Sundried Tomato and Paprika Houmous

Recently I've been a houmous fiend. I've been dunking everything in it and smearing it over my salads and pittas. My favourites being the smokey piri piri ones or something with large chickpea chunks and pine nuts. My work lunches have got a little more Mediterranean each time the sun makes an appearance. Plenty of olives and feta too. 

After a recent Pinterest binge I had the full realisation of just how versatile houmous can be. THIS pin shows a whole heap of different beans and toppings you can use from black beans to edamame and beetroot. And not only that, you don't really need a recipe or measurements. So with some sundried-ish tomatoes and paprika lurking around I set to work...for all of two minutes!

Simply drain a can of chickpeas and chuck in a blender. I added around 80-90g of sundried tomatoes, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp lemon juice and a few spoons of paprika to taste. In my case, lashings.

To mix things up, you could use cannellini beans instead, roasted peppers or even avocado.

Besides the simplicity and speed, I'm a full homemade houmous convert now. I'll be chucking in everything I can find at the start of the week and snacking away al desko from now on!

Chocolate Tiffin

Lets all start by pretending that we've maintained giving up chocolate for lent.

If you have, you're a braver person than I. And, if you haven't then yes my friend, this recipe is for you. Another one of those simple ones, no baking and very versatile. I unashamedly LOVE Costa's tiffins, so much so I've always meant to recreate them myself at home.

Its taken until now to make them...whilst I'm still off chocolate until the end of the week *ahem*. But now its been ticked off my recipe list, these tiffins will be a regular feature in my week. I'm so excited to throw everything in my cupboard at them next time.

C H O C O L A T E   T I F F I N
(Recipe from Mcvitie's, serves 12)

250g chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
200g unsalted butter
2tbsp golden syrup
150g roasted shelled hazelnuts, chopped
200g Mcvitie's Digestives, roughly chopped
150g sultanas
75g white chocolate

  • Grease and line a 20cm square tin with baking paper or cling film.
  • In a bowl over a pan of barley simmering water, melt the chocolate, golden syrup and butter. Stir to combine.
  • Remove the bowl from the heat and add the hazelnuts, digestives and sultanas and fold together.
  • Pour into the prepared tin and press down firmly into each corner.
  • Melt the white chocolate in the same way as the dark chocolate. Drizzle or swirl over the tiffin to finish. Leave to set in the fridge before serving.

Thanks to the fabulous McVities for sending me the ingredients to cheer up my week! 

Hot Cross Bun Muffins

Spring has officially sprung, hopefully at least. To celebrate I cracked out the first hot cross bun of the year and proceeded to get it stuck in my brand new toaster. As much as I love them, they do require reasonable effort. No kneading or double proving this week, just 45 minutes and two bowls for these hot cross bun muffins.

H O T   C R O S S   B U N   M U F F I N S
(Recipe adapted from Delicious, makes 12-16 muffins)

285g dried fruit (currants, sultanas and cranberries)
375g self raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
165ml sunflower oil
250ml buttermilk
2 eggs
200g caster sugar
80g icing sugar
1tsp lemon juice
  • Heat the oven to 200 degrees and fill a muffin tray with paper muffin cases.
  • In a small bowl, soak the dried fruit in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain well.
  • Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and nutmeg to a large bowl and whisk to remove any lumps.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs and sugar until fluffy. 
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Gently fold in the fruit.
  • Divide between the muffin cases until two thirds full and bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes. The tops will be lightly browned and a skewer inserted into the centre will come out clean. 
  • For the icing, sift the icing sugar into a small bowl. Add the lemon juice, a few drops of hot water and mix to a smooth paste. 
  • Once the muffins are cool, use a piping bag to drizzle a cross onto each muffin.

Chocolate, Cinnamon and Pear Loaf Cake

You know when you scroll through Pinterest for ideas and everything looks absolutely perfect? You know those loaf cakes with the top of some pears peeking perfectly out. It turns out that Pinterest is sorcery and it is not to be trusted.

I tried it and was a little disillusioned to find that my loaf rose so much it covered the tops of the pears and they flopped to one side as if they'd drunk to much wine.

Unruly pears aside, I still love the contrast of the pear within the chocolate cinnamon loaf that each slice gives. My favourite way to serve it is warmed with a little custard or with a short, strong coffee for breakfast on a Monday. Just to make Monday's that little bit friendlier. And besides, it'll be one of your five a day.

C H O C O L A T E   C I N N A M O N   P E A R   L O A F   C A K E
(Recipe adapted from Better Homes & Gardens)

Poached pears:

2-3 medium conference pears
400ml water
50g granulated sugar
1 tbsp orange/lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick

Chocolate cinnamon loaf:

250g plain flour
140g soft light brown sugar
40g cocoa powder
1tsp baking powder
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
250ml buttermilk
90ml vegetable/sunflower oil
1tbsp plain flour
1tbsp cocoa powder
1/2tsp ground cinnamon

To finish:

75g white chocolate, melted
orange zest
  1. In a large saucepan, bring the water and sugar to the bowl along with the juice and cinnamon. Once the sugar has fully dissolved, add the pears and bring to the boil once again. Cover and leave to simmer for 20-25 minutes, until the pears are tender. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool.
  2. Heat the oven to 180 degrees and thoroughly grease a 2lb loaf tin.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, sift together all of the dry ingredients to remove any lumps. Take another bowl, add the wet ingredients and whisk also. Add the wet into the dry ingredients and fold in until you have a smooth batter.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin.
  5. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the tablespoon of flour, cocoa powder and half teaspoon of ground cinnamon until incorporated. Gently roll each pear in the mix until fully coated. Place the pears steam side up in the tin and push gently down towards the bottom. 
  6. Bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
During baking the cake may rise over the top of the pears and they may sink a little, but that's ok. They will still look good when the loaf is sliced.

In place of buttermilk, I always make my own sour milk with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice but sour cream or yogurt would also work well.

Rum & Sugar, West India Quays

Situated in an old Grade 1 listed warehouse in West India Quay, Rum & Sugar offers one of London's most extensive rum collections. Showcasing our Dockland history, this is exactly where rum and sugar was stored in London when it was shipped over from the Caribbean. Now reincarnated into a rum bar with a modern British menu, you couldn't get a better location.

Last week I was invited over to try out their new Spring menu and to try my hand at making some rum cocktails. Sounds pretty harmless, right?

We settled in with a little initiation to our evening with a cocktail made with rum, vermouth, apple and ginger. Some bar snacks including pulled chicken twists, chilli cheese fritters and sweet potato crackers. Anywhere with snacks before the main event is a winner in my books.

Then to actually start we had beetroot cured salmon, smoked potato salad with a beetroot and spiced rum purée. Beetroot has a natural affinity for salmon, perfectly earthy and great with smoked potatoes and the tang of the purée.

Next up, herb crusted cod, red pepper ragù with a peppered leak velouté. Deliciously tender cod with a fresh lift with the piquant ragù. Who needs fish and chips when you can have crispy leaks like this.

Sweet cajun glazed chicken salad: avocado mousse, crispy shallots, semi dried tomatoes, grilled baby gem and parmesan crisps. I'd eat salad every day if it could be like this one. 

And my absolute favourite, baked chocolate ganache, orange caramel, salted nut brittle and clotted cream. There's no doubt that I'm going to try and recreate this at home.

Suitably stuffed, we moved up to the bar to learn some cocktail making tips. It turns out that free pouring isn't as easy as it looks but great fun for giving generous measures! We started off with a dirty mojito made with Ron Barceló Gran Añejo, a dark rum aged for 4 years in an oak barrel and then passed through a charcoal filter. Mixed with equal parts of sugar syrup and lime juice, some slapped mint (a little trick to intensify aromas) and muddled with crushed ice.

Then onto another favourite of mine, Cosmos. Instead of the regular Cointreau we went for an apricot  white rum, shaken with two parts lime juice and one part cranberry juice. I may need to practice my Boston Shaker moves but my drinks cupboard is definitely going to be stocked with more rum now so I can recreated this at home.

My night at Rum & Sugar reminded me of a holiday in the Dominican Republic a few years ago, rum-soaked and full of great food. I shall most certainly return to try the rest of the menu. Its been a long time since I've been this excited by a restaurant in London.

Thanks to the fabulous Rum & Sugar team and Shy PR for inviting me and for their hospitality. All rum-soaked opinions are my own.