175g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
175g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
175g self-raising flour, sifted
Heat the oven to 180°C. I had planned to butter a 20cm sandwich tin, and do two batches, but I ended up lining a big baking tray with greaseproof paper instead.
Using the big blender, I beat together the butter and sugar until the mixture looked pale and fluffy. Then I gradually added in the beaten eggs in to the still moving blender, making sure it was well beaten, then added in the flour. I poured the mixture in to the baking tin and spread it somewhat, then baked for 20 minutes. It wasn't done, and it took another ten minutes.
The cake cooled in the tins for two minutes, then I removed and let it cool completely on a wire rack.
It looked rubbish.
To fix it, I cut it in half to make a sandwich, which I filled with jam and basic butter icing, and dusted with icing sugar.
Dusting with icing sugar made a huge difference, surprisingly.
The last cake I made was a gluten-free Christmas cake. Hopefully this one will not last as long.
One measure each of:
Shake over ice. Strain and drink. Repeat until done.
There's something about burgers.
The honesty of a proper floury roll, the quality of the prime beef, the heady scent of onions and the simplicity of a proper, straightforward burger.
And of course, there's the name - well hung, and tender - without which I might have walked past in complete ignorance.
2 tsp ground mixed spice
125g caster sugar
2 limes (juice and zest)
a lemon (juice only)
4 tbsp honey
500ml white wine
2 tbsp cornstarch mixed with a little water
Mix everything except the cornstarch in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir in the cornstarch and water mixture.
Reduce the liquid until it's a bit thinner than a jam, but you basically just want to eat it immediately.
Mash a little and leave it to cool as long as you dare.
Easily made by blokes.
Tastes of Christmas.
Keeps in the fridge for days and only gets better.
Original recipe by Paul Rankin
A little over two years ago, a new Chinese takeaway opened next door to us.
Having lived in the Perfumed Kingdom, we'd been somewhat wary of the chicken and sweetcorn soup in a plastic tub purveyors, packed with lovely MSG, thickeners, flavour enhancers and dust. But, it was next door.
And it was great. Great spicy tofu, fantastic prawns, some of the most exquisite dumplings (why only five?). The staff were friendly, and got to know us a little too well. The kitchen was open, and you could watch them prepare the food. We'd invite people over, pick a range of authentic dishes and introduce people to real chinese food.
And then, about a month ago we had a call from a concerned neighbour. The dumplings, she said, were not as good. trying out a new chef, we thought.
Then we heard that the spicy tofu had gone from the menu.
None of the original staff worked there any more.
There was a wooden partition up between the kitchen and the front of the shop.
The notices in the window proudly proclaiming that the meat used was organic and free range went.
And then the sign went, and the new, nastier sign replaced it. Only the telephone number remains.
It's odd to watch somewhere that's basically a business die through attrition, through a thousand tiny cuts gradually eating away at it. To watch something that you respected, something exceptional, fade in to bland uniformity. Strangely, I feel that I've been cheated of a chance to mourn properly, and every time I walk past the shop front, I feel a tangible loss.
The whole thing leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
Goes to Dominos, calling to apologise for poor service and give me a free garlic bread. However, I couldn't make out why I was getting this free garlic bread, but who am I to look a gift bread in the mouth?
Love exists, but there are different kinds of love.
For example, I love chocolate hob nobs. I like spending time with them, and they give me a nice feeling in my mouth. I also love my partner. But it's a different kind of love. Chocolate hob nobs will never let me down, will never leave me, and will always satisfy me, but frankly I wouldn't want to have a relationship with them, because at the end of the day, I will grow old, and they'll stay fresh.
My partner, on the other hand, is fallible, argumentative, and does my head in. I thus have more in common with my partner than I do with a chocolate hob nob. I can see myself growing old with my partner. I can't see myself growing old with hob nobs - just fatter.
In the 1980s, this restaurant achieved its third Michelin Star, a rarity indeed. Over the last twenty years it has lost two of them, but even a One-Star Restaurant is an event to be looked forward to. Particularly given the quote in the Guardian a couple of years ago when England's greatest living intellectual was thinking about moving to Madrid.
The Beckhams would almost certainly have no problem getting a table at the city's exclusive Zalacain restaurant, a favourite with Zidane, Raul and Figo, where other wealthy diners may have to wait up to two months to get a place.
It was certainly exclusive, and the clientele all appeared to be well-heeled. It was, however, one of the most disappointing restaurants I have been to.
Let's start with the superficial matters.
The menu. My Spanish isn't great, but I suspect I would have been better off with a Spanish menu than with the English one they provided. All of the words were English words, true, but they were not necessarily in an order that made any sense. Now, while having a section of the menu labelled "Side Dishes" rather than the more conventional "Starters" might be charming in somewhere quaint in a side-street, this sort of mistake isn't a good sign in a restaurant with an international reputation.
It should have rung alarm bells. Indeed, it did ring alarm bells, but I was thinking "funky Spanish charm, funky Spanish charm." There's only so far that thought can take you, though. The menu looked a bit varied. In a Michelin Star restaurant I'd expect maybe 8 main courses at most. Not fifty. But never mind. The prices looked right. I was still expecting something special.
The service was poor. The waiters were clumsy to the extent of walking in to people and dropping things, and forgetful, missing people out when pouring wine.
All this before the food arrived. Let's just say that the table looked fantastic.
And then they cleared away the floral display and brought us a starter. A little platter of tapas. If you're being generous you would call them tapas. If you're working in Domino's you'd call them "Chicken Strippers, hold the dips".
And on it went.
The food was flat, uninspiring and disappointing. I won't deny that I ate a significant quantity of caviar, and I won't deny that I enjoyed that at least. But from a restaurant with that sort of reputation, and with those sort of prices, I expected a little bit more. I expected my food to be vaguely exciting. I expected something where a little effort had gone in to cooking the food - or at least you felt that it had. I expected the plates that arrived to excite the eye as well as the taste buds. I expected food so good I felt forced to share it with Mr Twinky rather than food that embarrassed me so much that I wanted to hide.
Perhaps I've been spoiled. I've eaten in some excellent restaurants in my time. I'd eaten at an excellent restaurant the night before. I'd hoped for better, really I had.
Sadly, I can't recommend this place. I would avoid it like the plague. Go to the terrace at the Ritz instead.
My hometown, and so a strong contender. The best source for chips, when I was a nipper, was Brattisani's. No idea if this is still the case. Alternatives to fish include Steak pies, Mince pies, Batter sausages, deep fried pizzas, Mars Bar fritters, apparently. Standard condiments are salt and sauce. Not a mushy pea in sight.
Similar to Edinburgh, but with vinegar replacing the sauce. A better range of fish, including the special fish, which is like a regular fish, but with 'special needs', and a slightly superior batter. Still no mushy peas.
Just got it all wrong. The chips were too hot, the traditional way to eat them was with a little wooden splinter. They burned the roof of the mouth, and were just not nice.
Elsewhere in Scotland
The village of Comrie boasts the last chip shop in the country to use animal fat to deep fry its chips. No idea if that's true or not, but a damned fine chip shop nonetheless.
I've limited experience, but I've always been disappointed. The variety and quality of the fish seems better, but the accompanying range of pies is disappointing, with moist pastry, probably due to them probably being oven baked from frozen while still in their tin foil cases. Yes, they offer mushy peas, and curry sauce, but eating from a London chip shop wouldn't be a special treat that I'd look forward to.
Pitta bread filled with chips and mayonnaise from the Gardenia kebab shop in Rose Crescent, in the late 1980s. Different and good.
No pies at all, which is a disappointment. Vinegar, Glasgow-style. No sign of a mushy pea. But a good range of freid fish and chicken, the return of the batter sausage, and a pretty good range of burgers and oven-baked pizzas accompanying the usual fare. Plus garlic chips, cheesy chips and curry chips, which are essentially regular chips with a pot of dip.
Errors and omissions
I'm sure that someone will disagree with me about London. I could just be thinking about one chip shop. In Wanstead. I'm sure that somebody thinks that Harry Ramsden's chips are the best in the world (They're not, they're rubbish). Where is the best chip shop you know?
Serves Two. Not suitable for children, or those of a nervous disposition.
Take ten large strawberries and remove the green parts. Toss these at friends and relatives with a cry of 'spider' and watch them squirm and retreat in to themselves, scared by memories of Doctor Who episodes from 1973. Put the lovely red bits in a blender.
To these, add a healthy measure of Bacardi. I'd recommend 60ml, because it was the size of measure that came to hand. This is best done while pushing forward the lower lip and saying in ones best moody hispanic accent 'Table six. And get a tip!'.
Squeeze half a lime in to a small white bowl, take two teaspoons of the lime juice and add to the fruit and alcohol.
Add four teaspoons of sugar to take the edge off the bitterness that you've just added.
Go to the freezer, being careful not to put your back out, and get two trays of ice. Empty these in to the blender along with everything else.
Put the lid on the blender. This is the really important bit. Some blenders have a mechanism to prevent them being turned on unless the lid is on. Our blender doesn't have one of these. Once the lid is on, blend the ingredients in to a slushy mess. Then take the lid off.
Pour the mush in to two glasses. There you go. Then drink. Very quickly.
Jacobs Ladder is our new favourite restaurant.
If, like me, you're a sucker for an eight course surprise tasting menu, then you couldn't really fault the dinner that we had on Saturday. From the surprising tomato tart with olive ice cream, through to the perfectly cooked and deliciously gamey rabbit, every course was excellent. And exceptionally good value all round.
Of couse, as the maitre'd informed us as we left it's not always like that. Sometimes the surprise menu is toasties...
Actually bloody difficult to make, due to the tendency of the soya milk to separate when heated. But when you get a well made Soy Latte, like the one I'm drinking just now, it's actually pretty acceptable, once you accept that it tastes nothing like the real thing.
Unless, of course, like the one I'm drinking now, you take the decision to have an extra shot of espresso in there. Gives it more of a kick, and much more of a coffee flavour, disguising the soy. After all, the soy is there to add bulk and texture, more than anything else.
So, with this extra caffeine kick, this drink is really going through my body. And I mean that in almost every sense that it's possible for caffeine to go through the body. I'm sparking, on an energy high, while at the same time I know that I'm going to have to go to the loo pretty soon.
Overall opinion of this drink, then? It's not great. It's not too bad. And you know? I'm satisfied.
Today, my tuna and cheese sandwich is mainly being sweetcorn.
This isn't hugely odd. The sandwich is advertised as tuna and cheese, and the amounts usually vary. There's always some sweetcorn in there, because presumably someone in management at Cafe Sol sat down and thought 'hmmm. I've got tuna and cheese in this tuna and cheese sandwich... what more does it need?'
It's an odd addition. I personally don't mind it, although I do think it's odd.
It's like a little extra, snuck in as a surprise. A treat to make you glad that you went to Cafe Sol and got extra - something that you didn't pay for. So, I find myself thinking Cafe Sol are good to me. Or something.
In a way it's like the nuts that they slip in to chocolate. I guess that's not just a cynical way to spin out the chocolate and make it taste shite, but is in fact a hidden bonus, an extra to make you think "Hmmm... I wanted chocolate, but I've got chocolate with added nuts! Lucky me! Aren't (insert name of company) generous!"
It's just fortunate that I don't have a sweetcorn allergy, I guess.
Last night, Thornton's Restaurant in Portobello, Dublin closed its doors for the last time. Reputed to be the best restaurant in Dublin, and boasting two Michelin stars, it was the end of an era. Mr Twinky and I were there.
With a restaurant with that sort of reputation, you want to be able to leave yourselves in the hands of the chef, to get his recommendation. So we went for the fixed price surprise menu. Different for every table. You've got to love that. None of your 'we're catering for 400 so that's 400 individual steak and onion pies' nonsense. Our menu chosen for us. Now, blogger ate my original post about this, with individual comments on the individual courses. Let's just say that it was fantastic. This is what we ate.
Perhaps it was because it was their last night, they were cleaning out a fridge full of leftovers or something.
Clearly, though, this was a world class restaurant. I just hope it keeps its character when it reopens in a more central location in a month's time.
Serves 4. Perfect for a summer day if you've got time to think in advance, but don't know quite when you'll be eating.
4 Tuna steaks, washed and cut into bite sized chunks.
enough lime juice to cover - around 8 small limes.
For the salsa:
1/3 cup olive oil
2 pounds plum tomatoes, seededbut not skinned, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 stalks celery, peeled
1/2 cup ketchup
2 chili peppers, seeded, chopped roughly
A good handful of coriander
1 tablespoon oregano
2/3 cup green olives, chopped
1. Trim the tuna and place in a glass bowl. Cover with lime juice and marinate in the fridge for two and a half hours.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the garlic for 3 minutes. Discard garlic and allow oil to cool.
3. Let the oil cool and put in a blender with the other ingredients. Whizz. Allow to sit for 2 hours, refrigerated. Adjust seasonings.
4. Rinse the tuna well in cold running water. Cover with water and let it stand for 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Add to the salsa, mix them together, cover with cling film and leave in the fridge until required.
I have to note the Steak Sandwich which I had on Saturday. I bought the steak myself, with no particular recipe in mind, and hobbled halfway across Dublin with my groceries in one hand, and a 11kg toolkit in the other. And Mr Twinky's suggested recipe was a steak sandwich, which he'd make himself. For some reason, this included making everything from the most basic ingedients possible. I'd forgotten to buy bread, so he made some. From scratch. First attempt. And it was excellent.
One of the great things about my life at the moment is the food. I'm worried that I'm starting to take it for granted, though.
And there's something very fishy about instant mashed potato. Mashed potato has to be one of the easiest things on the planet to cook. It's only marginally harder than boiling a potato, which is even easier than boiling an egg. You can imagine the marketing discussions.
"I've got this great idea. Let's make the easiest thing in the world even easier."
"How're we going to do that then?"
"We'll give people instant mashed potato."
"What are we going to make it out of?"
And so on. At some point, there would be one of the marketing executives cautiously revealing that he had given his grandmother a set of audio-cassettes that gave detailed instructions for egg-sucking, and then all the gory stories would come out of the woodwork.
At the end of the day, the final decision would be made. Instant mashed potato made out of 80% sawdust and 20% potato flavouring, dehydrated by leaving it out in the sun for a week, and packaged in individual sachets. And then brilliantly marketed as the food of the future by a couple of tin sink plungers.
It's time to recommend a restaurant. The restaurant is called La Bimba, and it's upstairs at 125 Great Ocean Road, Apollo Bay, Victoria. In Australia, obviously. The Phone number is (03) 5237 7411, and the food and the service are excellent. When you go, tell them that you were sent by this site.
This will mean nothing to them.
I had dinner on Friday night at the New York Grill in the Park Hyatt Tokyo, Japan. It is apparently one of the best hotel restaurants in the world. I can't find any evidence to disprove this. This meal now goes into my top three meals in Asia, along with the Vietnamese noodles with rice bread, and the dinner I had at Vong.
Why was the New York Grill so good? The food was wonderful, the view fantastic, the lighting was intimate, the chef de cuisine was chatty and informed. The kitchen was very open, the atmosphere was great and the price was discreetly presented to me so I didn't have to share it with Mr Twinky. Just as well.