Monthly Archives: January 2012

Sexy Chocolate Cupcakes

There are moments in life that require something particular, something which will make the day just a little brighter.  Last Thursday, that something was a chocolate and banana cupcake with whipped chocolate icing and very pretty white chocolate stars.  After a busy couple of weeks, me and the Sis were in need of a little culinary tender loving care.  We had been patiently waiting for the banana’s to ripen; it took nearly a week.  It had taken so long that we occasionally found ourselves giving the fruit bowl a dirty look on our way to the kettle.  So, the banana’s were ripe, the ingredients were in the cupboard and we were hungry.

Recently I’ve been randomly making up recipes, which sometimes works and are sometimes a little disappointing.  And being that I don’t want to give my readers a lacklustre recipe, I decided to use the powers of the internet to help me on my quest.  I immediately found what looked like a very promising recipe on the blog, Lucullian delights.  It involved lots of cocoa, lots of banana and looked easy peasy.  And so, the kitchen soon looked like a bomb site, why does Cocoa always go everywhere?  I love a recipe where you don’t have to beat the butter and sugar together.  If I’m at work and have a fantastic Kitchenaid to hand, then it’s no problem but my poor sparrow like biceps find it hard work.  So, I’m a big fan of the melt and go recipe.  The inclusion of ricotta in this recipe makes it really light.  Because my brain was working against me when I did the shopping, I forgot the ricotta and all they had at the corner shop was cottage cheese so I used that instead.  It worked fine as a substitute.

I made the batter into little cupcakes, they do rise a bit but not too much so maybe leave yourself a cm or so from the top of the cupcake case.  The kitchen was soon filled with the smell of rich banana goodness.  Whilst the cakes were in the oven I started to make my icing.  The original recipe did not include an icing, but if I’m honest, I pretty much only make cake as a vehicle for the icing.  For some strange reason I made a bit of a hybrid icing which I’ve never made before.  I made my usual chocolate ganache and then made a cocoa butter icing and then combined the two, weird I know.  But it worked wonderfully and I ended up with a thick, fluffy icing as you can see in the photo.

I warmed 125g of single cream in a pan, til it nearly boiled.  I then pulled it off the heat and added 100g of dark chocolate .  Let it sit, off the heat for a few minutes.  Go back to it and stir it thoroughly until all the chocolate has melted through the cream. Set aside to cool to room temp, don’t let it set any harder or it won’t mix through the butter cream.  Meanwhile, mix 100g soft butter with 130g icing sugar, 2 tbs cocoa.  Keep beating til light and fluffy, it’s really important to work those sparrow biceps as if you don’t beat it enough, it won’t be so lovely and airy.  Now, slowly add small amounts of the chocolate to the butter cream until it is all combined.  Now, lick the spoon and wash it up.  No double dipping!

Once your cakes are cool, cover them in ganache and decorate as you desire.  Sis and BIL (Brother in law) devoured two each, as soon as the plate hit the table and the rest were hoovered up by BIL’s work colleagues.  The combination of chocolate and banana is one of my favourites and these were a treat!  Do try making them.

GLUTEN-FREE CHOCOLATE BANANA CAKE by Lucullian delights.

5 overripe bananas, mashed
6 eggs
200 ml/0.85 cup of sugar
200 g/ 7 oz fresh ricotta
100 g/ 3 1/2 oz salted butter, melted
150 g/ 5 3/8 oz ground almonds
200 g/ 7 oz rice flour
2 tsp baking powder
7 tblsp cocoa powder

– Mash the bananas well.
– Whisk eggs and sugar for a couple of minutes, mash the ricotta and add it to the batter. Stir well.
– Add the melted butter, stir and then go on adding the bananas. Stir until it’s nice and smooth.
– Now add the ground almonds, the rice flour, the baking powder and the cocoa powder.
– Mix really well and pour into cupcake cases
– Bake it in a pre-heated oven at 175°C/347°F for about 12-15 mins.  Test them with a skewer, if it comes out clean, they’re ready.  

Use my chocolate icing recipe above if it tickles your fancy.

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The story of Chez Bruce and the Michelin star

It seems like I have been having so much fun that I forgot to write…  I now have a backlog of wonderful foodie experiences which I will share with you all over the next few weeks.  Being in the UK and particularly London, means that I have so many options at my finger tips.  After asking my lovely Sis for a restaurant recommendation, she came up with Chez Bruce.

Chez Bruce has been ticking away successfully since 1995 in a discreet corner of Wandsworth Common.  As we walk through the front door, out of the January chill, we are whisked upstairs to our table.  The room we are seated in is small and quite well stocked with customers already.  It is reminiscent of your friend’s dining room, only with more than one dining table.  We are quickly offered menu’s, mine has been specially adapted by Bruce himself to be Coeliac friendly.  My eating companions are offered a selection of freshly baked bread and at this stage I start getting life envy.  I never really ate bread much anyway but no-one likes to be left out, I said to my friends that I was surprised they didn’t have anything for me and then as if by magic, a bowl of almonds appeared for me.  I am not sure whether I was overheard or whether it was all part of the grand plan but I was grateful for the sustenance.  They had been duly warned that I was nutritionally challenged and my sis is temporarily nutritionally challenged, so we definitely fell into the annoying table category.

My starter was Barbary Duck Breast with parsnip puree, sherry vinegar, parsnip crisps and spelt.  Duck is one of those menu items that I can’t go past, I like Duck in all its guises, they even look quite pretty swimming across lakes.  However, tonight it was swimming across my plate in a little puddle of rich parsnip puree.  Moist slices of duck were bed fellows with a little braised duck, this was a delicious element, it was perfectly savoury and tasted so much of itself.  It seems silly to say that it tasted of itself but I think that is the ultimate goal as a chef.  To make food taste like the absolute essence of itself, concentrated but not overpowering, natural but embellished.  Each component was necessary and effective.  There was no messing around on this plate.  Bruce clearly meant business.  All of this was washed down with a charming 2008 Pouilly Fuisse.

By the time the main courses arrived, we all had great expectations.  Once again, we were not disappointed.  I had chosen the loin and hache of venison with creamed brussel sprout tops, bacon and chestnuts.  Now I am a die hard Brussel sprout girl, so it was the sprouts that won me over this time.  The venison was meltingly tender, I had to forgo the hache as it was not gluten free but Mr T kindly ate it on my behalf.  He’s so selfless.  Brussel sprouts were creamy and packed full of flavour, the bacon although delicious was a little overwhelming.  It was very smoky and the flavour of the smoke dominated the dish.  That is not to say it was not delicious but it could have been pared back a little.  Mr T had plaice with Dorset cockles and beurre blanc and he was more than satisfied.

It was dessert time, which is generally a rather sad time for me as my options are usually horribly limited now that I’m gluten-free.  I asked if they could possibly make me a concoction of their non gluten-free items.  Not long after, a plate of icy things arrived before me.  They had gone to the trouble of making me a sugar basket which was filled with a medley of champagne granita, passionfruit sorbet and roast pineapple.  Now, this was unfortunately the low point of the meal.  The sorbet was very icy, not smooth as it should be and it was dangerously tart.  All in all, a bit of a nothingy dessert.  However, I did appreciate the effort.

We rounded off the meal with some cheeses from the fabulous cheeseboard.  Which was rather comical being that a certain member of my family has a pathological hatred for all things cheesy.  The waiter had kindly placed the very ripe and stinky cheeses right next to my cheese phobic relative.  Once we all finished laughing, we tucked into some Caerphilly and a superb Morbier, amongst others.  Generally by this point in the evening, my memory starts to fade, the combination of good food, good wine and good friends, tends to make my brain a little furry.

As a whole, the experience was very enjoyable and the food was of a very high standard, apart from a couple of minor glitches where they missed the mark slightly.  The service was effortless, a knowledgable but down to earth sommelier made the wine selection easy.  Our waitress was efficient and warmed to us as the evening went on, I did tell you we were the annoying table.  I was treated to a tour of the kitchen by the sous chef, it was full of men, as usual, but men who clearly knew their stuff.

Chez Bruce is a great restaurant, serving great food.  Was it the best meal of my life? No.  Was it edgy?  No.  But what it was, was honest.  It was taking ingredients, treating them with respect and elevating them to another level.  A level where each hit of flavour was like a friendly kick in the cheeks, it was food that brought a smile.  I hate to use the word but it was bloody yummy.  They obviously gained their Michelin star through consistency and integrity and their innate ability to get the most out of food.

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Gordon Ramsay’s The Narrow

The name Gordon Ramsay brings certain things to mind.  Most of them involve expletives.  As we arrived at The Narrow in Limehouse, I was half expecting to see a small chef run from the kitchen in tears after enduring an angry tirade from the man himself.  Unfortunately nothing that exciting happened, unless you count the barman/waiter smelling strongly of body odour as excitement.  I guess there was a vague air of intrigue coursing through the group when we initially couldn’t detect the source of the smell, nothing verging on excitement though.  As with many of these celebrity chef run pubs, you sometimes wonder if they have been forgotten amongst the many, many other enterprises, franchises etc.  Surely if Ramsay was in residence he would have publicly humiliated said stinky waiter.  Anyway, now that we’ve covered aroma, let’s move onto the grub.

The menu was typical gastropub fare with a Ramsay twist.  The corned beef hash comes not with a fried egg but a pan-fried egg.  All the classics were there, fish and chips, bangers and mash etc.  There were a few more daring choices, devilled lamb’s kidneys and crab on toast showed a bit more flair than your average pub menu.  Amongst our group, we settled in with pints of Guinness and an Italian white wine which we paid £31 for; and a few days later, I saw the same wine for a horrifyingly low £15 in a different pub.  I’d been robbed!  But I didn’t know it yet.

After choosing our food, we relaxed into the low slung sofa’s and I started to take in our surroundings.  It was all perfectly pleasant,  slate floors, pale walls, modern looking bar.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with it, it was pitch perfect gastropub decor.  However, there was nothing that made me want to stay there all day and curl up in those couches.

I had ordered slightly strangely as I wanted something fresh and light after indulging during a wonderfully gluttonous festive season.  And so, my salt water prawn and apple cocktail and my caesar salad arrived in front of me; in frustratingly small bowls.  The caesar salad was a side dish, so I will just about forgive the choice of receptacle but the prawn cocktail was a dish in its own right and was a bugger to eat out of sensibly.  The salad was light and fresh and the small prawns were juicy, the inclusion of apple in this dish was a welcome introduction to the old classic.  Very satisfying and gone in a second.  The caesar salad was a bit stingy for £6, being that it comprised cos lettuce, 2 anchovies and about 5g of Parmesan.  Although the dressing was nice, it tasted more like garlic aioli than caesar dressing.

Mr T ordered bangers and mash, which again was a bit lacklustre.  It was very simply, bangers, mash and gravy and the bangers looked like sorry little excuses for sausages, they had that dry, shrivelled look.  And they didn’t taste much better.  Decidedly average.  When I asked my friend how his burger was (and he counts himself as a burger aficionado), he gave it 6 out of 10.  As we discussed the burger, he decided to up his score to 6.5 but I think that might have just been the nice guy in him kicking in and not wanting to be mean.

So, we left the pub on a dreary Friday afternoon after a rather dreary food experience, our wallets a little lighter and our opinions of Mr Ramsay a little lower.  As my school reports always used to say, must try harder.

 

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Illegal Burger

There is something intrinsically wrong about eating a burger with a knife and fork.  However, now I am Coeliac it is either bun-less burger or no burger at all.  And I’m not the kind of girl who can go through life without a big beef patty by my side.

And so it was that we found ourselves walking a very chilly 300m from our hotel to Illegal Burger.  Word on the street was that the made the best burgers in Norway.  As we walked through the very unassuming entrance, we could barely squeeze through the hordes of über cool hipsters.  The crowd was so eclectic, it was almost staged.  There were two guys who’d come straight from ice hockey, sticks and all, trendy couples with gravity defying hair and two girls smooching in the corner.  Oslo is definitely a city where anything goes.  Amen to that!

The urban interior was sparse and functional.  Open shelving surrounded the equally open kitchen, where ingredients and condiments doubled as decoration.  Think rows and rows of mustard bottles lined up next to boxes and boxes of Maldon sea salt.  Seating was simple and not overly comfortable but who cares when you’re in the coolest place on the planet.

I am a big fan of doing one thing and doing it well and that ethos is ‘Illegal burger’ all over.  The key is the simplicity of the operation.  they offer 8 or so burgers and one side dish which is roast potatoes with aioli.  For me, I stuck with my favourite and ordered a blue cheese and bacon burger with some potatoes to share.  Mr T opted for a classic cheeseburger.  There was one chef in the small kitchen who was manning a very fancy wood burning burger oven.

My burger was delicious, it is a strange thing to see a burger laid out all naked on a plate with the salad scattered around it.  However, this did not take away from the sweet smoky bacon, the unctuously soft blue cheese or the perfectly medium rare patty.  As much as it was very satisfying and definitely what I felt like, it was not the best burger I have ever had.

At about $13 dollars for a burger, by Norwegian standards it was very good value.  But by the time you multiply that by two, add some potatoes and a drink each, you’re still coming away having spent $50.  I like Norway and I like the food, the price hurts a little bit but it’s worth it.

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