Birthday- Part II of II

And so to continue on the theme of birthday greed, here are some photographs and recipes from my final bash at Wilton’s Music Hall last Friday.   
I had been at a total loss trying desperately to think of somewhere to have my do, when a copy of East End Life landed on our doormat.  Normally it ends up in the recycling bin, with a mutter of ‘Humph! Council propaganda’ from Toby.  But on the cover last month was a story about a new grant to save the dilapidated grande dame that is Wilton’s, sparking my ‘ah-ha!’ moment.  It’s the perfect, slightly unusual, place to have a party.  
The building itself has a colourful history dating back to 1743.  It has been an alehouse, a saloon theatre, a Methodist mission and soup kitchen as well as, of course, a music hall.  Today, it produces a varied programme of performances, talks, screenings and events.  And there are several beautiful rooms to hire (I chose the library due to its proximity to the bar). 
In terms of catering, I only wanted to offer my guests a few nibbles to snack on with their drinks.  Initially, I got carried away planning fancy canapes- a little mini this and a wee taster of that.  However, the weather had other plans.  I don’t know if you’ve seen what happens to canapes in 34 C.  It isn’t pretty.  And frankly the logistics of making, transporting, storing and serving perfect, dainty party morsels was more than I could be arsed with. 
So what to do now that I’d settled on the glamorous theme of non-melting, heat resistant snacks?  Well, the bulk of my prep involved sitting on our living room floor in front of a Channel Four screening of The Net (do you remember The Net?  Sandra Bullock in a time when the Internet was out to get us all…) making a gazillion paper cones.  I filled these with cheap sweets, rosemary flavoured nuts, dill and lemon popcorn, chili and lime popcorn and pita crisps (with some cannellini bean dip).  All ridiculously easy to prepare. 
As a token nod to the original canape theme, I turned to the beautiful (and very reliable) What Katie Ate cookbook for Parmesan biscuits topped with pesto and cherry toms as well as pork and apple sausage rolls.   Finally, for my sweet-toothed friends, lemon and coconut meringue cupcakes (cupcakes minus melting, sticky icing = a bit less sickly).  I was also fortunate to have the wonderful cuisinegenie make cookies for the party, absolutely delicious. 

Hmm.. the perfect pairing? 

Although I have to say in all honesty, and I think many would agree,  I wish the cupcake would die a swift death.  However, in miniature they can be quite useful for parties.  They look appealing, are bite-sized and come with their own self-contained wrappers, which is pretty convenient.  So I suppose I reluctantly have to admit that there is still a time and place for them, but only if carefully considered.

Although still very sweet, these ones are a little bit more ‘adult’ in that you can add coconut rum and they have a meringue topping rather than frosting, which also makes them a bit more durable.  They are therefore actually baked twice, so it is worth making sure you don’t over-bake them the first time round or they will be on the dry side. 

Mini Lemon and Coconut Meringue Cupcakes
(for approx. 20 mini cupcakes)

You will need :

For the cakes:
 125g unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp lemon zest
150g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
80ml milk
1 tsp coconut essence or 1 tbsp coconut flavoured rum (optional)
80g desiccated coconut
185g self-raising flour

For the filling:
1 jar shop-brought lemon curd (or make your own!)

For the topping:
4 egg whites
250g caster sugar
100g desiccated coconut
coconut flakes, to decorate (optional)


1.  To make the cakes, preheat a 180C oven and line a mini muffin/cupcake tray with paper cases.  I have some mini silicone cases, which I simply lined with mini paper cases for extra support and placed on an oven tray.  

2.  Beat softened butter with the sugar and rind until light and fluffy.  Slowly add the eggs so the mixture does not separate.

3.  Add the sifted flour and coconut.  Finally stir in the milk.

4.  Divide the mixture among the cases.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and beginning to come away from the sides.  Allow to cool completely on a wire rack. 

5.  Using a teaspoon, make a small hole into each cake.  Eat or throw away the tops.

6.  Use piping bag fitted with a small nozzle or a plastic bag with a corner cut off to fill the holes with lemon curd. 

7.  Preheat the oven to 200 C.  Make the meringue by beating the egg whites until medium peaks form.  Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until you have stiff peaks.  Fold in the coconut.

8.  Pour some of the meringue mixture into a piping bag and pipe onto the tops of the cakes in a swirling motion, creating a fair bit of height as you move towards the centre of the cake.  Top with a flake of coconut if desired. 

9.  Bake the cakes in a hot oven for 10 minutes until the meringue has set and is beginning to crisp up and brown a little (but not burnt!).  Remove and cool on a wire rack. 

Easy-Peasy Flavoured Popcorn

Lemon and Dill Popcorn

You will need:

100g popcorn ( 1 microwavable bags worth, basically)
30g butter
2 tbsp dill, chopped finely
1 lemon, juice and zest
Sea salt


1.  Pop your popcorn and decant into a large bowl.

2. Melt the butter and allow to cool slightly.  Add chopped dill, lemon zest and a few drops of the juice.

3. Pour over the popcorn.  Season with sea salt and use your hands or a large wooden spoon to mix until most of the popcorn is covered with the lemon-dill butter.  Consume. 

Chilli and Lime Popcorn

You will need:

 100g popcorn (1 microwave bag)
30g butter
1 tsp chilli powder
1 lime, zest and juice
Sea salt


1.  Very much as per the above recipe, pop your popcorn and decant into a large bowl.

2.  Melt the butter and allow to cool slightly.  Add chilli, lime zest and a little of the juice. 

3.  Pour over popcorn and mix together to combine completely.  Season with sea salt. 

Parmesan Biscuits
(adapted from the cookbook What Katie Ate by Katie Quinn Davies)
Makes about 60

You will need:

 4 garlic cloves
260g plain flour, sifted
200g unsalted butter, cubed and cold
2 tbsp double cream
1 tsp dried thyme
140g Parmesan, finely grated

30 large cherry tomatoes, halved
olive oil
sea salt + black pepper
grated Parmesan
1 jar pesto
extra virgin olive oil
thyme sprigs


1.  To make the biscuits, first roast the garlic cloves in their skins, drizzled with olive oil, in a 200 C oven for about 30-40 minutes.  They should be totally soft and gooey inside.  

2.   Blitz together the the flour and butter in a magi mix to a breadcrumb consistency.  If making the biscuits by hand, quickly crumb together with cool fingers (run under the tap), making sure there are not large lumps of butter.  If the mixture gets too greasy, refrigerate for 10-15 minutes before continuing.  

2.  Add the cream, roasted garlic (squeezed out of their skins), thyme, Parmesan, salt and pepper and mix until just combined.  Turn out onto a floured work surface and bring the dough together with your hands to form a flat, puck-like shape.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3.  Roll out the pastry on a floured surface to the thickness of about 5mm.  Cut out rounds with a small cutter, about 3 cm in diameter, I used a shot glass. Place onto a baking sheet and refrigerate until firm.

4.  Preheat the oven to 160 C.  Sprinkle the biscuits with a little extra Parmesan and a good grating of pepper.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly golden and set.  Allow to cool on a wire rack.

5.  To make canapes, drizzle the cherry tomatoes with olive oil, season and roast in a hot, 200 C oven until soft and beginning to caramelise.  Allow to cool before assembling the biscuits.  Dot each with a little bit of pesto (I actually found it easier to put the pesto in a plastic bag, snip a corner off and ‘pipe’ onto the biscuits), top with a tomato half and sprinkle with a little Parmesan, thyme leaves and salt and pepper.  Serve immediately. 

Birthday- Part I of II

I can’t remember the last time I had a big birthday bash.  Dinner and drinks, yes, absolutely.  It’s a great excuse to get a few friends together at a favourite watering hole for a nibble and natter.  But there’s normally just a few of us.  Low key and lovely.

But, but.  This year I’ve got a bigger birthday and that merits a bit more in way of celebrations.  Three sound about right.  So I had a summer lunch with family back in Sweden a few weeks ago, dinner at the delicious Brawn on the day itself and finally a do at Wilton’s Music Hall on the following Friday.  Why not, after all? 

The lunch I made for family and friends back on the island in Stockholm was a cross cultural affair with recipes inspired by my time at Leiths mixed in with a few family favourites.   A sort of pan Moroccan-Swedish smörgåsbord with spiced lamb, tahini and aubergine meeting smoked fish, saffron and Västerbotten cheese.  I’m not saying it necessarily made any kind of logical sense as a menu, but I figured it was my party and I’d cook what I wanted to.  I’ve copied the full menu below. 

 Jasmine from the garden

Prosecco with homemade elderflower cordial
Cheese and Tapenade straws
Pea and mint mousse
 Melon and Parma Ham
Moroccan Lamb meatballs in spiced tomato sauce
Bulgur Salad with feta, pomegranate, red onion and mint
Roasted Green Peppers with Tahini Dressing
Quiche with sesame and
Västerbotten Cheese Quiche
 Chicken with Tarragon, Lemon and Olives
Smoked Fish Terrine with Saffron and Dill
Green Salad
Basil Oil Vinaigrette 
Baba Ganoush
Flat Bread
Bread Rolls
Chocolate Cake
Summery Berry Cake
Strawberries and Cream

Admittedly there was a ridiculous amount of food but in my defence, there were 23 of us! And my family are pretty good eaters, it must be said.  Luckily, I had some help from Toby, my trusted sous chef, who was particularly proud of the Moroccan meatballs he made (they have been mentioned several times since) and he insisted I post the recipe.  The quiche calls for delicious Västerbotten cheese (a tongue-tingling tangy Swedish cheese), which is available at Waitrose and Ocado, however, a strong cheddar works just as well.  For the terrine, I used a large rectangular bread tin, no need to go out and buy a special dish.  

Lemon, Tarragon and Olive Chicken

Tahini Green Peppers

Kefta Maticha 
(Lamb meatballs in tomato and cinnamon sauce)
A Recipe from Leiths Cookery Bible

You will need:
250g minced lamb
1/2 onion, peeled and grated
1.5 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp mint, chopped
1.5 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
salt to taste

For the sauce:
250g chopped tinned tomatoes
1 tsp parsley, chopped plus extra
1/2 tsp ground ginger
3-4 cinnamon sticks
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


1.  Place the mince in a large mixing bowl and combine with the onion, parsley, garlic, spices and salt and pepper.  Mix well.  

2.  Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a large pan and add the tomatoes.  Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Add parsley and cinnamon and stir.   Allow the sauce to simmer and thicken for about 15-20 minutes.

3.  Meanwhile, shape the mince into meatballs.  Add to the sauce and simmer gently until cooked through.  Remove the cinnamon stick and check the seasoning, adjusting with salt, pepper and sugar.

4.  Serve scattered with parsley and accompanied by a bulgur salad and flatbreads.  

Smoked Mackerel, Trout and Saffron Potato Terrine
Adapted from the Chef’s Chef website.

For 1 large terrine mould, you will need:

600g  Smoked mackerel (whole, approx 400g if you are using fillets only)
300g  Floury potatoes
About 4 Smoked trout fillets (or two packets)
75g Butter, softened
two generous pinches of Saffron
1 tbsp Dill, finely chopped plus extra
1 Lemon


1.    Peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks.  Boil in a large pan of salted water along with a pinch of saffron.  Line a large terrine mould or bread tin with a double layer of cling.  You may find it easier to do this if you lightly wet the sheets of cling first.  There should be plenty of overhang. 

2. De-bone mackerel and remove the skin, separating the flesh into fillets.

3.  Place mackerel fillets on the base and sides of the mould, packing tightly.  You should find that the fillets will easily mould to each other and can use any smaller pieces to patch up any gaps. 

4.  Once the potatoes are cooked through, drain them and return to the hot pan for a minute to get rid of any excess moisture and fluff them up a bit.  Add the butter, dill, a little lemon juice to taste.  Mix together so that the potatoes begin to break up a bit.  Season with salt, pepper and another pinch of saffron if desired. 

5. Layer the centre of the mould with the potato mix and smoked trout and close the terrine with the rest of the mackerel.

6.  Close cling film over the top of the mould and weight lightly for 4 hours minimum in the fridge, ideally weighted down and overnight.

7.  Remove from the tin and from the cling.  Cut into generous slices and scatter with dill. 

Sesame and Leek Quiche
From Allt Om Mat
You will need:
(1 large quiche)
For the pastry:
250g flour
100g sesame seeds
125g butter, cold and cut into cubes
1/2 tsp salt
For the filling:
1 large leek
2 onions
4 shallots
3 garlic cloves
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tbsp thyme, chopped
75g Västerbotten Cheese (or strong cheddar), grated
2 eggs, beaten
200ml double cream
1.  To make the pastry dough, combine flour, sesame seeds, butter and salt in a large bowl.  Use your fingers to crumb these together to breadcrumb consistency.  Press together into a ball of dough and use to line a 25cm pie dish, ideally loose-bottomed.  If you find that the dough is greasy or it is a particularly hot a day, chill for 15-20 min before using it.  Once you’ve lined the pie dish, refrigerate for 30 min.
2.  Preheat the oven to 200 C. Rinse the leeks and chop finely along with the onions and shallots.  Crush the garlic cloves. 
3.  Heat 2 tbsp of butter in a frying pan and fry the leeks, onions, shallots over a medium heat until soft but not coloured.  Add the garlic, salt, sugar, pepper and thyme.  Set aside. 
4.  Prick the pastry case all over with a fork then bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.  Alternatively, you could blind bake it by lining it with parchment and filling with baking beads or some dried beans and baking for 15-20 min until the sides are set and it is golden in colour. 
5.  Once the leek mixture has cooled slightly, add the cheese and taste to season.  In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and cream together. 
6.  Remove from the oven and fill with the leek and cheese.  Pour over the eggy cream and return to the oven for a further 25 minutes until the filling has cooked through but still wobbles a little.   Serve warm or cooled with a green salad and mustardy vinaigrette. 

Look who I found hanging out by the cake…

Early Birthday Treats

My birthday isn’t actually until next week and I do know you aren’t supposed to open presents early, but I have never been especially patient.  So I went a little mad on Amazon and picked up a few titles that have been on my wish list for a while.  Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries is a cookbook I know well, having extensively flipped through it at various friends’ houses and in bookshops (much to the frustration of friends and shopkeepers).   However, I’ve never actually owned a copy- until now.  I don’t really know how I managed without it, it’s absolutely gorgeous, packed with ideas and beautifully written.  A proper treat. 

But then I went out to a dinner with friends only to be presented with another birthday delight- take a look at this beauty!

Massive thanks to the herd for this amazing gift, I’m quite blown away.  I can’t wait to start experimenting, the only problem is what to go with first- mojito sorbet?  Ricotta and honey ice cream?  Brown bread? Lemon and thyme? Popcorn and salted caramel? Who wants to be a guinea pig?