Giggling Squid; a new menu to make anyone smile

Crispy duck and lychee bites

Last night I was lucky to be treated to a taste of the new menu at Giggling Squid, Wimbledon. The restaurant, which is a favourite amongst locals, offers an authentic Thai cuisine cooked by authentic Thai chefs in all their restaurants and there really is no aspect of dining there that disappoints. From the exquisite décor, to the friendly-yet-polite service, and then to the deliciously delightful food, Giggling Squid has it all.

Salt and pepper squid

And the new menu doesn’t disappoint. The evening began with a selection of starters, including the classics spicy prawn crackers, pork dumplings, and spring rolls. My particular favourites, that I’ll definitely be going back for, were the salt and pepper squid in a light crispy coating and the crunchy duck and lychee bites; both highly recommended! For the main course I chose the Rising Star Red Duck Curry, juicy confit with pretty star fruits and pea aubergine in a red curry sauce, which I had with a side of jasmine rice. When asked how it was there was only one word I could find: “special”. I really do think I chose well, the only problem I have now is that I’m so in love with this dish will I try any of the others?!

Rising Star Red Duck Curry

The new menu was definitely a hit with the eight influencers and food bloggers sitting around the table, and I’d urge anyone who loves authentic Thai cuisine to book a table there today!

The chain are celebrating the new menu with an online competition – with first prize being a Giggling Squid meal cooked for up to 10 people in your own home!
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Valentine’s Day rose creams

I’m a big fan of homemade gifts; to me they show far more thought (they’re so easily personalised) and are made with love and imagination (although flowers and jewellery are still gratefully accepted ). These rose creams are pretty, easy to make and are as sweet as the person you’re giving them to!

Ingredients

1 egg white

14oz icing sugar

2 teaspoons of rose water

A dash of pink food colouring

 

Method

Mix the egg white with the icing sugar, rose water and food colouring (I like to use my Kenwood mixer) until it makes a pink paste – see, I told you they were easy to make! Lightly dust a rolling mat with icing sugar and roll out until its around 5mm thick and cut out into pretty hearts, flowers or any other shape you choose. Leave to dry for around an hour or so. These look so charming in a lovely gift box, or on a pretty vintage plate.

Chorizo and olive macaroni cheese; a taste of summer with winter comfort

I love the first part of winter – the novelty jumpers, looking forward to Christmas, smells of gingerbread, mulled wine and clementines – but there comes a time during winter that I start to really miss the summer; my sunny holidays and the taste of Mediterranean food. This dish brings together winter comfort food with the flavours of summer holidays in such a delicious way!

Ingredients:

1oz butter

1oz plain flour

1.5 pints of milk

7oz cheese grated

1 Chorizo

20 black olives, halved

9oz macaroni or conchiglie

Method

Slice the chorizo and fry in a non-stick pan. You’ll find the chorizo leaves oil in the pan. Remove the slices of chorizo and add the butter to the chorizo oil and then, over a low heat, stir in the flour to make a roux. By using the chorizo oil with the butter you’ll give your roux a lovely zing! Once you’ve made the roux, gradually add the milk, still over a lowish heat, until you have a sauce. Thicken the sauce by adding the cheese and stir in the slices of chorizo and the olive halves. You don’t want the sauce to be too thick as it will naturally thicken as the macaroni cooks in the oven.

Place the dry macaroni in a dish and pour the sauce over the top, covering entirely. Cook in an oven on gas mark 5 for 30 minutes. This is quite a rich dish so I like to serve it with a crisp salad or some fresh broccoli stems.

Chocolate orange Battenberg cake

This cake is for my Dad. He’s always loved Battenberg cake and the smell of an orange being peeled doesn’t remind me of him for no reason! So I decided to bring the two together for this delicious chocolate orange Battenberg cake.

Ingredients
Chocolate cake
6oz butter
6oz sugar
3 eggs
4oz self raising flour
2oz cocoa powder

Orange cake
6oz butter
6oz sugar
3 eggs
6oz self raising flour
The zest of one orange
Orange food colouring

Thin cut marmalade or marmalade
Marzipan
Icing sugar for dusting

Method
To make the chocolate cake:
Cream the butter and then add the sugar. Add the three eggs, one at a time, and mix well to give the mixture airy volume. Sift in the flour and cocoa and mix, but not for long (I usually mix for no more than 10 seconds building from a slow setting to the highest within that time). Put in a greased and lined tray bake tin and bake on 150 for around 30 minutes or until it passes the skewer test.

To make the orange cake:
Cream the butter and then add the sugar. Add the three eggs, one at a time, and mix well. Sift in the flour and then fold in the orange zest and orange food colouring. If you want to give it a bit of extra oomph add a capful of orange essence. Put into a greased and lined tray bake tin and bake on 150 for around 30 minutes or until it passes the skewer test.

Once the cakes are cooked and cooled, cut them both into four long strips. Build your Battenberg cake by placing an orange strip on top of a chocolate strip that you’ve already painted with the marmalade. Place next to another chocolate and orange ‘bunkbed’ cake, with marmalade between both – you need to make sure you’ve created a checkerboard effect rather than stripes! Roll out the marzipan on a dusting of icing sugar making sure you’ve rolled the icing into a size that will fully wrap around your stacked cakes. Paint the marzipan with the marmalade (I find it helps to warm the marmalade in the microwave first to get it to spread a bit thinner) and place the stacked cakes in the middle. Fold the marzipan up, overlapping slightly. You can seal the marzipan with either some marmalade or for something a little bit boozy – you know me, I just can’t resist! – run some Cointreau along the edge before sealing. Finally, roll your Battenberg in the icing sugar, making sure each side is lightly coated. Slice and enjoy!

A fine and dandy candy Christmas cake

If you’re not a fan of fruit cake or winter spices, this is a great Christmas cake alternative…

Ingredients

12oz butter

12 oz sugar

6 eggs

12oz self-raising flour or 9oz self-raising flour and 3oz cocoa powder

For the icing:

6oz butter at room temperature

12oz icing sugar

Peppermint essence

Milk (a dash)

Candy canes to decorate

 

Method

Cream the butter until soft and then add the sugar. Add the eggs, one by one, and mix until the wet mixture is even. Sift in the flour and mix again but not for long as you don’t want to beat the air out of it. Put the mixture into two 8” tins that you’ve greased and lined and pop in the oven on 150 for around 30 minutes or until golden. Remember to make sure the cakes pass the skewer test!

To make the icing cream the butter and add the icing sugar and peppermint essence. Add the milk a little bit at a time until you’re happy with the consistency. Mix and then mix some more! You’re your icing is light and fluffy spread a layer on top of the first cake and place the second cake on top. Cover the whole cake with the remaining icing and decorate with the candy canes – I chose to crush the candy canes and sprinkle on the top and around the edge but you can be as creative as you want with. Cut a slice and make a Christmas wish and you never know, it may come true…

Yen Burger – a new kind of burger in Borough

I love a burger, possibly a bit more than the next person, and so when I receive an email telling me that a new burger restaurant is opening in Borough, I tend to get rather excited!

Located a short distance from London’s famous foodie-favourite Borough Market, Yen Burger, a Japanese-inspired restaurant, opened its doors in November and it wasn’t long afterwards that lovely Livvie and I headed there to find out exactly how good the burgers were.

 We sat by the bar, which is beautifully decorated with pretty cherry blossom overhead and has a refreshingly unpredictable range of cocktails. We started with a cocktail each; I chose Wild Flowers (hibiki, blackberry, lime, and cranberry) and Livvie chose a Fuzzy Guava (vodka, prosecco, peach schnapps, orange, and lemon). Having also tried the Long Night (gin, whisky, rum, Cointreau, vodka, and ginger ale) – which tastes just like childhood sweets refreshers – I feel confident in saying that whichever cocktail you choose you won’t be disappointed. While they’re standard London prices it did feel like we were getting a bit more alcohol per cocktail than some places offer too, so we were happy.

 Onto the food; our friendly waitress didn’t show any judgement when we ordered two burgers and FOUR sides – the sides were all just too tempting! Livvie chose the Finest Chick (coconut panko chicken breast, slaw, shiso, tomato, red onion, and mango sauce) and I decided to go for the Yen Burger (100% wagyu beef batty, lettuce, shiso, pickles, red onion, smoked turkey bacon, yen sauce, and cheese), named after the food entrepreneur behind the restaurant. At £10 and £12 respectively the burgers weren’t cheap, but for that part of London it’s not unexpected to pay that much for a burger, and the burgers themselves didn’t disappoint. The flavours of the Finest Chick were delightfully put together and just melted in your mouth. The Yen Burger was huge but I didn’t waste a bite, it was that delicious! The beef was also melt-in-your-mouth delicious and, although slightly over-cooked for my personal taste (I’d have a burger super-rare if I could!) other than the colour it didn’t appear over cooked. So maybe I could be converted to the church of the well-done burger if the beef is good enough…

 There’s an interesting range of sides – a cross between a Japanese noodle house and a burger bar, which while ordinarily would be an unusual combination it’s what you’d expect at Yen Burger. We chose the Gyoza – which were light and crisp and the best gyoza I’ve had in a long time! – and Halloumi and Mango along with more standard burger fare of Dashi Chips and Sweet Potato Chips. While I’m a big fan of anything sweet potato, I think when I go back, I’d stick to the gyoza or maybe try the Pomegranate Salad for something lighter. It wasn’t easy, but we did manage to finish it all! Ordinarily I’d say you really don’t need four sides between two of you (we wanted to try a range though, for the benefit of our readers!) but if you are hungry the sides don’t break the bank ranging from £3 to £4.90.

 I would recommend Yen Burger, although I do think it leans more towards the burger than Japanese cuisine, so as long as you know this in advance you shouldn’t be disappointed!

Show room show off

Last month I was invited to give a live baking demonstration at Culina, a local kitchen showroom that was celebrating its first birthday. Very exciting! My kitchen at home isn’t fancy and the one in the shop is fit for purpose but not luxurious by any stretch of the imagination so it was really nice to go along and bake in such a shiny, modern kitchen.

I wanted to keep things simple; I was aware that, being a live event, there was plenty of opportunity for it to go wrong (with me at the helm? Never!). I decided to go for my basic cupcake recipe, which would give those watching the opportunity to choose which flavours we added. Both lavender and chocolate chip were popular choices on the day, so I decided to mix things up and make chocolate chip and lavender cupcakes – which went down a treat!

The flavour that was chosen for the biscuits was cherry and vanilla – delicious! It’s so easy with these basic recipes to just add whatever else you like to create your own, favourite biscuits. And then it’s up to you whether you share them!

 

Chocolate and lavender cupcakes – makes 12

Ingredients

8oz butter

8oz sugar

4 eggs

8oz self-raising flour

A bar of dark chocolate, chopped

A handful of culinary lavender

Method

Soften the butter and cream together with the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time and mix in. Sift in the flour and mix again, but not for long (you don’t want to beat the air out of the cake mix!). Stir in the chopped chocolate and lavender and then fill cupcake cases. I use an ice-cream scoop to measure out the mixture evenly and fill the cases to the same level.

Bake in the oven (150) for around 20 minutes or until golden. Icing can be added to taste once cooled.

Cherry and vanilla biscuits

Ingredients

4oz butter

4oz sugar

A few drops of vanilla essence

8oz plain flour

1 egg

A handful of glace cherries, chopped

Method

Soften the butter and then cream together with the sugar. Add the egg and vanilla essence and mix well before sifting in the flour and mixing. Add the chopped cherries into the dough before rolling out on a floured surface. Roll the dough flat and use cutters to cut into shapes. Place on a baking tray and cook in the oven (150) for around 12 minutes or until golden. Cool off before lifting from the baking tray so they don’t break. Enjoy with a lovely cup of tea!

Carrots and country; hitting the right notes with cake

Last November was a fun month for me with lots of bookings and events at Willow Bough and a lot of nights out with plenty of fabulous live music. Definitely a work hard, party hard month! I was lucky that one of my favourite musicians, Charlie Worsham, came over to the UK to support the wonderful Lucie Silvas and I’d booked tickets to see them in Islington on 13 November. However, Charlie wanted a bit more of London than just one night it seemed…

Charlie played a Warner Music event which I was lucky enough to attend at the end of October. The following day, my friend Caroline interviewed him for Think Country and snuck in a sneaky fan question: “What’s your favourite cake?” She also said, “I think you’re going to know the girl who asked this” to which Charlie replied, “I think I do…” – I clearly have a reputation!

I then saw Charlie play at a free gig at Gail’s Bakery on Tottenham Court Road (as one of four acts playing that night) on 2 November and was due to see him again in a small café in Chiswick where he would play for just 50 people on Sunday 5 November. I felt so lucky to enjoy Charlie and his music live three times in as many weeks having only paid £5 for the privilege (honestly, if you’ve seen Charlie live you’ll know just how fortunate I was). This seemed a somewhat unfair deal to Charlie – although a marvellous one for me! – and so I wanted to do something to say thank you. So back to the question of Charlie’s favourite cake; while he admitted that all cake was great, his favourite is carrot cake. Back at the shop I set about making a carrot cake like no other carrot cake Charlie will have had before.

Now I don’t mind admitting that I’m a very good baker – my cakes and bakes always get such positive feedback and I know myself when something is good. I also know what I’m not so good at, and making my cakes look pretty is one such thing. I called in a favour from Lisa, who I’ve teamed up with at Willow Bough. Lisa is the queen of sugar craft and can make anything out of icing. She really is a very talented lady and I cannot sing her praises enough. Having made the carrot cake (which was absolutely beautiful, even if I do say so myself!) I presented it to Lisa to turn into a true masterpiece. Which is exactly what she did, turning my cake into a guitar.

Charlie arrived at Rhythm and Brew in Chiswick ahead of his gig, and came over to say hello to me and my friend and I presented him with the cake. And I quote: “My favourite cake ever in my life…” I think our cake was a success!

Carrot cake

This recipe makes two 8” cakes which you can sandwich together with buttercream icing. Alternatively, you can ask Lisa to turn them into a guitar.

Ingredients

350ml sunflower oil

12oz muscovado sugar

6 eggs

12oz grated carrots

6oz sultanas

4oz walnuts, chopped

Zest of 2 oranges

12oz self-raising flour

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp mixed spice

 

Method

Mix the oil, sugar and eggs together and add the grated carrots, sultanas, chopped walnuts and orange zest.

Mix together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and mixed spice and sift into the wet mixture before mixing together.

Divide the mixture into two greased and lined 8” cake tins and bake in the oven (I have my oven on gas mark 4) for 40 minutes or until the cakes pass the skewer test.

Sandwich together with a classic or orange buttercream icing and enjoy a large slice with a cup of tea while listening to Charlie’s album Beginning of Things. You won’t be disappointed.

Leftovers; making a meal of it!

I thought I might get a break from cooking over Christmas – which I spent in France with my family – but I just couldn’t help it. Firstly, I think if you have the love, passion and need to cook you just can’t help yourself. Secondly, in south west France the produce is so good it’s just too tempting to buy most of the shop and take it back to the kitchen for some fun!

We stuck to an almost traditional Christmas lunch on Christmas day, with duck as our main meat, served along with pigs in blankets, stuffing wrapped in bacon, Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes… the usual trimmings. So by the day after Boxing Day I was ready to use up the left overs in something delicious – that could also serve as a picnic for the long drive back to London.

So I used the left over sprouts with onions and potatoes to make bubble and squeak patties that are not too dissimilar from farçou, a local street food that is sold at markets. We also had some eggs – too fragile for the long car ride home – and sausage meat – wouldn’t make the long journey without spoiling – and so I decided to do my own take on scotch eggs. While I didn’t have any breadcrumbs (all the spare bread went to feed the local donkeys!) I did have some streaky bacon left. So I wrapped my scotch eggs in bacon. And I was delighted with what I created, which turned out to be perfect picnic food!

While I’m sharing my recipes with you, I would urge you to have a go at these yourself but adapt the recipes to use up whatever leftover food you have. Be creative, include flavours you like, take advantage of what’s on offer in your local shops and use up what you have in your fridge. You never know you may discover a new favourite recipe!

 

Bubble and squeak farçou

Ingredients

12 cooked Brussels sprouts

8 small potatoes, mashed

One onion, chopped

One egg, beaten

A splash of milk

Garlic, finely chopped or crushed

Butter

Flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Method

Brown the onions in a frying pan, using a small piece of butter. Half the already cooked sprouts and add to the pan, stirring together. Add to the mashed potato, adding the egg, a splash of milk, the garlic and salt and pepper, and mix together. Make sure you already have the flour set aside on a plate, as the next step will see you get very sticky hands! Take a ball of the mixture and flatten it to create a patty, then cover in flour on both sides and set aside. Once you have used all the mixture fry the patties in a pan of hot butter until golden brown. I especially like these farçou fresh from the pan with a soft boiled or poached egg. Delicious!

 

Bacon-wrapped scotch eggs

Ingredients

Three eggs, soft-boiled

Sausage meat

Nine slices of streaky bacon

Method

I always use the same fool-proof method to soft-boil eggs. Place your eggs in a pan and cover with boiling water and put on full heat. From the time the water is properly boiling, not simmering, start the timer for four minutes. When the timer finishes empty the water and cover with cold water. Replace the water again and shell the eggs in the water (this will leave your eggs totally clean of shell).

Now split your sausage meat into three pieces. Roll out one piece of sausage meat between two pieces of baking paper (or using the paper the meat came in, if you’ve bought it from your local butcher). Wrap the disc of sausage meat around one egg, ensuring it’s covered fully. Then wrap in three pieces of streaky bacon, covering a different side each time. Secure with a cocktail stick or two. Once you’ve done all three eggs fry them in a pan of hot butter or oil, turning frequently until all sides are cooked.

Going bananas for pudding

For so many of us the beginning of winter is an ongoing battle between wanting to stay in warming ourselves up with hot puddings in a face-stuffing frenzy of carbs and custard and trying to get ourselves looking fabulous for the little-black-dress party season. The two are, for the most part, not compatible. However, since my detox in September I’ve been trying to find some healthier ways to get the warm, content feeling you get from a winter pudding. And this recipe really couldn’t be simpler… Of course, it’s quite possible to ruin the good intentions of this recipe by covering it in custard!

Baked bananas

Ingredients

Bananas (one per person)

Ground cinnamon

Ground ginger

Brown sugar if you’re being naughty

Honey if you’re not being naughty

Method

Place one banana on a piece of tin foil and cut in half up the length of the banana.

Open slightly and sprinkle a pinch of ginger, two pinches of cinnamon and drizzle with some honey or sprinkle with brown sugar, depending on how naughty you are being. Close the banana and wrap tightly in the tin foil, making a little parcel for the oven. Place on a baking tray and put in the oven (I put it on gas mark 5) for 20 minutes. Be careful when you take the parcels out of the oven and unwrap them as they’ll be very hot and possibly steamy. The good news is that these baked bananas are tasty enough to enjoy on their own – and they taste like such a treat!