Edible Bath: a weekend sampler

Chilled chocolate fondant with caramel sauce
Chilled dark chocolate fondant with salted caramel sauce, hazelnut praline and Jersey cream, from The Circus (see below)

I made it one of my resolutions at the start of the year to visit a few places in the UK which are new to me. I haven’t actually been very good at this, but did manage to co-opt a few friends into joining me on a trip to Bath, which we selected after a five-minute discussion almost at random.

SouthGate umbrellas
Exhibition of colourful umbrellas on Bath’s SouthGate

Bath is a smallish spa town, distinguished for its Georgian architecture and the extensive use of Bath stone, which gives the buildings a tawny, yellowed look (I’m sure you’re not meant to think this, but it actually reminded me a little of smokers’ fingers…forgive me) and has contributed to the city’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Since, on a more charitable note, the colour of Bath stone also recalls sepia and aged newspapers, it contributes to an overall sense of genteel eighteenth-century elegance. The town’s history as a fashionable, expensive, buzzing Georgian town (name-checked by Jane Austen, Bath is the setting of Persuasion, her romance of longing and second chances) is both reinforced and challenged by the hordes of tourists from every part of the globe who throng the streets and the many tea rooms made to look like period pieces (or at least our televisual idea of such). The many people tramping about the city centre give it a sense of real vibrancy, recalling it as the bustling epicentre of fashionable life, and also generates the impetus to preserve the look and feel of Georgian Bath. However, tourism inherently engenders a range of tensions and contradictions: it leads to competing claims over space and geography, and to the sometimes artificial preservation of the old at the expense of the evolution of the new; and of course the need to build the kind of infrastructure to accommodate all those out-of-town visitors can sometimes undercut the supposed authenticity offered up to the tourist. In the case of Bath, one minute you can be looking at a lace-curtained tea room with its (female) staff in long skirts, shawls, and bonnets; the next moment you’ll see a row of bins, each printed in a different language – French, Chinese, Spanish – with instructions to avoid feeding pigeons and mind the seagulls.

Jacob Bosanquet
A moving memorial plaque at Bath cathedral

In addition, Bath is a university town, with the campuses of the University of Bath and Bath Spa University a short drive away, which means that in addition to elegant and/or touristy places to eat and drink (both types of place are found in my which my reviews below!) you can find some very good, hearty, decently-priced food

The trip to Bath was a bit disorganised and we didn’t plan out things as well as we could have, resulting in a few things being missed – if we went again I would like to visit the Roman baths, for example – but we did see a lot of the city, including the famous Royal Crescent of posh Georgian houses overlooking the parks, which were also soothing to walk in. I also enjoyed wandering round the cathedral, gazing up at the scallop-shaped ceiling and reading the many memorial plaques, some of them very touching. All in all, it’s a good place for a quick weekend away if you fancy.

The Circus

On the first day, we had lunch at The Circus, which my friend Juliet arranged for us (you will need to make advance reservations, especially for dinner). The restaurant serves a seasonal menu with beautiful British produce – it describes its food as ‘modern European’ but I thought the food was in many ways very British, in the best way: fresh, eclectic, driven by European technique for sure but with an adventurous, internationalist outlook rather than one excessively hide-bound by tradition. As the menu changes regularly with the seasons you wouldn’t be served the exact same food, but all was delicious and exquisitely prepared and I’d be fully confident in going back.

Ham, nectarine and mozzarella salad

We shared a starter of a Parma (or at least Parma-style, since I think it was British) ham, nectarine and tomato and mozzarella salad. Such composed salads are not necessarily about originality but about delicious ingredients who are respected by allowing their quality to shine…and this salad hit the mark. The tomatoes were bursting with ripe, juicy flavour; the nectarines were the perfect ripeness to serve in a salad, still firm and crisp but juicy and honeyed, not underripe; the ham was excellent, with that silk-stocking texture you get from good-quality fat from a pig that has eaten a nourishing diet and a mouth-filling, nutty flavour of its own that isn’t just saltiness. The mozzarella was the necessary third element, all soft milk and cream. It was a wonder with the Bertinet bakery sourdough we were served to start.

Continue reading “Edible Bath: a weekend sampler”

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In fair Girona: travels in Spain

 

Churros

We live in an era where occasionally you can take off to Europe at a moment’s notice and spend a long weekend in another country and, recently (just before Easter), that’s just what I did. A friend was visiting from Australia and suggested a European adventure, and shortly after we had booked tickets to visit Girona. Spain is such a classic British holiday destination (and Belgian one, for that matter) that it was hard for some of my colleagues to understand that this was my very first visit, ever.

Hidden alley

Girona, which is close to Barcelona, is considered one of Catalonia’s major cities, but it’s population is – compared to London – tiny, with just under 100,000 people living there at last count. This accounts for the peacefulness and quiet of the town which I experienced; even at busy points it was pleasant and easy to walk around. Although the narrow alleyways and winding streets can make it confusing to navigate – all the stone walls merging into one – the size of the place makes it manageable (although I readily admit that I was entirely dependent on my friend, who had a homing pigeon’s instinct for finding our AirBnB).

Dali museum

It’s also easy to get to and from other areas – Barcelona is obviously close by, but we opted to take a day trip to Salvador Dali’s birthplace Figueres and visit the museum which he helped design (the entrance pictured just above). Dali is a somewhat controversial figure in the art world – the genius of his works is not doubted, but his changeable politics, which verged on outright support for Franco, can certainly be considered questionable – but the museum helped me to appreciate his body of work much more. His strange inventiveness, delicate skill and exquisite tenderness of his paintings was so much more than melting clocks.

Espresso Mafia

In terms of food, there were, predictably, a lot of tapas. On the first night we ate a restaurant at the steps of the San Felix church, which made for an atmospheric setting but markedly average food which in some cases seemed extremely Americanised – think stodgy cheese batter studded with mild chilliest, served with a barbecue-style sauce (we expected jalapeños stuffed with cheese from the description of it). We also ate at a branch of König, a mini-chain with branches around the city which we had actually avoided on the first night there on account of its Germanic name and long and mostly not very local menu. However, during a walking tour the next day, our guide mentioned it had won an award for the best patatas bravas in Catalonia. The tour ended just outside one of their branches, so the small group (four of us were on the tour) ate some decent bravas – chunky and without excess grease – and some average, but decent, seafood croquetas, and also slightly better ham croquetas. None of it was revelatory but it was satisfying. We cooled off with ice cream from Candela afterwards. They had some innovative (and not, to my palate, successful) flavours such as tomato ice cream, but also more delicious classics such as coffee, chocolate and pistachio. I had a lovely local walnut ice cream completely studded with chopped nuts – no mimsy sprinkle here. They were happy to provide samples before we bought our cones, too – always a bonus.

We also had some excellent coffee at Espresso Mafia, an elegantly minimalist cafe where they roast the coffee beans in-house. The friend I was with, who is Australian and therefore highly attuned to quality coffee, approved heartily. The flat whites were delicious; the chai latte was spicy and flavourful with a good gingery kick, but a little cold. They also serve a ‘dirty chai’, which is a chai latte with a shot of espresso; not my cup of tea but interesting enough. The baked goods were tasty standards – coconut, chocolate and Oreo cakes, banana breads and a range of oatmeal-based cookies, as well as a vegan option.

The second time we went to Espresso Mafia, coffees in hand, I purchased a handful of churros (picture at the top) from the Montse l’Artesana, a small churreria just opposite, to nibble on during our walk to the train station. The churros are sold by weight so I was able to request only three, which was sufficient for a (shared) mid-morning snackette. They were not freshly fried to order and served with thick chocolate, as you might expect, but were fried in advance, some plain, some covered in a chocolate glaze and some in a veil of white icing. I chose plain ones sprinkled with granulated sugar. They were more like a crunchy cookie than a tender, moist fritter with cakey insides, but this actually meant they went well with the coffee. I don’t think they were exceptional, probably, and yet I really enjoyed them, and eating the last of the sugar from the tip of the cone with a moistened finger.

The Little Taperia, Tooting

I’m not very good at weekends. Whereas magazines and newspaper lifestyle pages will refer to ‘lazy mornings’ spent in bed with a broadsheet, followed by brunch; and late meandering lunches; and evening suppers eaten at the kitchen island, legs dangling from bar stools, spoons dangling sleepily from fingers, I am usually in a state of nail-biting anxiety from the moment I close the office door on Friday evening. The anxious mental refrain is always about how I will manage to fit everything in to the measly 48 hours of rest to come: errands, the gym, meal planning, dishes, ironing…Perhaps one day I’ll have the dishwasher, clothing dryer and, I suspect, cleaner required to make those double-page spread Sundays a reality.

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Octopus, grilled, with many, many, many capers

Sometimes, though, I do manage to get things right. A few weeks ago, on a day that was blazingly hot, my boyfriend suggested we have lunch out. We may live in deepest darkest south-west London, but these days we’re pretty spoilt for choice in our area, with Wahaca, Franco Manca, Five Guys, Chicken Shop and Honest Burgers, not to mention London’s best south Asian restaurant (apparently Tooting is being called ‘the new Shoreditch’) mere bus rides away. But what caught my eye was a relatively newer restaurant, The Little Taperia. Since we ended up having lunch monumentally late, it felt appropriate to have Spanish food in honour of this and the heat.

The Little Taperia is, as the name suggests, tiny indeed: in fact the space it’s in was once a pet shop. If you’ve frequented Euston’s Honey and Co, you’ll have an idea of the scale. Still, we managed to find a seat, doubtless on account of the late lunching hour.

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I will always eat a croqueta

David and I shared a lunch of tapas: of course I ordered the ham croquetas, the Spanish dish I most adore, and garlic prawns, and patatas bravas with allioli – very classic. Finally, a beetroot, spinach and goat’s cheese salad – a slightly odd choice, more British than Spanish – and grilled octopus. When the waiter took our order he recommended a sixth dish; caught out, we dithered and ended up ordering his recommendation of pan con tomate.

 

I was a bit regretful at having panicked – after all, pan con tomate is just tomatoes on toast, easy to recreate at home, whereas I usually like to pick things to eat at restaurants I wouldn’t bother to make at home, because they’re too specialist or fiddly or time-consuming.

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Chives were everywhere. They look nice against the grated tomato.

Yet what arrived outstripped my expectations and was definitely worth ordering: a smear of sweet tomato pulp over bread that was both crusty and yet tender, lightly charred at the edges; a sprinkle of chives; and a generous drizzle of some exceptional olive oil, silky in texture but with a sharp green bite. It was a lovely example, and reminder, of the wonderfulness of simplicity when perfectly rendered.

 

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Pickled chillies and chives to garnish…?

The prawns in garlic and chilli were a little more astringent with vinegar than I would have expected – it was served with those jarred, sliced pickled chilli is rather than fresh – but still vibrant, the acid providing bite against the sweet and slightly smokey prawn flesh. There were only two prawns as part of this tapa, though, so you’ll have to order multiple if you’re dining as a group. It wasn’t my ideal version of this dish because of the pickled chillies.

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The patatas bravas with allioli were what you’d expect: crisp-edged potatoes, fatty garlic mayonnaise. It could have had more garlic, but then I do love a powerful punch of garlic flavour rather than a delicate hint. As a dish, patatas bravas is the most unchallenging Spanish food I can think of and rarely anything but delicious and moreish, even the versions which are comfortably middle of the road. You wouldn’t really want something innovative and groundbreaking even if it were offered, frankly.

245It’s much the same with respect to the ham croquetas: classically rendered, evenly crumbed morsels of ham-studded bechamel, they were crisp on the outside, and salty and rich within. I really do love them and very much want to make Miriam Gonzalez Durante’s recipe soon.

The two dishes I liked less were the beetroot and spinach salad and the grilled octopus (picture at the top of the post). I found the salad a bit bland, although I did enjoy the goat’s cheese, which had been beaten into a mousse – where I could find it. On the whole it was a bit same year and even a touch watery. The octopus was a bit too charred, harsh and, again, astringent for my taste, with perhaps too many capers. My boyfriend enjoyed it, though – chacun à son goût and all that!

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All in all, despite these blips, I was really pleased by this casual restaurant, which served up some very enjoyable food. Yes, the dishes are largely predictable, but that is part of the charm. And it’s even nicer to have something in the neighbourhood for when I’m able to embrace a relaxed weekend.

Everything I Cooked from ‘Greedy Girl’s Diet’ by Nadia Sawalha

This post is a run-down of everything I cooked from Nadia Sawalha’s cookbook ‘Greedy Girl’s Diet’, and accompanies my full review of the book.

Beautiful berry pancakes [Come on, Break that Fast]

I think we can safely agree that this photo is overexposed...

This is an easy recipe to pull together – not quite one-bowl, because you need to separate the egg and beat the whites to soft peaks before folding into the batter, but all very easy to do by hand. They were delicate and tender and sweet enough without any toppings. My boyfriend liked them very much, which I think is important when cooking ‘diet food’ for someone not on a diet themselves.

Cinnamon chocolate banana shake027 [Come on, Break that Fast]

This is a blend of banana, semi-skimmed milk, cocoa powder and agave syrup, topped with grated dark chocolate. My bananas were so speckled that I left out the syrup, and they were more than sweet enough. The recipe reminded me that I don’t adore the combination of cinnamon and dark chocolate, personally. Fine but standard.

Jane Wake’s wide-awake seed bar [Come on, Break that Fast]

This is one of the few recipes I didn’t photograph. Think of a standard seed bar and you get the idea. Oats, nuts, seeds, coconut and dried fruit is mushed together with bananas, honey and light butter (I wasn’t too enamoured about buying this) before being patted into a baking tin, baked, cooled, and cut into bars. I substituted flaked coconut for the desiccated coconut (because that’s what was in the cupboard) and just chopped it up a bit; it was fine. I used one and a half large bananas instead of two small ones, and baked the bars a little longer than specified. They remained quite soft and prone to splitting, but held together. They were good: not too sweet, as you’d expect, and full of texture from the nubbly dry ingredients. These weren’t sensational but they quelled snacking urges reasonably well. I don’t think they would have fuelled me if I’d just had them for breakfast, though, as the bars were smallish.

Buckwheat pancakes [Come on, Break that Fast]

044 (2)Like most buckwheat pancakes, these were hearty, nutty, and filling, and could have had both savoury or sweet applications. The recipe doesn’t state what level of heat you should cook these over and actually the pan needed to be hotter than I expected to get these crepes to release. There’s a teaspoon of oil along with skimmed milk in these so they released decently once thoroughly cooked. They did have a tendency to be crisp rather than floppy as a silk scarf, however.

Creamy avocado soup [Let’s do Lunch]

016 (2)Sawalha suggests that this can be eaten as both a dip or a soup, and as I don’t like cold soup or yoghurt-based soup, I went for the dip option, and it was certainly thick enough to withstand scooping by pitta bread or vegetable crudités. Although the picture looks quite smooth, it was chunkier than it appeared because the cucumber didn’t blend entirely into the yoghurt and avocado.

Italian soup [Let’s do Lunch]

010 (2)This hearty soup is what I characterise as a ‘mealtime’ soup; one you could easily have as a meal, rather than as a starter. It is filling and well-flavoured with garlic and oregano (helpfully, you can use either fresh or dried in this). It is essentially a minestrone soup, save that it does not include pasta, and it was a little odd, to me anyway, that there’s a recipe both for this and for a minestrone in the book. I used less oil than called for, which was two tablespoons.

Leek and potato soup [Let’s do Lunch]

005The more I think of this soup, the more I think that it was actually one of the book’s complete failures, betraying its premise. Don’t get me wrong, this soup has a lovely flavour – you are allowed bacon as well as onion, leeks and potatoes – and the portion is a generous bowlful, but it’s so thin and insubstantial that, even after eating a double portion, I was bitterly hungry (and I had even thrown in an extra leek). Given that almost every single recipe is filling as well as tasty and that the whole premise of the book is that you don’t have to eat punishing ‘diet’ food to lose some weight, this struck an odd note. Maybe leek and potato soup just can’t be skimped on.

Marvellous minestrone soup [Let’s do Lunch]

263My opinions on this soup are virtually identical to my opinions on the Italian soup, and I also used less oil in this. The recipe only calls for half a pepper, annoyingly, and frankly I would just bung the whole thing in – it’s not going to radically distort the calorie count, after all! Another annoying point is that the pasta is supposed to be already cooked but I disobeyed this instruction and cooked it in the soup rather than separately. The ‘pasta’ I used was Israeli couscous – I consider it a pasta because it’s tiny balls of semolina and wheat flour.

The recipe calls for spinach and cabbage but I only used spinach, because I was bringing this to work (the picture was taken at my desk, in my little travel soup mug) and reheated cabbage smells vile and is deeply antisocial.

Cumin-spiced carrot and butternut squash soup [Let’s do Lunch]

021Butternut squash and carrots are both sweet vegetables and it was unsurprising that the finished soup was sweet, too. A red chopped chilli is included on the ingredients list; it is marked as optional but I think the heat is absolutely essential to counterbalance the intense sweetness of the vegetables. Some lemon or lime juice stirred through at the end would also not have gone amiss and skimping on salt would be a mistake here.

The recipe calls for one tablespoon of oil just to fry an onion and three garlic cloves; I used one teaspoon, which was plenty for the purpose.

Spicy lamb and hummus pitta [Let’s do Lunch]

020 (3)Now this, to me, was an absolute standout. An almost miniscule amount of lamb – 100g – is cut into tiny pieces, mixed with garlic and spice mix (the recipe calls for baharat, but as I didn’t have it I used ras el hanout), browned and served with a sauce made of hummus and coriander, as well as chopped lettuce and green pepper and flatbreads (the recipe calls for pitta, but I used flatbread). Light, spicy, refreshing, easy. It was utterly delicious and my boyfriend loved it, too. The only fly in the ointment is that the recipe is listed as serving four – four people who are watching their weight, maybe. I ate one portion, but my non-dieting boyfriend polished off the remainder easily.

023 (2)

Chicken and avocado salad [Let’s do Lunch]

028Confession: I am not a lover of chicken and I characterised this as ‘fine’. As with all chicken-based recipes, I concluded that I would have much preferred it without the chicken, and the use of cooked skinless breasts is never going to be seductive. The recipe calls for four such chicken breasts, already cooked – is that realistic? Do people just have cooked chicken lying about? I certainly don’t. Having halved the recipe to serve just two, I baked the two breasts in the oven before adding to the salad. I didn’t have walnuts so used pecans, and toasted them before adding to the salad. Even if using walnuts, I would consider the toasting step compulsory, but the recipe just has you toss them in raw. Nuts are much crunchier and delicious when toasted – they taste much more of themselves and start to slightly give off their natural oils, allowing them to mix into the other flavours on the plate.

Beetroot and potato salad [Let’s do Lunch]

022This dish is intended as a side salad to serve four, but I ate half (two portions) as a main meal. The yoghurt-based dressing goes luridly pink as the beetroot juice seeps into it. This is a salad for beetroot lovers because there is double the beetroot to potato; unusually, for a British recipe, we are directed to not use the type pickled in vinegar, but plainly cooked. Fortunately, such plain beets are easy to find now, even in my local Lidl. The vinaigrette, which is poured over the beetroot and just-cooked potatoes, balances the earthy sweetness of the beetroot sufficiently.

Substitutes and omissions: I didn’t use either the fresh or dried dill called for in the recipe because I don’t like it enough to feel it’s worth buying. The recipe calls for low-fat Greek yoghurt, but I used 0% fat to no ill effect. I used English mustard instead of French and actually I think the fieriness of the English product is a good foil for the bland potatoes and sweet beetroot.

Spicy chickpea tagine [Let’s do Lunch]

022 (2)

This is a nice, easy-to-put-together riff on a standard chana masala-style dish. Actually my version was a bit more chana masala-ish because I used garam masala instead of cumin (I’d run out of the latter). I used an extra cinnamon stick instead of the teaspoon of cinnamon called for (same reason).

I’m going to be a broken record on the use of oil in this cookbook; I cut it again in this recipe.

Broccoli, mushroom and chilli parmesan pasta [Let’s do Lunch]

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Notwithstanding the chapter this is from, I cooked it for dinner. It was fairly quick and satisfying. As someone who doesn’t love mushrooms, but can live with them, this was a pretty average dish. I used wholewheat spaghetti instead of the penne pictured.

I did wonder if the calorie count for this recipe was off – the portion of pasta is generous and the recipe calls for two whole tablespoons of oil – but given the rest of the dish is mushrooms and broccoli, it seems to be about right. I used only one tablespoon of oil myself and cooked the mushrooms for much longer than called for, so that they became properly soft and cooked down. The recipe asked for the quartered mushrooms to be cooked ‘for a minute or so’ over medium heat, then to add garlic and chilli and cook a further minute. They would have been far too raw for my taste with that cooking time. Also, because I had halved the oil called for, I used a little of the pasta cooking water to the mushrooms once the garlic had been added to stop it from catching. Adding pasta water also thickens the sauce and gives it some silky body.

All in all okay but not one I would make again.

Spaghetti with chilli, crab and lemon [Let’s do Lunch]

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As I mentioned in the full review, this dish was, for me, a stand-out disaster. There were a lot of lovely, fresh flavours in the dish: lemon, spiked with chilli and garlic, a refreshing and zesty combination. I could see how it would be lovely with proper, fresh seafood, but the tin of white crabmeat – as called for in the recipe, mind – was much too reminiscent of cat food. Sawalha does recommend using fresh crab if you can. I think fresh crab is essential for this. It’s perhaps not very homely and budget friendly to call for expensive fresh shellfish, but the tinned crab honestly made me want to cry. Don’t do it to yourself. Either use fresh crab, or don’t make the dish. I somehow doubt Sawalha makes this with tinned crab herself…

Substitutions: I couldn’t find a 200g tin of crabmeat so used one weighing 170g, which yielded 120g. A blessing, as it turned out. I didn’t add the parsley called for because I didn’t have any but if making this (with! fresh! crab!) I can see how the cool, herbal green would add an extra complementary note. I used much less oil than the two tablespoons called for so treated myself to an extra smidgen of wholewheat pasta. I also didn’t have any white wine so I borrowed a trick from Nigella Lawson and watered down 100ml of white vermouth with 100ml of water. The recipe, incidentally, calls for a ‘half glass’ of wine. I’m not sure what this means since wine is poured in varying measures. It really would have been no effort to add an approximate amount in millilitres so all in all, between the cat food meat and slapdash ingredients list, this recipe made me very cross.

Roasted pork meatballs in tomato sauce [Let’s do Lunch]

054 (2)The pork specified is lean, so of course the meatballs can tend towards slightly dense, even dry. The sauce is based on tomato paste and an annoyingly unspecific ‘teacup’ of boiling water (again, it would have served to recipe better to specify the size) and two tablespoons of olive oil (of course I used less). The sauce is consequently of quite a plain, sweet character – family friendly.

The recipe calls for the meatballs to be rolled into ‘hazelnut-sized’ balls. Not a chance. I made them small, but not THAT small.

Za’atar Chicken [Let’s do Lunch]

Chicken i236s marinated, not too long, in an acidic mixture of lemon, salt and garlic – enough to make the flesh take on that dense, slightly pickled look of fish prepared ceviche-style. Za’atar is hardly exotic now – any old supermarket seems to stock this pungent, aromatic combination of wild thyme, sumac and other herbs. The presence of za’atar in the world is a great help. Anyway, this is easy, quick (bar the marinating time) and fresh-tasting. The chicken is intensely lemony and herbal. If I’m going to eat chicken, this is the kind of flavour profile I like.

Chicken and preserved lemon tagine [Let’s do Lunch]

175As with za’atar, so with preserved lemons: little jars of them seem to be available everywhere now, and are even popping up as supermarket own-brand versions.

The recipe suggests using chicken breasts or thighs; I went for thighs, sacrificing a bit of leanness for dark, juicy flavour. The calorie count probably could have been shown for breasts or thighs, though, as there would have been a difference. I left out the green olives called for because I don’t care for olives. Anyway, this is a heady, aromatic and forgiving dish. I thought the cooking time was a bit long for thighs, but it did result in tender, melting meat and vegetables, and when you need comfort that falling-apart quality provides a great deal of it.

Sinless spaghetti Bolognaise [Delicious Dinner]

087Sinless this may be, but I confess to not loving this version of spag bol. The recipe suggests using turkey or beef mince; curious, I tried turkey, an intensely lean meat which, when ‘lightly brown’, takes on a firm, crumbly texture and the taste of sloppy cardboard. The meat was strangely dry despite the sauce being so wet (as can be seen by the pool of liquid on the plate) and the mushrooms were a slightly slimy, unwelcome presence in texture and taste terms – I don’t think they add anything (apart from low-calorie bulk, obviously) so what is meant to be a comforting and familiar family dish.

Creamy chicken curry in a hurry [Delicious Dinner]

051If you come across slightly older cookbooks, you will occasionally find a recipe for a sweet, mild curry which combines generic yellow ‘curry powder’ with a grated apple, handful of raisins and poached chicken breast. This reminded me a little of those recipes: mild yellow commercial korma paste is mixed with yoghurt and chicken is marinated in this bland mixture for as long as possible, then tipped into a pan and cooked in stock. The mixture is thickened with ground almonds and, although there is no apple to be seen, sultanas are stirred through. The result is very old-fashioned, almost flavourless and textureless but very sweet. It was not to my taste but might have pleased a young child, and indeed Sawalha describes this as ‘strictly a family dish’.

Marvellous macaroni cheese [Delicious Dinner]

052 (2)All macaroni cheese recipes seem to have in common that they use a million cooking implements and vessels, and this was no exception (pasta, bechamel, baking dish, vegetables…).

Substitutions: the recipe calls for leek to be fried in a little oil, but given that I had bought light butter, I tried using that. Stick to oil. I used ‘light’ extra-mature cheddar to cut the fat content (although the calorie difference between light and standard cheese is negligible). Instead of grilling the top of the dish I baked it for about half an hour so that everything could bubble together.

The bechamel (or white sauce) did split a little when I made this – I don’t think skimmed milk works for this since the nature of the sauce is that it relies on fat and flour to bind it.

The vegetable content of this dish was great but I don’t like cooked fresh tomatoes and, like most pasta dishes, it wasn’t filling for very long.

Betty’s beautiful burgers [Delicious Dinner]

No photograph of these. They look like smallish burger patties, so you’re not missing much. They are good! They’re based on lamb and have a bit of pomegranate molasses in them. You can bind them with an egg, egg and breadcrumbs or even ‘dried apricot stuffing, made up according to packet instructions’. Hmm. I used an egg.

Thai veggie curry [Delicious Dinner]

This was the first recipe I made from the book, before I decided to review it. The recipe uses 70g of Thai green curry paste so, unsurprisingly, the recipe depends on you using one which is of good quality and, more importantly, suits your tastes – mine tasted a little of anise, surprisingly. Frankly I don’t think carrots (called for in the recipe!) belong in a Thai green curry – pea aubergine would have been more suitable, though harder to get hold of. I didn’t use the fish sauce or beansprouts, on account of not loving either ingredient. I used soy sauce instead of the fish sauce.

Chicken shawarma [Delicious Dinner]

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What a great recipe. Juicy, spiced, flavourful grilled chicken which hearkens to Sawalha’s father’s Jordanian roots and is based on her favourite street food eaten on the streets of Amman. The spices include cinnamon, allspice, cardamom and even gum mastic, which is a spice I have sought out, and found, in London food shops which serve Turkish and Middle Eastern communities (I mean, they serve all communities, but they specialise in foods from these communities), but never seen in a ‘big four’ supermarket. This authenticity pays off in the fantastic flavour of this dish. Well worth making. It’s drizzled with tahini sauce upon serving.

Funky fish and chips [Delicious Dinner]

073 (2)The book shows an evenly-crumbed slab of yellow fish. Well, that’s not quite how it worked out for me. Admittedly, I used an egg white instead of an egg, but the chilli and basil-flecked polenta mixture clumped together horribly and adhered to the fish in lumps. The oven-baked chips stuck to the pan and didn’t brown properly, though that could have been down to me using a generic ‘white’ potato rather than one designed for roasting.

Vegetable makloubeh [Delicious Dinner]

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Another one of the first recipes from the book I tried. It wasn’t greatly promising because of the way the aubergine was cooked. Aubergine benefits from slow cooking in lots of good quality olive oil until it surrenders silkily, or roasting over open flame until the skin chars and the spongey flesh takes on deep, smokey flavour. I don’t think it benefits from a quick spray with as little olive oil as possible and roasting. The slices didn’t brown appetisingly and remained looking, and tasting, a little pallid. I think the dish could also have benefitted from deeper, richer spicing to bring the vegetables together into a harmonious whole; the cauliflower and aubergine didn’t really marry.

Prawn and chorizo rice pot [Delicious Dinner]

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This recipe was delicious and, given that chorizo is highly fatty and so something the dieter often must strike from her culinary register, unexpected. The combination of sweet juicy prawns and drier, firmer, salty, smoky chorizo is one of the most exemplary surf and turf pairings around, and certainly among the more accessible.It’s a recipe that’s ideal for a weeknight because it comes together quickly and is easy and stress-free, and doesn’t use up loads of pans or require obscure ingredients. I have made this one multiple times and for me it’s the standout recipe, worth holding on to the book for.

The recipe ekes out a tiny bit of very finely chopped chorizo – and the effort made to chop it truly small will reward you – which would, in other dishes, seem rather a mean amount. Albeit the quantity of chorizo is low, the amount of rice is generous. Although the recipe calls for 200g of prawns, I always end up using slightly less because packets bought in the supermarket are usually between 150-180g. As I have testified before, I prefer the Waitrose raw king prawn above others, for taste, textural, and environmental reasons.

Fancy fish pie [Delicious Dinner]

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Another recipe that took up a lot of cooking vessels and implements, but it yielded a really satisfying dinner, deeply comforting despite the use of light butter, light cream cheese and low-fat fromage frais. The recipe calls for a mix of smoked haddock, coley and prawns, but I used (sustainable, line-caught) cod as I was unable to find coley. I think you could also use pollack if you can find it.

Chilli con carne [Delicious Dinner]

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This is a great and satisfying chilli con carne based on lean minced beef and bulked out with beans and peppers, served with brown rice and a fresh, enlivening salsa. The only annoying thing about it was that the recipe called for a  200g tin of kidney beans, but I could only find standard-sized 400g tins, resulting in half a tin leftover in the fridge. Honestly, I would spare yourself the aggravation and just chuck in the whole tin.

Ratatouille with quinoa [Delicious Dinner]

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In many respects this is a very standard ratatouille – it’s bright, fresh, a good weeknight dinner. Personally the balance in this recipe was weighted too heavily in favour of the courgettes; I prefer a greater proportion of aubergine, although it’s true that their tendency to absorb oil means it might not have been easy to include more. Speaking of oil, this is another recipe where I used much less than originally called for – just under two teaspoons, a third of what was called for (two tablespoons).

Minor gripe about the instructions: the vegetables are placed in a casserole to bake together and it’s not clear if the casserole should be lidded or not.

Fabulous falafels [Delicious Dinner]

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Tinned chickpeas are whizzed together with seasoning, garlic and bicarbonate of soda and compressed into falafel balls. Sawalha asks you to make sixteen. I made eight and they were already small and falling-apart crumbly so I think making them smaller would be very difficult. The falafel were quite dry and hard and fell apart into crumbly dust. Traditionally falafel are made from chickpeas that have been soaked, but not cooked – maybe using cooked ones produces this more unsatisfactory result. I have had delicious, moist falafel that have rivalled lamb patties for juiciness; it is possible.

I used much less low-fat yoghurt for the dressing than called for in the recipe – by accident rather than design,because the amount I had left in the pot was much less than the 150g required. I blended it in a mini chopper to make it smooth. As a result my version of the rocket-based dressing was more pungently green and peppery-bright than it would have otherwise been, and I liked it.

Saffron prawns with rice [Delicious Dinner]

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Another good, solid, easy dinner with a delicious foundation of flavours. I mistakenly used brown rice instead of Basmati, only clocking the error when I realised how short the cooking time was. It was still tasty in its own right. God, I love prawns – their sweetness was perfect against the rice.

Moroccan-style fish [Delicious Dinner]

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Sawalha claims she created this recipe for herself and her father, who don’t favour fish. It’s true that white fish is often cooked lightly and delicately, and this richly spiced, tomatoey stew, flavoured with my favourites like paprika and cumin, enhanced with chickpeas, is a welcome change. It’s satisfying and, while I don’t know if it would convert someone who truly hates fish – I personally love fish, so this is alien to me – I think someone who is on the fence would enjoy it.

Coconut, prawn and mangetout curry [Delicious Dinner]

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A nice, easy curry, apparently based on a favoured takeaway dish, based on Madras curry paste, light coconut milk, mangetout  and prawns, thickened with ground almonds. The recipe asks for a tablespoon of brinjal pickle to be stirred into it at the end, but I skipped this step because I didn’t want to buy a jar of pickle specially for this recipe, as I doubted we’d eat the rest. I do think the pickle would have been a good addition, though, lifting and brightening the flavours with a sour edge. My version was a little bit soupier than the one photographed in the book. I served it with rice for a comforting, warming supper.

Lemony risotto [Delicious Dinner]

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This recipe serves two and so was extremely convenient for me, living as I do in a two-person household. The portion, while sufficient for me, was perhaps a little on the small side for a male non-dieter. The recipe is packed with vegetables: asparagus, petits pois, spring onions and watercress. I left out the watercress (I forgot to buy it, that’s all) and used a little bit of leek as the allium base instead of the spring onions. With the asparagus, peas, lemon and parmesan this recipe can’t be anything but bright, punchy and refreshing, despite the creaminess. I liked that parmesan cheese was included in the calorie count.

Risotto with seared scallops [Delicious Dinner]

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Another one that serves two. The portion is a decent-sized bowlful – the amount of rice is quite generous – sufficient for a non-dieter.

I used less oil than specified and skipped the light butter and the wine used to finish the scallops. The finished dish was perfectly rich-tasting and creamy without the fake butter so…why bother? Also, I didn’t have as much Arborio rice as required by the recipe – and hadn’t eaten all day – so added a little extra bacon. I used a whole pack of small Patagonian scallops instead of four larger ones.

Sirloin steak salad with creamy horeradish dressing [Delicious Dinner]

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I made a number of changes to this recipe of strips of griddled steak tossed with blanched green beans, salad, radishes and a dressing of horseradish and low-fat salad cream, served with grilled garlic bread. Firstly I shifted the register from English to French by using half-fat creme fraiche and instead of the salad cream and mustard instead of horseradish, which is not something I would ever ordinarily use. I also used baby leaf spinach instead of mixed leaf salad, rocket and watercress. I used more steak because the smallest packet I could buy in the supermarket was a little bigger than what was called for. This is a straightforward and undemanding salad to put together, but following the instructions for the garlic bread just resulted in the garlic falling off the bread and burning on the grill pan. However, grilling the bread did give it an amazing smokey flavour that made up for it not oozing with melted butter.

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Tandoori chicken with tzatziki [Delicious Dinner]

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A confession: I made this recipe in the evening after going to a friend’s birthday lunch, which had lasted about six hours and multiple rich, meaty courses. The chicken had marinated for about 36 hours and I cooked this up and fed it to my hungry boyfriend, but could not actually manage it myself. He liked it a lot and it smelled great. You marinate chicken in yoghurt, tandoori paste, ginger and spices, so the chicken is both tender and permeated with spice all the way through.

The recipe asks you to use two chicken breasts and two chicken drumsticks, but I only found drumsticks available in large, family-sized bags. Given that we don’t have a freezer, this would have been an impractical purchase, so I used four chicken breasts.

Pancakes with raspberry topping [Decadent Desserts]

010I had this for a more indulgent weekend breakfast rather than dessert and would characterise it as a ‘what’s not to love?’ kind of recipe, with flavours that almost anyone would enjoy. The pancakes – which are crepes, really, being thin – contain very little fat, just from the egg and the tiny bit of fat which remains in skimmed milk. As a result, despite cooking them on a very slick nonstick crepe pan, it was somewhat difficult to get them to release from the pan. Embrace the tears, I say – you’ll be slopping raspberry sauce over them anyway and that hides any imperfections.

For the raspberry topping, I used lemon juice instead of orange juice – orange juice would doubtless be better if you have a sweeter tooth or are serving to children. I also used frozen raspberries, as they were being cooked anyway and were cheaper than fresh; they broke down completely and became extremely liquid, but still tasted good. If you want a thicker, jammier sauce, use fresh.

Cookbook Review: ‘Greedy Girl’s Diet’, by Nadia Sawalha

Maintaining a calorie deficit is no joke. Between July 2015 and June 2016 I was consuming no more than between 1200-1400 calories a day while attempting to shed (what became) 24kg of weight. There were, obviously, exceptions to this rule – though surprisingly, I didn’t surpass my calorie allowance on my birthday or Christmas – but the majority of my days were in significant deficit, all faithfully tracked on MyFitnessPal.

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There are people who will disagree, but eating this way is actually quite exhausting. It makes work of what should be instinctive, turns meals into maths, and I found it very difficult to cook from my extensive cookbook collection simply because the calorie counts weren’t there, and sometimes it was too tiring and daunting to run it through MyFitnessPal’s recipe calculator only to discover it was well beyond my daily limit: the after-work conundrum of what to cook was magnified. On the other hand, I did need to eat with a very prescribed calorie limit in order to lose the weight I wanted to lose. This problem led to me buying up a lot of healthy-eating orientated cookbooks, the kind which are actually aimed at dieters and so will print the nutritional values on the recipe pages as a matter of course. (It also led me to multiple clean eating cookbooks. Enough said on that phase). While in this phase, desperately seeking inspiration, I found ‘Greedy Girl’s Diet’ in a charity shop and, after a bit of anxious leafing, was drawn in by the promise of quick meals where the hard work of calorie counting had been done for me.

img_0005I’d heard of Nadia Sawalha, the author of the book, but mostly know her as a winner of Celebrity Masterchef, and didn’t realise she was an actress (having acted in EastEnders, that perennial soap classic) and broadcaster prior to this. Notwithstanding popular cliches to the contrary, the cover of the book (see above), and it’s title and subtitle, really do say everything about what it will offer: a slim, happy Sawalha beaming, dressed in a (reasonably slinky) Little Black Dress, propped on the kitchen counter, whisking up what looks to be cupcakes, and the promise that you can ‘eat yourself slim with gorgeous, guilt-free food’. So this book is really, definitely, absolutely, unequivocally, aimed at women, then.

The introduction confirms it – in ‘My Secret’ Sawalha covers her dieting history, basically a potted history of “starving, bingeing, starving, bingeing and then starving and bingeing all over again, to no avail” and following every touted ‘miracle solution’ to the problem of an imperfect body, which, she verifies, have not worked for her. My own weight loss history is different – I have gained significant amounts of weight twice in my life as follows: I enter a stressful period of my life, eat to comfort myself, and then one day wake up loathing myself. I couldn’t entirely relate, but I think aspects of this story will resonate for most women. It was only when Sawalha realised she should be nourishing, not punishing, her body, that her approach to eating began to change. She also writes in a separate section about her relationship with exercise, characterised by dread, laziness and fear, and how she realised that, in order to start exercising, she would have to…start exercising. When I was very overweight, walking into the gym full of toned, ab-flashing women who were so expert on the machines made me tense and trembley, so yes, I could relate to this!

Moving on from the confessional, sisterly tone – you will like it or not, but you don’t have to read it either way – and on to the recipes, there are three sections: Come on, Break that Fast, which covers both quick weekday breakfasts and recipes more suited to weekends; Let’s Do Lunch, meals I characterise as slightly lighter and quicker, and Delicious Dinner.

Personally I found timg_0008he breakfast section the least inspiring. There are some nice recipe in there – I liked the berry pancakes, wide-awake seed bars and buckwheat pancakes – but most of them were not to my taste (scrambled egg and smoked trout, egg and bacon tomato pots) or weren’t really recipes, but more ideas (avocado toast, boiled eggs and soldiers, almond butter crumpets – literally just toasted crumpets and almond butter, but the recipe takes up a full page!). However, when it comes to breakfast I am one of those people who is very tied to a routine of eating the same things on a daily basis, punctuated by the occasional weekend variation, so for me, personally, this wasn’t so much of an issue. If you’re struggling to break out of a cereal and toast rut, however, other books may be better.

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So delicious – and I think it looks so appetising, too

Things did look up when it came to lunch. There’s a decent range of soups, which is important to me in almost any book, not just diet ones, because soup is what I typically take to work with me on a daily basis. Some of the recipes worked very well and were flavourful and filling, as advertised; the leek and potato soup, however, was miserably thin and could only really serve four if the four you were serving are very young children with tiny appetites (in fact its watery texture and pallid colour made me think of gruel, the Victorian invalid/workhouse staple). It didn’t fuel me at all and reminded me of ‘traditional’ diet food (the kind that sends you straight to the biscuit tin). However, the hearty Italian soup and the Marvellous minestrone (superlatives are common throughout the book) were brightly flavoured and kept me going for hours, so I can forgive the vichyssoise blip. Other lunch ideas were more suitable for someone who is lucky enough to work from home, such as the Lamb and Hummus pitta (I cooked it on a weekend), but, that being said, it was one of those punchy, filling dishes so full of flavour and texture that it truly belied the idea of diet food. It uses only 100g lean lamb for a recipe serving four but it was truly enough.

 

img_0015As with the breakfast recipes, the salad recipes were not really up my street, although the two I did try- chicken and avocado and beetroot and potato – were good enough. My boyfriend particularly raved about the chicken and avocado salad, which contains bacon (I do not really like chicken but I did like the dressing and avocado). The nice thing about this diet book is that you’re totally allowed to be eating bacon, chorizo, potatoes and cream – just used very moderately.

Most of the lunch recipes can be pulled together fairly snappily; the more time-consuming ones are appropriately under the heading of ‘Family Sunday Lunch’, albeit a small family; the recipes largely serve four. Most of them, again, were solid and definitely suitable for sharing, although the vegetarian comfort pie, a dish of stewed celery topped with mashed potatoes without butter, did not tempt me. It sounded a surprisingly austere and traditional note of deprivation and seemed quite old-fashioned amidst the pork meatballs and za’atar chicken and chicken tagine, so appetising and very delicious.

img_0017The Delicious Dinner chapter similarly includes different themes, including of course family-orientated recipes (serving four), such as Sinless Spaghetti Bolognaise (the twist is the use of turkey mince and addition of mushrooms) and Creamy Chicken Curry in a Hurry, a somewhat old-fashioned and unchallenging curry recipe which Sawalha admits is not one she would serve to guests. Based on korma paste, I imagine it’s a dish even the pickiest of children would eat. There’s also a chicken shawarma recipe which surprised me with its inclusion of gum mastic in the ingredients: despite the rise and rise of Middle Eastern food in the UK, this is still not something you can buy in standard supermarkets. Slightly fancier recipes are included in the ‘Dinner Party Goddess’ sub-section, including my stand-out dish of the book, the Prawn and Chorizo Rice Pot, which stretches 70g of chorizo among four diners in a way which will leave everyone satisfied. This dish is quick, it is utterly delicious, it combines my favourite things of prawn and chorizo and it clocks in at 367 calories per serving: I have made it many times and my boyfriend loves it, too. Finally, there’s a sub-section on ‘Dinner for Two’, which is always helpful for me given that typically I am serving just two. This section included such pleasing dinners as Coconut, Prawn and Mangetout Curry (Sawalha’s healthier remake of a takeaway dish, apparently!) and Lemony Risotto. The portions were generous and satisfying – in fact, the Tandoori Chicken recipe resulted in more chicken than I could eat, though this might speak more to my slightly reluctant relationship with chicken than anything else.

On the whole this is a very ‘accessible’ cookbook, by which I mean virtually every ingredient, with maybe two exceptions throughout the entire book, could be bought in a bog-standard supermarket; many of the ingredients could be ‘sourced’ from a corner shop or petrol station outlet if that’s all you had. However, sometimes this impulse to make things approachable rather than authentic does go too far, as when Sawalha calls for tinned crabmeat for her chilli, crab and lemon spaghetti. In fairness she does suggest using fresh rather than tinned in the head note, and do follow her advice: the tinned variety was an absolute abomination. It tasted like the smell of cat food. I am really not ‘above’ tinned fish – I am rather fond of tinned salmon, especially eaten with cut up fresh tomatoes and chips, as served in my grandparents’ home – but tinned crab just does not taste very nice. It would have served the book better if Sawalha had just acknowledged that this recipe should be made with a fresh, slightly more expensive shellfish.

img_0014My main quibble with a number of the recipes is that, for all that this is a diet book, Sawalha actually uses much more oil than would actually be needed – I’ve cut the oil asked for by as much as a third in her recipes and did not feel that they suffered. I was also not hugely delighted by the reliance on artificial ‘light’ products (such as light butter, light cream) in some recipes, but this was admittedly limited and understandable, given the publication’s raison d’etre.

Is this a must-have cookbook? I’m not so sure. Has it produced a series of solid meals, some of them outright delicious, which enabled me to stick to a restricted calorie plan without feeling deprived? Yes, most definitely. All diets require some element of balancing out, and this cookbook would help with that even if you’re not quite calorie counting on a regular basis. The recipes are accessible and the ingredients easy to get hold of. It is not a groundbreaking tome, but it is, barring exceptions, a reliable source for weeknight dinners, some of them very delicous and some reasonably unremarkable but good enough to eat. Whether that’s enough to give it a place on your bookshelf depends entirely on your priorities.

A full round-up of every recipe I cooked from the book will be posted soon.

London Bites: late-night desserts at Gelupo and Cutter and Squidge

Some time ago my friend Ariadne and I had one of the most middle class nights on the lash you can imagine, by which I mean we drank cocktails in Soho until I reeled and then, instead of piling into a greasy, garishly coloured meat palace for a late night kebab, we stumbled (literally in my case) into Cutter and Squidge on Brewer Street for some sweet pick-me-ups.

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I had heard of Cutter and Squidge before, and knew their bakery USP is their ‘biskies’, which they describe as a ‘unique, handmade sandwiched dessert’ and I call a sandwich cookie. So was I keen to try one. My lovely, much-less-drunk-than-I friend (I had in fairness drunk up most of her Negroni when she took a sip and said “It’s really bitter.” “Yeah…it’s a Negroni, dude,” I slurred, halfway through my Breakfast Sour already, to which she responded, “Umm…I thought that meant a sweet cocktail.”) and I dithered for a while in front of the display of ‘biskies’ before deciding that the Salted Caramel S’more was the only way to go. We also knew that we had to order a slice of cake to share as well because RULES, so we moved on from dithering over biskies to dithering over cake. We were clearly onto a kind of theme because we chose a wodge of the Peanut Caramel Pretzel cake, agreeing that to the marriage of salty and sweet we must admit no impediment. Note: the portions of cake are generous.

We parked ourselves in the corner of the bakery and proceeded to rip open the packaging to try our (almost) midnight treats. Sadly, we were both underwhelmed by both the bisky and the cake, which was a shame. I have read so much praise for this bakery, and the story behind it is sweet (it’s founded by two sisters) that I’d expected to absolutely love it.

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Bisky business

The bisky was all right: the base (and top) is a slightly soft-textured cookie, which the bakery refers to as a ‘cookie-cake’ hybrid but reminds me of slightly spongey whoopie pie shells (despite their protests to the contrary on their website!), or cakey snickerdoodles. It was dabbed within with salted caramel buttercream, which was really light-textured, which is Cutter and Squidge’s signature approach to buttercream. As so many buttercreams are, to my taste, overly cloying and heavy, sometimes even (gasp!) grainy, I did appreciate this. The gelatine-free salted caramel marshmallow had a hint of brown sugar and a floral depth that testified to good-quality ingredients; the texture was denser and stickier than the jet-puffed supermarket versions. There was also a slathering of salted caramel sauce topping off the fillings. But overall, I confess, it was not particularly distinguished. I am a pretty experienced caramel-maker and I bring my caramel so close to the brink of being burnt that it takes on a powerful, smokey complexity, a bitterness than belies the mass of sugar used to create it. Very few commercially-made recipes containing caramel will do this – I am very aware that my personal preference for caramel might be too dark for many – and consequently I always find them very sweet, unchallenging, and undistinguished. Overwhelmingly the impression was of a uniform sweetness applied over a variety of textures, and the promised ‘salt’ part of the caramel didn’t particularly materialise for me. Because the bisky was billed as a S’more, I would have expected, also, a toasted element, which was lacking.

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The Peanut, Caramel and Pretzel cake suffered similarly from sweetness and surprising blandness. The texture of the cake was lovely – soft, fluffy – and the buttercream texture was, as before, light and entirely suited to my taste. But the peanut butter buttercream tasted on the whole sweet and slightly bland, carrying too little peanut flavour, and the most memorable part of the whole thing was the commercial pretzels on the side. Kind of a shame, and I was surprised to come to this conclusion. The cake is damn beautiful to look at, though. Apparently the mission of Cutter and Squidge’s founders is to make cake cool, and visually their baked goods are entirely enticing.

But Cutter and Squidge is not the only place we have frequented in search of a late night sugar rush. We have also visited Gelupo, the gelato-focused offshoot of Jacob Kenedy’s regional Italian restaurant, Bocca di Lupo. The only thing I have ever eaten at Bocca di Lupo is a sweetened coffee dessert in 2012, which was delicious and memorable all these years later; Gelupo has been on my list for pretty much as long. I had a ricotta, coffee and honey gelato, and Ariadne had a flavour referred to, elusively, as Crema 101.

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Ricotta, coffee and honey, and the elusive Crema 101

I expected my gelato to be slightly sweeter and creamier than a standard, straight-up coffee gelato, and indeed it was. I couldn’t particularly pick out the ricotta and honey flavours, exactly, despite the recipe apparently using the powerhouse that is chestnut honey (the ‘castagno‘ sold by From Field and Flower at Borough Market is markedly, distinctively bitter and smokey – just the way I cook my caramel, in fact!). The gelato overall was mellow and milky; a comforting flat white rather than a bitter and punchy espresso. The texture was soft and delicate, which complemented the flavours. Overall, there was nothing wrong with this gelato, but it wasn’t to my personal preference, which, I discovered with each bite, is for a very singular, robust and pure flavour carried through the medium of cream or milk. The coffee flavour was too diluted for me, and I prefer the ever-so-slightly firmer set of gelato I’ve eaten in Corsica and Croatia (I have been to Italy. I just didn’t eat gelato there). In actual fact, my very favourite iced dessert texture is the slightly chewiness of Turkish ice cream, which contains gum mastic, making it stretchy. It’s very unusual and recommended, if you can find it.

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The ‘Crema 101’ was a very pure, creamy flavour, like a sweetened, cold, rich milk. There was something simultaneously nostalgic about it – recalling a memory of drinking unhomogenised gold-top milk straight from the fridge in Belgium (God knows where my mother found it) –  and yet it also being very plain and, if I’m honest, a little dull. It’s the kind of thing that might come to life set against, say, a syrupy slick of ripe red strawberries diced and macerated with a teaspoon of sugar and a drop of balsamic vinegar, but on its own fails to sing.

Video: May 2016 Food Favourites

It’s late in the month – May is a memory – but I still wanted to share some of the great food, drink and cooking items which have crossed, or in some cases recrossed, my path in May. Once again featuring cookbooks (by Diana Henry and Thane Prince), my dish of the month (a really rather good Thai seafood salad), a spectacular restaurant, a new way to keep cut fruit and veg fresher, great breakfast items, a delicious snack and – of course – and new, excellent tea. I hope you all enjoy watching!