Last week I found I was sharing my kitchen with a lone mouse who seemed to enjoy my suppers as much as I did! It stopped me in my tracks and put me right off cooking.

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Thanks only to the wonderful Nick, I have managed to curtail the Mr Mouse visits and now I am feeling more like getting back into the kitchen so it was wonderful this weekend to get back to my therapeutic session that I treat myself with when I am not working. I get that some people would think it such a chore to spend time in the kitchen cooking but for me it is relaxation and therapy. I have perfected such a lovely pesto paste that is a must have during the week to serve on toast with tomato, in pasta, with chicken, in thick Italian-esque soups. The options are endless. Its the combo of basil and rocket as well as pine nuts and walnuts that make all the difference.

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And I always top up my granola when a batch runs down making the most of whatever flakes and nuts I have in the cupboard. I guess it is more of a toasted muesli than granola as I use very little fat and sugar, just a bit of coconut oil and again whatever I have in the cupboard in terms of syrup or honey. But mostly it is just slowly baked toasty grains and nuts. Maybe it should be called Meusola. I added a pan of beautiful stewed Yorkshire forced rhubarb to serve as this is smack bang in season and taste fab with just a clementine poached with it and squeezed out, some vanilla and a touch of ginger syrup.

With breakfast and supper taken care of, it was time to address the cauliflower sitting in my fridge. I have written a few times about the mighty cauliflower and how much I love its flavour and versatility. I am always on the look out for recipes to try and this one caught my eye. I was not familiar with the term ‘tot’ but now I know it, I think there are many applications. I roasted my cauli rather than boiled just to get more flavour and also so that I could use the extras as veggies in my lunchtime salads. Ricing it with the rest of the ingredients takes seconds and then the fun shaping which could be anything you want. I love the fact these are baked beauties as I am not one for frying. But in hindsight a little bit of mozzarella in the middle of one of these shaped as a ball would be a take on arancini that I think would escalate them even further..

The recipe suggests tomato ketchup, or other sauces/dips but I opted to make supper with the addition of eggs and the ultimate dipping sauce: a runny yolk!

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What with one thing and another it has been an incredibly long week so this morning I allowed myself a lazy return under the duvet this morning to drink my morning tea and watch The Mind of a Chef on Netflix. This follows a binge watching of the latest series of Chef’s Table.

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I was hooked on Chef’s Table from the first series (especially Dan Barber and Massimo Bottura) enjoying the tour from the chef’s childhood and struggles through formative years into finding their raison d’être and becoming the admired chef they are today. Some of the later episodes have not made that connection as clearly as the early ones, but then I was blown away by the 60 year old Zen Buddhist nun Jeong Kwan cooking vegan meals for her temple community in South Korea. The peace, tranquility and connection with nature just took all the chaos of my week and transported me into a state of calm there and then. And believe me that was quite a feat given the week I had.

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The Mind of a Chef wasn’t a programme I had heard about but when I saw it featuring Gabrielle Hamilton, I thought I would take a sneak peak. I really enjoyed reading her book “Blood, Bones & Butter” and was gutted not to get into her restaurant Prune when I was in NYC. She is clearly not a woman to mess with and yet I love her approach to food. In the intro credits she says: “Its so good to be classic and not trendy” and I love that about her. The dishes are so simple and yet the flavour she extracts and the combinations she creates are just my type of thing. I have lots more minds to explore and suggest you dip in and out too.

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As I was having a lazy day, I thought I would create a nice healthy brunch and took my inspiration from our outing last weekend. We ventured to another Israeli inspired restaurant from an Ottolenghi protege, Eran Tibi. Whilst reviews have been up and down for Bala Baya, we really enjoyed discovering this alley under Southwark railway arches, just off Union Street and liked the open bakery at the back. These guys make the most delicious pita bread fresh every day and it came beautifully warm with our brunch choices of hummus, Israeli salad, Shakshuka and their open sandwich.

img_7793It was the Shakshuka that inspired me this morning with the deep rich tomato and pepper base flavoured with Middle Eastern spices and those perfectly baked eggs dropped in at the end. Now I have an evening with Gabrielle to entertain and lots more inspirational combos to rise to. Happy Sunday everyone!

 

 

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This weekend I finally escaped London to stay at The Mash Inn, a recently opened modern age inn created by clever restaurateur Nick Mash. He grew up in this area and has proven his worth in the big smoke but in coming back home has created something that really is showing others how it should be done. As a child, I always dreamed of having my own small exclusive place which was truly individual and felt like a unique home from home experience and in all my travels this place has ticked the same boxes that were in my imagination.

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Mr Mash totally renovated what was the Three Horseshoes gutting it all and re-designing it to get it just right. It has the most wonderful tone with cosy nooks in the bar, original old ceilings and contemporary Scandinavian inspired decor.

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He has collaborated with so many hand picked innovative people: Another Country, London Terrariums, L:A Brucket, Rare Tea Company, Neal’s Yard Dairy cheeses and soon to expand with bespoke cabins from that clever team at Out of the Valley. In addition he has designed pieces like chairs himself and worked with local craftsmen to bring his designs to life.

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Add in a dose of reclaimed, upcycled treasure and you have everything you could possible need. Clearly this man has exquisite taste, has done his research and knows his mind. It all adds up to a great customer experience.

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What takes this place into an even better realm for me is the way he has connected that concept with the local land and the food. Looking out of my snowy window you can see the beginnings of the veg patch which will be abundant with goodies as Spring comes. For now, there are pickles and preserves from last season to play with and certainly a desire by the whole team to embrace all that nature is delivering here. Head Chef Jon Parry trained with Tom Aikens and has gone on to great places since then but you can just sense his excitement at getting his hands on this kitchen and a place that supports him to create something really unique and special.

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The kitchen is at the end of the dining room, just as it would be at home and you are positively encouraged to go and chat and enjoy the space. Clearly Mr Mash has brought inspiration from the likes of Ekstedt and Extebarri (see my entry about that here) insisting on open fires and a unique ‘hob’ again designed by him. The logs and flames add to the feeling of the kitchen at the heart and soul of the whole operation.

Chef Jon has boundless energy and bounces from one idea to the next with the quality of produce he has at his fingertips. He is trying everything from viennoiserie to cheese making, preserving to foraging. And his tasting menu, which is very reasonably priced, is a journey through his experiments. Deep fried beef tendon is like a beef version of pork scratching and pops as he brings it to the table. Seasonal purple sprouting broccoli is charred on the griddle and then laced with home made curd cheese. The meal ends with his version of a chocolate bar. Some items are more of a hit than others and I think I would actually opt for a la carte next time, or ideally Sunday lunch, but you can’t knock the enthusiasm.

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My favourite was actually breakfast in bed, brought up to your room by the lovely girls who clearly run everything with charm and professionalism. Each with our own white tray of chosen elements, there is loads to indulge in before getting out and discovering the local area. This morning the car had an inch of snow and driving out of the car park was like driving away from a perfect cocoon. Dragging ourselves away down the M40 and getting closer to the big smoke, you could see the snow melt away and that magical halo disappear with it. By the time we came onto the North Circular, there was no sign of the snow, just the crazy thoughtless London drivers. But they couldn’t take away the atmosphere inside and that was one which I will certainly treasure for a long time.

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I finally got to Mercato Metropolitano today.

This relatively new Italian marketplace opened last September by Italian businessman Andrea Rasca who has two matching spaces in Italy. He espouses the same principles as one of the other concepts he is involved in: Eataly, supporting small producers, showcasing the best of Italy and creating a good eating experience within an old industrial space in an interesting part of the city.

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Given all the talk about Eataly opening in London, or not, it seems he just got up and opened this in the meantime. It is hip and trendy making the most of an old paper factory just around the corner from Elephant and Castle which is a developing area in its own right. It sort of reminds me of so many of these concepts in New York with all that grunge factor, graffiti styling, brash colours and the obligatory coffee vehicle.

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This is a high open industrial space, with uncomfortable bright yellow seating, lots of street food-esque stalls in pop up wood chip surroundings and an outdoor garden area. Signage is classic black and white. Staff are all young. There is a retro cinema and if you read more on their website lots of community things going on. In time it will settle into itself and I am sure in the Summer it is packed. It was certainly full of lots of young Italians today.

Perhaps I am just getting too old for this trendy happening vibe, or I have seen too many things repeated again and again, but the food stalls were a little bit dull for me…the industrial vibe a bit contrived… and the seats a little bit too thin and hard. I think Eataly has so much more elegance and style which for me is a better mouthpiece for all things Italian. After all style is one of their strengths.

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The best part of the whole thing was the Sicilian market which is a fab shop for all things authentically Italian. The brands there are truly Italian and not seen in any other places around. The shopping experience embraces the whole family with fun baskets and comfy seating areas interspersed between the produce. Everything is fresh and colourful, simply prepared and packed and served by Italians who know their stuff.

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The counter is packed full of wonderful meats and an impressive array of specialist cheeses. The pastas, beans and rice all better than anything you get anywhere else. The antipasti simple and tasty. And it doesn’t seem to be too pricey either. If you want to buy Italian then it is definitely worth the trip. Just take it home to savour in the comfort and warmth of your own home.

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