A couple of weeks ago a new branch of Norfolk St Bakery opened at the top of the street where my office is. I can only describe this place as having some of the best cake I’ve ever eaten, not to mention the insanely good bread. They have an amazing range of Portuguese treats, pastel de nata, bolinhos, etc etc. The first time I went in I bought a few different things to share with my colleagues, all of which were incredible. The next day I went back and bought more of my favourite, the vanilla roll. I feel pretty certain that I’m destined to put on some serious weight with this place two minutes from the office, but there will so much joy in gaining that weight from the deliciousness of the cake, maybe I don’t care?
Anyway, having consumed all this cake, I realised that I’d never made any Portuguese cake, and that this clearly needed to change. I tried (unsuccessfully) to find a recipe for the vanilla roll, so decided to settle instead for a vanilla cake with caramelised apple topping. Maybe settling isn’t the best word, because, wow. Like, really wow. I think this might be just the beginning of a love affair with this type of cake. It has a load of egg in it, which creates a sort of denser sponge, but it’s not heavy, it’s just, great. Go find yourself a Portuguese bakery, or make some of this cake and indulge.
This is an unusual one for me. I am all about sugar. I mean, I eat a lot of vegetables too, but when it comes to cake, I am a purist – it’s got to be full of butter and sugar. That’s what cake is about, right?
A few weeks ago one of my colleagues went on a sugar free diet, and a couple of the others were just generally trying to ‘eat better’…I think we’re always striving for this in my office, but there’s a pretty consistent balance between the amount of cake and the amount of fruit consumed – recently there has been a pretty steady stream of Creme Eggs being consumed. But, I digress! To my colleague, sugar free meant no cake, so I decided to look into making sugar free cake (because an office without sugar is no fun).
And behold! I found a recipe that I like. This is pretty straightforward, and I’ve played around with it a bit – most recently I have added chocolate to it, because that still counts as low sugar, right? But what I’ve found is that in banana cake you don’t really need sugar. Granted, it makes it look a bit more appetising (for whatever reason this cake has come out a slightly grey shade of brown every time I’ve made it), but it tastes just as good because bananas are super sugary, especially if you leave them until they’re really brown. I’m not going to start advocating a sugar-free lifestyle, but, this banana bread is pretty good if you want to try it.
Falafel is a labour of love. It always takes longer to make than I anticipate, but is wholly worth it once it is done. This recipe is adapted from the Guardian’s ‘how to make the perfect…’ series, and whilst I’m not entirely sure it’s perfect, it’s pretty damn good. This recipe uses a mix of chick peas and fava beans, but if you’re struggling to find fava beans (or dried broad beans, to go by their other name), I don’t see why you can’t just use all chick peas. I can’t say I understand enough about the intricacies of falafel making to understand why one is preferable over the other.
I spent much time searching around various shops to find fava beans, to no avail, so (as previously recommended) I went to Hodmedod’s and found them there. Hurrah!
Unfortunately a mishap occurred with this batch – possibly not blended for long enough, or the beans weren’t dry enough, but they were a nightmare to shape into balls, and after they immediately fell apart in the pan once I started frying them, I gave up, smushed them all down and made a different sort of falafel, one that looks like a giant bowl of brown sugar. This was achieved by pouring all of the mixture with a few tablespoons of sunflower oil and baking at 200C for about 20-25 mins (turning the mixture occasionally). It’s better in this form if you want to make wraps, because unlike when they’re round, it doesn’t all collapse so easily. So, accidental discovery, would recommend. But you can also follow the correct traditional method below.
One final recipe note: I have to split the ingredients in half and make in two batches because my blender doesn’t fit all of it in at once – at least not for it to effectively blend. If you too have a not-huge-blender, you may want to consider this.
The last month has been crazy, full on crazy. I went to Stockholm a couple of weeks ago, and it was glorious. I never get tired of visiting Scandinavia, it’s like this paradise where everything is just lovely and full of coffee and pastries, and they have museum exhibitions about brewing beer (yes!). It also looks like this:
On returning, we had friends staying for the Bank Holiday weekend, and then had a huge pizza party which was great, albeit very messy, because when you make 3kg of dough, and get your approx. 20 guests to all make their own pizzas, it gets…ugh. My kitchen. It was the biggest clear up job ever, and mad props to Laura and Hayden who did loads of it whilst I was still at the pub. We had some cool pizzas though – including macaroni cheese pizza, potato pizza, and banana and harissa pizza (which surprisingly worked).
Anyway, now that I’m finally less insanely busy, it’s time to write about those banana and toffee cupcakes I mentioned a while ago. I love banana cake, and I’m always looking for variations to increase its general awesomeness. This is a tale of first world problems, whereby the little Waitrose near my house stopped selling the banana and toffee cupcakes I had grown to love. They still sell them at the one 4 miles from my house, but that is no use to me. So I decided to try and make some myself. I’ve made these a couple of times, and I will say it’s still a work in progress. I think I’m basically hoping that one day they’ll taste exactly like the Waitrose ones, but in the meantime, these work pretty damn well as a substitute.
Summer is here! (It’s forecast to rain tomorrow, but 3 days of sunshine and 20+ degree heat is good enough in the UK). To celebrate all the sunshine and possibility of sitting outdoors without a jacket, I made some delicious, delicious syrup. It was one of those recipes you see and think to yourself “I need that in my life”. And I wasn’t disappointed. I took some rhubarb from my parents’ garden, bought some strawberries and a lemon, and a cute milk bottle, and after very little effort, I had this:
It’s great as a summer drink mixer – use 2-3 tbsp of syrup and add sparkling water, or my personal preference, bitter lemon. If you’re feeling like you need some alcohol, add 2 shots of gin, and maybe a few crushed mint leaves. Beautiful.
Last January I made a sort of vague commitment to reducing my meat consumption. I didn’t even dare use the word ‘vegetarian’, because, in my own words “I like bacon too much”. The last eighteen months or so have been a process of trying, and admittedly, occasionally failing, to cut meat out of my diet. It’s still a process. In the last month I have eaten chicken and burgers and sausages and bacon and even perhaps some beef. After a few weeks of eating meat a couple of times a week, I kind of start to forget why I wanted to do this in the first place. Then various reminders start popping up, like this excellent video, or writing my dissertation on why conserving the planet is impossible whilst we continue with vast and rapid economic development. Oh, and this highly comedic campaign to help California deal with its drought.
It’s not easy. Some people probably find it a relatively simple transition, perhaps they have stronger ethics than I do, or more of an abhorrence towards meat and the horrible industry it represents. I think there will always be days when I hate having to choose boring cheese ploughman’s sandwiches over chicken caesar salad, when I wake up and want a massive fried breakfast with bacon. But I suppose that is why I keep trying. At the end of the day, I feel relatively powerless to make any change that will positively impact the future of the planet. Giving up an environmentally damaging practice like consuming meat is one of the few choices I can make which will make a difference. It has other benefits too, like learning how to make delicious vegetarian food, and not gaining weight (even when spending significant amounts of time sitting at a desk doing research).
So here’s to a renewed commitment to trying. Maybe one day I’ll be able to call myself a real vegetarian. For now, I’m going to go eat my courgette fritters for dinner.
(full service will resume in about 5 weeks when I’ve finished my dissertation)
Gratitude for this meal idea goes to Laura, who I am sharing my quest for better cooking for one with.
After a previous bad experience making vegetarian burgers that contained kidney beans, I wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of these burgers. The gross burgers I made a year or so ago were dry and unpleasant, and so I was like “will this be more of the same?” NO. No it won’t. These burgers are excellent, cheap and straightforward to make. From Laura’s suggestions I made some additions to the original recipe, such as increasing spice and eating with halloumi. I also added some garlic, because if there’s one thing that Nigel Slater has taught me, it is that anything is greatly improved by the addition of garlic.
I think if you leave the mixture in the fridge for a bit you could probably put these on the barbecue. This I am keen to try because one of the few things I am not sold on for being fully vegetarian is not being able to have proper barbecues. I mean, there’s nothing like a beef burger or a sausage that tastes of delicious charcoally grill, right? So I’m hoping that these burgers might make a good substitute (or I will just continue with my occasional lapses back into eating meat).
I also probably need to invest in a new grater. And a garlic crusher. I spent far too long trying to grate the carrot because we don’t have a box grater, which makes grating more than a small amount of something really inconvenient. Then when I was grating the garlic I managed to also grate my thumb. Genius. It is useful to have effective kitchen tools.
Oh, and if you were wondering what my soundtrack to making these burgers was, it was this little guy chewing his cardboard tunnel: