Monday, 30 November 2009

November Restaurants

I don't eat out all the time, but when I do, I like it to be enjoyable. I love quick lunches in Cafe Rouge, bowls of pasta in Strada and pizzas in Pizza Express. Any eating experience is usually pleasurable for me, but in these regular places, it is the company (family and friends) and the conversation that matters.

It is always nice though when you make a bit more effort and go somewhere new. November brought two such places, the first being Iberica in London. My good friend Suz happened to be in London and we arranged to meet when I finished work. I had had this place on my list since reading about it on Bellaphon's blog and as usual, the recommendation was spot on.

We shared beautiful croquetas de jamon (iberico ham croquettes), a selection of Spanish cheeses served with membrillo (quince paste) and the prize for best dish of the night went to the "broken eggs" served with iberico ham and fried potatoes. Great service and delicious food in a stylish setting. If you like Spanish food, give it a try. We finished the evening saying hello to two fellow bloggers, easy to spot by the size of their cameras! Check out Food by Mark and the LondonEater - these guys are much more qualified to give London restaurant reviews than me so check out their excellent blogs.

Another new restaurant I tried this month was The Cuckoo in Cuckfield, a local village restaurant which has been around for years, but recently had a change of ownership. It had been recommended by my cousin John and his wife Caroline, and already tried out by my brother Dom for my sister-in-law Lynne's Birthday. My Dad treated us to Sunday lunch yesterday to celebrate my sister Sarah's Birthday.

For November there was a special set menu at 10.00 for 2 courses and 15.00 for 3. The choices were very good with something to suit everyone and the food came beautifully presented in generous portions. The starter of gambas pil pil was absolutely delicious, and I throroughly enjoyed my local Balcombe pheasant served with parsnip mash and game chips. The roast lamb looked very impressive, and the sea bass served with olive mash and cherry tomatoes was so good, nobody even offered me a mouthful. Desserts were equally tasty, with the chocolate fudge cake served with pistachio ice cream a clear winner.

The building is full of character, with small cosy seating areas, and the interior has been brought up to date with stripped floors, crisp table cloths, soft grey woodwork and funky artwork. Service was friendly and efficient, and there was no problem when a couple of us chose affogatos (espresso poured over vanilla ice cream) rather than the set menu desserts.

Owner Toby and Chef Matthew should be very proud of this lovely little place which is destined to become a local treasure. Their Christmas menu looks fantastic value and we will definitely be back before too long.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

November Cookalong 2: Sweet and Simple Bakes Brownies!

Having really enjoyed last month's Cookalong from the lovely Sweet and Simple Bakes, I couldn't wait for the November recipe and I wasn't disappointed to find that it was for delicious snow-flecked brownies! I have made these once before and couldn't wait to make them again but then I got the dreaded flu which developed into an ear and sinus infection. Not only did I feel lousy and lose my appetite but I couldn't taste anything for almost 2 weeks!

Having lost a couple of pounds, I can safely make and enjoy these now! The recipe can be found here, and it is easy to halve the quantities, as I did. Dark chocolate brownies with white chocolate within, what's not to like? My Dad has decided these are the best brownies I have ever made so I'll be sticking to this recipe from now on!

November Cookalong 1: Breakfast Bars

A bit late I know, but there have been two fab Cookalongs to join in with this month. The first is from the forums and features in Nigella Express, with a recipe for these very easy breakfast bars. The recipe can be adapted easily, swapping the peanuts for other nuts (I used cashews) and using a variety of dried fruits. The end result was very tasty but they are a little too sweet for my taste, and rather calorie laden! Good for a post-run treat though.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Nigella Express

I have had this book as my recipe book of the week for quite some time now... I am still working my way through it but already have a few favourite recipes. All those that I've tried have been very quick and easy, many made from store cupboard ingredients and those that need any fresh additions can easily be put together after a quick stop at the local supermarket after work. Many of the recipes can be found at but I really recommend getting this book for anyone who is short on time but still enjoys cooking and entertaining at home. If you fancy a warming bowl of chilli or a comforting dish of pasta with ragu sauce but can't face the thought of chopping onions and endless simmering to break down tinned tomatoes, Nigella has some nifty shortcuts. If you're like me, you'll have the odd jar of ready made pasta sauce lurking in the cupboard (although to lessen the guilt of buying "convenience" foods, I try to make mine organic at least!) and one of these can form the basis of a satisfying meal with a few other additions.

If you try one recipe, make it the Quick Chilli. I am a big fan of chilli and usually turn to Jamie Oliver's recipe which uses a jar of blitzed sun-dried tomatoes and a cinnamon stick to produce a deeply aromatic dish which never fails to disappoint, but I was really impressed and quite amazed at this extremely quick recipe. Here is my version of the recipe:

Nigella's Quick Chilli - serves 4
150g chorizo sausage, chopped
500g minced beef
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 cardamom pods, bruised
1 x 500g jar tomato and chilli pasta sauce
1 x 390g can chilli beans (I used Biona organic ones from Waitrose)
2 tbsp chilli sauce
A good pinch of chilli flakes

Heat the sliced chorizo in heavy saucepan over a medium heat and cook until a little crispy. Add the mince and cook until browned.
Stir in the spices and cook for a further couple of minutes. Add the pasta sauce, chilli beans, chilli sauce and chilli flakes (there's no such thing as too much chilli!).
Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat and simmer for 20-30 mins.
I served mine with a dollop of sour cream and fresh chilli from my brother Dom's garden.

Can also be served with rice, topped with grated cheese, guacamole or sliced avocado, or as a topping for jacket potato.

And the no-churn Margarita ice cream makes the perfect dessert - I can't be without a tub of this in my freezer and have converted my friend Suz from her all-time favourite chocolate ice-cream! Next, I'm going to try out some other cocktail flavoured ice-creams, strawberry daquiri could be very good.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Ben's Birthday Brunch!

Today was a VERY special day. My beautiful nephew, Ben, was one today! I can't quite believe he is one already as the year since he was born has flown past. He has brought so much joy to our family and is an absolute little star. To celebrate my lovely sister Claire and husband David decided on a Birthday brunch, and we enjoyed:

Pomegranate bellinis
Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels
Sticky aga-baked sausages
Crispy bacon
Homemade organic wholemeal bread*
Slow cooked herby tomatoes
Welsh rarebit muffins*
Banana bread*
Pear and ginger muffins*

Ben's Birthday cake was a delicious spiced honey cake*, made by Claire.

Ben had some lovely presents and really enjoyed his day, almost as much as the rest of us! The great thing is, Christmas isn't too far away and we'll be able to do it all again very soon (and even better, Claire and David are hosting - yay!).

So Happy Birthday Ben with lots and lots of love from your fairy godmother, Aunty Lili xxx

* Recipes to follow!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A Flying Visit to Stockholm

When I say flying, I mean flying! Arrived early hours of Saturday morning and left on Sunday morning. This was my first visit and although brief, I really liked what I saw of the city and will definitely go back. We concentrated on the central island of Gamla Stan, which is one of the oldest parts and home to the Royal Palace. It also has very pretty streets, cafes, restaurants and cute little shops, which is probably why I liked it so much! We stopped for morning coffee in a little bar, and isn't this the cutest looking latte you have ever seen?

Dinner consisted of traditional swedish meatballs, served with creamy mash and lingonberry jam, all washed down with an organic beer - delicious!