Flirting with Flavour


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Harissa and Honey Marinade

This past February I returned to the UK for three weeks to visit friends and clear my head. I am very lucky in that I was adopted into two wonderful families during my years living over there, both with mums whose skill in the kitchen is unparalleled. In fact, much of my cooking-coming-of-age took place in one of those inspiring kitchens, which had previously played host to the culinary explorations of Nigella Lawson! Or, at least, being that it was the previous home of Nigel Lawson, I like to tell myself that.

The Playhouse in the Garden

Every once in a while a flavour profile will leave you so captivated that you just must go back for seconds. And thirds. And perhaps fourths? I had sent a copy of Balaboosta to A as a Chanukkah/New Years gift and then received one myself for Christmas, but had yet to crack it open. Lucky for me, A’s mum had and a good number of the dishes we ate over the week I stayed with them were inspired by it. Everything was delicious. Having first been thoughtfully crafted by Einat Admony and then recreated by A’s mum, it couldn’t not be.

aubergine with harissa-honey chickpeas

But what was the dish that sparked a flood of inspiration? That would be the Harissa and Honey Hot Wings. A’s mum used the whole chicken and it worked just as well, serving it with crisped lacinato kale, which I now simply cannot imagine this dish without. The honey perfectly balances the heat of the harissa, which is much more subtle and full-bodied than the spice of a jalapeño. I, who rarely takes seconds, simply had to have another piece. This is huge for one who, in the past, has avoided all things spicy, because they tend to make my head explode. Rest assured those of you reading this who also struggle with spice. Yes, you may want to use a bit less harissa (I sometimes go a bit overboard, it’s just that good), but if you are working on embracing spice like I am, it will help turn your life around!

Upon my return to Philly, I had to find harissa and quick! Einat does give a recipe for making your own harissa, which I would like to try sometime, but for now I am happy using Les Moulins Mahjoub’s traditional harissa spread. I have used the harissa and honey marinade on anything and everything (but chicken!): chickpeas, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, all of these together, you name it. It works and it is delicious! And I almost always serve it on a bed of crisped lacinato kale. I suppose any kale would do, I just happen to be partial to this Italian variety. Most recently I have also started serving it with roasted aubergine, since it’s in season. Like I said, it’s a winning flavour profile, with which you really can’t go wrong!

ready to go in the oven

So enough chit chatting away, here is the recipe I know you’ve all been waiting for. I wouldn’t judge if you had even skipped straight to the bottom of the page… No, but really.

 

Harissa and Honey Marinade

Ingredients

½ cup honey

1/3 cup olive oil

3 Tbsp harissa

2 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 Tbsp kosher salt

Method

Whisk together all the ingredients. Taste and, if you think you can take a little extra kick, add another dollop of harissa. I dare you.

* * *

And here is a recipe to use the marine to make my favourite quick dinner of roasted aubergine topped w/ harissa-honey chickpeas and mushrooms.  It makes enough to 2, or 1 with leftovers for lunch the next day!

Ingredients

1/2 recipe of Harissa and Honey Marinade

2 baby aubergines

1 can organic chickpeas (it really does make a difference to use organic)

10 baby bella mushrooms

8 leaves of Lacinato Kale with the ends cut off

Method

1. Preheat oven to 375F

2. Prepare the harissa and honey marinade.  Chop mushrooms into quarters and place in medium bowl.  Rinse chickpeas, combine with the quartered-mushrooms, and toss with the marinade.  Allow to sit for about 15 minutes.

3. After about 10 minutes, slice each aubergine in half lengthwise, leaving a thin layer of skin connecting the 2 halves on one side.  Score each half with a knife, making sure not to cut through the skin.  Place aubergine in an oven-proof pan, then pour the chickpea-mushroom mixture over them.

4. Bake at 375F for 25-30 minutes, until the aubergine yields easily to a fork.

5. While the aubergine mixture is baking, crisp the kale in a cast-iron pan.  Drizzle 1 TBLS of olive oil in the pan and heat over medium-low heat then place a few leaves at a time in the pan and sprinkle with some sea salt.  Once crisp, but not burnt, remove from pan and continue until all leaves are done.  If you plan on having leftovers, I recommend only crisping the kale you will use in the moment.

6. Enjoy!!


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London’s Best (mostly gluten free) Cupcakes

In honour of a certain person’s upcoming visit, I have decided to share my list of the top cupcakes in London with you all.  For those of you who, like me, have to stay away from either wheat or gluten, I hope this helps you take full advantage of all London’s many bakeries have to offer.  Only a couple years ago it was next to impossible to find gluten free cupcakes in this city.   I am happy to report that not only have they become more prevalent, they are also steadily increasing in quality, so you can actually find absolutely delicious (and regret-free) cupcakes, as well as many other baked goods!  Trust me, I know that feeling of jubilation that comes when you notice that single option among 20 in a coffee shop that you can eat.  Even if you’re not hungry, or it’s not the flavour you were craving, you’ll probably buy it (proof – I bought Caffe Nero‘s new rye carrot cake last weekend. It was actually pretty good… but that could be the joy of being able to buy a cafe treat speaking).  The cupcakes below warrant more than the surprise-buy, they deserve cupcake-specific trips, I promise!  And if a state of euphoria ensues, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you… 🙂

By the way – these are in no particular order.  Because most bakeries only do 1 gluten free option, where you go and which you choose will depend on your mood!

Primrose Bakery

Their Primrose Hill location is the original (and source of their name), but they now also have a small storefront in Covent Garden that is the perfect location for that sweet treat after (or before!) a long day of studying.  A deliciously dense flourless chocolate cake is available everyday and most days they also have a chocolate almond cake (sold by the slice) or cupcakes.  On some special occasions they switch it up and make some of their signature flavours with a gluten free base, such as rose!  I know I said these aren’t in any particular order, but Primrose is probably my favourite bakery in London.  For my birthday, B “surprised” me with a custom decorated chocolate almond cake.  It really is everything you could want in a chocolate cake.  Dark, dense, moist, and CHOCOLATY.  The almond gives the crumb a really nice texture and complements the dark chocolate beautifully.  I have snuck bites of their non-gluten free selections and would readily recommend them as well.  The violet cupcake was particularly special, with violet permeating the cake and the frosting.  I have really never had anything quite like it.

birthday cake from primrose bakery!

birthday cake from primrose bakery!

chocolate almond cupcake from primrose bakery

chocolate almond cupcake from primrose bakery

primrose bakery storefront in primrose hill

primrose bakery storefront in primrose hill

Hummingbird Bakery

Red velvet has been my favourite cupcake, since discovering Red Velvet Cupcakery with my aunt back in early 2009 (they remain, btw, my favourite cupcake shop).  I had yet to find one, though, that was gluten free, until last fall, that is, when P surprised me with a box of four of Hummingbird‘s gluten free red velvet cupcakes.  When I first saw the box I must admit I started running through all the various excuses I could make to not try one in front of him, fearing  they were probably regular cupcakes and while they looked gorgeous, I did not want to risk eating the wheat.  When P informed me that they were gluten free, a lot of jumping, screaming, and hugging ensued.  Yes, all for the cupcakes.  The frosting is a tad too sweet for me – they could do with making it more “cream-cheesy”, but they are delicious and certainly satisfy my craving for a good gluten free red velvet cupcake, when I don’t feel like baking them!  Hummingbird also sells vanilla cupcakes with either vanilla or chocolate frosting as part of their “made without” range.  And if you give them enough advance notice they’ll bake you pretty much anything special order.  Primrose (above) and Bea’s (below) do the same.

cakes in the window at hummingbird bakery in south kensington

cakes in the window at hummingbird bakery in south kensington

outside hummingbird bakery's south kensington shop

outside hummingbird bakery’s south kensington shop

Bea’s of Bloomsbury

One cloudy afternoon last September, after a long day of stressful and exhausting flat hunting, I convinced B & P to peak into the Bea’s on Theobald’s Rd.  I’d read about it, I said, but hadn’t had the opportunity to try anything from them yet.  We obviously ended up sitting down (a much needed break!) and I ordered their gluten free chocolate cupcake.  I have since had it numerous times as part of their full afternoon tea, which by the way, is definitely one of the best (and most fun) afternoon tea options in London.  One word – ganache.  The frosting on their chocolate cupcake is not just any old frosting, it is a deep, dark chocolate ganache.

afternoon tea at bea's of bloomsbury (st paul's)

afternoon tea at bea’s of bloomsbury (st paul’s)

The Freefrom Bakehouse

Considering my frequent visits to Borough Market and self-professed love for red velvet cupcakes, it is surprising that I did not try the Freefrom Bakehouse‘s red velvet cupcake sooner.  Boy am I glad I tried it now, though, instead of waiting until I was about to leave London.  Hummingbird’s is great (and available from their various locations every day), but theirs is the best I have had aside from Red Velvet Cupcakery’s in DC.  The frosting actually tastes like cream cheese (thank you!) and the cake, well it’s moist and the perfect median between dense and light crumb.  Best of all?  It does not taste like it’s gluten free!  All too often gluten free baked goods end up tasting grainy and like something is missing.  Well, it is.  Flour.  But none of the cakes, cookies, and other treats from Freefrom taste like that.  They all stand up on their own, indistinguishable from their flour-full counterparts.  It is well worth tracking down these guys at either Borough or any of the other markets and festivals they set up at.  And don’t wait as long as I did!  Go now!

Violet

I read about Violet (Claire Ptak, founder of Violet, worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley before moving to London) and stumbled upon it at the Broadway Market two years ago.  In that instance I took home a variety of their cupcakes/babycakes – salted caramel cupcake, chocolate cupcake, flourless chocolate babycake, almond and polenta rhubarb babycake – and was blown away.  I was subsequently inspired to make my own version of the almond polenta cake (it’s naturally gluten free!), though I still need to perfect that recipe.  It has taken me two years to get back to visit their stall at Broadway and this time I came away with their spelt and vegan chocolate cupcake with violet frosting.  Warning, this one is not gluten free (in fact, spelt has a higher gluten content than wheat flour does).  The spelt flour gives it a gentle nuttiness that compliments the dark chocolate cake, which is delightfully moist.  And the violet frosting, well, it’s perfectly sweet and somehow manages to stay way from the risk of seeming like you’re eating potpourri.  Then again, I would expect nothing less from a Chez Panisse alumna.  They are at Broadway Market every Saturday and their storefront on Wilton Way is open Tues-Sun.

selection of violet cakes

selection of violet cakes

violet cakes

violet cakes

almond + polenta rhubarb babycake

almond + polenta rhubarb babycake


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Brunch in London

If I could only have one meal a day for the rest of my life I would choose brunch.  It’s all the best elements of sweet and savoury rolled into one.  It usually takes place over several hours so you can do several servings and make sure to get everything in.  If it’s a buffet (which is my favourite kind, though usually reserved for special occasions, like birthdays and Easter), you can have pancakes, waffles, poached eggs (ala whatever takes your fancy – Florentine, Benedict, Royal), an omelette, crab cakes, salad, shrimp cocktail, fruit salad, a good haunch of beef or sliver of roast pork (if that’s your style), and obviously desert is a requirement.  And, it’s at just the time of day when you most need a break, or is just late enough for a well-deserved lie-in.  I mean, really, what could be better?  Thankfully, I don’t have to choose just one meal for the rest of my life, as I would be pretty sad to give up sushi – though surely that could count as part of the savoury aspect of brunch.  Ha!  A loophole!

As part of my ongoing exploration of the London food scene I have been seeking out and trying all of the top locations for weekend brunch.  And, of course, seeing as I’m on a student budget, cost has also been a factor.  It’s a real chore, I assure you.  But one I’m more than happy to take on. 😉

Here is my (by no means exhaustive) list of well-executed, fairly reasonable, and what I think are delicious London brunch spots.

In no particular order…

Ginger and White

They have locations in Soho, Belsize Park, and Hampstead Heath.  I have only been to their small café in Hampstead and was blown away not just by their perfectly poached eggs with smoked salmon, but by their service.  Avoiding wheat can be a nightmare at times, especially in seeking out brunch, because most tend to be served in bakery-type locations, or have very bread-focused menus.  At Ginger and White, however, the waitress cheerfully pointed out what I could and couldn’t eat from the counter display and chef, who was on hand in the ‘kitchen’ (which is really just a small area next to the till with a stove and counter, but he does wonders in such a tiny space!), overheard my dietary restrictions and offered to make me Eggs Royale on a bed of salad instead of rye sourdough toast.  I readily accepted, as this is by far my favourite brunch treat, and am happy to report that the eggs poured out a gorgeous deep yellow yoke when I broke into them an approximate 15 minutes later.  It was delicious and the hollandaise was light!  Yes, light!  None of that heavy-can’t-eat-the-rest-of-the-day-for-so-much-butter stuff.  MC, who was with me (and took the wonderful photos!), got hers with the sourdough and raved about hers as well.  We each also got cappuccinos (mine soya, hers regular), which were wonderful – good quality coffee with just the right amount of foam.  I took my mom back there recently for a quick coffee stop.  She’s picky about her coffee (she roasts her own beans) and would vouch for the quality of theirs!  Another great thing about Ginger and White is that they serve brunch all day, every day.  Heaven on earth? I think so.

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cappuccino from ginger & white

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eggs royale (no bread)

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eggs royale (w/ rye sourdough)

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our little heaven in hampstead

Workshop Coffee

I went to their Clerkenwell location with a group of friends for brunch in early March.  First off, their coffee.  I usually drink mine in some form that involves steamed milk – a cappuccino, latte, macchiato, you name it.  Here, however, I drank their Irupana black.  They serve it with nothing (not even asking if you want milk or sugar) and it needed nothing.  I believe this is a result of using an aeropress, which produces a remarkable smooth and purified coffee.  I must admit to being absolutely blown away by it.  And while I’m prone to enthusiasm, it takes a lot to truly shock me, which they did.  The food was delicious as well.  It was very well executed, though some dishes lacked proper spicing, but what made it memorable was the creative combination of ingredients.  I had the grilled asparagus, smoked salmon, poached egg, and truffled mascarpone on corn bread.  Separately the ingredients did not really work, but together they played off each other’s strength beautifully, with the corn bread pulling it all together and the mascarpone adding that something special.  Other members of our party got the French toast, rare breed hamburger, and corn fritters.  All were very happy with the meal.  They don’t take reservations and, as they only serve brunch on weekends, they are always quite busy, so you’ll have to wait, but our wait time was only about 20 minutes and was definitely worth it.  They also made an effort to get everyone waiting inside from the cold, which was very welcome.

NB: their Marylebone location is a coffee bar only

Irupana Aeropress Coffee

Irupana Aeropress Coffee

Poached Egg with Smoked Salmon, Asparagus, + Truffled Mascarpone

Poached Egg with Smoked Salmon, Asparagus, + Truffled Mascarpone

Corn Cakes

Corn Cakes

French Toast w/ Poached Rhubarb

French Toast w/ Poached Rhubarb

Daylesford Organic

Back in November I attended Daylesford’s supper club with C and was underwhelmed.  But when B’s dad was in town and we wanted a good brunch nearby to our flat, I suggested we try it again.  I’m glad we did, because the food, while simple, was delicious, and the bright and relaxed atmosphere makes you feel at home, rather than in a restaurant.  If they have the pear, celery, & ginger juice (it’s not on the menu) get it!  They open at 8am and it’s best to go early, because by 10-10:30a, people start to queue up for tables.  Despite this, the staff don’t rush you out of your seat, which while nice for us diners, I imagine is a bit annoying for those waiting.  B & I went back to the Orange Sq location with my mom and she was equally pleased with the meal.  We attempted lunch at the Notting Hill location, but were put off by the low ceilings and the benches at the communal tables, which made seating awkward.

Muriel’s Kitchen

My favourite museum in London is the Victoria & Albert Museum, and as wandering around it is one of my favourite ways to pass a rainy day or weekend morning, naturally it’s important to have a good go-to for brunch in the area.  Sometimes I’m feeling more in the mood for a cupcake, in which case I make a pit stop at Hummingbird Bakery.  But when I don’t feel like dosing up on sugar and prefer a healthier, more balanced option (as healthy as hollandaise sauce can be), Muriel’s is the answer.  It’s another one where, because they don’t take reservations, the later it gets, the longer the queue is, so just be an early bird!  I’ve never had to wait more than 15-20 minutes anyway.  Plus, the benefit of a no-reservations policy is that they can tempt in you passersby who thought you weren’t hungry with their gorgeously delectable window displays of food.  They rival Ottolenghi in that respect.  On my most recent visit I had their jasmine infused fruit compote with flaked almonds over Greek yoghurt and my friend GG had their version of a bacon sandwich, which she said was delicious.  My yoghurt was superb – though I may be biased, since it was the first time I’d had it since giving it up for lent… regardless I could have done without the apricots in the compote, but everything else was perfect.  I have also had their eggs Royale, which was very well executed (and with free range eggs!), though with the hollandaise a bit on the heavier side.

Jasmine Infused Fruit Compote w/ Flaked Almonds + Greek Yoghurt

Jasmine Infused Fruit Compote w/ Flaked Almonds + Greek Yoghurt

Muriel's Bacon Sandwich

Muriel’s Bacon Sandwich


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Sunday Farm Brunch

Early on, after moving to London in September, one of my new Londoner friends recommended that I check out the Hackney City Farm.  My blank look said it all.  A farm?  In Hackney?  As in, a part of London?  And still pretty much the centre of London, at that?  Yes, yes, yes, and yes, was the answer.  Always looking for interesting adventures, I was obviously intrigued at the idea of a farm (and apparently there are others, too! in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world, but I didn’t make it over there until last weekend.

Hackney City Farm

Oh, hello Mr. Goat!

I now know that urban farming isn’t nearly as rare as I thought it was, appearing in cities all over the world.  However, the term generally is used to refer to innovative vertical growing spaces, such as roof top gardens.  This is emphatically not what the Hackney City Farm is.  It is exactly what one would expect from a farm, from the sturdy-rickety wooden fence, to chickens running underfoot in the yard, from the green pastures, to the tilled earth with rows of fresh greens and other plants, from indignant ducks strutting around the pond like they own the place despite what may be considered a stronger claim by the chickens, to the smell of manure undoubtedly linked to the extra-large pigs and goat (of a normal size) present.  As I entered the yard, carefully manoeuvring the gate behind me so as not to let any of the many chickens escape in the process, I felt as though London were worlds away.  The only sign that I was not on a remote farm in the middle of England came as I looked skyward and was brought back to reality by the tall, grey needles piercing the blue sky.

Not only can you enjoy all the stress-relieving benefits of petting a goat, but in an adjoining café, in what I am guessing is a converted barn, you can enjoy the edible fruits of labour of the farm as well.  On this particularly Sunday, E and I enjoyed a delicious Sunday brunch.  Eschewing the usual foodie rule #1 – never order the same dish as your partner in crime – we both went for the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon on a thick slice of toasted spelt bread.  It definitely hit the spot.  The eggs were perfectly done, neither too runny, nor too rubbery.  The salmon reminded me of the fresh stock in Scotland and had none of the white fatty bits that, through the removal process, can turn what was a beautiful pink piece of salmon into a jig-saw puzzle with missing pieces.  There was a dash of crème fraîche on top, with cilantro, that added just a touch of creaminess, reminding me of bagel, lox, and cream cheese.  The bread was perfect.  It didn’t get soggy from the eggs, but it also wasn’t tough from toasting or being stale.  The crumb was of a good consistency, soft on the inside, while the crust has a nice crunch.  I was inspired to create a similar breakfast later in the week, with the major departure being a slice of Poilane’s rye and current bread.  I love all of Poilane’s breads, but their traditional sourdough load would have been a better match to this dish.  Oh well, next time!

After a heavenly brunch and soothing wander through the farm, E and I hit the Columbia Road Flower Market, where we both picked up flowers to bring some life and colour into our flats.  I continued with the Scottish theme by picking up a bouquet of thistles. J  Clearly my subconscious is telling me something…

One of the stalls on Columbia Rd

What a wonderful adventure and a wonderful break from the city, without ever even leaving it!

My bouquet looking lovely on the mantel at home