Thursday, 29 April 2010

At the Women's Institute...

On Tuesday I was invited to speak at the Islington Women's Institute.
The W.I has a fusty image, all jam and Jerusalem, but is actually a very important organisation for women with over 200,000 members. They have a campaigning side, for instance, save the bees and protection of women against violence. They famously slow-clapped Tony Blair at a speech.
The Islington W.I has a waiting list for membership, their age range starts much younger than popularly assumed. They have monthly events, ranging from talks by prominent women such as the first female beefeater (who then had to take her male colleagues to court for sexism) to cupcake decorating classes.
This was my first talk (well my second actually, the first was at The London Restaurant Festival and only about 6 people turned up). I would have liked to have worn pink tweed and a Margaret Thatcher hair set, something along the lines of Dolores Umbridge, the spiteful cat loving headmistress at Hogwarts. Lacking the Chanel suit, I decided to camp it up, wearing a hat, pearls, gloves, stockings and pink heels. And a dress of course!
Around 60 women attended and I spoke for 45 minutes. The questions were interesting and informed and helped to keep me on track. It's been such a year, so many things have happened: starting the supperclub, the Harry Potter debacle, the London Underground issue, problems with my freeholder, meeting the food blogging community, encouraging others to start up their own supperclubs, learning to run a restaurant from scratch as opposed to merely cooking in one, writing a manifesto for home restaurants, dealing with publicity (previously I was behind the camera not in front of it), testing new dishes, launching The Underground Farmers & Craft Market, making Marmite cupcakes and getting my face on a jar of Marmite.
One question did trip me up however. A lady asked:
"Do you mind it when other people use your toilet?"
For some reason I replied: "No. I'm not anal"
I'm pretty sure this is the first time the word 'anal' has been used at a Women's Institute lecture.
And it's true, I don't mind when 200 strange bottoms (from say, the farmer's market) use my loo. I've travelled to India where I had to use my hand and water to wipe my bum (you get used to it, feels like the cleaner option actually), to Tibet when the toilet is generally a hole positioned over an entire room full of shit, used no doubt for fertilisation in that arid country. So yeah I'm cool with the whole toilet thing.
It was a pleasure to give the talk and I was amazed at my lack of nerves. Giving a little talk before each meal every week to 30 people must be good practice for public speaking!
Next: I must check out the North West London W.I, my local.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The smallest kitchen for the smallest restaurant

The summerhouse dinners... intimate suppers for up to five people in my shed... book at or email me at
All I need is this tiny food for my mini restaurant.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Tea and cocktails

White mulberry tea infused vodka, served from a teapot...

Savoury tartlettes

Rose syrup and chocolate mix

Red Velvet tier cake

Strawberry and raspberry tartlettes

Such fun to make...just make a caramel then add bicarbonate of soda at the end and watch it bubble away! Volcanic!


Imelda Marcos biscuits. I love this copper mould.


Pink Cava

Teapot cocktails:
White Mulberry (Lahloo tea) infused vodka
Hibiscus infused rum and vodka with pomegranate

Colston Bassett stilton quiche
Anchovy and tomato tartlettes
Jalapeno baked poppers

Marmite and cucumber sandwiches
Smoked salmon sandwiches

Home made crumpets

Rose and chocolate marshmallows

Marmite caramel cupcakes
Marmite chocolate cupcakes

Red Velvet cake

Lavender meringues and cream

Raspberry and strawberry tart with confectioners custard

Iced Imelda Marcos biscuits

Tea and Douwe Egberts coffee (several blends)

Tear-soaked blue cheese tartlettes (made while listening to Radio 4's The Reunion)
Make pate brisée.
Roll it out and press into mini tins. I've collected some French antique ones but places like Lakeland sell them too.
Blind bake your pastry shells until lightly golden. (Not too much because they will be going back in the oven)
When cool enough to handle take them out of their tins and brush them with a beaten egg. This will also fill all the holes in the pastry.
Then, whisk together:

200g of blue cheese
4 eggs
300ml pot of creme fraiche
Pour into your blind-baked pastry shells.
Bake in a medium oven for 20 minutes depending on the size of your tin.

Tomato and anchovy tartlettes:

Also carefully arrange inside the other cases: small cherry tomatoes cut in half, anchovies, black olives and caperberries, a smear of pesto. Brush the edges of the pastry with butter or oil.
Place back in a hot oven till the cherry tomatoes have roasted skins, normally about 10-15 minutes.
Sprinkle a little rosemary salt and serve warm or cold.

Laughing Marshmallows: (made while listening to Radio 4's The Unbelievable Truth)
7 gelatin sheets

3 egg whites
40 grams agave syrup
230 grams sugar
4 teaspoons rose syrup (available from Indian shops)
4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder, dissolved in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon hot water
To dust:2 tablespoons icing sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch, sieved

Line a square 20 x 20-cm (8 by 8-inch) baking dish with silicon paper
Place the gelatin sheets in a bowl of cold water to soften.
Have the egg whites ready whisked in the bowl.
Combine the agave syrup, sugar, and 90 ml water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stir to dissolve, and keep at a simmer for 8 minutes. Remove from heat.
Squeeze dry gelatin sheets, add them to the syrup, and stir until dissolved. Cover and keep warm.
Finish whisking the egg whites until soft peaks begin to form. Then, still whisking, add the hot syrup in a slow, steady stream, and keep whisking until the mixture cools down to just above room temperature. This is your marshmallow.
Then divide the mixture into 2 bowls, into one you will whisk rose syrup and the other the dissolved cocoa powder.
Pour the mixture, starting at one end with the rose, the other with the chocolate, into your prepared baking dish. The two flavours will mingle in the middle but that's fine. Leave to set for a few hours.
Cut up your marshmallow into squares which you will then dip into your icing sugar/corn starch mixture, coating each side of the square.
Leave to dry on a plate.

Lovelorn Tea infused vodka (made while listening to the soundtrack of Like Water for Chocolate on the Sonos)
3 heaped tblespoons of White Mulberry Tea
1 bottle cheap supermarket vodka

Funnel tea into vodka. You can use cheap vodka because the tea makes it tastes smooth. Leave overnight. Strain into teapot. Chill teapot in freezer. Serve.

Gin-soaked lonely shagless tea cocktail
3 tblsp of hibiscus tea
Some pomegranate juice to taste

This tastes a little like sloe gin. Follow instructions above. Serve from a teapot.

Sybil's Boudoir came to read charts in the summerhouse. She wrote an interesting blogpost on how many of the guests were Librans or Cardinal signs (Capricorn, Aries, Cancer).
One girl after her reading came up and announced
"I've been told I'll have an unexpected baby!"
She looked at the man standing next to her.
"Are you her boyfriend?" I asked him.
"Not any more" he said, dryly.

So thrilled. Two Americans on holiday showed me that I was in the Time Out guide for things to do in London. Always a slight fantasy for me. I'd like to be listed in the Lonely Planet guide as well, just like the paladares in Cuba. The long term trend in my head has always been about tourists, who visit a city like London, see the sights, but never meet a Londoner, never go to their house, never eat their food. Home restaurants are perfect for tourists. I can visualise, by 2012, visitors to the UK being excited by the idea of being able to eat in people's houses.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Marmite me

Got these...soooo chuffed, given it a post all by itself! I've also been declared Minister of Food for Marmite (Love Party naturally)

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Marmite cupcakes

Yesterday I created a Marmite cupcake recipe and baked them for Marmite to send out to press and bloggers.
Marmite is an umami flavour and strangely, lends itself well to sweet and salt combinations.
I decided upon a vanilla base with a Marmite caramel frosting and a chocolate base topped with chocolate Marmite frosting.
It was important to have that salty intense Marmite hit peeking through the sweetness and this was achieved by creating a strongly Marmite flavoured 'centre' in the cupcakes. This 'centre' would either be a shock, or a pleasure depending on where your Marmite sensibilities lie...with the Marmite Love Party or the Marmite Hate Party.

Here are the two recipes:

Marmite Caramel cupcakes:

Marmite caramel
Makes a bowl, what you don't use, you can save, spoon on icecreams, pavlovas, eat straight from the jar...
125ml cold water
330g caster sugar
250ml double cream
Marmite (I used XO) to taste

Frosting ingredients

For 12 cupcakes (Double this recipe if you are making both the caramel and the chocolate marmite cupcakes)
250g icing sugar
62g cream cheese
32g unsalted butter

Sugar syrup ingredients
Equal weights sugar and water.
50g sugar
50g water

Vanilla cupcake base ingredients
For 12 approximately 45g each
130g unsalted butter
130g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
130g beaten egg (organic)
195g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
60ml milk


Make your caramel.
  • Combine the sugar and water in a medium sized saucepan until it dissolves.
  • Bring it to the boil, without stirring, until it's a deep amber colour.
  • Brush down the sides of the pan with a brush dipped in water to prevent crystallisation.
(Now everybody likes their caramel a different shade, too dark and it has a bitter note. Remember the Marmite will also darken the colour).
  • Swirl for even browning.
  • Remove from heat once desired colour is reached.
  • Whisk in cream carefully.
  • Add Marmite to taste once it's cooled down enough to taste it without burning your lips and tongue, but warm enough to melt and blend in the Marmite easily.
  • Set aside a small bowl of the caramel into which you can mix more Marmite, making a much stronger 'hit'. This I used for the centres, the rest will be mixed into the frosting.
Then make your frosting.
  • Beat 1/3 of the icing sugar with cream cheese
  • Melt butter in a saucepan.
  • When icing sugar/cream cheese mixture is smooth, add the remaining icing sugar until incorporated.
  • While still beating the mixture, pour in bubbling melted butter. Beat until smooth, but don't overbeat.
  • Fold through the caramel. However be careful not to fold in too much or your frosting will collapse.
  • Cover the frosting with clingfilm so that it doesn't crust over and put aside.
Make your Vanilla Cup cake base
  • Beat room temperature butter and sugar together for at least ten minutes on a high speed if using a mixer.
  • Add egg slowly, very slowly, to make sure the mixture doesn't curdle.
  • Sieve flour, baking powder, salt together.
  • Fold in the flour until just incorporated
  • Add the milk which you have warmed to room temperature
  • If using a mixer, slow the speed, otherwise you will beat the air out.
  • Keep scraping down the sides of your mixing bowl at regular intervals.
  • Divide mixture into a baking muffin tin filling the strong baking cases.
  • You can make sure you do this equally by setting the muffin tin on a digital scale and checking that you are adding 45g each time you fill a case.
  • Bake for 20-22 minutes in 160c degree conventional oven.
  • In Aga I baked for 20 minutes in the baking oven. I found they rose better without the cool shelf.
  • Leave to cool on a rack
  • Then for the vanilla cupcakes, first brush the top of each cake with the sugar syrup. This keeps them moist.
  • Cut out a little cone in the middle of the cake
  • Fill with the strong Marmite caramel mixture
  • Replace little 'hat' of cake
  • To mix Marmite caramel into the frosting, put some frosting into a bowl and slowly add the caramel, not the other way round. You don't want your frosting to be so sloppy you can't top the cake with it.
  • Frost the cakes with your palette knife
  • Decorate
Marmite Chocolate Cupcakes:

Frosting ingredients
For 12 cupcakes
250g icing sugar
62g cream cheese
32g unsalted butter

Whipped Marmite chocolate ganache ingredients
For 12 cupcakes
180g dark chocolate (use 54 % chocolate as it's less likely to split), chopped into small pieces
250ml double cream
Marmite to taste

Chocolate Cupcake base ingredients
12 @ 40g each
60g unsalted butter
140g caster sugar
1 egg
125g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch salt
60ml fresh coffee (or if you want to go hardcore...60ml of Marmite to taste in hot water)
40g cocoa powder
60ml cold water

  • Make your Marmite chocolate ganache by melting the chocolate in a bain marie and mixing in the cream and Marmite.
  • I set aside a portion which had a stronger Marmite taste for the centres.
  • Make fresh coffee! You probably need a little break after all that and you will need it for your chocolate cupcake recipe.
  • Or, true believers (fanatics dare I say...), hot Marmite drink...
  • Whisk the liquids (fresh coffee or Marmite) into the cocoa powder.
  • When smooth add the cold water.
  • Leave aside while...
  • In a mixing bowl or food mixer, beat room temperature butter and sugar together for at least ten minutes on a high speed (if using a mixer).
  • Keep scraping the sides down yeah?
  • Add egg slowly, very slowly, to make sure the mixture doesn't curdle.
  • Sieve flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt together.
  • Fold the flour mix into your egg/sugar mix...but! Attention...
  • Start by folding in a third of the Flour then a third of the cocoa/coffee/Marmite mixture
  • It needs to be folded in alternately, starting with the flour, 1/3 at a time, otherwise it will be too stiff and won't take the liquid
  • Divide your chocolate mixtures into a cupcake tin, weighing as described above, to ensure equal distribution.
  • Muffin tin must ideally be lined with strong baking cases. You need 'em sturdy to have a sharp strong edge that you can frost 'against'.
  • Bake for 20-22 minutes in 160c degree conventional oven.
  • In Aga I baked for 20 minutes in the baking oven. I found they rose better without the cool shelf.
Frosting and filling
  • When baked (they should spring back when touched) take them out carefully, trying not to separate the baking cases from the cake and cool on racks.
  • When cool, take a small knife and cut out a cone shaped wedge from the centre of the cake to make a hole
  • Lift out the centre of the cake and fill with either the strong Marmite chocolate ganache.
  • Replace the little 'hat' or centre
  • Taking your frosting, mix some of the Marmite chocolate ganache into it. Again, be careful you don't add so much that the frosting is not stiff enough to ice your cakes.
  • Frost the chocolate cupcakes with a palette knife with the Marmite chocolate frosting.
You can sprinkle a little edible glitter on top, I used gold.

Boiling caramel (wet version, there is a dry version, but this is easier)

Adding cream to the caramel...fait attention ca brule!

Adding XO Marmite to the caramel

Pouring the cream onto the chocolate

Whisking cream into the ganache

Hardcore! Adding Marmite to the chocolate ganache for the centres...

If it looks like this, you haven't scraped the sides down...

The blessings of a good strong cupcake case

We're going in...

Reminiscent of sticky toffee pudding in taste

Cupcake autopsy...this is what they look like inside...

The decoration can be ordered online...

A little glitz...

A review of Marmite cupcakes from Easy Living Magazine

Monday, 19 April 2010

My arse, my dad, heat and ash at The Underground Lunch

Shhh, don't tell The Underground... (Pic: Gavin Rodgers)

Morel mushrooms from L.Booth in Borough Market

Rigatoni Puttanesca...or whore's pasta, 'puttana' is Italian for prostitute (pic: Gavin Rodgers)

Lenny and Adam helped out...

Les tricoteuses...a group named Eat1Knit1.

So nice when guests dress cheering

Fish waiting to go into the oven (pic: Gavin Rodgers)

Sea bass with morels and potatoes

Blood orange, fennel, pomegranate and mint salad

Cheeses from Neal's Yard:
plus feijoa, a guava-like fruit that can be eaten like an apple, pecan nuts and my fig confit (braised for three weeks in red wine) (not pictured)

Rhubarb fool

I left the rhubarb syrup on the Aga overnight and by the morning it was rhubarb flavoured caramel

Tits and tats: an illustrious and illustrated guest...who fell wearing perilously high heels the night before and broke her nose...

Yes in the corner that is MsMarmitelover typically wearing too short a dress. All kitchen staff and most guests have, by now, seen my arse. Which is quite pert as it happens. (pic: Gavin Rodgers)

Such hot weather that guests took dessert and coffee in the garden... (Pic: Gavin Rodgers)

As ash paralysed and quietened the skies of Europe, it was a beautiful day for The Underground Lunch ... if it carries on like this, I'd like to have tables outside. If anyone has any garden tables and chairs they can donate please get in touch.
On one table we had les tricoteuses, knitting between courses; on another, sat my parents, my brother and his wife. My dad talked to one of the knitters:
"I had a nice chat with that girl with the tattoos. She's a single mum, likes crochet and she's not a lesbian." He told me, looking pleased with himself.
"You asked her that?"
"Well, yes"
Groaning internally I went over to her and, trying to make light of my family's very own Prince Phillip, chortlingly asked:
"Did my dad ask if you were a lesbian?"
"Sure" she drawled forgivingly in a Californian accent "but hey, that's ok. I was hoping he would kiss me. I don't know why he didn't"
"Um, maybe because my mum would have objected?" I ventured...thinking now that would be an event, my dad getting off with a guest...
Her eyes widened "Well he never mentioned her..."
Kir Royale
Rigatoni Puttanesca (for me, a Sunday lunch should start with pasta)
Seabass with morel mushrooms and potatoes

Veggie Option: Morel gratin (really bloody delicious, the veggies aren't fobbed off with leftovers here)

Blood orange, fennel, pomegranate, mint salad with citrus dressing

Cheese board: Sleightly's (goat), Childwicksbury (goat), Milleen's (cow), Berkswell (cow), Colston Bassett Stilton (cow), Snowdonia Cheddar (cow). Homemade fig confit, pecan nuts, feijoa fruit, cheese oatcakes and St John's sourdough bread.

Rhubarb fool

Coffee by Douwe Egberts (vintage blend)

The Underground Cooking class on Saturday went well, we learnt to make focaccia and fresh pasta then sat down to eat.

Charity shop haul this week...constantly need new vintage china and glasses. I'm collecting cut and pressed glass at the moment.

Babycham glasses found in Portobello Market

Recipe for the salad:

Peel the blood oranges, slice thinly
Slice fennel thinly
Pick the seeds from a pomegranate, save to scatter over the top
Some torn mint leaves
A citrus dressing: I used the juice of a blood orange, some lemon, some lemon mustard, olive oil, Malden salt.

Slice up the oranges and fennel.
Layer and marinate with the dressing.
Add the pomegranate seeds and mint leaves

Recipe for the morel gratin:

Double cream
Vegetable or mushroom stock
Bay leaves
Morel mushrooms
Cheese, say cheddar or caerphilly, grated

Slice potatoes thinly, layer nicely in a buttered baking tin
Do three layers of the potatoes
Dot with cubes of butter
Add a little veg stock, half way up tin
Add enough double cream to cover the potatoes
Slice morels into half, scatter cut side down onto potatoes
Stick in a couple of bay leaves
Salt to taste
Cover with a layer of grated cheese
Bake in a medium oven for 45 minutes