Archive for the ‘British’ Category

For the last year I have collected glass jars. At first this was because some friends of mine were getting married and they needed many jam jars for decorating the venue, but then the venue changed and I just kept collecting jars. I carefully scrubbed the labels off pots of mustard, sundried tomatoes, honey and cocktail gherkins. It turns out I eat a lot of cocktail gherkins, enough to make me worry that I might be damaging myself with all that vinegar. But anyway, I digress.

Yesterday I realised that there was no more room in my jar cupboard and something would have to be done. I also took a moment to wonder what 18 year-old me would think about 28 year-old me having my own cupboard full of jars.

I selected a jar and pickled some spring onions and fennel adapting a Jamie Oliver recipe from the December issue of the Sainsbury’s magazine. I don’t think of these as a wintery condiment though. They belong to early spring when the days are getting longer and the suggestion to eat outside is an eccentric one rather than just plain mad. They are exactly the right colour.

To make some pickled vegetables measure out enough white wine vinegar to fill a jar, bearing in mind the veg will take up some room. Heat the vinegar in a saucepan along with some fennel seeds, a cinnamon stick, the peel of a clementine and a teaspoon of sugar. For one large jar of pickle I used half a teaspoon of fennel seeds, half a cinnamon stick and the peel of one clementine. Bring the vinegar mixture to the boil. Sterilise the jar you will use (just boil it in a pan or put it in the sink and pour boiling water from the kettle over it). Place the prepared vegetables in the jar and pour over the boiling vinegar mix. In about a week the pickles will be ready to eat. Jamie says they will keep for a few months unopened but, being the kind of person who happily eats around the mould on old cheddar, I would easily double that.


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I really wanted to love the Icecreamists, the self-proclaimed agents of cool bringing ice cream, rock and gratuitous nudity to the masses from Selfridges until the 1st  November. On two occasions I lured friends there with the promise of ice cream-themed excitement. Unfortunately on both occasions the experience was a bit of a let down.


For the record the ice cream itself is very good and so surely anything more is just an added extra; the literal cherry on top of the knickerbockerglory. The Icecreamists certainly have added many cherries by marketing the venue as not just an ice cream parlour but also a pop-up, a music venue, plus there are allusions to fashion pretensions on the website. There is a fun punk theme and on the first night I was there a lady stood awkwardly next to an ice cream van clad in nothing but leather underwear and an American style police hat looking as if she had just stepped off the set of a George Michael video. I know some people love a token nude female, a few of the back-packed tourists who had somehow wandered down to this den of iniquity looked thrilled, I however find it really boring and about as modern as a Miss World contest.


Rose ice cream

Rose ice cream


I first visited on the opening night. I had requested tickets on facebook and, through a combination of the fevered message of congratulations I had received on ‘winning’ and my own excitement, I really thought we were in for a treat. Instead we stood in a queue for a while with a bunch of people who seemed as confused as we were. I won’t go into the ins and outs of where it went wrong but basically our names were never taken and a boy of about 15, skinny jeans worn so tight I feared for his fertility, led us nonchalantly to a large communal table. The boy seemed to have as little idea of what was going on as we did and at one point asked us where some other customers had gone. He thought they had left without paying but I explained to him that he had never actually taken their order and after about 15 minutes waiting they had left.


On this evening the alcoholic ice cream cocktails were off the menu as they were still in development so we settled for a rose flavoured ice cream which was an eye watering £5 a scoop. The £5 gets you a generous scoop in a plastic cup. No cream, no biscuit, no plate, not even real cutlery like you get at the Wimpy. With prices as high as they are you need never forget you are in the basement of Selfridges. The music was good but loud which is weird outside of a club.


Absinthe in a drip - if they had actualy injected it into my vein that would have been fun.

Absinthe in a drip - if they had actualy injected it into my vein that would have been fun.


 The following day I saw that the organisers had apologised on facebook for some of the teething issues and so I decided to email them about it. As a result I was offered another opportunity to visit and try two ice cream cocktails on the house. So last week, with a spring in my step and a new-found faith in the power of complaining, I descended into the depths of my third favourite department store. This time the place was dead. There was no band and the staff outnumbered customers. Clearly Tuesday is not the night when the cool kids go for ice cream.


The staff were very helpful and pleasant. We were treated to the Sex Pistol cocktail and something which I think was called the Molatoffee cocktail, £19.99 and £16.99 respectively. I know, my hands are sweating too. These are probably the most expensive cocktails I have ever ordered, and I can only thank the very generous organisers for offering us these. If I were to spend £20 on a cocktail in real life there would be some pretty hefty stipulations including, but not limited to, a crystal glass; inclusion of all the major spirits; some sort of gold leaf flotsam; a side order of nibbles; a very comfy chair and a breath-taking view. So naturally the ice cream cocktails were a little disappointing.


The sex pistol cocktail was two scoops of delicious ‘viagra’ ice cream in a martini glass with a shard of James Martin–style melted sugar on top. The waitress dragged along a medical drip with two bags filled with absinthe attached. She then decanted a shots worth of absinthe from the drip to a glass. This we were instructed to pour over the ice cream. Likewise the Molotoffee ice cream was served in a martini glass with a shot of brandy on the side. The Sex Pistol cocktail was nice enough although we couldn’t help but feel we’d just ruined a £20 portion of ice cream by covering it in medicinal booze. As to the claims that this cocktail was a natural Viagra, let’s just say no insatiable lust was apparent at any stage of the evening. The Molotoffee ice cream was a combination of incredibly sweet and incredibly alcoholic. I’m sorry to say it just didn’t work for me. Neither of these were right as a cocktail but I expect with prices like these they are rarely ordered.


The Sex Pistol cocktail.

The Sex Pistol cocktail.


I think there is a great idea here that, with lower prices, could be brilliantly marketed at teenagers who want to socialise somewhere that isn’t a cinema or a shopping centre. It can be tiring trying to look over 18 and a trendy ice cream parlour with live music could be a great solution. While the high prices and the basement location didn’t do it for me I think maybe I’m not the target audience, there are a lot of teenagers in Selfridges who wouldn’t blink an eye at a £5 scoop of ice cream.

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Pear and Malteser Crumble



Everybody likes crumble. Well, maybe there are a handful of murderers, paedophiles and terrorists who aren’t keen on it but as a rule of thumb all right-thinking people love crumble.


Crumble reigns supreme over other puddings because it is so impossible to make a mess of. No matter how depressed, stressed or tired you are feeling. No matter if you are a child, elderly or infirm. Nigel Slater has written very movingly about his mother’s crumble in his memoir Toast and since reading this book the very act of preparing crumble always gives me a fleeting lump in my throat. Crumble was already a sentimental and bucolic pudding and Nigel Slater has now connected it inextricably with Mums.



I don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about possible crumble recipes, I tend to throw in some ginger, cinnamon or chocolate with whatever fruit is available. Maltesers however came to me in a flash of inspiration and I bought the ingredients with this recipe in mind. The result is a pear and chocolate crumble but with a gooey, slightly chewy malty taste which is delicious.


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Sausage rolls



As a child the only sausage rolls I can remember eating were those made by my Grandma. Her pastry was, and still is, beautifully light and crumbly. The sausage rolls she served us were a thousand miles away from the flaccid lumps served in bakeries up and down the country.




I’m not quite sure why these manufactured sausage rolls taste so awful. It’s surely a combination of the industrial pastry and the fatty sausage meat which sweats within leaving the pastry drenched.  These sausage rolls deposit a thin film of grease onto any surface with which they come into contact. Eating them is a sordid act carried out in private.




No good can come from something which is so utterly unattractive. Kept lukewarm by a couple of halogen bulbs and served by a girl whose eyes are filled with despair, the small paper bag quickly turns translucent as the fat leaks out.


I’d like to say that this type of sausage roll typifies everything that is wrong with British food but that sort of Jamie Oliver hand-wringing drives me mad. I’ve had plenty of terrible croque monsieurs in France. Our sausage roll-failures are not a uniquely British problem but we do lack the confidence of the French in our national cuisine. Rather than accept that these mass-produced sausage rolls are a bad version of a beautiful thing, as the French man recognises the odd dud croque monsieur as an anomaly, as a nation we have come to regard all sausage rolls as junk food or, at best, an unsophisticated party snack for children.




The sausage roll has been debased by mass-production and the fallacy that there isn’t a dish on earth which can’t be made in a factory, vacuum-packed and reheated in the microwave. Our taste-buds are the clearest indicator that this is a nonsense. Making a sausage roll at home is easy, inexpensive and the results are a reminder that the English make excellent, homely food. It may sometimes lack the refinement of French cuisine but it is just as inventive and it stems from the same historical traditions.




To make sausage rolls all you need is some pastry and sausage meat. I have added sun-dried tomatoes and rosemary. In the past I have incorporated apple, raisins, all manner of herbs and sometimes nothing at all.


I may have completely undermined my above criticisms by using a ready-made puff pastry. In my defence puff pastry is tricky to make and if you are pushed for time there is nothing ostensibly wrong with using the ready made stuff. I always make my own short crust pastry because I don’t find the ready-made stuff as good but I can’t produce a decent puff pastry in a short space of time.






500 g puff or short crust pastry

450g sausage meat

4-5 sun-dried tomatoes

1 small onion

Sprig of rosemary

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp brown sugar or honey

1 egg yolk

Grated parmesan cheese (optional)


Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.


Fry the onion in the oil until it turns translucent. Season and add the sugar or honey to caramelise the onions. Finely chop the rosemary, dice the sun-dried tomatoes and add this to the onions. Fry for another minute then leave to cool.


Once cool add this mixture to the raw sausage meat, mix thoroughly.


Roll out the pastry into a large rectangle shape. The pastry should be about ½ cm thick. Cut the pastry down the middle so that you are left with two rectangles (see picture). Divide the sausage meat between the two rectangles of pastry and form the meat into a long sausage shape down the middle of each pastry rectangle. The pastry can then be rolled up, the ends sealed and the whole thing brushed with the egg yolk.


Use a serrated knife to cut the sausage rolls to the size you want and place on a tray lined with greased parchment paper. I was making quite small rolls in the pictures for nibbles but there is nothing to stop you making larger ones. Before putting the rolls in the oven I sprinkled a little grated parmesan on top. The rolls take about 15 minutes to cook but it depends on your oven so just keep an eye on them, they are ready when the pastry is golden brown and the sausage meat is cooked.

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