Sunday, 30 November 2014

Vegan Christmas: recipe for purple and green brussels sprouts with sweet white wine

This is the first of a series of vegan Christmas recipes that I will be posting over the holiday period. I'm sort of obsessed with brussels sprouts even though for years I hated them. So I've been looking for a way to make them delicious and believe me, I've found it. I can eat the whole dish below by myself for lunch. You can use all green sprouts but I found some purple ones in Dublin at Fallon and Byrne, a treasure trove of a food shop.
Sweet white wines, either a Gerwurztraminer or say, if you are feeling spendy or have a little left over, some Sauternes, diminish the brassica notes on brussels sprouts and highlight their sweetness.

Purple and Green Brussels Sprouts with sweet white wine

Serves 4

200g green brussel sprouts
200g purple brussel sprouts
5-6 shallots, sliced finely
a slosh of vegetable oil,
3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced finely
A few drops of nut oil such as walnut or hazelnut
a glass of sweet white wine
20-30g of pine nuts or blanched slivered almonds

Cut off the bottom part of your sprouts and then parboil them in salted boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and put the sprouts into a colander in the sink, dousing them with very cold water. This will preserve the colours.
Meanwhile heat up a medium sized saucepan on a medium heat and fry the shallots in the oil until caramelised. Add the garlic and the nut oil. Then add the part cooked sprouts. Leave to cook on a low to medium heat for another five minutes then add the white wine and the pine nuts/almonds. Cook for another minute or two until the alcohol melds with the vegetable juices.
Serve immediately.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

My book MsMarmitelover's Secret Tea Party is published today!

I'm very proud to announce the publication of my new book MsMarmiteLover's Secret Tea Party today. Published by Square Peg, part of Random House, it is a thick luxurious volume with gold lettering and a red gingham cover with a silky red ribbon as a bookmark. It contains tips how to hostess the perfect tea party with craft workshops, how to lay a tea table, the best way to make a cup of tea, teapot cocktails, savouries hot and cold, including sandwiches, and, last but by no means least, cakes. There are recipes for small cakes, big cakes, icecream cakes and plenty of guest recipes from other secret tea room hosts around the UK.
Nobody does afternoon tea better than the British and every visitor should make a booking at a home tea room which often has better baking and is certainly a better deal than afternoon tea in a hotel. Remember at secret teas, just like at supper clubs, you can often ask for seconds. No stingy portion control here.
I'm a great believer in the hot savoury; so there are recipes for tea cakes, crumpets, tartlets and Shetland bannocks. I also think the ultimate tea party needs a little bit of alcohol to make it go with a swing, so apart from the always popular glass of champagne, you will find recipes for tea time cocktails.
This is a wonderful present for Christmas for wives, girlfriends, sisters, mums, daughters and any man that is dead keen on tea and baking. (Strangely I've found this to be more the case in the north than in the so-called metrosexual south. Up north, men don't feel dainty china and cakes to be a threat to their masculinity!). 
Order at your local bookshop or buy it here online from Random House: MsMarmiteLover's Secret Tea Party £20

Again here is that link to buy: MsMarmiteLover's Secret Tea Party  and if you are fine about buying it on Amazon (some people aren't) here is the link:

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Secret Tea Party in Manchester

The full afternoon tea is something quintessentially British; no other country does it as well as we do. If you are a visitor to this country, you can do no better than visiting a private tea room in someone's house. In Britain, we have a tradition of the best food emerging from houses rather than restaurants. The supper club movement and its offshoot, secret tea parties continues this tradition of brilliant home cookery and baking. Gwyneth Brock runs a secret tea party in Manchester called Vintage Afternoon Teas. Her house, garden, kitchen, crockery and collection of tea pots are a sigh-inducing pleasure. As well as really tasty sandwiches with unusual fillings, you'll get scones and cakes that are as beautiful to look at as they are good to eat. Gwyneth is a superb baker: I include one of her guest recipes in my book MsMarmitelover's Secret Tea party, out on Thursday.  In the back of the book is a list of secret tea party tea rooms around the country, including Gwyneths.  

 Teapots of every shape and size
 Gwyneth combines tea with crafting and sewing workshops called the 'crafternoon tea party' that she does with Jo Johnston of French Knots Craft Studio. I really enjoyed this, conversation and concentrating in a sewing circle, very therapeutic.

 I made a little lavender cushion in the shape of a house. Yeah I know the stitching isn't that neat but I got there late and had to hurry to catch up. Otherwise it would have looked professional, of course ;)

 Perfect sandwiches
Mini bakewells and cucumber and strawberry cupcakes
 Light scones and clotted cream. Ladies, paint your nails and dress up for afternoon tea. Wear a satiny tea gown in the style of japonaiserie, wear your hair in a chignon, adorn yourself with silk flowers, don gloves and lace, relax in your femininity, drink tea and gossip. 
 Sitting back after a great spread
A well dressed tea table has flowers amongst the buttery crumbs
A glittering shiny collection of teapots.
Gwyneth's kitchen, all cream and bunting.
And at the end, the washing up....

Visit Gwyneth Brock's Vintage Afternoon Teas in Manchester. 
Book through her site: 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Stir up Sunday: plum and ginger duff recipe

plum and ginger duff
I always forget how easy it is to make a steamed pudding. It seems like a pfaff...finding a pudding bowl, paper, string, cloth, setting it in a water bath to cook. But while this is a very slow method of cooking, once you have gathered the ingredients and unearthed the equipment, withdrawn from neglected corners of your kitchen, it's effortless. You stir it all into a greased and sugared bowl, no fuss, and leave it to cook for three hours or so.
Traditionally pudding were boiled in a cloth tied at the top and then hung to dry and mature so if you don't have a pudding bowl you can shape your pudding in that way. But I do love ceramic pudding basins, such as these from Mason Cash, which you can buy in different sizes. I've used a '24'. If you aren't eating it on the day but saving the pudding for Christmas, re-heat by steaming for an hour and a half. Turn it out of the bowl and douse with plum brandy such as Umeshu which is a delicious Japanese plum liqueur, or Slivovitz, an Eastern European plum brandy. Light the pudding.
For the plums, it's a little early for the South African season which starts in December which is a shame because South African plums are so much easier to handle, not having a clingstone, a right pain to remove from the fruit.

Plum and Ginger Duff recipe

Serves 6-8

150g self raising flour
100g of candied ginger
100g sultanas
100g breadcrumbs
100g dark brown sugar
100g vegetarian suet or freeze the equivalent amount of butter and grate it. 
1 tsp mixed spice powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
250g plums, stones removed, sliced thinly
1 apple, cored, grated
75ml dark rum
2 eggs
225ml milk
Plum brandy for dousing

Mix the flour, Sultanas, breadcrumbs, sugar, suet, spices together then add the fruit (plums and apple) the rum, the eggs and the milk.
Thickly butter a size 24 pudding bowl and sprinkle with sugar (this helps it to be lit if you want to set fire to it when serving). Butter and sugar a piece of greaseproof paper big enough to cover the top of the pudding bowl. Then pour in the batter. Cover the bowl with the greaseproof paper then a layer of tinfoil. Smooth it down so that it makes a seal. Then tie a string around the lip of the pudding bowl, knot it and make a ‘handle’ by looping the string over to the other side of the bowl then tying it again. 
Prepare a pan deep and wide enough for the bowl to sit in with a lid that will fit over the top. 
Place the pudding bowl in the pan and fill halfway up the bowl with hot water. Place on a medium heat and steam the pudding for at least three hours (although you can steam it for up until five hours), checking every so often to make sure the water hasn’t run dry. 

After three hours, remove the bowl from the pan and serve immediately. If you want to keep it until Christmas day, replace the greaseproof lid and you can add more rum to keep it moist. To reheat, steam it for another hour and a half. 
Serve with brandy butter or clotted cream
plum and ginger duff

Saturday, 22 November 2014

12 Christmas present suggestions for foodies 2014

My annual Christmas list for foodies.

Hatchet and Bear's site is a treat for those who love unique handmade objects, especially from wood. Last year I featured the hand turned wooden bowls from the aptly named Robin Wood; I even use mine in the microwave, for a portion of noodles or porridge. I like the feeling, the sensation of eating from natural materials. One of the most unusual looking objects for sale on the Hatchet and Bear site is the spatula. It looks a bit like an axe. £18

I like turquoise and blue for photographing food. Look for a bowl that has a colour or pattern on the inside rather than the outside. This handmade porcelain pouring bowl by Linda Bloomfield is attractive and useful. £24
Not necessarily something you'd use in the kitchen but a foodie themed 'Elspeth chocolate skirt' from I saw one of the ladies that works with this online shop wearing one of their stunning print dresses at Britmums Live conference earlier this year, and immediately asked 'Where did you get that from?'. I discovered quite a few of their clothes; the stripy tights, the nicely shaped cardigans, beautiful shades of petticoat, all quite Sweeney Todd/cartoonish, a look I like. £85 for the skirt and £134 for the dress

I'm a pasta freak and like all the bits and bobs you can buy to make the shapes. How about these rolling pins from to make pappardelle, tagliatelle and spaghetti? £4.50p each
How about a feminist oven glove? From the £11.95
Do you know about Meyer lemons? These perfumed almost sweet lemons are grown in America; any cook, dessert maker, jam and preserve maker or ex-pat American will adore these as a gift. Order them from the, a Californian orchard owned by Karen Morse. (Thanks to Gloria Nicol for alerting me to this). Shipping is included! Between $10 and $65.
 Photo: Gloria Nicol
Now you will need to wrap those presents so how about this incredible Plantable Broccoli Wrapping paper from £4.99 a sheet. Mine has just arrived, it's thick and luxurious. As someone pointed out, it's a gift in itself. Why not give someone a beautiful bunch of broccoli, wrapped in this paper?

A subscription to a food magazine. I suggest Cherry Bombe, a biannual that celebrates women in food. One year $38
Biscuit cushions from Not on the High St. These are cheerful as heck. Just right for lounging on with a cup of tea and a biccy. £22 each
For those foodies who a) like to eat in bed b) and blog about it from the same location, how about this 'ibed lap desk'
"Check your emails or watch a movie whilst your iPad or tablet comfortably sits on your lap along with a bowl of popcorn and a drink. The iBed features padding to comfortably rest on your lap, a slot to firmly hold your iPad and just enough surface space to hold a plate or two. Use it in bed, on the couch or travelling, and with most tablet computers." What's not to like? From the Science Museum £10

I should have put this on my Christmas books list but it's such an important present for a foodie that it deserves a special place here. Any foodie that you buy this for will be forever grateful. Anyone that has ambitions to be a food writer/blogger needs this book. The Oxford Companion to food. £26 or £20 on kindle
A course such as cookery, bread making or food photography would also be welcome for any foodie at Christmas. One is always in a state of learning in cookery. Here are a few suggestions: 
Vanessa Kimbell's food photography course, 8th May 2015 £165, Northhamptonshire
Bake with Maria, baking courses from £85 to £145, London
Cookery, foraging and preserving courses Vale House Kitchen, Somerset. I did the wedding cake course with Sandra Monger £165
Baking, cooking and patisserie courses at Bertinet Kitchen, Bath, from £35 to £400

Have you any suggestions that a foodie might like for Christmas? Do let me know in the comments.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

17 things I don't like about hotels

I love staying in hotels, I like the non-commitment of it. I love to explore the room, the features, the amenities, the hospitality, the view, the local surroundings, the fact that for once I'm not the one doing the cleaning. But some things do irritate me and here is a quick list.
  • No free wifi. Or no wifi in your room but only in common parts (this is so frequent). Wifi is not a luxury, it's a necessity. Difficult wifi where you need a million logins and passwords to get into it in the first place (we aren't all paedos) and then jumps out if you pause for a minute. 
  • No bottle of water next to the bed. So many hotels don't. People get thirsty in the night.
  • Early breakfast hours.  As a freelance, I don't have to get up early at home why would I want to do that in a hotel when I'm ostensibly supposed to be having a holiday or at least a nice time. Stressful.
  • Crap breakfasts: unimaginative muesli. Discount yoghurts. Cooked breakfasts. Sunny Delight rather than proper orange juice. They always assume everyone wants a full English cooked breakfast. No. I don't want to eat a big fatty meal at that time of morning. Small cups. I like big cups, mugs. And the worst: no marmite. There is never any marmite. Pretty much never. 
  • Awful vending machines. If you are going to have a vending machine then stock good stuff. I actually think fizzy drinks like coke should only used on special occasions, the odd night out or on holiday. (It's incredible to think that some people drink sodas several times a day: this would also be on my list of why young people have bad teeth. None of them drink tea anymore. Badly brought up.)
  • Over-fussy bedcovers. So depressing. They are probably chosen to hide the dirt. The bedcovers in Alaskan hotels were particularly grim. You'd want folky patchwork covers or bear skins or something, but you got old lady nasty fabrics.
  • Noisy air-conditioners. Air-conditioners that you can't figure out how to make work.
  • Noisy fridges. I just pull the plug out.
  • NO conditioner. Anyone would think the world was run by men. Women often have long hair. When you have long hair and you shampoo it, it becomes a tightly-knit fuzz around your scalp. You need conditioner to untangle it, if you try to do it with a comb or brush you tear it. Conditioner is a medical necessity. Oh yeah, and if you were thinking 2 in 1 shampoo/conditioner was sufficient, think again. It's not. It's crap at both shampooing and particularly at conditioning. Again I've noticed that's a short hair/man thing.
  • Bathroom mirrors placed too high. Anyone would think builders are all men. A mirror where I can only see the top/dome of my head is no good to me.
  • Too high showers. Anyone would think the world is designed by tall people (i.e. men). If I stand in a tall shower, by the time the water gets to my body it is a but a thin mist-like spray.
  • Hairs in the bath or sink. Yuck. They are so often left there by the cleaning staff. 
  • Terrible dining. Most of the worst and overpriced restaurants in the world are attached to hotels. Often you get that corporate businessmen's dining: mock Michelin star crap. It's nice however when the hotel restaurant agrees to serve you pudding in bed as recently happened to me. 
  • A fixed TV in the corner that is miles away from your bed. I mean c'mon. One of the luxuries of staying in a hotel is TV in bed. 
  • Good in-room snacks that aren't too expensive. The Ace hotel in Portland had great snacks: artisanal nachos, great salsa, a boutique chocolate bar, some home-made peanut butter cups. 
  •  No tea facilities, particularly in foreign hotels.  In America you sometimes get coffee facilities (but often unworkable). And too few milks. Or even, as in America, no milk. If they know the guest is British, they should put tea and milk in the room.
  • Freezing swimming pools. I stayed in a Cape Town hotel this year where they had an outside pool which was literally ice cold, even though the weather was good. Torture. Plus they had loads of horrible splashy kids threatening to splash you with said ice-cold water. An ordeal. 
  • Being treated as if I don't exist just because I'm a woman travelling on my own. This doesn't frequently happen but it does often enough to mention it here. Standing at reception and being ignored because they think you are the little woman behind the suited-up man standing there. So even if there is more staff, they ignore you.

What drives you crazy about hotels? What do you like to see in a hotel?

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Bloomsbury Secret Tea Party

To celebrate my forthcoming book MsMarmitelover's Secret Tea Party (pre-order now, out November 27th), which has a directory of UK secret teas in the back, I will occasionally be featuring other secret tea parties, that is private tea rooms in people's homes. I did my first secret tea party back in April 2009, a few months after I started my underground restaurant. I've always loved the ritual, the prettiness, the sandwiches and the baking that goes into an afternoon tea. I like to drink multiple cups of tea, from a pot, intermingled with the odd glass of champagne or teapot cocktail. I adore the gossipy potential of afternoon meetings, dressing up for the occasion. 
One such secret tea room is run by Australian cookbook author David Herbert from his house in Norbiton, London. David is a collector and devotee of the Bloomsbury period of art. When you visit his tea room, you are surrounded by valuable china, ceramics, paintings from the Bloomsbury era. You even get to sit on Virginia Woolf's chairs, the seat cushions were sewn by her.
Plus you get exquisite baking, dainty smoked salmon fingers, the lightest sponges, a beautifully decorated cake (David decorated cakes for the Downton Abbey set and this was a similar example) and relentless silver pots of tea (keep 'em coming, that's how I like it). The table was dressed with delicate linens, original Edwardian glassware and enormous brightly coloured dahlias from his garden. 
David has a wonderful eye, he chose the props and backgrounds for the photo shoots for my V is for Vegan book due next spring. It was an education visiting prop houses with him. 
Below is a photo gallery, an unashamed visual feast, a riot of colour and texture, just because his house is so gorgeous, every little bit of it, down to the teaspoons.
Bloomsbury ceramics, stained glass door, David Herberts secret tea

Hand painted lampshades, bloomsbury era,David Herberts secret tea

Mini Victorian sponge, David Herberts secret tea

Blackberry friands, David Herbert's secret tea party

Bloomsbury ceramics, David Herbert's secret tea party

Edwardian glass, David Herbert's secret tea party

Edwardian decorated cake,  David Herbert's secret tea party

slice of cake David Herbert's secret tea party

David Herbert in his garden

salt and pepper collection, ceramics, David Herbert's secret tea party

smoked salmon sandwich,  David Herbert's secret tea party

tiny chocolate croustades, David Herbert's secret tea party

Textiles and colour, David Herbert's secret tea party

Bloomsbury ceramics,David Herbert's secret tea party

Bloomsbury ceramics,  David Herbert's secret tea party

David Herbert meets the Duchess of Cornwall

Virginia Woolfs chair,  David Herbert's secret tea party

bloomsbury ceramics David Herbert's secret tea party

Beautifully laid tea table, bloomsbury ceramics,  David Herbert's secret tea party

Quentin Bell painting, David herbert's Secret tea party
David Herberts Bloomsbury Tea can be booked via