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A Quick Pickle: Marinated Carrots with Basil and Mint

I’ll be honest. I’ve had better Tuesdays. Mainly those which haven’t involved my fridge breaking down, my washing machine destroying my favourite cardigan and a nurse telling me off for my love of peanut butter (it’s bad for your cholesterol apparently). Hence why I am sitting here, watching Newsnight, eating huge handfuls of these Marinated Carrots with Basil and Mint and feeling more than a little sorry for myself.

I’m a sucker for anything pickled at the best of times (when we were kids, my sister and I would eat huge dill pickles by the jarful). So, seeing as I’m on a diet at the moment and therefor unable to indulge in cake and wine on a whim, it’s pickles I turn to when I’m craving sharp slices of comfort. When I found myself in posession of a glut of carrots recently, I decided not to turn them into soup, but douse them in vinegar, oil and herbs instead. The end result was delicious – bright, zingy and just on the right side of lip puckering, the perfect thing to garnish a dull winter salad (I’ve recently been adding them to huge bowls of couscous studded with crunchy chickpeas and nuggets of salty feta) or add a bit of life to a falafel wrap.

Whilst the original recipe for these over at Serious Eats calls for you to just use plain old oil, I decided to jazz mine up a bit with some homemade chilli oil that I keep stuffed away at the back of my cupboards for these type of occasions. If you want to make your own, it’s dead easy – just heat up some vegetable oil, and pour it over some dried chillies (or dried chilli flakes). Once it’s cooled, you’re ready to go.

A word to the wise when you’re pickling your carrots though – I’m not joking when I say that you need to keep these covered whilst they’re marinating. I left them uncovered in a glass bowl at the back of the fridge, leading Mr. Cay to tell me in no uncertain terms that opening our fridge was “like that scene in the X-Files where Mulder sees an alien and wakes up to discover burns around his eyes and mouth.” So if you don’t want to be hit in the face with a wave of pungent vinegar fumes every time you’re reaching for the milk, keep them safely sealed in a plastic tub until you need to use them.

MARINATED CARROTS WITH BASIL AND MINT (Makes four decent sized portions)

Adapted from Serious Eats

You will need:

  • 6-7 medium sized carrots
  • 3 tbsp chilli oil (although ordinary olive oil works just as well)
  • 3 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp chopped mint
  • 2 tbsp chopped basil
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced finely
  • Salt and Pepper to season

Make It!

  1. Peel carrots and slice them into thick rounds (they should be roughly the thickness of a 2p coin). Simmer in a pot of salted water until just tender.
  2. While carrots cook, whisk together the chilli oil, rice vinegar,  basil, mint, diced garlic and salt and pepper.
  3. Drain the carrots, toss them together with the vinaigrette in a large bowl and let them sit until carrots are cool.
  4. Place carrots in refrigerator and let them marinate for at least 1 hour before serving.(It’s best to cover the carrots with clingfilm whilst they’re marinating, otherwise they will stink out everything in your fridge). They’ll keep for around 4-5 days.


Some people have normal phobias, like spiders and the dark. Me? I have them of that pre-grated cheese which comes in giant plastic sacks and blood pressure monitors. The blood pressure monitor one meant that I had to spend my Wednesday strapped up to an automatic blood pressure doohickey which took a reading every fifteen minutes. Ever been stood next to someone in the supermarket when your arm suddenly decides to expand & vibrate? I DON’T RECOMMEND IT.

There’s not a lot you can do when you’re spending your day dressed in wires. Even cleaning the cooker becomes fraught with danger, as one especially hard scrub when you’re scouring your hobs could lead to your reading going off the scale. And if that wasn’t enough, it also had the indecency to go off when I was on the toilet. By lunchtime, I was feeling decidedly pissed off. There was only one thing for it. It was time for Shakshuka.

Shakshuka may sound like the name of a burly Israeli superhero, but in reality it’s an absolutely delicious dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. It’s incredibly easy to make, uses ingredients which you’ll usually find festering away at the back of your fridge and (best of all) it’s ridiculously healthy. It’s the perfect comfort food to tackle those January blues, and makes an amazing lunch.  Due to my insatiable greed for all things egg-and-cheese based, I ate an entire pan of this stuff. However, if you’re more inclined to share your lunch (and believe in portion control), this will easily feed two.

OK, so there are better ways to spend a day off work than strapped up to a blood pressure monitor. But after a huge plate of this, and an America’s Next Top Model marathon on Living, it was just about bearable. Well, until it went off again when I was trying to put my coat on…

SHAKSHUKA (Feeds one greedy person, or two people with normal appetites)

Recipe adapted (very slightly) from Smitten Kitchen 

You will need:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 green chilli, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed then sliced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp  paprika (I used smoked paprika to give it a bit more oomph)
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 50g feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and Pepper to season
  • Warm pita breads, for serving

Make It!

  1. Cook the chilli and the diced onion, stirring occasionally, until the mixture turns soft and golden brown. Add garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft.
  2. Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan along with 60ml water.  Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Crack eggs over sauce so that eggs are evenly distributed across sauce’s surface. Cover the pan and cook for around 5 minutes until the yolks are just set. Baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk. Sprinkle shakshuka with feta and parsley and serve with pitas, for dipping.
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Gingerbread Cake with a Spicy Orange Glaze

I have become mildly addicted to all things ginger recently. Personally, I blame the changing of the seasons. As soon as the temperature drops, I start seeking the fiery delights of all things ginger – from slugs of ginger wine in my nightly shot of whisky to huge glugs of ginger cordial thrown into a stir fry. And, once December rolls around, I also resume my annual quest for the perfect gingerbread recipe.

When I was a little girl, I was not the biggest fan of gingerbread. Most probably because my overwhelming memory of it is the tooth-chippingly-hard gingerbread people you find being sold in Greggs. But then I discovered the delights of gingerbread cake. And, as regular readers of this blog will already know, if there is one thing I like in this life, then it’s huge slabs of cake.

The road to this particular gingerbread cake recipe is littered with the carcasses of previous attempts. Attempts which have seen me using golden syrup and fresh ginger and too much lemon juice, leading to an end result which managed to be both overly fibrous and tooth-crackingly-sweet. But, during a recent trip to ASDA,  I  finally found the perfect solution to all of my gingery woes. Namely, the discovery of ginger cordial.

Seriously, this stuff is the business. So much so in fact that I’ve managed to go through nearly an entire bottle’s worth in the space of a day. Zingy, with a refreshing citrus punch, it provides just the kick you need to get this gingerbread party started. Whilst it may be gilding the lily somewhat, this (along with ginger jam and a good dollop of black treacle)  is used in both the loaf cake and the glaze, which provides with a real oomph. The end result is a cake which is as dark as a December night, sugary, sticky, dense and ever so moist. Indeed, I would suggest that  it’s the type of cake that you stick in your bag, and merrily munch on as you brave the Christmas shopping crowds. And if you’re wondering whether this really is the ultimate gingerbread cake, then why don’t you make it for yourself and find out?


For the gingerbread cake

  • 260g plain flour
  • 113g unsalted butter
  • 110g muscovado sugar
  • 3 medium sized eggs
  • 1 1/2 tbsps ginger jam
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 1/2 tsps cinnamon
  • 1 tsp powdered ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves (I mashed mine up in my pestle and mortar)
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 120ml black treacle
  • 100ml ginger cordial
  • 150ml semi skimmed milk
  • Zest of an orange

For the spicy orange glaze

  • 150g icing sugar
  • The juice of an orange
  • 1 tbsp ginger cordial

Make It!

  1. Sift  the flour, baking soda, salt and spices together into a medium sized bowl.
  2. Next, beat together the butter and muscovado sugar until they becomes dark and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well with a hand mixer after each addition. Make sure you scrape down the sides with a plastic spatula, so none of the mix escapes, flies off, sticks to a diamond hard sheen on your cupboards and slowly reduces the value of your house. Add the orange zest, black treacle, milk, ginger jam and ginger cordial and beat to combine.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture until it forms a thick, dark gloopy batter. Pour into a loaf tin, smooth the top with a spatula, and bake on 177 degrees c/Gas Mark 4 for 35-45 minutes. The cake is done when you insert a toothpick into it and it comes out clean.
  4. Whilst the cake is cooling, make the glaze. This can be done by sifting the icing sugar together with the orange juice and ginger cordial, and mixing it together until it becomes smooth and glossy. Once the cake is lukewarm to the touch, brush it over the cake with a pastry brush. If your cake has cracked slightly in the oven, the glaze will run into all of the ridges for an extra sugar hit.
  5. Serve with a mug of builders tea, and a dollop of lemon curd.

If you’re looking for another gingerbread recipe – this one for Guinness Pumpkin Gingerbread  from North South Food looks pretty tasty too!

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Apple and Sultana Spice Loaf

I’ve just spent a very pleasant few days at Supersonic Festival in Birmingham, where I listened to a lot of very eclectic, VERY NOISY music (personal highlights being Cloaks, Scorn, Teeth of the Sea, Klaus Kinski (a group of boys who played guitars and screamed at lot whilst jumping off masonry and wearing short-shorts), Zombi, Cut Hands and Silver Apples), drank a lot of booze and ate a lot of cake.

I’m pretty much convinced that as well as putting on some of the most interesting bands of any music festival currently taking place in the U.K, Supersonic also serves up the best cake. Myself, Mr. Cay and a few other miscreants all spent a lovely hour on Sunday afternoon munching on sweet treats and cooing over our friends John and Maria’s adorable baby son. I indulged in a slice of Apple and Sultana Loaf, which was heady with cinnamon, and just the thing to recharge my batteries after two days of having my eardrums beaten to a bloody pulp with ‘power electronics’.

I’ve thought about that cake a lot since returning to Liverpool, so, I decided to head to my kitchen and attempt to recreate it for myself. Whereas the version I ate seemed to only use cinnamon, I decided to make mine slightly punchier (and a bit more Autumnal) by adding allspice, ginger and nutmeg. I also layered the top with some apple slices which were then sprinkled with a bit more cinnamon (you can never have enough cinnamon in my opinion) and some demerara sugar.

The finished product reminded me less of a cake, and more of a tea loaf – the kind of thing which is ideal when toasted and served up with plenty of butter. It was just the thing to munch on last night whilst Mr. Cay and I sat around our house listening to Whitehouse and planning world domination. It also made a pretty decent breakfast this morning too, even if the noisiest thing I was listening to was politicians arguing on Radio Four.

Seasonal, spicy and sumptuous, this Apple and Sultana Spice Loaf is a doddle to make and a dream to eat. Why not bake some tonight? Listening to extreme noise music whilst you’re making it is optional though.


You will need:

  • 300g self raising flour
  • 150g muscovado sugar
  • 100g sultanas
  • 270g bramley apple sauce
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 medium sized Granny Smith apple
  • 1 level teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 level teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon dried ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 5 tablespoons milk
  • Pinch of salt

Make It!

  1. Heat your oven to 200 degrees C/Gas Mark 6, and grease up a loaf tin. If you’re lazy, or just have a pound shop conveniently near your office (I LOVE YOU HOME BARGAINS), nab yourself a sillicon loaf dish for some loose change (you can thank me for this later).
  2. Sift the flour into a large bowl, then add the raisins, muscovado sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, dried ginger and salt. Take a wooden spoon and mash the whole lot together until well combined.
  3. Add the apple sauce, eggs and milk to the dry ingredients and stir until a thick gloopy batter has been formed. Spoon the mixture into your loaf tin and level out the surface with a spatula.
  4. Chop your apple into thin slices, and layer these over the top of the batter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and some demerara sugar if you have any handy (if you don’t, ordinary sugar will work just fine).
  5. Bake the loaf in the centre of the oven for around an hour, or until it feels firm to the touch, and a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle. Turn out onto a wire rack, and leave to cool for half an hour.
  6. This loaf is great both on its own, or served toasted and slathered in butter. It also goes very well with a large mug of Earl Grey.
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Rocky Road Ice Cream

Ice cream is one of those things which has gotten me through many of the major disappointments of my life. When I was five years old, and had been badly stung by a jellyfish whilst swimming in the sea on Miami Beach, my Bubbie held my hand and promised me that if I was a good girl, and didn’t cry, she’d buy me the world’s biggest sundae afterwards. I have a vivid memory of my Dad waving a dripping ice cream cone in my face in an attempt to coax me out from underneath a table when I refused to get my BCG injections. Back in 2004, after a very bitter break-up with one of my ex boyfriends, I’d frequently sit on top of Greenwich Point moping and eating Mint Cornettos. To put it bluntly, when I’m feeling sad, I tend to each for the Ben & Jerry’s.

So, cut to last Sunday. I’ve spent my Summer swathed in a fug of minor annoyances; a situation not helped by the fact that recently, Liverpool has been experiencing almost monsoon like weather conditions. I am (unsurprisingly) hungover, having spent the previous day overindulging at the Liverpool Whisky Festival (which led to me waking up fully clothed on my bed at 1am, cursing the person who invented Lagavulin).  I have just experienced a terrifying trip to ASDA which was playing the theme to Twin Peaks whilst I shuddered in the milk aisle, and was full of screaming children. I look at the ice cream maker currently taking up space in my living room and decide there’s only one thing for it. It’s time for me to drown my sorrows in frozen emulsified fat.

Last month, the nice people at Cuisinart were kind enough to send me one of their Ice Cream Deluxe makers which, I’m ashamed to say, sat in the corner of my living room for far longer than it should have. I was too scared to open the box, and allow it to wreak havoc on my (already larger than it should be) waistline. But, me being me, I’d been contemplating all of the delicious things I could make it with it. Should I combine chocolate with salted caramel to create a salty-sweet treat? Or perhaps I should swirl it with peanut butter? Maybe vanilla studded with popping candy would work? After some deliberation, I finally settled upon a Rocky Road ice cream, studded with large chunks of marshmallow and digestive biscuit.

The chocolate base for this ice cream comes from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop – which is the bible for all things sweet and frozen. Rich, decadent and almost overwhelmingly chocolatey, it’s the perfect accompliment to the sweet squidgeyness of the marshmallows and the crunch of the digestive biscuits. Because of its richness, you don’t need a lot of it – I found that a ramekin sized portion was just enough to satisfy my cravings.

This ice cream didn’t cure my hangover, or cure any of my problems, but it did make me feel a little bit happier and a little bit more content with my lot.  If you use the best chocolate you can afford when you make this, you’re sure to adore it too.


Inspired (yet again) by David Lebovitz

You will need:

  • 500ml double cream
  • 3 tablespoons high quality cocoa powder (I used Green & Blacks)
  • 150g high quality milk chocolate, chopped into small chunks
  • 240ml full fat milk
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 Digestive biscuits
  • A large handful of mini marshmallows

Make It:

  1. First, bash your digestives – you can do this by sticking them in a carrier bag and whacking the living daylights out of them with a rolling pin. I suggest doing this when you are a) very pissed off and b) there’s no one else around. It’s rather cathartic.
  2. Warm 250ml of the double cream with the cocoa powder in a medium saucepan, whisking to thoroughly blend the cocoa. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer at a very low boil for 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and add the chopped milk chocolate, stirring rapidly until the mixture turns smooth and glossy. Then stir in the remaining 250ml of cream. Pour the mixture into a large bowl, scraping the saucepan as thoroughly as possible, and set a large sieve on top of the bowl.
  3. Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in the same saucepan. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly with a hand mixer, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
  4. Stir the mixture constantly over the medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula (if you have a candy thermometer, it’s ready when it reaches 170°F). Pour the custard through the sieve and stir it into the chocolate mixture until it turns smooth, then stir in the vanilla. Pop it in the fridge for an hour or two until it’s chilled.
  5. Once the custard is ready, freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  (As a guide, I churned my mixture for half an hour). Add the marshmallows and the bashed digestives right towards the end of the churning process – I didn’t do this, and kept staring into the machine terrified that the motor was going to burn out due to an excess of synthetic fluffy goodness. Once the churning has stopped,  pop it in the freezer for two hours until firm.
  6. Serve with extra marshmallows and (if you have any) hot fudge sauce.
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On Supermarkets and Snobbery

I’ve been thinking a lot about supermarkets recently. Namely, people’s attitudes towards them.  Earlier this week, I read this blog post by a lady who had a bad experience at her local branch of Tesco’s, and so decided to shop at her local ASDA instead. To her ‘utter utter surprise’ she discovered that ASDA’s products were quite nice, and they offered a wider choice of products. And on Twitter a few days later, I entered into a conversation with someone who didn’t like the idea of shopping at places such as ASDA and Aldi because she felt they offered an inferior standard of product.

Here in Bootle, I don’t have much choice about where I can shop. All of the supermarkets we have are those which are perceived as being ‘budget’ – namely Aldi, Lidl and ASDA. We have a branch of Tesco’s in The Strand (our local shopping centre), but it’s quite small, dingy and poorly lit, with a poor selection of products. Myself and Mr. Cay tend to order all of our food online from ASDA at the beginning of the month, and supplement it with fortnightly vegetable boxes from Abel and Cole, and picking up various ingredients from local butchers or speciality stores such as Mattas on Bold Street. We could, if we really wanted to, order our monthly shopping from somewhere such as Ocado, but that would add an extra £50 or so to our monthly food bills (which makes a real difference when you’re trying to save up for a wedding). Personally, I don’t have a problem with this. I’m a keen cook, and have always taken pride in making the best of the ingredients I have in my fridge – be they from small artisan producers, or the mega supermarket down the road.

It’s easy to be snobbish about where you get your food from when you have money. But when you’re trying to stick to a budget, you can’t afford to be fussy. And in a recession, there are many more people who are looking to spend less money on their shopping bills.  As someone who writes about food, I want to encourage everyone who reads this blog to cook the recipes I write about. Frankly, I don’t care where you get your eggs from to make one of my cakes – be it Aldi, or from the hen in your backyard. What I do care about is the fact that you’ve made it and (perhaps most importantly of all) enjoyed it. And I’d rather people cooked from scratch than buy pre prepared food, or the disgustingly artificial products that you seen in so many chiller cabinets nowadays.

I’m no supermarket evangelist. I dislike many of their products and practices – such as they way they waste so many of their leftover products at the end of the working day, and I perfectly understand why someone wouldn’t choose to shop in a supermarket which was dirty, or where the staff were unhelpful and rude. Indeed, I admit, if Waitrose magically decided to open a branch in Bootle, I’d probably buy some of my groceries from there (although I seriously doubt that that will ever happen in my lifetime – well, unless Heston Blumenthal and his magical shiny head decides to pay us a visit).

But when food writers – and indeed people in general – look down their noses about where people chose to buy their ingredients from, it disenfranchises people who may want to cook in their own homes, but are put off by the seeming expense of doing so. Personally, I feel we should be educating people about how to cook delicious food with the best ingredients they can afford, rather than sneering at which supermarket they’ve bought them from.

‘Let’s go shopping’ image taken from X Ray Delta One’s Flickr stream and used under Creative Commons License

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Cinco de Mayo: Carne Asada & Guacamole

Ah Cinco de Mayo, arguably one of the best of all the feasting days in the calendar.  How I love it when you roll around again so I legitimately stuff my face with burritos the size of babies heads. Cinco de Mayo is a big thing in Mexico, it being a celebration of the day they finally kicked the French out in 1862. Being a humble Mancunian girl – whose only experiences of Mexican food for a long time were those horrible ‘Old El Paso’ Mexican food kits – I wasn’t actually aware of its existence until I went to university and found myself studying the history and politics of Latin America and the Caribbean. The memories of my first Cinco de Mayo are hazy, but I do know that they involved many many many Margaritas and may have involved me waking up the next morning facedown in a plate of nachos in the University of London bar.

One of the offshoots of my History degree is that, whilst I am good at remembering important dates, I’m rarely good at remembering to actually do something to celebrate them. Over the years, various Cinco de Mayo‘s have come, and various Cindo de Mayo‘s have gone without me devouring as much delicious Mexican food as humanly possible. This year I was determined to change that.

A few days ago I received an email from those fine people at Chow reminding me of the existence of Carne Asada. I still had some flank steak left over from a recent East London Steak Company delivery (who, by the way, stock some of the best steak I have ever tasted – and they now deliver across the UK. If you’re looking for something which isn’t just tasteless supermarket meat, you should definitely check them out). Somehow, the lure of beef strips marinaded in lime juice, orange juice, cumin and coriander was too much for me to resist and so, last night, after doing my civic duty and voting, I fired up the grill and started making myself and Mr. Cay some damn fine meaty burritos. And, because no burrito is complete without a large dollop of something green inside it, I also whipped up a tasty Guacamole to accompany it, the leftovers of which I ate this morning slathered on some rye bread toast (which may sound a little adventurous for breakfast time, but trust me, it was delicious).

The finished product was everything a good burrito should be – filled with punchy, flavoursome meat interspersed here and there with little hits of citrus and a bit of crunch from the toasted cumin seeds. Plus, I ensured that they were oozing with sour cream and refried beans to boot. Washed down with ice cold bottles of Sol beer, Mr. Cay promptly ate two of these and proceeded to fall into a food coma. I, however, just proceeded to undo the top button of my jeans and lie on my sofa moaning like a boa constrictor who’d just consumed a large deer. I probably gained a stone eating these things, but by God were they worth it.


Recipe adapted from Simply Recipes

You will need:

  • 2 thin pieces of steak

For the marinade

  • 2 tablespoons of Olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 green chilli, seeded and chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground cumin seed (I find it best to lightly toast the seeds first, then grind them finely in a pestle and mortar)
  • 1 large handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • The juice of 2 limes
  • The juice of an orange
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

Make It!

  1. Place the pieces of steak into a large bowl. Combine the marinade ingredients and pour it over the meat,  making sure that each piece is well coated. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-4 hours.
  2. Preheat your grill, or if you’re using one, a cast iron grill pan. Brush the grates with a little oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Remove the steak from the marinade, making sure that you brush off  any excess  as the bits may burn and smoke on the hot pan. Season both sides of the steak pieces with salt and pepper. Grill the pieces for a few minutes only, on each side, depending on how thin they are, until medium rare to well done, to your preference (you may need to work in batches to do this).
  3. Remove the steak pieces to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Then, thinly slice the steak across the grain on a diagonal. Serve in a warm tortilla with the toppings of your choice (although I would recommend refried beans, sour cream, and this rather splendid Guacamole).


You will need:

  • 2 – 3 ripe avocados
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tomato
  • The juice of a lime
  • A handful of fresh coriander (leaves and stems), finely chopped
  • A good glug of Tabasco sauce

Make It!

  1. First, cut the avocados in half and remove seed. Scoop out the avacado flesh from the peel and plop it in a mixing bowl.
  2. Using a fork, mash the avocado thoroughly until it’s as smooth (or as chunky) as you like. Add the chopped red onion, the lime, the chopped coriander, the tabasco and a good grind of salt and pepper.
  3. Next, add the tomato. First, skin it by piecing it and placing it in a bowl of hot water for five minutes or so – the skin should then pop right off. Once you’ve done this, chop it finely, and add it to the mix.
  4. Garnish with a sprig of coriander if you want to be poncey. Adjust quantities depending on your own personal preference – I like to go a bit crazy on the lime and chilli. I like popping this in the fridge for twenty minutes or so before serving so the flavours all meld together, but, to be honest, it tastes just as good when first plopped onto the foody beverage of your choice.
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Friday Lunch Club: Host, Hope Street

Friday has long been my favourite day of the week – the day when I clock off at 5pm, kick back and focus my attentions upon the important things in life, like getting pissed and dancing to motown records in inappropriate footwear. But recently, Friday has managed to gain an even more special place in my heart, because that’s the day when I decide to go all out to town in terms of my lunching arrangements.

Being your average everyday office worker, I tend to bring my own lunch to work – or, if I’m feeling especially lazy that day – partake of the numerous interesting looking delights served up in my employers cafeteria. However, at the end of every week, myself and my colleague Lydia decide to lunch in one of the numerous eating establishments situated on Hope Street in Liverpool (which, if the gushing bloke I heard on Radio 4 the other morning is to be believed, is the boulevard Saint Germain of the North West of England).

Of all the places we’ve gone to since we established our little eating club, Host was the one I’d most been looking forward to trying out. I’d heard numerous reviews – both good and bad – of its South East Asian influenced cuisine, its mind blowing desserts and its interesting canteen inspired dining style. Being the kind of girl who quite happily live off noodles for the rest of her days, it sounded just like my kind of place.

And, to an extent, I wasn’t disappointed. Walking into Host is like what I imagine walking into a restaurant designed by the cast of Playschool might be like. It’s a huge airy space – all big windows, Wagamama style benches and primary coloured walls. Whilst some people may find its informality slightly discomforting, I quite liked its easy going style and air of unpretentiousness.

I was equally impressed by the food. For a starter, we had bowls of edamame beans which were served warm with a light sprinkling of sea salt, and were great fun to pop right out of the pod directly into your mouth (even more so when one leapt up and hit Lydia right between the eyes).

For the main courses, Lydia settled upon a poached Sea Bass which was served with pak choi and jasmine rice. It looked and tasted delicious – the broth was light and fragrant with soy and lemongrass, whilst the fish was pillowly soft, flaking off into thick white shards at the merest touch of a chopstick. My Massaman Pork Belly curry was equally good – I’d never thought of pork belly as being an ingredient which would go well with indian spices and thick gravy, but I was very pleasantly surprised. The tamarind in the sauce made the whole dish pleasingly sour, and complemented the silky smooth fat of the pork belly perfectly. The whole thing sang with flavour and I happily demolished the lot.

The only thing which let the meal down for me was the dessert. After hearing tales of Host’s unique desserts menu (comprising of such thing as Strawberry and White Pepper Panacotta with Liquorice macaroons and various ice creams sprinkled with chocolate covered popping candy), I was really looking forward to getting stuck into the Rosewater Parfait with chocolate sauce I’d ordered. However, what I was presented with was a huge salmon pink cylinder…and that was it. I had to ask our waiter to bring me over a small dish of chocolate sauce, and the whole thing just appeared to be a bit underwhelming. Thankfully it tasted better than it looked – like a very posh (very cold) Turkish Delight. Whilst it may be a little sweet for some people’s tastes, I found it to be rather pleasant, putting in mind of when I was a little girl and a bar of Fry’s Turkish Delight (in the lurid purple foil wrapper) seemed like the height of sophistication.

Host may not be perfect, and it may not be the kind of place you’d choose to take a date on a romantic night out (its long benches not exactly being conducive to great shows of intimacy). However, I’ve yet to find a better place in Merseyside for interesting – and really bloody tasty – South East Asian inspired food. Plus, at only £15 for three courses and a beer, it didn’t break the bank either.

I’ve yet to decide whether Host really is something special, or just a very posh Wagamamma’s. However, I will be returning there again. If only to try some more of that Pork Belly curry.

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