Sunday, 20 July 2014

Alternative Algarve - Olhao

Stereotypes play a huge role in our collective cultural consciousness.  Yes, the British can’t cook, the Americans only eat fried food, the Portuguese are obsessed with salt cod and the Italians can’t eat anything that doesn’t involve pasta.   

Right, anyone who has travelled (or read a fair bit) knows this is utter rubbish (this is a family blog or I would have used a far ruder word) but even if we get past this, people still seem to lump nations together.   They refer to the Americans or the Portuguese as homogenous groups of people but again they are wrong as while I am proudly South African, my culture is definitely Capetonian.

Now why am I offering you my theories on individual cultures?  Well, I’ve fallen in love with Olhao in the Algarve, Portugal and want to introduce you to the glorious culture of Southern Portugal
With thanks to

So herewith a 10 top tips about the Algarve for those who haven’t visited:
  •  You fly into Faro Airport which hands down produces has the WORSE burger I have ever eaten in my life.  I have no idea but in departures, they made a burger which is dry, tasteless but reminiscent of dog food.  Honestly, when you fly home, eat before you get to the airport.

  • When you leave the airport, you can head left towards Albufera (which is stag-do heaven), Vilamore (which is golfing heaven) or Lagos (which has a huge marina but is really lovely)  Alternatively, You can take a right towards the Spanish border towards Olhao (Largest fishing port in Algarve) or Tavira (very popular with British Expats with a glorious beach).
  • Olhao (especially the old town) has captured my heart.  It’s white-washed buildings (complete with flat roofs) and little streets makes it charming to get lost in.  And you should expect to as all roads seem to lead to the seafront and the numerous restaurants as well as the two food markets.
  • Built in 1915, there are two food markets.  One which sells fish and meat and the other selling some of the most beautiful fresh food I’ve ever seen.  To add to this bounty, they have a farmers (not one of those which are popular in some parts of Europe but an honest to gosh actually grown by proper small farmers) market.  They sell some of the best strawberries I have ever tasted and the honey is truly special as is the home made peri peri sauce.
  • As the largest fishing port in the Algarve, the fish is hugely fresh (i.e. it’s just been brought across the road from the harbour) as is the other seafood.  I particularly like their take on Octopus and the razor clams are so sweet.  Now this isn’t posh seafood, but generally served with a few potatoes and a little salad.  Trust me this is enough to let the food shine.
  • However, if you have had enough of seafood, there is also a good steak restaurant, an Italian and an Indian which provide a respite from the seafood overload.  The Italian on the seafront is particularly good and while some of their pizza ideas (who puts peaches and condensed milk on a pizza) may seem bizarre, they do an amazing steak pasta with mustard sauce. 
  • Now Olhao isn’t a party town but that does mean it doesn’t have some glorious bars.  In front of the food markets (next to the sea) there are a selection of bars which serve really really good cocktails and occasionally host jazz nights.  They are incredibly friendly, all speak English and there is little better than gazing across the water to the islands.

  • A perfect day trip from Olhao is to visit the Islands which you can access from a ferry at the far end (i.e. the other end to Faro) of the sea front.  The Islands are part of the Ria Formosa nature reserve and you can visit Cultura, Farol, Deserta and Armona.  I visited Farol and we made the treck to the beach (and the beach bar). It was glorious – in fact so glorious, we missed the last ferry and phoned a water taxi to take us back.  This was so much fun and I felt  very glamorous as we zipped across the water.
Beach at on Faro
  • Admittedly, I do love the old town but the new areas of Olhao are also very sweet and some of the shops are great.  I personally love shoe shopping and there are some excellent bargains to be had in the local shoe store in the shopping centre in town.  Alternatively, there is the Algarve shopping centre which is stocked full of glorious stores and on the way to the airport so a really easy stop on the way back.
  • Finally, don’t be afraid to say ‘Bon Dia’ to those you meet and smile, the Algarve is friendly and the people in Olhao are amongst the loveliest you will ever meet.

Honestly a trip to the Alternative Algarve is one you can’t afford not to take.


Sunday, 13 July 2014

Easy Black Forest Traybake

While I am not a hugely religious person, I am fairly certain that there is a special place in hell for those people who write vague cake recipes.  Yes, those who glibly say “whisk ingredients together” but don’t tell you what the end consistency should look like make me want to perpetrate extreme violence on their body.  This is probably because I’m not a sweets person – give me a nice desert liquor over a nasty sticky sweet concoction. 

Although I am not a fan of cakes, I do work with men who I’ve found work far better if they are rewarded with cake so I decided to make Black Forest Traybake as a thank you for looking after an intern!  So herewith the recipe for what is a simple, lovely sticky chocolate cake.

Cake Ingredients:
  • 75g of cocoa powder (although I didn’t quite have enough so used a little drinking chocolate as well)
  • ¾ tsp of bicarb
  • 4 medium free Range Eggs
  • 370g light muscavado sugar (again I underestimated my store cupboard so used a little castor sugar)
  • 180ml groundnut oil
  • 200g self-raising flour

  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 2 tbsp syrup
  • 100ml cherry yoghurt

Dried cherries to garnish.

  • Mix the cocoa powder and bicarb into 200ml boiling water.
  • Set aside to cool for about 20 minutes

  • Then start by greasing a 30cm x 24cm x 4cm tin (I used a disposable one as I’m lazy)
  • Put the eggs into a mixing bowl with the sugar and oil.
  • I whisked until fully combined and glossy
  • Then sift in the flour before adding the cocoa mixture

  • Mix and then pour into the tin
  • This goes into the oven for 30 – 40 minutes or until the skewer comes clean.
  • Let this cool!
  • Add the dark chocolate, syrup and cherry yoghurt to a glass bowl
  • Pop into a pan full over boiling water and melt the chocolate
  • When it is glossy, artfully decorate the top of the cooled cake and sprinkle with cherries.

Personally, I think it looks beautiful  and I’m fairly certain that when I present it to the hungry actuaries they are likely to be pleased

L xx

Don’t forget to follow me on twitter @littleofwhatyou

Friday, 27 June 2014

The Taste of Summer 2014

Now I love wine in a happy non-co-dependent way but there is something about a gin and tonic which makes me smile (and occasionally grin like a fool but that takes more than one). 

That first bubbly sip with a hint of lemon and the sharp tang of good gin is pretty much as good as a back massage so I was delighted to be invited to join Chivas Brothers – the Scotch whisky and premium gin business of Pernod Ricard – to sample their take on Summer 2014!

I arrived at Hixter in Devonshire Square (the latest in Mark Hix excellent invasion of the UK restaurant scene) at 6:15 to see a few other bloggers, glamorous PRs and Global Brand Ambassadors for Chivas, Beefeaters and Ballantine’s chatting.  Global Brand Ambassador for a drinks brand?  Not sure if this is discussed at school career days but wow, what a job!

Devonshire Square is a former warehouse that with the addition of a glass roof is a calm oasis in the frenetic Liverpool Street Area and while I would have loved to show you a photo, I was warned off by a security guard as ‘this is private property’.  The proliferation of restaurants and a Planet Organic rammed with people did not seem to change his mind - #logicbypass.

The evening started with Max Warner talking you through the 'Escocia' which is a glorious cocktail (inspired by Scotland and the Spanish summer) with Chivas and Manzanilla Sherry mixed with white grape juice, pear essence, apricot essence and Lemon Tincture. 

Admittedly, this cocktail does take a little preparation as the recipe contains the words ‘sous vide’ but it does produce a dreamy indulgent grown up drink which allows the Chivas to come through without being overpowering.   The suggestion is to pair this with smoked salmon and crème fraiche but I might suggest that other strong slightly oily fish like mackerel and eel might be good too.

As we continued to sip our cocktails, Tim Stones (@Ginisawsome) steered us towards my first love (gin) introducing the infinitely easier 'Apple of my Eye'.  This drink combines apple with fresh lemon juice, thyme and a drop of saline solution to produce an all too quaffable slightly tart cocktail – lethal in the wrong hands I would imagine.

The suggestion was to pair this with beetroot galettes with goat's curd and hazelnuts.  Being a little lactose intolerant (and not a great fan of goats anything), I skipped this but think that perhaps a beetroot and caramelised onion tartlet might be nice?

Finally, we arrived at Ballantine's Cobbler which mixes whisky, port, raspberry and cherry to create a fruity summer cocktail with a very adult kick mixed by Fredrik Olsson (@freddieolsson). Sprinkled with berrys and mint it was served with some seriously good sirloin steak sliders with scrumpy fried onions.

And thus the evening drew to a close and I pondered whether I might make any of these cocktails at home for friends.  

My answer is perhaps most reminiscent of goldilocks - the Escocia is a little too complex (and no one wants to arrive to find their host crying in a corner muttering sous vide), the Apple of my eye is little too simple but the Ballantines's Cobbler is just right.

Yes, a little whisky and a little port with a sprinkling of berries is just what my next party needs

L xx

Don't forget to follow me on twitter @littleofwhatyou

Thursday, 26 June 2014

A hat trick of Cocktails to Celebrate Summer 2014

Escocia Cocktail Image
  • 130ml Chiveas 12 infused with Raisins (300ml/50g sous vide at 45 degrees)
  • 130ml Manzanilla sherry
  • 193ml fresh white grape juice
  • 130ml Pear essence (1:1.5 fresh pear/water sous vide at 45 degrees)
  • 85ml Apricot essence (1:4 apricot jam/water sous vide at 45 degrees)
  • 45ml Lemon Tincture (1:10 Fresh Lemon Peel/water sous vide at 45 degrees)
  • 45ml Citric acid solution
  • Lemon and orange oils from zest

Add all ingredients together, except for the sherry and charge these with CO2.  Serve immediately or seal into a Champagne Bottle.  Add Sherry to serve.
Apple of my Eye Cocktail Image

Apple of my Eye
  • 50ml green apple inflused Beefeater Dry
  • 15ml fresh lemon juice
  • 15ml lemon thyme syrup
  • 4 drops of 2:1 saline solution

Shake and strain into a small coupette glass

Ballantine’s Cobbler Cocktail Image

Ballantines Cobbler
  • 50ml Ballantines Finest
  • 15ml Ruby Tawny Port
  • 3 bar spoons maraschino cherry syrup
  • Dash of sugar syrup
  • 15ml raspberry puree
  • Berries to decorate
  • Mint for decoration

Lightly shake and strain into a hurricane glass filled with minted crushed ice. Load up the glass with berries and a sprig of mint.

Thanks to the lovely people at Chivas Brothers for the recipes!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Bumpkin - Alice in Wonderland Inspired by the Seasons

I admit it, I do occasionally judge a book by its cover!  Yes, I tend to assume that Hugo Carbine-Smyth probably went to a nice university – may live South of the River – could even go home to his parents in their country pile.  Therefore, when I was invited to a blogger event at  Bumpkin 
in Chelsea – I wondered if I was wandering into a twee overprice haven for the terminally privileged.   However, I can say not only was I pleasantly surprised but pretty blown away with not only the food but also the staff (how lovely is Katia? – hope I spelt that right)

I arrived having trotted quickly through Chelsea (only getting marginally lost, due to my sense of direction which resembles a slightly dyslexic lemming) and found a restaurant which I can only describe as designed by Alice in Wonderland.  Grass inside, an adorable Gnome on the table and little glasses of Pimms which did everything but come with a dormouse and a label that said drink me.   With my events hat on, I could definitely see an afternoon tea for a select group of ladies with a few glasses of bubbles.  Maybe a haven from the football?

The Blogger event was hosted by Square Meal (which I must admit I do have a bit of a Foodie-career crush on) and we were introduced to the team as well as the Bumpkin crew.  We were then served a selection of healthy juices - I would imagine to offset the good food that was on the horizon.

Then they bravely unleashed us bloggers on the menu.  I was seated next to the delightful @gffoodie who deemed the menu good from a gluten-free perspective (they even do gluten free muffins at breakfast) and then began the debate over what to order.   Bumpkin prides itself on providing access to tasty seasonal food so I decided to go with the flow and start with Asparagus, Slow Poached Egg and Truffle although the retro crayfish cocktail looked really rather fun.

Despite a moment of food envy when I saw the Dressed Cornish crab, Avruga caviar on toast that someone else had ordered, I was utterly delighted with my choice.  The egg was perfectly poached (a feat I’ve never managed) the asparagus did credit to the season and the incredibly clever person in the kitchen had done dehydrated Tomato Skins which are probably a horrible faff but really tasty.

Katia helped us pair wine to each course and even managed to find a Chardonnay I was prepared to drink as I looked at the menu.  

Did I want the veal chop?  The Rib eye or the Short Beef Rib?    I could even have a burger or fish and chips if I was feeling retro but  I chose monk-fish and mussels in a light curry cream sauce.  I don’t often eat monk fish but as we discussed house prices and weddings (#middleclassmoments) I fancied wandering off my well-beaten track.  

The fish was perfectly cooked and the curry cream sauce light (and pretty good with one of the triple cooked chips I had nicked off someone’s portion).  The mussels were lovely but the unidentified (I think it was a piece of sweet potato) was really rather salty.  Honestly, leave it off, it’s pretty good with just the samphire to rest on.

Then came the dessert debate – I caved and chose bitter chocolate tart with honeycomb and salted caramel mousse.   Well, that was sin on a plate.  Not the type of sin, you can get away with saying a few Hail Marys to deal with, no proper decadent sin.  Although I thought the honeycomb was a little burnt but apparently when combined with the chocolate tart, it worked perfectly.  I was too busy enjoying the tart to try.

The evening finished with a glass of desert wine and quick trot back to South Kensington – avoiding the pissed and privileged.  So, would I visit again?  Would I take friends?  Would I recommend Bumpkin?  Yes, Yes and Yes – the food and atmosphere is lovely and I can’t wait to visit Alice’s boudoir again – even if I have to pay this time!


Don’t forget to follow me on twitter @littleofwhatyou

Square Meal

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Pasta Making - Not as hard as I though!

So after a hysterically busy week, what is the best possible way to relax?  Obviously, learn how to make pasta? I must admit as I crawled out of the loving embrace of my bed to catch a train to Liverpool Street, I was a little cranky.

This was not helped as I had to fight through the trendsters of Shoreditch to reach Hoxton Street and the Open Kitchen and the London City Hospitality Centre.  They regularly offer cooking courses and have a proper teaching kitchen (full on stainless steel) on the top floor which we used to learn from a lovely Spanish instructor (Antonio).

Antonio began by explaining that essentially with pasta, you have 100g of pasta flour per large egg then 2/3 teaspoon of oil.    We doubled this quantity and produced enough pasta for 8 people for a starter.   So how did this work?

Basically put the egg, flour and oil into a bowl and mix until it starts to form dough.  Then tip it out onto the side and knead for about 10 minutes.  Mine when a little dry so I wet my hand and then kept kneading.  As Antonio pointed out, if you do this in little bits, you won’t overdo it.

The dough then needs to rest for the minimum of an hour up to 24-hours, the longer it rests, the better it seems.  We cut this into two balls.  Using one, we were then let loose on the pasta machines, starting on setting number one and moving up to seven.   When we ran the pasta through the machine for the first two times, we were told to fold it over and then run it over again.

When we had hit about 3 - to produce tri-colour pasta, Antonio had made some dough with spinach powder and some with beetroot powder.  We were each given a little ball and instructed to make this into sausages and then overlay this on the pasta when we had started to flatten.

We kept flattening the pasta and then moved on to Tagliatelle as well as ravioli and tortellini.  Tagliatelli essentially involves running one of the sheets of pasta through the cutting setting on the machine and then hanging it up to dry. 

Tortellini is a little more difficult!  Essentially, you cut the pasta into smallish squares, you then pop a dab of the mixture (we had spinach and ricotta) in the centre and then wet the edges of the pasta.  You then fold the square into a triangle and make sure that the edges have stuck together.  You then twist the pasta around your finger and stick the edges together and flip the top over.  This is incredibly hard to describe so look at this photo to get a better idea.

With the ravioli, you mark out the circles – without actually cutting through – on one sheet and then dap a little of the mixture into the middle of these. Dab water around each of the circles. Pop the second sheet on top of the first and carefully push down around the filling to get rid of the air before you cut out each ravioli.

I was feeling very pleased with myself, I had made pasta – woo hoo!  Antonio produced a glorious tomato, basil, garlic, chilli and parmesan sauce to try with his efforts.  Needless to say it was delicious.  Would I recommend learning to make pasta?  Completely and if in London, I would definitely recommend the Open Kitchen.

L xx

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @littleofwhatyou

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Good food at Street Feast in Dalston

I am not trendy – in fact, I probably would not know trendy is it bit me on the leg, apart from having a sore leg that is.  So, I was mildly bemused to visit Street Feast at Dalston Yard on Saturday night. This is essentially a glorious nomadic festival of food (with a side order of those that work in med-ya) with brings together various food trucks and independent food pioneers with a sprinkling of craft beer.

It is currently doing a 20 week run on Friday and Saturday nights (5 – 12) at Dalston Yard which is opposite Dalston Junction Train Station and just at the edge of the epi-centre of cool that certain parts of East London have become.  It is fascinating and spread out within what looks to have been an old warehouse complex at some point or another with chairs and open fire pits spread around. 

While I am sure being on time is ‘not nearly cool enough for school’, we arrived early enough to snag a table (5:30) and avoid the cover charge which kicks in at 7.  This was a wise move, we decided solemnly as we watched hipsters jostle for seats as they became available.

So what was the food like?  There are a wide variety of different stalls with 3 sit down options as well  (Bobs Lobster, Steak Diner and Pizza Pilgrims) so why don’t I just tell you what we managed to eat? 

I visited Le Bun and enjoyed confit duck in a brioche bun with straw fries, slaw and hollandaise sauce.  Was it good?  It had cooled somewhat by the time I had fought my way back to the table and I like simple food so would perhaps have left out the fries but the duck was very succulent and the bun perfectly balanced so I would definitely recommend it.

We also opted for proper fries with Korean hot sauce from Spit and Roast.  The sauce was fiery but good enough that we just kept munching when they had gone cold and the people who were serving were brilliant fun (If you are reading this - I stand by my statement that the nice man who handed the sauce over is a god).

Le Bun had disappeared before I could take a photo 

Another friend visited Anna Maes for their version of the big mac – everything you get from the Golden Arches without the bun and on Mac n Cheese.  I had to grab a taste when she wasn’t looking and although I only really got the Mac n Cheese, it was very very ‘swim happily in a vat of it’ rich cheesy creamy goodness.

The man of the table was irresistibly drawn to Smoke Stack and enjoyed a prime short rib.  I did not get to taste this as I was not prepared to risk my arm trying to take it off him but as he was making happy pitbull noises (he is actually human not a dog), I thought he was probably happy.

Would I go again?  Maybe – maybe not!  While the food was pretty good, some of it was pricy (£12 for the single –albeit – big rib) and the wine was downright expensive (£20 for the most reasonable bottle we could find but I do have sense of direction issues).  

So I might pop in for dinner but if we want a longer night out then I would probably give up the table and trot off to the least trendy pub I could find in Dalston ……….

L x

Don't forget to follow me on twitter @littlebitofwhatyou