Postcard from Hastings

Hastings’ burnt-out pier is a sad reminder of the town’s one-time seaside splendour.

The houses cluster against the cliffs, a mixture of curved Victorian terraces in pretty pastel colours, tall whitewashed townhouses arranged around grassy squares, a few grand mansions with big art-deco windows looking out to sea, and – tucked up winding passages – little crooked pubs and cottages with wooden beams that date back to the 1600s.

The new Jerwood Gallery has divided opinion in the town, but in truth it doesn’t look out of place next to the iconic fishermen’s huts.

Gillian Ayres’ Hampstead Mural

We’ve still not managed to secure a table in this, possibly the most sought-after restaurant in Hastings. By day it’s a higgledy-piggledy bookshop; by night it becomes a tiny Thai restaurant where diners can eat amidst the books. There’s no menu as such, as the owners cook to your preference using authentic ingredients flown from Thailand. I’ve seen this mentioned in a lot of London press lately so it’s only bound to get busier. Better book ahead next time…

But for Sunday lunch, it’s definitely about the Dragon Bar in the Old Town…

…where the menu also included an original take on the locally caught cod, with a fennel and champagne sauce:

Honestly the best in Brixton Village

Definitely my favourite hole-in-the-wall at Brixton Village, Honest burgers are bloody good. The premise is thoroughly uncomplicated: take a burger, and make every element of it amazing in its own right…

Meat: aged beef from the Ginger Pig. Juicy and fat, served on the pink side of medium.

Bread: light, airy, brioche buns with crisp, glazed tops. Gluten-free an option.

Fillings: the perfect number of options to choose from (no ridiculous long list as per GBK). Some are classic, others adventurous, and all delightful and sourced as you’d expect. The ‘special’ changes regularly. This weekend, options included: chorizo from Brindisa (where else?), dry-cured smoked bacon (from Ginger Pig), Manchego cheese, caramelised red onion relish, fresh rocket, punchy chimichurri, braised chillies.

Chips: TRIPLE-fried (!!!) with rosemary. Skinny but not too skinny. Utterly moreish.

Drink: this weekend I was treated to hot cider. What better on a snowy Saturday night? They also sell a great Sam Smith’s bottled lager.

Price: a million, zillion times cheaper than Byron and GBK (and much, much nicer!).

(c) Aidan Brown 2011

As you may have gathered, I’m a big fan. And I’m certainly not alone — Honest has had some pretty high-profile press coverage of late, including from Jay Rayner (fellow Brixton-dweller), who has sung their praises in the Observer on more than one occasion. It’s not surprising therefore that it gets quite busy, so it’s worth getting down there early, or at least in enough time to pop your name on the list — we arrived at 8pm and waited 45 minutes. But it’s easy to kill time in the village. Grab a can from the offy on Coldharbour Lane and wander round checking out the other joints and gazing into the windows of the vintage stores and gift shops. Or nip across to the Dogstar for a pint.

Clever ways with mince: Turkey burgers

‘Frugal’ is a buzzword right now. And turkey mince is one of the most frugal meat ingredients you can lay your hands on.  

Apart from at Christmas, the poor turkey plays second fiddle to chicken. And when it comes to mince, turkey gets forgotten in favour of beef. But if you’re concerned with cost, minced turkey pips them both at the post.

I paid just £2 for 500g of turkey thigh mince from Sainsbury’s. Compare this to the average price of £3.50 for the same amount of beef. Turkey also contains 65% less fat. So it’s kinder on your wallet and your wobbly bits.

I made the mince into these burgers, quick to assemble and easy to adapt with whatever you have in the fridge. Mine are pretty frugal, but if you want something a bit fancier, try Yotam Ottolenghi’s version, which were my inspiration here. I highly recommend brushing them with the sweet chilli mixture as they come out of the oven. It sets into a beautiful glaze with a distinctive sweet and tangy taste.

Recipe after the cut… Continue reading

Better late than never: Festive carrot cakes

What better way to brighten these frosty February days than with a twinkly reminder of the festive season we just left behind? Ha! The truth is I’ve just been too busy to keep up with posts. So apologies for harking back to 2011 but I feel it would be a shame not to celebrate these:

Concealed inside is a rich carrot sponge, with cinnamon and nutmeg, heaps of orange and lemon zest and a helping of preserved mixed peel (the type that normally makes it into xmas puds). Cake-decorating gurus stress the importance of a strong, firm cake that can hold the weight of plentiful decorations, so the basic sponge is adapted from a Mich Turner recipe (from this book). Once baked, I skewered the sponge and drowned it in Mich’s sugary citrus syrup, then sandwiched it with orange buttercream. I’m not such a fan of marzipan, so I gave both cakes an undercoat of the same orange buttercream, before their topcoat of white sugarpaste.

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Spiced ambercup squash soup with coconut milk

I’m so behind with my blogging. I have the utmost respect for anyone who manages to post once a week. As for those who do it daily – I bow down to you. Life has taken over recently, so here I am posting a very belated autumn recipe with blatant disregard for seasonality. Don’t go looking for ambercups now; you’ll be sorely disappointed….

Anyway, back in November, I was wandering around Brixton farmers’ market and found myself captivated by the crates of amazing squashes. Beautiful things in every shape and size: smooth, knobbly, bulbous, bent, some fat and round; others twisted and otherworldly; a rainbow of orange, yellow, gold and green.

This ambercup squash took my fancy. Like a miniature pumpkin, with a typical round shape, deep orange hue, lovely stripes and a contrasting green tip. I bought a couple and they sat on my kitchen windowsill looking pretty for a week.

Then I made them into this soup. It would have been quick and simple, had my stick blender not exploded in my face. Luckily the soup survived, as did my eyebrows – just! – but a chunky texture wasn’t floating my boat, so the soup was temporarily abandoned and confined to the freezer until Amazon delivered my spanking new Breville appliance.

It was worth the wait. When – days later – I finally puréed the soup and blended in coconut milk, the outcome was silky smooth, mildly spiced and nutty.

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Vanilla cake balls with hand-made chocolate roses

These little beauties are made of vanilla sponge, rolled into balls with some Hummingbird frosting and dipped in white chocolate.

They’re finished with chocolate roses, hand-modelled from white chocolate modelling paste and dusted with gold lustre.

I’m rather proud of them.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been editing the text for a cake-decorating book. So feeling very inspired, I decided to have a bash at some hand modelling.

I’ve also, for ages, been meaning to make cake pops – and in fact that’s what these were originally intended to be, but I somehow forgot to order the sticks. Duh. But it didn’t matter really because they were still divine and in the end much smaller and simpler to transport.

Here’s how they’re made… Continue reading

Melting lamb tagine

I was given this tagine dish for my birthday this year. My boyfriend got it so right.

It sits proudly on our kitchen shelf, all sleek and beautiful and modern. It’s quite different to traditional Moroccan tagines, which are made of terracotta and can be intricately painted (I’d love one of those someday too, but I’m holding out for an authentic one from Marrakech), but what makes mine brilliant is that you can use it on the hob and in the oven  – very convenient, as it means you can fry the onions and spices on the stove, brown the meat, then bung it all straight into the oven for its long, slow cooking.

Lamb tagine is possibly my all-time favourite dish, when it’s done how I like it. I don’t have time for watery ones. It must be thick and textured; oozing with onions; sweet and gooey; fragrant but not too spicy. It must include sticky dates, must be scattered with flaked almonds, must have fresh coriander on top and cool yogurt on the side. The couscous, ideally, is lemony, and on the grainy side rather than soggy or wet. It’s my ‘turn-to’ recipe when we have people for dinner, and a satisfying feast on a Sunday.

I’d always choose it over a roast.

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Sticky Szechwan duck with star anise and dauphinoise potatoes (and abandoned veg)

We’ve decided to save cash by eating in on Friday nights. The rule is that we have to do something fancy, so that we don’t feel cheated out of restaurant-standard food. It also must be a recipe that will teach us both something new. On this occasion I really wanted duck. And Duncan wanted something Oriental. So this recipe satisfied us both.

Buying duck breasts in a supermarket isn’t easy. While they have chicken breasts of every shape and provenance, duck is limited to whole birds, crowns, legs or ready-sauced, ready-to-rip-you-off packs that don’t welcome your own flavours. So we bought a Gressingham crown – pricy but great quality – and Dunc had a bash at jointing off the wings and removing the breast meat from the carcass. New skill number one!

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Butterscotch pecan cheesecake

The trouble with baking cakes is that I always end up eating them. And nobody needs a whole cheesecake to themselves (especially this one, which contains a criminal amount of Philadelphia). Even if I somehow limit myself to just a slice, the rest taunts me from the fridge, gradually disappearing in sneaky spoonfuls until: Ooops…I appear to have eaten the whole thing!

So when Dunc had friends for dinner last Friday, I figured a crowd of hungry blokes was a good excuse to make something indulgent that would be polished off fast enough to safeguard my waistline. (As it was, the cake turned out pretty rich – though in a good way – so it even outdid four ravenous men. It was still fresh enough two days later to double up as afters for Sunday lunch.)

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Chicken, chorizo and cider pot pies

When your boyfriend declares ‘I think this is the best thing you’ve ever cooked for me’, you know the dish in question must be posted on your blog.

These pies use some of our absolute favourite ingredients: chorizo, cider, and – for me – pastry. I just love pastry, be it puff/shortcrust/filo/whatever. And I’m sure I can’t be the only person who also likes to eat it raw, soft and squishy and sinful, with its uncooked egg and high percentage of butter. I buy extra just to ensure enough offcuts for snackage. Of course I like it cooked, too, crisp and golden, holding fast against the soggy threat of a creamy sauce.

And am I the only person rallying against the ready-rolled sheet? Too many rolling pins must lurk forgotten at the back of kitchen drawers. I enjoy wielding mine, shaking it at anyone who dares enter my kitchen. There’s something therapeutic about rolling out a pastry block; a certain nostalgia about the image of floury hands, dusty apron, and white specks in your hair. But romantic notions aside, the ready-rolled sheet is lazier and more expensive than a pastry block and the end-result is normally no different, except perhaps slightly more uniform (i.e. boring).

Anyway, Duncan was right: these pies are really great. We noticed a slight Thai note to them: quite mysterious since they use none of the requisite ingredients, but I put it down to the tang from the chorizo; the way its sweetness bleeds into the cream, making it reminiscent of coconut milk; and the tarragon – a flavour just unfamiliar enough to seem a little bit exotic. So thank you Delicious magazine for feeding me well and earning me good-girlfriend points. (I earned even more by letting Dunc polish off the rest of the cider.)

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