THE EASY PICNIC SPREADAs someone that will always pick lots of little dishes with lots of different flavours over one ( even if good) big main, a picnic was the perfect choice of dinner for entertaining a friend this weekend. This being England and March it may have taken place indoors with my less than pretty carpet rather than grass as our turf but nonetheless turned out extremely tasty and was super easy to prepare, containing enough fresh veg and omega three from the smoked salmon ( ours was from the Albion deli counter and at £6 a real steal) to balance out the ooey gooey Camembert we also baked. Below a few simple ideas if you are planning an indoor or outdoor picnic but as is the beauty with this sort of meal you can pretty much free style and add whatever you like! Though no gourmet foo,d for me this kind of fare, served with a chilled bottle of prosecco can on most occasions match most restaurants no matter the weather.
Sweet Potato Fries- I am a massive sweet potato fan ( they in fact star in my hangover cure roast veg after every night out) and have been trying to recreate the rather addictive fry version I had at Vegetarian restaurant Mildred's for years. I may have finally found it with this recipe. Serve with sour cream and plenty of sea salt and you won't be returning to normal potatoes in a while.
Baked Camembert - There is nothing quite as good as dipping some good bread into an oozing pot of cheese and though tasting utterly luxurious and gluttonous couldn't be much simpler to do. Pierce the Camembert a few times with a knife, stick in some garlic cloves for that extra something and bake at a high temperature in the oven for 10 minutes. Particularly delicious with rosemary bread.
Tomato Salad - This is my simple and quick, yet pretty delicious take on the middle Eastern Tabbouleh dish. The original version calls for bulgar wheat but having never been a massive fan of it, my version leaves it out and combines quartered tomatoes and red onions with finely chopped mint and parsley ( and plenty of it to give it zing), finished off with lemon juice, olive and salt. All mixed up this salad is full of flavour and immediately brings a bit of colour and summer feeling to any spread yet is so simple to make that there is really no excuse to ever serve up dull salads.
Courgette Fries- I may still be debating whether to get a spiralizer to fulfil my dreams of courgetti (well not really a debate more trying to rationalise spending £30 on something that makes vegetables look fancy) but that hasn't stopped me in trying to find other tasty recipes involving the humble courgette. They may ended up look a little messy but, coated in parmesan and breadcrumbs, these thick courgette fries were still pretty amazing! Get the recipe here and serve with tomato and chilli chutney.
The Dessert Platter - While I was in charge of the savoury cooking, my friend Ella, manager of the lovely Vintage store on Brick Lane was in charge of desserts and this being a Sunday was able to use the market to bring us some real treats from a French lady selling her baked goods there every weekend. From the millefeuille, to the lemon tart ( which I am usually not a fan of whatsoever) to the vanilla macaroons that rivalled Laduree, this was fantastically authentic and the perfect and slightly naughty way to finish our picnic!
Additions- Get some good smoked salmon and prawns as well as one of my nibble staples olives! Bread should be a decent quality as well and avoid ( at least in my opinion) any ready packaged dips and 'salads' intended for picnics - always taste of supermarket and most of the time pretty easy to make at home!
Have you got any secret salad concoctions worth adding to my next spread?
SUSHI & COCKTAILS AT SALMONTINI
Finding good sushi in London is far from easy. I tend to avoid the mass produced and for me far from authentic or fresh ready packed boxes you get from Itsu and Wasabi and though I have found a few very good takeaway options like Atari-Ya I had till now struggled to find a place that served good sushi AND had a nice eating environment. Salmontini managed just that, combining essentially two of my favourite things - sushi and cocktails and doing so pretty darn well. With a loungy and relaxed vibe you wouldn't believe that you are actually in the middle of Belgravia and I loved the fact that you could sip a perfectly executed classic cocktail ( my espresso Martini was faultless) whilst nibbling on some absolutely incredible sushi, especially as I think sushi is best as a light meal with a every flavour savoured than something to simply fill you up. Salmontini is a place to take someone when you want to impress, the faultless presentation and great services the finishing touch to a thoroughly enjoyable dining experience featuring probably the best sushi I have had in London to date.
I don't know quite what got me interested in illustration considering that I am myself an average drawer. One could assume the obvious reason may have been the fact that I was lucky enough to be made into a fantastic illustration myself by a talented artist like Diglee a few years back, however I believe my passion for it may have started even earlier. I remember flicking through a thick book of fashion illustrations in a little German book shop when I was perhaps 8 years old and being immediately enchanted with the way the drawings, adorning the glossy pages, managed to fuse the essence of art and fashion on a piece of paper whilst showing off the illustrator's sheer skill and distinctive style.
Since then I have always been fascinated by illustration and on the constant look out for new talent able to, at least to me, excite and show creativity hard to find in a pure form nowadays. Yes, of course illustrator's work has become inevitably sleeker with the help of photoshop and the like but these drawings still require years of practise, an eye for detail and ultimately a talent that one can't help but be born with. They are as successful in my eyes in conveying emotion- from sadness to desperation to love- as they are in creating something beautiful to look at and I will always take joy in discovering a new talent in their midst, able to, in this day and age, add a unique twist with a stroke of their pen ( or for the cynics with their skill in adobe). Below are 5 recent favourites which I hope you will take the time to look a little closer at or at least let serve as brief visual stimulation to brighten up a dull day.
Portraying 80's teen girls, hanging out and facing life, one can't help but want to be one of Laura Callaghan's bright and vivacious illustrations. Full of details of everyday adolescence, from posters on the wall to ash trays on the floor and always with a hint of boredom and fear of the future adorning the girl's faces, her illustration show girl power and the mixed emotions of being a teenager like no other.
Mix David Hockney with an 80's album cover and the atmosphere of Drive and you get pretty close to the super charged and slightly surrealist aesthetic Yoko Honda creates in her illustrations that so successfully mix pop art with an almost Barbi-esque sickly sweet mix of colours to create completely unique illustrations I love looking at each time.
Sara Herranz may only use black, white and red ( the red for the lip's of the female heroines she portrays) in her illustrations yet they like no other manage to capture a plethora of emotion, be it love, sadness, loneliness or desperation. For me she is one of the best examples of how much of a story an illustrator can tell with a few brilliant strokes, enabling us at an instant to identify ourselves with them.
Drawn predominantly in blue biro, Carine Brankowitz's illustrations have a surprising air of fragility and humanity about them, the characters and situations she captures always a little chaotic, always perhaps a little lost but with detail that makes them at times appear almost as real as a photo.
I have been a regular at this lovely wine bar just around the corner from me since it opened and have already written a blog post on the well sourced, reasonably priced wine served here before. I had however never tasted the small plates section of the menu and it is definitely not to be dismissed as afterthought alongside your chosen tipple. The absolute highlight amongst an array of salads, bruschetta style dishes, cold meats and cheeses has to be the cheese toastie which involved an impressive three types of cheddar. With a hint of red onion and sandwiched between crusty, freshly toasted artisan bread, this is carb heaven in a nutshell. One to yourself could quite possibly put you in a food coma but shared with a few olives on the side it may have just become my new favourite bar snack.
Pizza isn't fancy food. It's a comfort food that relies on simple and good and ingredients yet in London you are far too often faced with overpriced, overcomplicated and very mediocre tasting pizza ( Pizza East is a prime example of this). The little van parked outside Olive on Hoxton street, which has to my great enjoyment been spared gentrification thus far, may not look very fancy but the pizza baked inside it's oven is damn fine. With no pizza costing over £7 despite some pretty fantastic flavour combinations on the menu ( I went for an asparagus, sun dried tomato, rocket and goat's cheese number), this is a true neighbour hood gem for me as I live literally a 2 minute walk away. Ok, you can't sit in the adjoining cafe, which is more builder's caff than romantic tratorria but the perfectly thin dough, fresh ingredients and price make it my favourite takeaway pizza in London.
As some of you may have realised I injured my hand a little bit at the beginning of the year ( more precisely managing to break an amaretto bottle with my hand). Being pretty much unable to leave my flat ( yes. it was that painful), I had the opportunity to explore some takeaway options around me. One surprisingly fantastic discovery was Al Qalaa in Camden town. Far from your usually slightly greasy and stodgy takeaway Al Qalaa offers the best of Lebanese mezze- from hummus, fantastic tabouleh to juicy and well spiced wraps. Even the lemonade we ordered was freshly squeezed and full of flavour and able to bring a little bit of sunshine on a delivery bike for my miserable injured self. One I would fully recommend for anyone to lazy, or injured, to leave the house.
4. Truffle Mascarpone
I first had truffle
mascarpone in one of my former favourite brunch haunts Workshop Coffee and have
used it ever since with almost every dish I cook. Simply mix some mascarpone
with truffle oil ( which you can get for around £4/5 a bottle in Sainsburys)
and season with plenty of salt and simply add to dishes like roast veg, braised
beans or here with a more brunchy concoction of eggs, smoked salmon,
asparagus and rocket. It elevates all flavours with the hint of truffle and
really does wonders for any veggie based dish. It's so ridiculously easy to do
you got to try it!