Thursday, 13 February 2014


Special occasions spell one thing in my house. Nope, not pulling a sickie or downing cava with your morning OJ (well, maybe...) but food. I mean, what else? A birthday is just a day to remind you how old and underachieving you are without a giant, sticky chocolate cake; Christmas would be little more than a very extravagant game of pass the parcel without the equally extravagant (and most of the time, entirely ridiculous) feast that gathers the whole family around the table and renders you unable to move until at least New Years Day.

A massive plate of perfectly cooked steak and chips, or a mound of gorgeously iced cupcakes speaks a thousand words. I mean, if you can be bothered to painstakingly fry an egg into a heart shape hollowed out of a piece of toast, you clearly care just a little bit about your breakfast date. And if there is any occasion that screams heart shaped yolks, it is Valentine’s Day.  It is the one day of the year that you can get away with making no-holds-barred  demands for candle-lit dinners and boxes of homemade truffles. It is without fail, the king and queen of chocolate, ice-cream, and, of course, morning-after breakfasts in bed. If ‘ya know what I mean...

And don’t go thinking that flickering candle light means you can get away with plonking down your usual beans on toast in front of your beloved. Val-Day is all about going to the next level. Be it curls of dill-flecked smoked salmon in place of spag-bol, a chilled bottle of cava instead of a jug of Ribena, an insanely overpriced 6 course tasting menu over your Big-Mac; it is the time to go big, red and silly. Crack out the hearts and flowers, loosen your belt, and get noshing.

If you (like me) plan on avoiding the chocolate sharing plates and red rose adorned tables of the restaurant scene on the 14th; why not have a go at this amazingly rich, luxurious chocolate and caramelised orange mousse. Bursting with orange zest, screaming indulgence with intense salted caramel and candied orange; this is a dessert that has romance rippled all the way through it.

And, as the egg-free mousse takes just minutes to prepare, this little piece of chocolate heaven is the perfect opportunity to dust off your apron and channel your inner Heston. Get fancy with some cutlery (for making quinelles, not serenading your love with an impromptu spoons performance), scatter over some roasted hazelnuts and finish with a grating of dark chocolate and you have a pud that may as well have been cooked by Cupid. It is the only way to say you care, even if your valentines date is a horror movie, a box of tissues and a giant tub of Ben & Jerry’s. Well, it would be rude not to...

Caramelised Orange Chocolate Mousse with Hazelnuts and Sea Salt (Serves 2)

Make the candied orange and salted caramel a day or so in advance and this will be the easiest dessert you will ever make. Leaving you plenty of time for gazing into each other's eyes, holding hands across the table and drinking more Cava than is truly necessary...

For the Mousse

75g mini marshmallows

25g soft butter

90g good dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids) chopped into small pieces

35g milk chocolate, chopped into small pieces

30ml water (from a recently boiled kettle)

145 ml double cream

1 teaspoon orange zest

A good splash of Cointreau

4 candied orange slices, chopped (see below)

A pinch of sea salt

1tbsp salted caramel (see below)

For the Candied orange

2 oranges, sliced as thinly as you can

Caster sugar

For the Salted Caramel

75g unsalted butter

70g soft light brown sugar

30g caster sugar

50g golden syrup

100ml double cream

1tsp sea salt

To Serve

A few candied orange slices, halved and cut into small segments

1 tbsp hazelnuts, roasted and chopped

A few square dark chocolate

First, make the candied orange slices.
Preheat the oven to 200oc. In a bowl, toss the orange slices in the sugar until evenly coated. Arrange the slices evenly on a lined baking tray and bake for 25-30mins or until caramelised. Leave to cool
Now, make the salted caramel.

In a heavy based saucepan, melt the butter, sugars and syrup and simmer until a rich golden brown, swirling every now and then to prevent burning.

Add the cream and half the sea salt, and whisk to create a smooth sauce. Taste (being careful not to burn your tongue!) and add more salt if needed. Allow to cool.
Now, finally, for the mousse!

In a saucepan, melt together the chocolate, marshmallows, butter and water until thick, shiny and evenly mixed. Stir in the Cointreau, salt, orange zest and the chopped candied orange. Leave to cool
In a separate bowl, whip the cream until thick. Gently fold in the semi-cooled chocolate mixture and salted caramel until evenly mixed.

Now, to present! Arrange quinelles of the mousse, an artistic blob of caramel and some candied orange pieces onto your best plate. Sprinkle over the roasted hazelnuts, a grating of chocolate and present to your love. A guaranteed winner...

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Thank God it's February...

Well thank goodness, the worst month of the year has finally got the juice-dieting, hot yoga dripping message and buggered off until it rears its ugly, 31-day-long head again next year. I mean really, I don’t like to moan (much), but what is it about this month that makes it so damn anti-social? Detox’s that lead to retox’s of epic proportions, everyone from Primark to Prada flashing their best neon sports bras, kale, quinoa, more kale...

Any time of year that spells a month long battle to surgically remove the pine needles somehow ingrained into the carpet in the corner of the living room that once proudly housed glistening parcels and twinkling fairy lights, has just a little too much cheek for my liking. Add the inevitable  post-Mulled Wine/Mince pie/Monopoly/General Festive comedown to the veganism, circuit training, alcohol-free ridiculousness of the other miseries that we force upon ourselves at this time, and you have a severe and unavoidable case of January Blues on your hands before Jools Holland has even kicked off the first verse of Auld Lang Syne.

Slime hued juices with the unmistakable odour of a vegetarian cafe’s compost bin, gyms so busy that the most exercise you get is squeezing your Christmas curves into your spandex leggings, and most of all, bloody resolutions. Promises that the pile of leftover Quality Street and Chocolate Orange in the corner of the lounge are sure to quash before the calendar has even been taken out of its plastic wrapping; leading not to the slender thighs or Gweneth Paltrow abs that you were imaging, but to more guilt than written on the smiling face of a Justin Beiber mug-shot.

Ah, yes, guilt; it catches up with us all. I mean, there is only so long I can live on Celebrations and Prosecco before people start to gossip...

So, while everyone else is gorging on baby spinach and pretending they don’t wish their pint of water was a pint of Gin, there is something about soup that makes me feel slightly less rebellious. And this vitamin packed beauty is so far from naughty that it’s almost frustratingly angelic; think the wondrously wholesome, knicker-knitting, wood-whittling Kisrtie Allsopp of the soup world, just slightly less irritating and not nearly as posh.

Crammed with loads of delicious veggies, bursting with just enough sunny lemon flavours to clear that miserable sky and zinging with the gentle hum of fennel and caraway; this is soup with super written all over it. Add the subtle crunch of super-trendy, mega good for you quinoa, soft lentils and the amazing, fresh aroma of Rosemary and you have a meal on your hands that will make your 2014 instantly better. Particularly if you cancel out all that goodness with a large serving of something wonderfully naughty for afters. Its all about the balance, after all...

Super-Food Soup

Olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

3 carrots, peeled and diced

2 sticks of celery, diced

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp caraway seeds

1/2tsp garam marsala

1/2tsp tumeric

1 courgette, diced

1ltr hot chicken or vegetable stock

60g red lentils

30g quinoa

½ savoy cabbage, shredded

A good pinch of dried or fresh rosemary

1 lemon

In a large saucepan, gently fry the onion, garlic, celery and carrot in a little olive oil until the onion is translucent and everything is starting to soften

Add the spices and courgette and fry, stirring, for another 3 minutes

Add the hot stock, a couple of lemon wedges, lentils and quinoa and simmer over a low heat for 20 minutes

Stir in the cabbage and cook for another 5-10 minutes or until everything is cooked through and the soup is thick

Squeeze in the remaining lemon and season well. Serve with sourdough toast and remember to wear your halo...