and spread with the remaining curd. Place the final layer of cake on top. Spread the cake with frosting and decorate with candy flowers if desired.
  • Enjoy!
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Our little blog is growing up – two years old today!

We are still really enjoying blogging even if some ‘teething problems’ have meant that we are posting a little less frequently than we would like. Rest assured, we continue to eat out, cook and bake a lot, and just need to find some time to share a bit more of it here. If you want to see what we’re up to, follow us on Twitter (Emily and Saskia) or on Instagram (username, itpleasesus – if you don’t have instagram you can check out our public profile here.) 

As per our post last year, we thought we’d make a little list of our favourite post from the past 12 months.

Thanks for reading!

Em & Sas

 Our favourite recipes

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Our favourite places

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  • For a hot date – The Commoner its quirky, cosy, they’ll design a menu for you and you share all your food.
  • For a macaron – the big newcomer this year was La Belle Miette, their olive oil macaron is pretty spectacular. Further afield (ahem, London) Pierre Hermé and Ladurée lived up to expectations, though if I had to choose a favourite, Pierre Hermé was my front runner.
  • You can’t book but it’s totally worth the angst – Chin Chin
  • Out of town – while Saskia proclaimed that ‘life begins now’ after her meal at nahm, Emily will never forget the magic of the Fat Duck.

Our favourite foodie experiences

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We were very fortunate to share an incredible meal at the Fat Duck while we were visiting London. Heston Blumenthal’s eponymous restaurant in Bray (about 40km from London) is known for its whimsical dishes and focus on molecular gastronomy. The restaurant has received a slew of awards over the years – it was named the world’s best restaurant in 2005 (before handing on the mantle to elBulli and in the last two years, Noma) and it now sits at the still rather fantastic spot of number 5, it has 3 Michelin stars and was recently named best restaurant in the UK by the Good Food Guide, scoring a perfect score of 10 out of 10.

The restaurant only offers a tasting menu (£160 per person, to increase to £180 per person from September), dietary requirements are catered for. Reservations can only be made as far as 2 months in advance – a requirement that meant Mr M and I spent a solid 1.5 hours redialling the restaurant on the appointed day. Some 300 phone calls later (I’m not exaggerating) we snagged the coveted reservation.

With all that anticipation, it’s a lot of pressure on a meal! But the Fat Duck really did deliver. In comparison to any other fine dining restaurants I’ve eaten in, there really was an emphasis on theatre and ritual – the theatre of a waiter getting the liquid nitrogen out at the table to make an aperitif or pouring liquid over a patch of grass to create an oak smoke. The ritualistic element of taking a ‘watch’ from the waiter, dunking it into ‘tea’ to make the broth for the Mad Hatter’s mock turtle soup or choosing a tiny ice-cream cone from a tray proffered by the wait staff. The other notable aspect of eating at the Fat Duck was the deliberate engagement of all of the senses - smelling fresh citrus notes while enjoying a campari, listening to waves crash and birds squall while eating a beachside scene, being encouraged to touch the food – picking up a tiny film canister, unwrapping the sweets.

The sense of playfulness in the meal was lovely too. While you expect the unexpected at the Fat Duck, there was a sense of childlike wonder when something was not as it appeared. Many of the dishes just made me smile, and (most importantly) they tasted good too.

Yes it’s a splurge (Mr M described the bill for our lunch as equivalent to an iPad) but it was spectacular and I thoroughly recommend it. One small way to reduce the bill would be to forego the matched wines, we opted for the cheapest wine match available at £90 per person (the most expensive option is north of £300 per person, just for wine), but I think it was probably unnecessary…

So on to the food! Our first bite was a little amuse bouche of aerated beetroot with horseradish cream:

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The dehydrated beetroot had a lovely crunchy texture akin to honeycomb and I enjoyed the slight heat from the horseradish cream. It was a powerfully savoury, earthy bite, even though it looked like it could be a petit four.

Next was nitro poached aperitifs, a waiter set up a station next to our table and offered a vodka and lime sour, gin and tonic or campari soda. The waiter squeezed the foam aperitif from the pressurised canister and then rolled it in liquid nitrogen, dusted it in a dehydrated powder, spritzed the air with a citrus vapouriser and instructed us to eat it immediately, in a single bite. My campari soda was pleasantly tart and the texture was almost meringue-like on the exterior, with a soft molten centre.

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The first course arrived, red cabbage gazpacho with pommery grain mustard ice-cream:

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Despite the startling colour of the gazpacho this was one of the least memorable dishes of the meal for me. My main recollection was the tang of the red cabbage and that the ice-cream had a nice balance between sweet and savoury.

In contrast, the next dish jelly of quail with crayfish cream really wowed. A grass covered board was placed in front of us and inside the little box marked ‘Fat Duck Films’ was a thin edible film. The film melted on the tongue and had a subtle, savoury woodsy flavour. Next the waiter poured water on the grass, which set-off the dry ice and an oak smoke covered the table.

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The bowl contained several layers of flavours - lurid pea puree at the bottom, dark, gamey quail jelly, salty-sweet crayfish cream and the perfect quenelle of chicken liver parfait. The punches of flavour, separately and mixed together really were extraordinary. On the side was a very thin truffle toast with radish which worked as a nice textural counterpoint. The toast added a simultaneously earthy and fresh bite to the richness of the rest of the dish. Amazing.

On to one of Heston’s signature dishes – snail porridge. I was amazed at the colour of the dish – incredibly bright green from the parsley. I expected the consistency of the dish to be of a thick porridge but I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a thinner, more soup-like broth which contained the segments of oats and the snails. I loved the aniseed hit of the fennel against the saltiness of the snails and the little chunks of Iberico Bellota ham.

In eating this dish I was struck by how well seasoned it was – this dish had a good kick of salt to it, but was not too salty. This dish (and actually every savoury dish we ate) was seasoned right to the point that the food was very flavourful and where a touch more salt or pepper would probably take it over the edge. The restraint shown by the kitchen and the ability to walk that fine line was really impressive.

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Next up, and pictured to the right of the snail porridge, is the roast foie gras. I am not ashamed to admit that foie gras is not usually a favourite of mine – I often find its richness a little hard to handle. No such problem here. The seared outer edges of the foie gras added a textural counterpoint to the soft interior and the dish was brightened by the braised konbu. The other element of the dish which saved the foie from being too much was the barberry puree which added a lovely sweet tartness to cut through all that fat.

The next dish was a lot of fun – Mock turtle soup (c.1850) a dish immortalised in his television show Heston’s Feasts. The dish is centred around the scene of the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where the Mad Hatter dunks his fob watch into a cup of tea.

The waiter brought Mr M a gold fob watch (unfortunately, no watch for me as it was not gluten-free) and instructed him to place the watch in his tea cup and pour the water from the teacup over it. The watch actually consists of freeze dried concentrated stock wrapped in gold leaf, which dissolved in the warm water, producing a broth. The broth is then poured over the dish.

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In the bowl was a little mock turtle egg, made from turnip mousse and a silky, creamy swede puree. To the side is the rich ox-tongue terrine and floating in the broth were little batons of black truffle and pickled cucumber. The broth was rich and flavourful. Exquisite.

Another famous dish followed – sound of the sea. The artfully plated seaweed and sashimi of Yellowtail, Mackerel, and Halibut rests on a ‘sand’ of tapioca and baby eels while a konbu and vegetable foam laps over the shore. The dish is served with an iPod which plays the sounds of waves crashing and seagulls chirping.

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The dish really did transport me to the seaside and I felt I could almost smell the salty air.

The following dish did not have the ‘wow’ factor of the two preceding dishes, but was nonetheless Mr M’s favourite of the day – salmon poached in a liquorice gel. In eating this dish I was amazed at how a range of seemingly disparate ingredients (salmon, liquorice, vanilla, artichokes, grapefruit and roe) could come together in such a perfect way. The vanilla ‘mayonnaise’ threw me a little, I tasted it on its own and it was sweet enough to be an element on a dessert plate. However, when combined with the salty roe, tart grapefruit and the liquorice scented salmon it just worked.

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The final savoury course arrived – lamb with cucumber (c.1805).  This was a more straight forward dish of perfectly cooked lamb, with the twist of grilled cucumber wedges, and an intense onion and dill fluid gel on the side, with a selection of sweetbreads and a jammy reduction.

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A really special little cup arrived next – hot and iced tea. The tea was a revelation – one side of the glass was warm and the other side was cold. The trick here was that the two were different consistencies, although they were thick enough not to get muddled. I really marvelled at this and loved that you could turn the cup 90 degrees and drink only cold and then only hot tea. Thoroughly bizarre.

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Our dessert was preceded by the waiter coming by and offering a tiny, perfectly formed earl grey ice-cream in a cone (mine came in a tiny glass without the cone). Then the plate arrived – macerated strawberries, isn’t it beautiful?

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In a long line of gorgeous dishes this really was so pretty. The gingham patterned ‘picnic rug’ was actually a tile of white chocolate. Under the rug was fresh and dehydrated strawberries with a thick balsamic reduction and pistachios. Edible flowers, chamomile and coriander saved this from veering into sickly sweet territory. Really lovely.

The waiter came over and spritzed the air with a musty, earthy scent (the scent of the forest) and brought over a dessert that could bring a chocolate lover (ie, me) to their knees – the “BFG” (black forest gateau):

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Look at those layers of goodness! From what I could tell there was a layer of chocolate mousse, drunken cherries, chocolate cake and kirsch mousse. On the side was a quenelle of slightly sour and quite boozy kirsch ice-cream which cut through that richness. Absolutely perfect.

The Whisk(e)y Wine Gums arrived – gorgeous, perfectly formed sweets that were definitely not kids stuff as they were made from a range of aged whiskeys and had a real kick of liquor to them.  

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Our final course was like a kid in a sweet shop - a bag of sweets to take home, or if you are greedy like we were, gobble at the table. Inside the candy striped bag was a mandarin flavoured aerated chocolate, then pictured below, an apple pie caramel with an edible wrapper, coconut baccy and the queen of hearts:

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While I loved the novelty of eating a caramel without bothering to unwrap it, my favourite here was the queen of hearts. The heavy envelope contained a printed white chocolate playing card with a berry interior. So fun and delicious to boot.

So all in all it was, well, incredible. Highly, highly recommended.

Details

The Fat Duck
High Street, Bray
SL6 2AQ, Berkshire
United Kingdom
Ph: +44 (0) 1628 580 333

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In a little break from posting about London (how awful is it all generally and what happened at The Ledbury?), I thought I’d quickly share a recipe for some pretty fabulous cupcakes (if I do say so myself).

I made these cupcakes just before we went on our trip overseas as a thank-you and farewell to my colleagues (I had been working out of a different company the last few months). When trying to decide what kind of cupcake to make, peanut butter instantly came to mind. Given how well peanut, caramel and chocolate go together, I thought a salty, caramelly frosting would be perfect atop a chocolate cupcake.

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The frosting was a little tricky to get right. I found the peanut butter flavour to be very prominent and it was difficult to get the caramel notes to come through in the way I had envisaged. Nonetheless, these were really, really good and were very well received around the office. The chocolate cupcake was nicely chocolatey but still retained a lightness. I’ll definitely be making these again!

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Chocolate cupcakes with salted peanut butter caramel frosting

Cupcake recipe adapted from More from Magnolia by Alyssa Torey – I upped the quantities and adjusted for spelt flour. Frosting is inspired by a recipe from Cooks Illustrated via the Whimsical Cupcake, although I upped the caramel portion so much that the quantities are completely different. The caramel sauce recipe is from my Salted Caramel cupcakes. If you can’t be bothered making the caramel sauce a bought sauce would be ok too…

Makes 18 full sized cupcakes

For the cupcakes

375g plain flour (or 450g spelt flour)
1.5 tsp bicarb soda
345g butter
300g caster sugar
320g brown sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
255g dark chocolate
350ml buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract

For the frosting

If you are making the caramel sauce
270g sugar
300ml heavy cream
Pinch salt
Note:  The quantities for the caramel sauce will make more than you need for the frosting, but it’s difficult to reduce the quantities and the sauce is delicious to boot!

Frosting ingredients
240g unsalted butter, at room temperature
180g smooth peanut butter
1 cup of icing sugar, sifted
6 tbs caramel sauce (either make the sauce above, or buy some)

Cupcakes

  • Pre-heat the oven to 175C.
  • Line muffin tins with paper and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, sift the flour and the bicarb soda. Set aside.
  • Melt the chocolate over a double boiler, then set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, cream the butter until it is smooth. Add the caster sugar and the brown sugar and beat until fluffy (about 3 minutes).
  • Add the eggs one at a time, make sure each is incorporated before adding the next. Add the melted chocolate.
  • Add one third of the flour and bicarb mix, then half the buttermilk – mix to combine. Add the next third of flour and bicarb, then the remainder of the buttermilk, mix to combine. Add the final amount of flour and the vanilla and mix to combine.
  • Spoon the batter into the prepared liners, fill them about 3/4 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Frosting

  • First, make the caramel sauce (or you could just use some sauce from a bottle – I won’t tell anyone!)
    • In a heavy-bottomed, high-sided saucepan, cook the sugar over medium-high heat until it begins to melt around the edges, about 5 minutes. Stirring with a clean wooden spoon, continue to cook until the sugar is melted and has turned golden amber, about 3 minutes longer.
    • Carefully pour the cream down the side of the pan in a slow, steady stream (it will bubble and spatter), stirring constantly until completely smooth. Stir in the salt. Pour the caramel into a small heatproof bowl and let cool completely before using. (The caramel can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week; bring to room temperature before using.)
  • In a stand mixer or using electric beaters, beat the butter and peanut butter until smooth (a minute or two). Add the icing sugar and beat briefly to combine. Then increase the speed of the mixer and beat for a couple of minutes until the frosting has lightened in colour and the sugar is incorporated.
  • Add the caramel sauce and beat on medium high until the mixture is combined. The frosting should have a reasonably thick consistency, allowing you to pipe it. If you have problems with the consistency you can chill the mixture in the fridge for a few minutes before beating again.
  • Pipe or spread on to cooled cupcakes, top with chocolate sprinkles to decorate.
  • Enjoy!
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Mr M and I are back from a fantastic break. The highlight of our eating while based in London was our lunch at the Fat Duck, but that epic post is still being finished. I thought that in the meantime I would run through some of the other gastronomic high points of our time in London.

Top photo – great view from the bar at the top of the Tate Modern

St. John

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First full day in London and we lunched at the iconic St John Bar and Restaurant in Smithfield. Chef Fergus Henderson is one of the original proponents of nose to tail eating (immortalised in his book – The Whole Beast – Nose to Tail Eating) and this really is the place to get your offal on. It’s also definitely not the place to go if you are a vegetarian (as our friend M found out on a previous visit). Mr M was rendered almost speechless by the bone marrow, served simply with parsley, capers and shallots (£7.10). My pork and dandelion entree was pretty special too – the fatty pork was lovely with the zingy mustardy vinaigrette. We shared some peas in the pod too (£4.20).

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Mr M’s main didn’t quite reach the same heights – the pigeon was served rare (as the waiter had told us) and to me almost had a slight metallic finish (£17). More successful was my rabbit with peas and bacon (£17.80). We finished the meal on a high by splitting a chocolate terrine (£6.80) that was ridiculous in its richness – it was dark, velvety and intense, I loved the crunch from the cocoa nibs too.

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Vinoteca

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Friends M & J took us to Vinoteca, a gorgeous little wine bar that is located just across the road from St John. The cozy space comprises a wine shop, wine bar and some lovely private rooms downstairs – wherein friends M & J held their engagement party. Wine is definitely the focus here, with an enormous wine list and a great selection of wines by the glass. On the food front, there is a fairly short list of snacks and a few mains to choose from. Try the char-grilled bavette with cafe de paris butter (£14.50) - I was pretty pleased with it.

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The Ledbury

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While planning the trip to London I was very keen to see what ex-pat Aussie chef Brett Graham was doing at his two Michelin star restaurant The Ledbury. However, the visit appeared to be in jeopardy when I started to have concerns regarding the cost of all this eating out. I was subsequently thrilled to find out that The Ledbury does a three course Sunday lunch for just £40…  I highly highly recommend a visit, you will not be disappointed.

My entree of morels, crisp chicken wings, summer truffle and a delicate potato risotto was one of the best plates I’ve had in a long time. I continued the ‘crisp’ theme through to main course, with the crisp suckling pig, pork cheek in Pedro Ximénez – the richness of the pork was offset by the smokiness of dried chicory and the earthiness of the almond and quinoa.

Clockwise below is a selection of our entrees and mains – C’s stunning heritage tomatoes with fresh curd and green tomato juice, loin and shoulder of lamb, my morel entree and porky main:

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Desserts similarly wowed – I had three kinds of crème brûlée, A tucked into the gorgeous whipped ewes milk with berries, meringue, shards of mint and beignet on the side. C had the pave of chocolate with milk puree and lovage:

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Ottolenghi

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I am a huge fan of Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks – I have The Cookbook and Saskia has Plenty (check out the tomatoes with lentils & gorgonzola I made from that one). I really wanted to try Ottolenghi’s food while in London and my initial plan was to visit their new Soho eatery NOPI. Time got the better of us on that front, but we did visit Ottolenghi in Belgravia to pick up some lunch. We grabbed quinoa with radicchio, spiced rice with lentils and barberries and the seriously fabulous roasted eggplant with mint yoghurt, pine nuts, za’tar and fresh mint – perfect fare for a picnic in Hyde park.

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Andrew Edmunds

My brother and I caught up with cousin F at cosy Soho eatery Andrew Edmunds. The tiny, dimly lit space is perfect for a date but there were a few groups gathered around enjoying themselves too. The menu is small and changes daily and prices were very modest - F’s whimsical dressed crab was just £8.75. My brother L tucked into the Dorset crab spaghetti (£16), but the winner of the day was my unassuming main of pearl barley pilaf with zucchini, pinenuts and chèvre (£10.5). The pilaf was simultaneously hearty and evocative of spring with the fresh broad beans, spinach and zucchini.

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For pudding L had an impressive sticky date pudding (£6.75) while F and I split a perfect bowl of Eton mess (£5.50) which showcased lovely summer strawberries. We left very happy.

Macaron fix – Ladurée and Pierre Hermé

My love of macarons is well documented. While I had been warned that the Ladurée macarons in London “just aren’t the same as the ones in Paris” I was still supremely excited to get my hands on some of these babies. We visited Ladurée at Harrods and I lost my tiny mind to see all the macarons on offer. After some deliberation I opted to buy a dozen of them – memorable flavours were the salted butter caramel (yes!), liquorice, apple, blackcurrant and violet,  mint and strawberry and almond morello cherry.

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After picking up the Ladurée macarons we popped around the corner to Pierre Hermé. Their ‘flagship’ store in Belgravia was absolutely stunning. I was quite interested to see that in addition to the more standard macaron flavours, Pierre Hermé had some weird and wacky flavours – I picked up some pea and mint, asparagus and hazelnut and jasmine tea macarons. I was surprised at the freshness of both the pea and asparagus macarons – the flavours were quite clean. In contrast, the jasmine tea was delicate and perfumed. But my favourite was their signature olive oil and vanilla, a seemingly odd pairing that just works (and which I had previously tried at La Belle Miette – who interestingly use the Pierre Hermé recipe).

Both the Ladurée and Pierre Hermé macarons were remarkable for their consistency – texturally, all the macarons I tried had the perfect combination of a little bite to them (but not crunch) and then a smooth softness. There wasn’t an air pocket amongst them either – something that is still unfortunately common in the macarons I eat around Melbourne.

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Coffee break – St. Ali and Allpress

I have a little coffee habit (Mr M would say addiction) and so I was keen to locate some quality coffee in London. We ended up trying out a couple of Australasian outposts – St Ali’s new shop in Farringdon and New Zealand roaster’s Allpress’ coffee house in Shoreditch. Both St Ali and Allpress roast on site and both produced a lovely brew. Both spaces reminded me strongly of cafes at home, particularly Allpress’ ubiquitous La Marzocco machine.

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While I enjoyed my familiar coffee exploits it remains a disappointment that I passed but failed to sample a coffee from Shoreditch Grind – which has a motto of sex, coffee and rock and roll. Awesome.

High end preserves – Fortnum and Mason

Last stop in what has become an epic post, the place in London that a jam aficionado can go wild. I was shocked and overwhelmed to view the wall to wall display of jams on offer at Fortnum and Mason.

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As a bonus, I was also highly amused at some of the explanations on the labels.. does anyone care for Kir Royale jam from “aristocratic fruit”(!) or woodland strawberry jam made from “reclusive Scottish strawberries”(!!). After much debate we picked up the woodland strawberry jam (£11.95), which is studded with tiny wild strawberries and also a jar of tayberry jam (£6.50), which is a cross between a black raspberry and a logan berry.

Details

St. John Bar and Restaurant
26 St. John Street, Smithfield
London, EC1M4AY
Ph: +44 (0)20 3301 8069

Vinoteca
7 St. John Street, Smithfield
London, EC1M4AY
Ph: +44 (0)20 7253 8786

The Ledbury
127 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill
London, W11 2AQ
Ph: +44 (0)20 7792 9090

Ottolenghi
Belgravia store- 13 Motcomb Street, Belgravia
London, W11 2AD
Ph: +44 (0)20 7727 1121

Andrew Edmunds
46 Lexington Street, Soho
London SW1X 8LB
Ph: +44 (0)20 7823 2707

Ladurée at Harrods
87 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge
London, SW1X 7XL
Ph: +44 (0)20 3155 0111

Pierre Hermé
13 Lowndes Street, Belgravia
London SW1X 9EX
Ph: +44 (0)20 7245 0317

St Ali
27 Clerkenwell Rd, Farringdon
London, EC1M 5RN
Ph: +44 (0)20 7253 5754

Allpress Espresso Roastery
58 Redchurch St, Shoreditch
Greater London, E2 7DP
PH: +44 (0)20 7749 1780

Fortnum and Mason
181 Piccadilly
London W1A 1ER
Ph: +44 (0)845 602 5694

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A couple of weeks into its life and Chris Lucas’ new venture is hot, hot, hot.

Chin Chin  is situated in Flinders Lane in the space formerly occupied by the abjectly terrible ICON bar. It is actually incredible that ICON was hiding such an amazing space – I really love the high, pressed metal ceiling and huge windows. Chin Chin was fitted out by interior darlings Projects of Imagination and they have nicely divided the room into a few sections, with a main bar running lengthwise down the room and a dining section. A downstairs bar is also in the works.

The menu is South East Asian, with a focus on Thai cuisine and is made for sharing. Eats are divided into ‘little somethings’, soups, ‘green stuff’, curries, barbecue, ‘a bit more’ and ‘on the side’. The little somethings are perfect snacks for a drink or two. A couple of days after opening, Claireand I visited and enjoyed the pork roll-ups ($16) and the wok fried salt & pepper squid with nuoc cham ($14).

I went back a week or so later for a full meal and was glad I did. While I had enjoyed the couple of bar snacks I’d previously had, the things we ordered at dinner really blew me away.

Our group of 4 started with the crunchy school prawns with nahm prik pla gapi ($9) and the spicy eggnet rolls with spanner crab and chilli jam ($12):

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It’s fair to say that the school prawns are likely to become a star dish for Chin Chin – that nahm prik was seriously delicious.

On to the larger dishes – we started with the crispy skinned mandarin duck ($33) which had been recommended by a number of people on Twitter – and rightly so:

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The duck was crispy and sticky from the mandarin glaze. Being a salt fiend, I also loved the salt mix on the side (potentially mixed with tea?).

Next in the larger dishes was the barramundi wrapped in a banana leaf with coconut red curry, lime and Thai basil ($34) and on the side, ‘morning glory’ wok tossed cress with yellow bean and chilli ($14):

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The Barra was my least favourite of the dishes – but this was coming from a high benchmark. For me, it didn’t have the same wow factor as the other dishes, but it was tasty nonetheless. The morning glory was a nice foil to all the proteins.

Lastly, we shared a Massaman curry of braised beef brisket ($18) and son in law eggs with chilli jam ($8):

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At this stage we were almost beyond full, but gallantly had a go at the curry and it really was a winner. Unctuous, tender brisket in a creamy coconut sauce with crunchy shallots. Really good. I also liked the son-in-law eggs, a favourite dish I always order at Ginger Boy, this version was great too.

We were going to skip dessert, but I saw the words ‘salted honeycomb’ and I could not resist. We also ordered the platter of desserts to share, but this was sold out. Apparently it comes with caramels and macarons so I’ll definitely be ordering it next time. Instead, we shared the layered jellies of coconut milk, passion-fruit and slow poached pineapple ($11) – not pictured. Here is the salted honeycomb beauty – a palm sugar icecream sundae with lime jelly ($12)… I’m in love: 

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This was SO good. In my books, you really can’t go wrong with the salty/sweet combination, and the addition of the lime helped cut through all that sweet richness. I’ll be back to eat this again. The other dessert seemed to be the poor relation in comparison to the honeycomb, but was actually a great dessert too. The coconut milk jelly had the consistency of a panacotta and was rich and lush. The pineapple had taken on a caramelly quality and there was a smokiness from the toasted coconut. We managed to polish this off quickly too. 

All in all, it was an excellent meal. Great food, service and atmosphere. It was also good value. I’ll definitely be back soon…

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Chin Chin has already received lots of good press from the bloggers – including Tomato, Half-Eaten and Essjay.

Details

Chin Chin
125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Ph: (03) 8663 2000

No bookings, unless for groups over 12.
Open 7 days and now for lunch. Open late.

Chin Chin on Urbanspoon

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Hello lovely readers!

It’s been quite the blog hiatus I know – I have lots of good excuses for the lack of posting, but I’ll save those and get to the good part – baking!

My dad recently turned 60 (well a couple of months ago, but we needn’t quibble about timeliness). As per last year, I volunteered to be official cake baker. However, it was a somewhat more stressful effort this time, given he had 120 of his nearest and dearest together for a big bash.

Dad has a real soft spot for sponges and layer cakes (have a look at last year’s cake here). For his birthday he requested a sponge that resembled a lamington.

I went to my fail safe sponge recipe, helpfully titled ‘never fail sponge’. I have used this recipe many many times and it hasn’t failed me yet. It is also a particularly good recipe as I have successfully adapted it to make it gluten free and it still works.

The recipe produces an incredibly light sponge that is still moist, but definitely don’t scrimp on the cream and raspberries!

Dad had a lovely birthday party and all of the cake disappeared – quite a feat given that there was also a lemon meringue pie contest in action and more lemon meringue pie than you can poke a stick at! Give it a try!

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Lamington cake

Sponge recipe is from the CWA. To make this gluten-free, make sure your cornflour is 100% corn (most are made from wheat) and omit the custard powder. Makes a very tall four layer cake.

For the sponges

8 eggs, separated
pinch of salt
330g castor sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
240g cornflour
2 tsp cream of tartar
2 large tbsp custard powder (to make this gluten-free, omit the custard powder and add in 2 extra tbsp of cornflour)
1 tsp bicarb soda

For the chantilly creme

350ml cream
2 tbs caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

For the ganache

360g dark chocolate, chopped
250 ml cream

To decorate

350g jar of raspberry jam
250g fresh raspberries
Packed of shredded coconut

To make the sponges

  • Preheat oven to 175 degrees C.
  • Twice-sift the dry ingredients (cornflour, cream of tartar, custard powder (if using) and bicarb soda). Set aside. DSC_3356
  • Beat egg whites with a small pinch of salt until soft peaks form, and gradually beat in castor sugar. Beat well until stiff peaks form and very thick.  Then gently fold in egg yolks and vanilla.
  • Add the twice-sifted dry ingredients and fold gently to combine. You need to be careful here so you don’t knock the air out of the mixture.
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  • Pour into 2 well-greased and lined spring form tins (I used 8-inch tins).
  •  Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the sides of the cake have come away from the sides of the tin. The cakes will puff up very high. Place on a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Once the cakes are cooled, make the chantilly cream by beating the cream and adding the sugar and vanilla.

To assemble

  • Split each cake into two pieces.
  • Warm the raspberry jam in the microwave so it is more spreadable. Spread the first layer with jam, then cream.
  • Place the second layer on top, spread with cream and fresh raspberries.
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  • Place the third layer on top and spread with jam and cream. Place the last layer on the cake.
  • Make the ganache by putting the chopped chocolate and cream into a saucepan and heating gently. Stir until mixture is smooth, then beat in an electric mixture until cool and thick.
  • Spread the ganache on the cake, then throw shredded coconut at the cake until covered:
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  • Enjoy! 
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