Sunday, 30 January 2011


Early on this cold Sunday morning in Hackney, Victoria Park is lively with joggers, cyclists and frisky dogs. We walk pretty briskly, partly because it's numbingly cold and partly because we're in a hurry for breakfast. 

Vicky Park is one of the most unexpected of London's green spaces, set up by Queen Victoria, in her munificence, to give the East End poor a much-needed green space. It's a popular and much-used place for today's east enders, many of them looking for an escape not so much from the tanneries and clothing sweatshops, but the ... y'know, really tough world of the media. 

Seriously, there are a few places nicer than The Pavilion. You can sit inside where it is warm and cosy or at the tables outside to watch the sun glint through the fountain on the lake. The Pav has been turned into a wonderful cafe serving breakfasts of eggs benedict, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, and the full fried fest; they also do fresh and delicious lunches and, oh yeeeaah, freshly baked cakes. It's all beautifully cooked using organic produce, which you can wash down with a comfortingly large mug of builder's brew. 

Of course on a Sunday morning the east end hipsters are here, bleary eyed after a Saturday night of god- knows-what, plus mums and dads coming in for a bite after frolicking with their toddlers. 

It's a jolly and also a cool affair, served as you are by black clad, chiselled cheek-boned - I'm just doing this until my job in the media turns up - types. 

Now pass the tomato ketchup; my poached egg, homemade baked beans, bacon, sausage and black pudding has arrived...

Sunday, 23 January 2011


Simmering Seville Oranges

Scooping out the pips to cook up for pectin
Chopping the peel

Stirring in the sugar

The future is orange ...

Saturday, 22 January 2011


It’s blue Monday (officially the most depressing day of the year) and comfort food is not just desirable but vital for life and sanity. Received wisdom tells me this should be a slow cooked stew or casserole but I haven’t got the time or inclination, and I’m not in the mood for anything meaty. What I want is something unctuous, creamy and soothing. I’m kind of thinking risotto, but on my way home I walk past the Cambridge Cheese Company tucked away on All Saints Passage.  Despite its location the shop has a devoted local clientele along with a few tourists who have stumbled upon it after their tours of Trinity and St John’s. It’s a funny place, austere with slightly curmudgeonly service, but I defy anyone to walk out of the shop without a few luscious cheeses tucked under their arm.

As for me I’m clutching a box of Mont D’Or, a seasonal soft cheese produced mainly in Switzerland and only available from around September to March. Now I know most people are familiar with the baked Camembert schtick, but this is the real deal. Buy one and on the way home pick up a fresh baguette. Take off the lid and any plastic packaging, spike the cheese with some slivers of garlic and slosh a bit of white wine over it. Put the uncovered cheese still in its raffia container on a baking tray and place in a hottish oven for about 20 minutes until it is bubbling and molten.  Scoop out the cheese with hunks of baguette. Eat and sigh.

Cambridge Cheese Company
All Saints Passage


Sunday brunch ... meat, eggs, trotter beans, toast and dripping, with a chaser of cornflake ice cream.

Thursday, 13 January 2011


One espresso and one cappucino coming up. Pronto…Grazie! I pick up the newspaper I had left on the zinc bar and feel myself relax. There’s a delicious smell of… what? Salami, pesto, garlic, olives. So where are we? Milan, Rome? Hell, this is no quickie trip courtesy the rigours of Ryanair but Limoncello on Mill Road, Cambridge. Limoncello is a bit of an institution here – a little bit of Italy opposite Discount Carpets and the Co-op. 
The floor to ceiling shelves are stacked with tins, packets and bottles of Italian produce jostling the fresh bread and little Italian pastries. Hams are freshly sliced and wrapped in waxed paper and fresh pesto, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes are to taste and serve yourself. At Christmas and Easter boxes of panettone hang from the frescoed ceiling and are piled high against windows.
Then about 6 months ago Steve, the owner, turned one section of the shop into an Italian-style bar where you can sit at the counter have a glass of wine or a coffee. And if you fancy a snack, a platter of Parma ham, olives and cheese is served up quicker than you can say ‘Bada bing'.

Now where’s my vespa…….


Monday, 10 January 2011


I can’t bear the dreary word ‘leftovers’. A joyless word that belies the thrill of opening the bread bin to find a glittering foil parcel containing a forgotten chunk of Christmas cake or a mince pie. Today I’ve found a third of a delicious panettone – still fragrant with vanilla and orange zest. Just the thing for a substantial –ish pudding to follow a meagre –ish soup for supper.

So I suppose this is a kind of summer pudding for winter, using panettone instead of bread and stewed apple for a filling: crisp and sweet parcels with soft, fruity insides.

This is for 2 people

  •  Preheat the oven to 180°. Melt about 50 grams of butter
  • Thinly slice the panettone and then press out 4 rounds with a pastry cutter.
  • Brush the insides of two ramekins with melted butter.
  • Fit a round of panettone into the bottom of each ramekin and brush with melted butter
  • Place more panettone around the sides – fill in any gaps (the sponge is quite easy to mould). Again dab on melted butter with a pastry brush
  •  Spoon in the stewed fruit to fill the ramekin
  •  Place the remaining panettone rounds on top to form lids and dab on more butter.
  •  Place the ramekins on a baking tray and bake for about 15-20 minutes until the tops are crisp and golden. Allow to cool slightly. Run a knife around the sides and then turn out the panettone puds. Dust with icing sugar.

Eat this with clotted cream or ice cream or give a nod to January de-tox and accompany with virtuous low fat yoghurt.

Friday, 7 January 2011


It is the winter sales. 

It’s time to sharpen those elbows – do a bit of smash and grab. But here we're not talking Egyptian cotton sheets from John Lewis or reduced red-soled Louboutin shoes (well, given the chance...), but The Three Horseshoes’ January Sales menu. 

The Three Horseshoes may look like a traditional rural pub nestling amongst the stately trees of the Madingley estate near Cambridge, but it's not. It is actually a restaurant and if you are not careful you may think you have walked through the wardrobe and transported yourself to the River Cafe. ...Ok, this may sound fanciful but the truth of the matter is that although our coffers are as bare as the winter branches, we are in need of a treat. We woke  to lashing rain, darkness at 8 am and we may have won The Ashes, but that is as nothing to the deep depression that the death of The Archers’ Nigel Pargeter has plunged me into (yes, I know he is a ridiculous stereotype but I LOVED him!).

So here we are in the conservatory of The Three Horseshoes, two glasses of wine on the starched white tablecloth (remember, I said it wasn't a traditional pub) watching the biggest pheasant I have ever seen strut about the grounds in all his russet pomp. Things are looking better and better, freshly baked soda bread and foccaccia arrive to get us through the rigours of deciding what to eat. To start, I plump for Napoli and Milano Salami with Borlotti and Cavolo Bruschetta while T chooses Sheep's Milk Ricotta Dumplings with Sage Butter and Pecorino. Mother of God! Both are divine (we share, of course), the dumplings rich and creamy offset by the tang of ricotta and the crunch of a crisp sage leaf, while my salami 
is paired with creamy borlotti crushed with 
lemon and olive oil. 

T follows with Pheasant and Soft Polenta in a rich jus and I have to quell 'Menu Envy'. My Hand-Rolled Penne with Smashed Squash, Ricotta and Pangrittato just doesn’t look as good, but as my mum says, ‘Looks aren’t everything.’ It tastes damn fine, the penne is tender in the way only hand made pasta can be, the squash full of good autumnal tastes and the whole dish saved from being too mono-textured by the crunch of the pangrittato (I swear I will be using the crusts of our soughdough bread to make this from now on…).

And because we are having a three-course set menu (a snip at £19 – did I mention the January sales?) we have to choose a pudding – yes HAVE to. My Pannacotta with Roast Purple Figs is as swoony as a Glen Miller number and although T’s Lemon Polenta cake appears a tad boring it is lifted by a sharp creme fraiche.

This is what I call sales shopping.  Soothed and sated we feel nothing can go wrong now.  The waitress comes over. ‘Are you the owners of the silver Citroen? Only someone’s just told us a red car has backed into it and driven away – it was quite a crunch apparently’. Ah the January Sales – smash and grab…

Thursday, 6 January 2011


Oh no!
And I was doing so well.
My New Year resolutions have failed already.  

All it took was a trip to Mill Road and a glimpse of the Black Cat Cafe.

No hung-over students?   Check!
No yummy-mummies with 4x4 off-road buggies? Check!

Two minutes later, I was inside with a cappuccino and a moist slice of Rhubarb and Rosemary cake...

...and cream.

How can anyone resist Nancy's cakes?

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


A Dozen Buckwheat Bagels

Let's start at the beginning.

Or rather begin with the starter.

Bread needs a starter to make it rise; conventionally, yeast is used, either from a fresh, creamy-crumbly block or in the dried, "instant-mix" form.  However, we have taken up an older method of bread-making: it takes longer, is less convenient, and seems like a step backwards in practical terms. But this isn't about speed or ease; we want bread with flavour and texture.  And it all begins with the starter - the catalyst that begins the reaction that makes the dough rise.  Ours is to be found in a mysterious plastic box in the fridge, full of a sludgy, pale grey mixture, that smells of old beer.  This is our sourdough starter. 

Sourdough uses the natural yeasts in the air and the flour to make a dough ferment and this makes the bread rise. Our “mother” brew has been on the go for some four years now. All it needs is feeding at regular intervals with a bit of flour and water. We stir a bit of this sludge into our dough to make all kinds of bread. And croissants.  And bagels.

If you don’t have a starter already bubbling away in your fridge, it is easy to get one going. Be warned, though: serious sourdough addicts (aka: saddos) will have several different types (one wheat, one rye, one liquid, one stiff, etc) all brewing at the same time, so debates about space can occur if the fridge is also to be used for storing other foods. 

A good place for advice on starting your starter is  This is the website of an online community of ordinary sourdough bakers; it contains a whole range of ideas, photos, recipes and, best of all, lots of chat in the discussion forum where saddos from around the world share their successes, failures, ideas and grumbles. To get started, just follow the link “make your own sourdough starter”:

Now we've started, we can begin.

To make your bagels

The sourdough starter intensifies the flavour of the bagels, and the addition of buckwheat flour gives a nuttier taste and finer texture, as well as a bit of genuine NYC authenticity (though Americans tend to use buckwheat for pancakes rather than bagels).  If you prefer, leave out the buckwheat and use 550g of wheat flour.

400g                      sourdough starter
100 – 150g            tepid water
450g                      strong white bread flour (ideally organic)
100g                      buckwheat flour (ideally organic)
38g                        vegetable oil
25g                        brown sugar
15g                        salt

Mix these all together to form a stiffish dough.  The quantity of water needed will depend on the ratio of flour to water in your starter, so it is worth starting with 100g of water and adding more if the dough is unmanageably dry after kneading for a few minutes.  Once it has incorporated all the loose flour and begun to feel “smoother”, return the dough to the bowl and leave to stand in a warm place (the airing cupboard works well in our house).

After 10 minutes, flour your surface, turn out the dough and knead for about 10 minutes, before returning it to its bowl.  Then leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 3 - 4 hours.

Flour your surface, turn out the dough, knead it briefly, then divide into roughly 12 pieces, forming each segment into a flattened ball (each one should weigh about 90g).  Take each ball in turn and form it into the traditional bagel shape, either by sticking your thumb through the middle to form the hole, or by rolling the ball into a cigar shape and joining the ends to make the ring shape.  

I prefer the thumb method; they always seem to unravel the other way. If the dough is too moist, the holes will fill in again rather than remaining “whole”. This isn’t a problem as they will taste just as good, but they look less professional; my first batch resembled heavy frisbees.

Cover a baking tray with a floured piece of baker’s parchment or greaseproof paper.  Place the bagels on this tray, cover them and then refrigerate overnight (cue more discussions about bread, the fridge and space).  This process, called retarding, slows down the rising process and allows the flavours to develop.

The next morning, turn on the oven (200 degrees). Boil a large pan of water to which you add a couple of handfuls of brown sugar – to give the bagels their characteristic glazed surface.  
Once the water is boiling, remove the bagels from the fridge; place three bagels in the water, turning them after a minute and removing them a minute later.  Place the par-boiled bagels back on the tray, and repeat until all have been done. 

Then place the bagels in the hot oven (200 degrees) for about 20 minutes or until done: golden brown and firm to touch.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011


New Year has arrived, the season of de-tox.  We all crave exercise, fresh air and simple food, an end to butter and cream.  Resolution is in the air.  So, we will have pho bo tonight, alongside a crisp South-East Asian salad.  And green tea.  No wine.

What better way to revive flagging taste buds while keeping the calories at bay than a bowl of hot, sweet and spicy pho bo – the national dish of Vietnam.  This zingy beef soup is light enough to restore your vigour on a hot, humid morning in Hanoi yet substantial enough to warm you in the depths of an English winter.  Whether in Northern Hanoi, or Saigon in the South, the Vietnamese are obsessed with this dish. It is everywhere: mobile pho stalls appear on street corners or on boats on rivers that act as markets or highways, anywhere where passing customers can squat and slurp.  There are also fast-food-style restaurants that specialise in pho; Bill Clinton visited one, Pho 2000, in Saigon, during his historic presidential visit. These joints tend to offer the “new” pho – slightly less earthy with fillet steak slivers rather than the chewier beef that devotees of “old” pho relish.  Real pho is street food.

What makes a good bowlful?

Well, the street vendors carry around two large pots, one full of aromatic beef stock, the other of hot water.  Scrappy fires of paper or kindling, often spurred on by small electric fans, quickly get the temperature up to scalding, and add a smokiness to the brew as well; posher establishments might have a small calor gas ring. Then, deftly, a ladle of broth is splashed into a bowl, followed quickly by fresh rice noodles that have been briskly dipped into the boiling water.  Wafer thin strips of beef are stirred in, followed by a slug of nuoc mam (fish sauce).  Chilli, herbs, lime juice and, sometimes, bean sprouts are added to taste before the whole bowlful is devoured at speed.

Pho Bo

These quantities would serve six, so adapt to suit.  And of course, all these measurements would be disregarded by the Vietnamese who do it by eye and availability – and following the family’s traditional recipe. They would also make the broth with beef bones and a pig’s trotter, unlike us.

We bought all these ingredients locally in Mill Road, Cambridge:
Al Amin, 100 - 102 Mill Road, Cambridge (;
Seoul Plaza, 91 - 93 Mill Road, Cambridge (;  
Cho Mee Chinese Supermarket, 108 - 110 Mill Road, Cambridge;
Andrew Northrop Butchers, 114 Mill Road, Cambridge.

To Make the Broth
1 tbs     vegetable oil
500g     stewing beef cut into small cubes
1 tsp     palm sugar or soft brown sugar
2           large onions, chopped and browned
50g       galangal or ginger, sliced thinly
1 tsp     salt 
2           star anise
4cm      cassia bark or a cinnamon stick

To Finish the Pho Bo
300g     fillet steak (tail end) sliced as thinly as possible
1tbs      Thai Fish sauce
400g     rice noodles (Banh Pho)
4           spring onions, sliced into fine rings

To Add to your Bowl
             lime wedges to squeeze
             roughly chopped herbs (mint, Thai basil)
             red chilli sliced thinly
             bean sprouts.

To Make the Broth
In a good-sized saucepan, heat the oil with the spoon of sugar (or palm sugar) and fry the beef until it is caramelised: keep the temperature high and stir constantly.  
Cover with water.  Add the browned onions, sliced ginger, salt, star anise and cassia bark or cinnamon stick and bring to the boil.  Let it simmer for 1 hour, skimming off any scum that comes to the surface.
After 1 hour, remove the stewing beef and keep it to one side.  Strain the broth and return it to the pan. Discard the vegetables and spices.

To Finish the Pho Bo
While the broth is cooking, marinate the beef in the fish sauce for 30 mins.
Boil water for the noodles and cook as per instructions on the packet.
Bring the broth back to a simmer and return the stewing beef to it.
Then ladle the meaty broth into 6 bowls, adding some strained hot noodles, slivers of raw steak and spring onions. Stir it all together and serve.

Every pho addict recommends a slightly different combination of accompaniments to make up the perfect bowl; you should, however, always add chilli, lime juice and Thai basil.

It is considered polite to raise the bowl to your lips and to slurp.  Enjoy.

And “Chuc Mung Nam Moi!” – or Happy New Year as they say in Hanoi.