Archives for posts with tag: Ottolenghi

It was great to celebrate this bank holiday with lots of sunshine and great friends. Isn’t that what life is all about?


Catering for us all in the garden really is a favourite thing for me and it was made all the better for a burst of allium .. and all the merrier for Mr Jones with his sidekick JR.

Ottolenghi's Wild Rice Salad

Ottolenghi’s Wild Rice Salad

On occasions like these I fall back on a tried and tested formula with large bowls of yummy food for us all to dig into and this time the sunshine inspired a Greek-ish menu: slow cooked lamb shoulder with a wonderful piece of Laverstoke Park Farm meat studded with loads of rosemary and garlic was cooked slowly for over 5 hours so that it really did fall off the bone. I matched that with tabbouleh, tzatziki and flatbreads. The tabbouleh was Ottolenghi’s, and the tzatziki was one that I saw on Australian Masterchef from George Calombaris. It simply tastes better with the lemon zest and the moisture drained from the cucumber. The final main dish was adapted from another Ottolenghi recipe: Wild Rice Salad.

For dessert I had prepared a lemon and saffron cake from an old recipe that I had but that was most definitely superseded by the professional baker of the group. I met Caroline whilst volunteering at a school cookery class that we did for kids with learning difficulties and it was clear to me then that C, along with Mr Jones, was in a different league. They had both trained at Leith’s and C subsequently set up her own catering company specialising in the most wonderful cakes. She is a genuine talent supplying an array of local delis with her delectations. Today she brought with her the latest in her repertoire which was a banana and chocolate chip cake with peanut butter icing.

There is nothing more to say – I leave you with a pic of the bits we didn’t demolish that will be going to work tomorrow.

Banana and chocolate chip cake with peanut butter icing

Banana and chocolate chip cake with peanut butter icing

Christmas is almost upon us and this weekend consumer are predicted by the BRC to break sales records with a £5billion spend as last minute shoppers go in search of price deals on their perfect gift.

All your shopping needs taken care of by the magical elfridge

All your shopping needs taken care of by the magical elfridge

My search of London didn’t really excite too much with predictable gifts for a food lover like me. I trawled the big department stores in the hope that places like Liberty, Fortnums and Harrods would inspire but to be honest none are a patch on Selfridges, who just got it right. It may have been the brigade of Elfridges, complete with Vivienne Westwood red ballgowns and roller skates, or perhaps the many one off concessions, or even the samplings and demos, but the overall experience is just top class.


I managed to find my whole popcorn shopping here at a better price than I was looking at online. I went for the more traditional stove top version with funky containers and obviously lots of interesting corns. You could also add a jar of Joe and Seph’s if you wanted something ready made. As in the US, popcorn, waffles, DIY sets and all things with coffee or chocolate were featured in abundance.

Alcohol is also excelling itself with cocktails, one off unique blends, fantastic packaging and lots more to entice, but I am not a big drinker so I focused on the food this year.

Love brownies

For my gift buying, there were a few people that I would like to recommend. Firstly Love Brownies. The wonderful Chantal is from my home county of Yorkshire and bakes superb award winning brownies, but the real treat is the packaging which is clever, contemporary and colourful. Easy to order, simply delivered and great value, these are perfect for all occasions.


The other Yorkshire company that has been a personal favourite of mine is Lauden Chocolates. This husband and wife team make incredible one off chocolates with real fruit centres and different chocolate coatings to match the filling. I am not one for fruit and chocolate but these really make you re-evaluate all that. And there is a fantastic salted caramel version just in case you want something else. Of course, there are the usual chocolate shops such as Paul Young and Marc de Marquette, but I like to support Lauden and again their product is superb and their packaging  clean and contemporary.

Other shops on my list which have continued to excite this year are The Sampler in Islington for wonderful wines, Ottolenghi if only for their clementine jam, La Fromagerie for great, if very pricey cheese, Sally Clarkes for general yumminess and of course my lovely friends at Melrose and Morgan. They just make the most wonderful things and a trip to either of their shops in Hampstead or Primrose Hill will inspire you to leave with huge armfuls of their home made treats, plus the best sausage roll around as a treat for you to indulge in … well, you have been schlepping around all day. This year, M&M’s stollen has been the surprise treat which has been added to their catalogue of wonderful things including their light, tasty Christmas pudding made with Clay Barn Orchard quinces and the best mince pies with crumbly buttery pastry and a juicy tasty filling. I don’t even like mince pies!

At this point, I do have to mention Anthropologie which is great for kitchen and gift inspiration. A friend of mine went there today having been all over trying to find something for her 21 year old daughter and was amazed and delighted. And for online inspiration, I like Not on the High Street. Once again, they have one-off gifts and great things to personalise. For something different and spot on with the whole Scandinavian trend, have a look at Daniel’s website: Bageriet. These treats are all home made and he is a superb baker. If you really want to push the boat out ask him about his gingerbread houses. I know they are not shown on the website, but take my word for it, they are amazing.


Finally, for something a little different, the big fashion this year is to give an experience rather than a product. Book a course to learn how to make bread, or honey, or all things fishy, or even a full on butchery course. And if you want to send something out there, you could do worse than repeat my Rent a Cherry Tree gift (even if the weather ruined the crop this year) or adopt an olive tree for a year which promises quarterly deliveries of oil made from your very own olives. I used Nudo last year and their packaging seemed to impress my friend over in New Zealand.

So Merry Christmas one and all. Let me know if there was anything that you were particularly impressed with this year and have a wonderful celebration. Here’s to 2013.

Yesterday I went to a friend’s BBQ. She asked if I would bring some of the salads I made a couple of years ago at a do of mine. It’s quite something to remember a meal from that long ago anyway, but the fact that it was the salads that had captured her memory so well was intriguing. How can a salad be so interesting?

Ottolenghi, Islington

Well, the simple one word answer to all things salads is Ottolenghi. When I said this to everyone at the barbie who asked for the recipe they did not know what I meant and I realised that most people don’t live in my London bubble so why should they know the wonderful Yotam?

Born in Israel, Yotam Ottolenghi came over to the UK in 1968 to study at the Cordon Bleu cookery school and worked through various kitchen before opening his own place some 4 years later, with his Palestinian partner Sami Tamimi. Together they brought a new energy to their eaterie and many have tried to emulate the concept ever since. It really is pretty simple. Simple white decor to ensure the food takes pride of place and giant bowls of tasty salads with a few changing proteins to partner, or simply have a plate of veggies for one price. And did I mention the cakes? Well, you can go back to “past friends, present places and future talent” to read all about them.

The secret to these salads is threefold.

Firstly, the ingredients need to have colour and flavour . With vegetables that means interesting combinations that gain an extra dimension by chargrilling, smoking or chopping in lots of tasty herbs…and invariably quite a lot of chilli. The chargrilled broccoli salad is apparently one of the most popular and that extra singe on the parboiled florets really does make a difference.

The second thing is the dressing which is zesty and vibrant with different oils & vinegars, fresh citrus juice and often sweetness to complement the sours. I used clementine juice in my quinoa salad this weekend inspired by a recipe in the first book.

Finally, and for me the most interesting of all, is the addition of textures through the use of nuts and seeds. These are toasted for extra flavour and really do bring a new dimension to each and every dish. The poppy seeds in the sweet & sour cucumber salad look and taste great. And the toasted nuts in the quinoa salad much the same.

Clearly the challenge for any caterer is to keep costs and prices in line when using these additional ingredients but the truth is that they are worth it. Every single adult around that BBQ table took interest in the Ottolenghi recipes I brought with me. The women all said they would happily eat salad alone if it was as good as this and the boys went back for seconds, even if they wouldn’t abdicate their meat.

Yotam has a blog on his website and writes weekly for the Saturday Guardian weekend magazine but I urge you to buy the first book and try for yourselves. It will change the way you look at salads and give you loads more treats to indulge in.

I recently hooked back up with an old friend of mine. That’s not to say that either of us are old per se (!) but that we were friends at school and as ever lost touch when our lives took different paths, but thankfully now those paths have merged together and it is lovely to be sharing experiences again.

When we first caught up, my friend told me that her youngest daughter got to the finals of Junior Masterchef and when I went online I was able to catch up on the wonderful exploits of Amber. This girl is special. There is no doubt about that. Her drive and determination to be a successful cake shop owner will undoubtedly come true and I am sure there will be lots of other success to follow her.

Once I met her (and tasted her incredible carrot cake) I really wanted to help out in whatever way I could and as I am more experienced in the food field, I suggested showing her around some of the places in London that I admire and today was the day we were to do that.

Melrose and Morgan, Hampstead

I obviously started at the wonderful Melrose and Morgan, showing her the original Primrose Hill shop and then the newer Hampstead one. Ian was working hard as ever and later on we caught up with Nick who was full of good advice for a budding new baker. Whilst in the NW area, we also popped into Maison Blanc, Ginger & White, Gails and Primrose Bakery.

Then we made a detour from the cake route to experience Chin Chin Laboratorists ice cream in Camden.

The Laboratory that is Chin Chin

I took Amber there to try and show an original idea as that is what she is capable of bringing to the already cluttered cake market. If someone said they wanted to create a retail environment that looked like a lab and displayed food in flasks and test-tubes, then they would probably be treated as ever so slightly mad, but this is exactly what works at Chin Chin.

Laboratory toppings

Vanilla ice cream with salted caramel sauce – my fave!

We chose a simple but favourite combo of mine, but I have to make special mention of the other flavour I tried which is this week’s special: cigar smoked caramel. Clearly this is not one for the kids, but as they say… “salted caramel, yawn! We smoke milk with Cuban cigars and then turn this into a rich, peppery, smokey caramel that’s strictly an adult’s only indulgence!” and indulge you should. It is genius.

Hopefully Amber was suitably inspired to think differently and so it was time for that classic outlet, Ottolenghi. Clearly the gods were looking down on us as the sun broke through the clouds and a parking space appeared right opposite and so it was we entered Yotam’s holy grail.

Salads the Yotam way

Now I know we were on a cake tour, but even this irresponsible temporary Mum couldn’t just purchase cake all day and what better alternative to offer than Ottolenghi salads. These give new meaning to the definition and whilst many have tried, the original really cannot be bettered. We both selected our favourites for a takeaway box to avoid the queues and realised that these offer much better value than the plated version anyway. It sufficed for my lunch and dinner and leftovers after that!

Cakes galore

Then we had the impossible choice of which cake to take with us. Everything was as fabulous as ever.

So replenished and inspired, we got the tube to our final destination for the day: Borough Market. I really couldn’t leave that out even though Saturday is not my ideal day to visit. Amber took to it like a pro, purchasing some choice goodies for the whole family to indulge in and really embraced the market experience.

Borough in all its glory

We watched raclette being scraped over potatoes, pufferfish guarding the fish counter, wonderful arrays of Summer berries and of course piles of chocolate brownies. We sampled salty fudge, smelly cheese, spicy sausage and lots more.

So tired, stuffed and happy we trudged back home to Mum to share our day and our purchases. And the highlight for Amber? well that would be the Fleur de Sel fudge and the innovative Chin Chin Labs.

Amber is a girl after my own heart. She will, I am sure, create something unique and wonderful to bring to the cake world when she is old enough to do it and until then, I am looking forward to sharing some inspiration and discovering new places with her in the very near future.