This year I’m lucky to have a wild rosemary bush growing in my garden, and though I knew wanted to make orange brownies, I wanted to add something that would make the flavour more experimental. After once sampling a stilton brownie at a food festival, I thought a little rosemary wouldn’t be overly adventurous. Next time I would like to bake with lemon and basil – but I’m unsure the brownie base would suit – fortunately, it does for this.
Orange, rosemary and dark chocolate browniesvegetarian; makes approximately 10 portions
50g brown sugar
2 small sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 tsp cinnamon
150g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
175g butter for baking
275g caster sugar
130g plain flour
2 large free-range eggs
1 tbsp cocoa powder
Begin by making a sugar syrup for the crystallised orange slices which will embellish the brownies. To do this, dissolve the brown sugar in water on the hob over a medium heat. Bring to the boil and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Reduce to a low heat, and a slices of 1 whole orange, cinnamon and sprig of rosemary. Leave to crystallise for approximately 7 minutes on each side. Remove the slices from the pan and place on kitchen roll, and then in the fridge to set whilst making the brownie batter.
Preheat the oven to 17o°C. Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl of a saucepan of simmering water (be sure not to let the base of the bowl touch the water). Stir occasionally until melted and incorporated.
Remove from the hear. Add the sugar and mix in well, followed by the flour and the cocoa powder. Stir in the eggs. Grate the zest of the second orange, and pop in with a handful rosemary trimmings, and stir into the brownie mix.
Spoon the mixture into a prepared baking tray with baking parchment. I used a square tin (23cm x 23cm x 5cm) for mine. Partially bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, the remove from the oven and add the crystallised orange slices. Place back in the oven and bake for a further 20 minutes. Leave to cool completely before removing before removing from the tray.
I completely failed to blog the festive hype; I was exhausted in the lead up to Christmas and by the time I felt recovered I was celebrating at my family home – and my parents have an oven that can only be set to one temperature (180°C) and one operating hob that actually ignites out of six – if you’re reading this mum and dad, this is a plea to invest in a new cooker. I’ll cook you nice things in thanks.
My exhaustion was probably a remnant of the utter shambles 2016 has been – politically, not personally – on a global widespread scale. We’ve lost many heroes: David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, to name a few. We’ve been defeated by a scare-mongering racist campaign dubbed “Brexit” enacted by the Tories and UKIP. And a clueless bigot named Donald Trump has gained the title of the most powerful man in the world, though with no appropriate credentials apart his privileges as a white male and the luck that he was born into excessive wealth. To ease us into 2017, to cushion us from the triggering of Article 50 and when Trump takes over presidential office, comfort cooking is surely the way forward.
I blame the political turmoil of 2016 for why I didn’t cook AT ALL over the Christmas period. With special thanks to my lovely mum for buying me the M&S butternut squash and pecan nut roast for Christmas dinner to compensate. The cat Christmas crackers from Paperchase were also amazing.
My cat Sancho sniffing out the crackers
I did, however, manage to squeeze in a little creativity over the holidays. For presents I made loved ones personalised baubles for their trees, featuring my favourite photos of them, with added jewels and sparkles.
One for my mum…
And one for my boyfriend.
I also went on festive film photography trips at Knole Park, a National Trust deer park, which is luckily only two miles from my house.
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So this blog post is more concerned with post-christmas blues, my apprehensions and intense excitement for the New Year. Thus far, I’ve had to throw away my chilli plant, and I’ve managed to buy a calendar (in the sale, it pays to be disorganised) and I’ve made it back to my kitchen in Exeter in one piece.
A few things I would like to achieve this year:
Write short fiction
Write blog posts with greater sentimental value
Pick up the paint brush again
More pressing concerns:
Obtain a graduate job
Pay off that hefty student loan
In terms of this blog, I intend to combine my burgeoning predilection for art history alongside food journalism. So watch this space…
Porridge is a gentrified phenomenon that has become a hipster trend in the past twelve months or so. And I’m so on board with it, because I’ve been fuelling on the gruel since before it was cool. As a child I strangely always associated the grain with cartoon adaptations of Dickensian inmates in Victorian England, as unappealing gruel sloped into bowls, eaten for the sake of energy and calorie intake. It has been a staple food throughout history, typically associated and eaten largely by peasantry; now it has been transformed and consumed at brunch by hipster Londoners in Neals Yard and Brick Lane. There’s something a bit wrong with purchasing a bowl of porridge at £6.50, for the sake of Instagram. I’m guilty here. A 1kg Tesco’s own bag of porridge oats will cost you 99 pence, containing on average 25 servings, as cheap as rice. The packaging even suggests to cook with water, not milk. Firstly, who does this? You shouldn’t. But imagine how inexpensive breakfasts would be if you were to. The packaging advises for a more “indulgent” and “creamy” texture, use milk in replacement. Secondly, take up that suggestion and ALWAYS use milk. Allow yourself that “indulgence”.
Once I taught myself breakfast was brilliant, and the foundation for a positive day (it’s now my favourite meal of the day in fact, because a fresh day promises so much) porridge became an addictive strategic routine. I had an awfully disruptive first year at university, in which I moved halls of residence accommodation twice, living in a total of three different flats across the academic year. During the first few months I had no home, no space to call my own, no actual flat mates, and most importantly, no supply of porridge oats. My appetite and diet went array, and consequently I felt immensely lost due to my askew concentration. I distinctively remember one day when I was physically moving my belongings from my old halls to my new final room, that by the end of the day I had eaten a single yoghurt. This was a clear indication that I was not healthy, caring for myself, or showing myself any self-love. It didn’t get much better when I settled in; I lived off peanut butter and jam on toast for breakfast and dinner, and lunch was just not a plausible nor a convenient thing. From the sight of my food blog, my recipes and my extensive supply of bizarre and unnecessary ingredients such as carob syrup and rose water, you would not imagine that buttering toast used to be an ordeal in itself. Of course, I would not have thought to have document the dreariness of my toast dinners on Instagram – and this is why social media is so lethal: it represents the beatific aspects of existence, censoring and ignoring the unplanned and miserable occurrences in the everyday. I always loved cooking before university, and I’m glad I’ve managed to retain and rekindle that passion. And of course, I am lax with cooking sometimes – I don’t eat like an aspiring food writer everyday – and I always take a detour on my way home from a drunken night out to the kebab shop to get cheesy chips, with its copious amounts of plastic, grated cheese that almost certainly isn’t cheese.
Back to porridge. My most vivid memory of porridge is from first year at university, on a day when I had eaten very little, due to lack of food supplies, and by evening I felt very weak. I went to visit my friend in his flat, who noticed my tiredness and lethargy, and asked me what I eaten that day. When I couldn’t recall, he left me to rest, and returned with a big steaming bowl of porridge, an extremely creamy one – made with whole milk – and generous dollops of strawberry jam. It was the greatest thing I could ever have been given: a cure to my severe unhappiness at eighteen years old. It was a signifier of hope and sustenance, ensuring that the best things were yet to come, and deterring me from giving up on my degree course.
That life-altering meal was made from Everyday Value porridge oats, whole milk and 29p strawberry jam. Don’t tell the chef I told you so but the proportional quantities were terrible, it was stodgy and it was over-microwaved, but it tasted divine because of what it represented.
Stirring porridge always evokes a very personal and meaningful nostalgia within me. The process reminds me I deserve to be nourished and it has since fuelled much happier, more productive and stimulating days. It also reminds me of my Dad. When I lived at home, I would wake up every morning to a scraped out saucepan which was hours earlier filled with rollicking porridge, abandoned on the hob in the kitchen, for the house fairy to clean up (my poor mother). We’ve never owned a microwave due to my dad’s stubborn fear of the machines as unnatural and cancerous, so porridge has always been cooked on the hob – and that’s the way it should be – the texture of the porridge is not the same when cooked in the microwave. My dad would leave at 5.30am every morning to get to work, thankfully on a stomach content from a bowl of slow-releasing porridge. Thank you dad for working hard.
So here’s two porridge recipes I eat rarely due to time and effort but when I do with it gives me great pleasure:
Measure 50g of porridge oats with 250ml milk, and pour into a saucepan, add the frozen blueberries, raisins, and dried lavender. Cook over a medium heat on the hob, stirring continuously for 3 minutes. The frozen blueberries will give the porridge a beautiful lilac colour.
Once a thick and creamy consistency, and heated through, pour into a bowl. Dollop on cold lemon curd, lemon zest and sprinkle on poppy seeds. Eat immediately, but not before taking a photo for Instagram and pretending you have your life entirely together.
Cypriot porridge: figs, carob syrup and cacao nibsvegetarian; serves 1
50g rolled porridge oats
250ml semi-skimmed milk, or a soya alternative
1 fig, quartered
1 tsp carob syrup, to serve
1 tbsp cacao nibs, to serve
Measure 50g porridge oats with 250ml milk, pour into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat on the hob, stirring continuously for 3 minutes.
Once cooked, like above, remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and assemble. Add the sliced fig, drizzle on carob syrup and sprinkle over cacao nibs.
Upon entering Truffles Pizzeria, the air was pungent with the luxurious smell and quality of truffle oil – as one of my favourite cooking ingredients, this was a good indication of what was to come.
Opened as a pizzeria only a year ago, amongst the dainty throng of local independents on Magdalen Road, business seems to be prosperous. Even on a Wednesday evening, tables were occupied or reserved; popular with local families, companionless individuals perhaps in need of a restful meal and some quality time to themselves, young 30-something couples and people popping in for a hump-day takeaway order. All students tend to migrate towards The Old Firehouse when pizza is fancied, but I recommend this restaurant for a more relaxed, intimate atmosphere, and for a greater selection of elaborate toppings.
Truffles Pizzeria is sadly lacking in a website and an accessible menu online, so I couldn’t do my favourite, unspontaneous habit and peruse the menu and decide what I was going to have beforehand. But its TripAdvisor profile, rating it #24 in the whole of Exeter, and at a stable 5 stars from over 100 happy customers, reassured my qualms concerning the menu. I can vouch that the pizza menu is extensive, for vegetarians and meat eaters alike, featuring experimental toppings like blue cheese, honey and walnut (without a tomato base) to the classic pepperoni. Pizzas are priced at approximately £11.50 each.
Typically I’d go for the most experimental, i.e. the blue cheese, honey and walnut combo, but I’ve seem to be recreating these same flavours again and again for my own recipes (like my pear and stilton flatbreads) because blue cheese and walnut are the recipe for a perfect marriage. On this occasion my reviewee date and I went for ‘The Autumn’, to enjoy the current seasonal flavours, and ‘The Vegetarian’. ‘The Autumn’ is apt for those with luxurious and expensive tastebuds as it was laden with mushrooms, pine nuts and truffle oil. The flavourful ‘Vegetarian’ option featured tender artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, green and black olives and caramelised onion. Both were a real treat, but ‘The Autumn’ was particularly distinct in flavour due to the drizzling of truffle oil and the abundance of toasted pine nuts.
The owner Chris is cheerful and welcoming, and the way he runs the restaurant truly reminds me of No 1 Polsloe’s style, as it has a lovely, personal touch which comes with independent businesses. For example, Chris recently invited in local primary school children to propose their own perfect pizzas, and the winning design made its way onto the menu. The walls are decorated with exceptional prints and drawings by local secondary school students, too.
I apologise that my photos aren’t up to my usual standard as the restaurant was romantically lit by candlelit, so the pictures do not do the pizzas justice. I would encourage you to try out Truffles whilst you have the chance before entering graduate life; it’s a perfect location for a cosy date. Alternatively, you can experience the pizza in the comfort of your own home with Deliveroo…
it was my boyfriend who first introduced me to gin…ever since that date I’ve been hooked, to both the gin and to him. This recipe is a tad sentimental in its creation; I made it for his 21st birthday, to celebrate that first drink we shared
For the cake –
325g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
4 tbsp whole milk
20 dried juniper berries, crushed
325g caster sugar
4 free range large eggs
Zest of 2 limes
325g self-raising flour
For the syrup –
75ml tonic water
75g caster sugar
15 dried juniper berries, crushed
For the glaze and decoration –
150g icing sugar
2 tbsp gin
A handful of juniper berries
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Grease a non-stick 27cm diameter bundt tin with butter.
Warm the milk on a low temperature with the juniper berries. Set aside once warm. Cream together the sugar and the butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, continuing to mix together until well combined. Stir in the lime zest.
Add the flour and combine until smooth. Strain the milk through a sieve, leaving the juniper berries behind, and beat until incorporated.
Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and smooth with a palette knife. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted.
While it is baking in the oven, make the syrup. Reduce the gin, tonic, sugar and crushed juniper berries in a saucepan over a low heat. Turn up the heat, and simmer for 8 minutes, until it has reduced by half.
When the cake is out of the oven, use a fork to pierce holes in it all over. Pour the syrup evenly over and leave it to cool in its tin for a further 10 minutes. Take the cake out and arrange it on a cake board.
Once fully cooled, combine icing sugar with gin to create a glaze. Pour the glaze over, and finish by sprinkling over lime zest and juniper berries.
No 1 Polsloe café – the clue is in the title and the address – they’re No 1 at delivering high quality food, No 1 for aesthetic, No 1 for value.
They faced me with a challenge: to get through three of their vegetarian breakfasts, one strawberry ice cream milkshake, a flat white and a cappuccino. Suffice to say, I was waddling to my 12pm lecture after.
I had been to this café back in 2014, but since it changed hands in August 2015, the aesthetic and vibe of the dainty space has gone from strength to strength. Decorated in makeshift cacti botanical bowls, fairy lights, plant wall hangings, and giant flowers floating from the ceiling; all I’m thinking about whilst waiting for my breakfast is how I wish I had the creative juices of the café’s trendy yet modest owner, Becky.
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The space also boasts connections with Devonshire artists. Illustrative artist Elise who runs Skelliton illustration, has currently got a table of gorgeously designed goods up for sale there. The menus are designed by artist George Goodwin, who goes by the title ‘Omg I drawed it’ – and I’m looking at his art on the walls thinking Omg I WISH I drew that. But fear not, George’s drawings are available to purchase so you can bring home a little bit of that No 1 Polsloe aesthetic.
After feeling a little jealous of all these creative types, the food arrives, and the pressure is on to do all this beautiful food justice through my little iPhone camera.
Becky’s team have given me a platter featuring: their special smashed avocado and poached eggs on thick-sliced bread, with lime, chilli, and dill; a vegetarian, avocado aficionado version of eggs royale; and, buttermilk pancakes with honey, banana and Greek yoghurt.
Smashed avo & pouched eggs with lime, dill & chilli
Vegetarian eggs royale
The combination of lime, chilli, and dill with avocado tastes sensational. The hollandaise sauce poured over the eggs, avocado slices and warm muffins is absolutely perfect. I used the pancakes, accompanied by the strawberry ice cream milkshake, as my desert to the breakfast trio – they have clearly mastered their pancake batter recipe. After sampling all of these, I cannot help but think I would be over the moon to receive this in a highflying hotel. Yet, a brunch here will only set you back £6 at the most.
It’s all the thoughtful finishing touches which makes this eatery so great. Everyone is considered – from the meat-eaters, to the vegans, to the gluten-free customers. I truly appreciate seeing a restaurant also fully supportive of local businesses, such as using Exe Coffee Roasters to supply its beans, and KB Eats’ spectacular cakes to stock the counter.
No.1 Polsloe does not stop at brunch – it’s open for lunch and into the evening for pizza and cocktails. It’s now available to be hired out for private parties too.