Orange, rosemary and dark chocolate brownies

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 brownies vegetarian; makes approximately 10 portions 

Ingredients:

  • 2 oranges
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 100ml water
  • 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

Method: 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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Autumnal menu reivew at The Oddfellows

My first impressions of The Oddfellows are from comedy and cocktail nights in the upstairs speakeasy; the vintage interior offers sophisticated quirks and charms that are a luxury for students, and the vast array of spirits and ales are incredibly exciting. The cocktails are an absolute delight – these experimental and delicious concoctions are overshadowed by popular and inexpensive cocktail bars in the city, attracting students from the deep, dark depths of their deadlines. If you’re in need of a cosy space for an uninterrupted first date, then students, leave the sugary, syrupy cocktail pitchers at Firehouse and head across the road to The Oddfellows. If conversation is sparse you can discuss the eccentric decor, like the giant pine cone chairs, or the animal heads hanging from the walls.

Sometimes I just hate breaking the news that I’m vegetarian to the restaurant owners overseeing my reviews, particularly after first-glance at a lavish meat feast of a menu consisting of duck breast, black pudding mousse, chorizo couqettes…the chefs certainly know how to curate a menu according to season. So when my lovely server, Ryan, recommended the last of the venison on today’s specials board I didn’t want to announce “I’m afraid we’re (referring to my lucky reviewee partner and myself) vegetarian”. And that’s made awkward more so by the fact that the only vegetarian main on the menu was a risotto, albeit a luxurious, al dente, creamy risotto. Although, I do prefer it when a menu is composed of a few extensively and passionately designed dishes. Situated on a table with full view of the happenings of the kitchen, the solo chef on this Monday evening knew his way round the elaborate yet tempting menu, juggling the orders for hungry diners.

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The dish that deserves the spotlight from this three course is surprisingly a simplistic vegetarian starter, which merely thinking about is making my mouth water. On paper, it’s rather unexciting: Goats cheese mousse, quince purée, and butternut squash. This restaurant certainly loves its mousses and purées. The goats cheese mousse melted in the mouth – it wasn’t overpowering or too rich like you’d expect it to be but was the perfect, soft accompaniment to the crunchiness of the butternut squash – which there were only three cubes of – a tad ungenerous, if not to emphasise the mousse as centerpiece.

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An additional vegetarian starter on the specials board also caught my eye: salad of roasted heart of artichoke, giant caramelized shallots, served with a concentrated spinach and basil dressing, and a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds. This was a wholesome and more filling starter compared to the first. But starters aren’t meant to fill you up, they’re there to whet your appetite for the next courses, and the goats cheese mousse was incredibly exciting, making me anticipate the what would come next.

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Up next was unfortunately the only vegetarian main up for grabs: creamy roasted cauliflower risotto with truffle oil. It didn’t disappoint in taste and appearance however; the charred cauliflower with truffle oil against the luxurious base of al dente (cooked to perfection in my books) risotto rice really worked. If you prefer less rich, less creamy risotto then this may not be for you – it’s truly indulgent.

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I’ve never had parfait before, so the dessert was an appealing excuse to try it I’m also a sucker for all the components of this dessert: peanut butter, caramelized banana and salted caramel sauce. I thoroughly enjoyed the way this was assembled, rather than merely plated; it was similar to the artistic arrangement of the winning starter.

On average starters and desserts were priced at £5.50, and mains ranging from £13 to £19, so it’s a student treat, or somewhere to take when the parents visit for graduation perhaps. I would definitely go again if the options for vegetarians were increased and more varied, there’s much more scope for experimentation in the non-meat dishes. Otherwise I’ll just have to order three of the goats cheese mousse starter.

Circa 1924 – a dining experience

Exeter is fortunate to be home to Circa 1924, a rare and eloquent gem of a restaurant, hidden amongst the myriad of chains burgeoning in the city centre. I was aware of its presence, near the entrance to Northenhay gardens, because it had taken over the sister chain to Harry’s restaurant approximately a year and a half ago. That it is a relatively new and entirely unique establishment the menu is surprisingly robust, and the restaurant incredibly distinct. Behind it’s creative initiative is an approximate date – in the midst of the roaring 20s.

Upon entering my host took the liberty to reserve me a table at the downstairs speakeasy, where pinstriped mixologists in braces delivered flavour combinations so good they should never have survived the prohibition. I learnt that the 1920s thrived as the golden age of cocktails to disguise the poorer quality spirits available, sparking experimentation in alcoholic concoctions. And Circa 1924 house cocktails are certainly experimental. Take the ‘Rum & Raisin Flip’, consisting of pecan and raisin infused Doorlys 5 year old rum, with date nectar, egg and cream. Or the ‘Dill & Fennel martini’, accentuating my favourite herbs in a gin based beverage. I started on the ‘Licorice Espresso martini’ for a pick-me-up before the meal for optimum concentration as hopeful food critic.

There’s a theatre to Circa 1924. The cheerful waiters served flawlessly and attentively whilst dancing around the room. Meals came out served immediately, without a second wasted  – no odd dishes sitting on the side in the kitchen. I watched astounded as a waiter poured my date’s Brixham crab bisque starter from a height into a bowl near her lap – without a single drop of it out of place.

When attending restaurant reviews my philosophy is to try the best thing that menu has to offer. Sometimes that means I have to bend my vegetarianism. Once I was told by my server that Circa 1924’s policy is to only sustainably farm fish within a <50km radius from the restaurant building, I felt a little more morally reassured about the plethora of seafood and fish I was about to consume. The clues in the title – ‘Brixham crab bisque’ gives you an indication of just how fresh that starter will be. Each evening there is an availability of 3 fish (on this particular evening lemon sole, mackerel and whitebait) which is hand selected by the restaurant’s own fish monger from fish markets across Devon, ready to be grilled for a succulent main.

 

I started off with the ‘crispy softshell crab’ which was a whole crab cooked in a very delicate batter, garnished with a fiery chilli and spring onion salad, drizzled with a dark aromatic sweet chilli sauce and wasabi. The crab was so tender and soft, and perfectly matched with an inventive twist of the Japanese style salad.

For main, I just had to have moules marinière as the mussels were farmed from the river Exe. The white wine sauce with parsley, lashings of double cream and caramelised onion. Testament to how exquisite it tasted, my date, who is terrified by the texture of mussels, kept helping herself to more.

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My instinct was to go for the white chocolate panna cotta for dessert, but then my date was adamant to have that – so I opted for the dark chocolate truffle torte, served with raspberry sorbet and coulis. Potentially this was the richest chocolate dessert I have ever tasted, so it is not for the faint hearted, but this was beautifully offset by the crisp raspberry sorbet. The petite panna cotta would have been a little too sweet for me if not accompanied by the thick, tart gooseberry coulis and biscuit crumble. The panna cotta was definitely the best option to end the evening meal on a delicate and light note.

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Having dinner at a restaurant that boasts such a decadent menu – complete with oysters and rare-breed steaks aged for a minimum of 28 days – seems a faraway and abstract concept for students such as myself. However, Circa 1924 also offers ways to experience such luxuries without the expensive price tag. On Tuesdays, it’s free corkage. On “hump day” Wednesday, steaks and cocktail infusions are 2 for 1. And from Tuesday to Saturday, you can have an express 2 course lunch for only £10.95. Please take full advantage of this offers, as I can vouch that it is the best dining experience I’ve had whilst living in Exeter.

Click here to see the full menu, and restaurant details

 

No 1 Polsloe cafe

No 1 Polsloe on Facebook

No 1 Polsloe on Instagram

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.

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Here’s me tucking in, with brunch appropriate hair clips (available to buy via my Etsy shop)
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.

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.

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.

I’d definitely give it 5 avocados out of 5. 

Rosemary & dark chocolate buttons

Rosemary & dark chocolate buttons makes 1 gift; vegan

feeling inspired by the ultra-fancy chocolatiers ‘Rausch Schokoladenhausin’ the heart of Berlin. This is a simple, yet beautiful gift to give to someone special. The rosemary is freshly picked – no need for cooking

Ingredients:

  • 100g fine dark chocolate
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder (if needed)
  • 1 long sprig of rosemary, trimmed

Method:

  1. On a sheet of baking parchment, use a circular stencil to draw the outline of 9 circles, evenly spaced apart.
  2. Break the dark chocolate into pieces and melt over
    a pot of boiling water.
  3. If the cocoa percentage is low, stir in some cocoa powder for extra richness.
  4. Leave for 1 minute to cool slightly. Using a desert spoon, fill the circles with chocolate. Place trimmed rosemary sprigs in the middle before they begin to set.
  5. Set in the fridge for at least an hour. Snap off the baking parchment and gift in a small cardboard box, with ribbon.

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Carob and fig ice cream

Carob and fig ice cream serves 4; vegetarian 

making use of the carob powder and syrup I brought home from Cyprus, I thought I’d try combining some awesome Cypriot flavours into this indulgent dessert. These ingredients are easily found in all well-stocked Turkish food shops. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 large free range eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 200ml double cream
  • 2 figs, peel removed
  • 1 heaped tsp carob powder
  • 1 tsp carob syrup

Method:

  1. figggg.jpegWhisk the egg whites with an electric whisk until stiff peaks are formed.
  2. Slowly whisk in the caster sugar, continuing until the egg whites are stiff and glossy.
  3. Whisk the cream in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed – be sure to not whisk too much otherwise it’ll curdle.
  4. Fold in the cream, egg yolks, the inside flesh of 2 figs, carob powder and syrup into the mixture until well combined.
  5. Pour into a plastic container and freeze for at least 2 hours. Serve with more fresh fig, and carob syrup, according to taste.

 

Sea salt and dark chocolate avocado mousse

Sea salt and dark chocolate avocado mousse serves 4; vegan 

this vegan desert is a lighter alternative to conventional chocolate mousse. The base is made simply from frozen banana and avocado. The sea salt compliments the dark chocolate, giving it a bitter and rich edge.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 hass avocado, chilled
  • 1 frozen very ripe banana
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 squares of good quality dark chocolate, grated

Method:

  1. Freeze the banana in slices. Scoop out the flesh of the avocado into a food processor, followed by frozen banana, cocoa powder, maple syrup, and vanilla extract. Blend into a smooth paste. If too thick, add ice cubes, and pulse.
  2. Taste, and add more maple syrup if needed. Stir in the sea salt and pop the mousse into ramekins. Sprinkle with grated chocolate, and leave to chill and set in the fridge before serving.

Banana and goji berry loaf

goji berries are a current superfood trend…spread peanut butter onto these loaf slices for a morning energy hit

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Banana and goji berry loaf makes 10 slices; vegetarian 

Ingredients:

  • 85g unsalted butter, softened
  • 110g light muscovado sugar
  • 1 heaped tbsp peanut butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 40g walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 40g dried goji berries
  • 30g dried banana chips

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Grease a loaf tin and line with baking paper.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Stir in the peanut butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then add the mashed bananas.
  3. Mix in the flour and baking powder until well combined and smooth. Stir in the walnuts and goji berries.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the lined baking tin. Decorate with banana chips, whole walnuts and more goji berries. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes, until golden brown, and a skewer comes out clean when put in the middle.
  5. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing and serving. Store in an air tight container.

Tahini and honey cookies

Tahini and honey cookies makes 10

tahini and honey are a killer combination. Tahini, which is made from sesame seeds and oil, is very much the Middle Eastern equivalent to peanut butter. 

Ingredients:

  • 70g light brown sugar
  • 80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 40g tahini
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 180g plain flour
  • 1 heaped tbsp of sesame seeds

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C. Cream together the brown sugar and butter, until light and fluffy. Add the tahini, cinnamon and honey, and mix well.
  2. Add the flour and knead until a smooth dough is formed. Break the dough into 10 equal balls, and shape into discs. Coat them in sesame seeds on both sides.
  3. Place on a baking paper on a tray, 5cm apart. Bake for 16 minutes. Eat once cooled!

Dark chocolate and orange cookies

Dark chocolate and orange cookies makes 12 cookies 

decorate these fragrant cookies with candied dark chocolate orange dippers13699543_1202988809764302_2060277149_o 

Ingredients:

  • 200g softened butter
  • 130g brown sugar
  • 260g plain flour
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1/2 orange
  • 50g dark chocolate, chopped
  • Handful of chopped hazelnuts

For the chocolate orange dippers

  • 1 orange, sliced into segments
  • 50g dark chocolate, melted
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 100ml water

Method:

  1. Cream together the softened butter and brown sugar. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract, and combine well.
  2. Add in the flour alongside the chopped dark chocolate, orange zest and hazelnuts. Mix well until it forms a sticky dough.
  3. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a ball and wrap in cling film. Put the cookie dough in the freezer for 45 minutes. While in the freezer, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC / fan.
  4. Take the cookie dough out of the freezer and mould into 12 discs. Place the cookies on baking paper and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Leave to cool before serving.
  5. To make the candied chocolate orange dippers, as shown in my photo, create a syrup in a pan by warming the water with caster sugar. Bring to the boil on a medium heat, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved.
  6. Add the orange slices and simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes. Remove them from the pan, and pop them in the fridge to cool and harden.
  7. Dip the orange slices into melted dark chocolate.