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Banana Bread

This weekend I decided to tackle the growing collection of frost in the freezer. At the back of the freezer, long forgotten about, I found two ripe bananas which I had been saving for banana bread. Since it was a lovely fall weekend, I thought some baking was in order.

This recipe is based on Quick Banana Bread from The Joy of Cooking with a few modifications. When my brother and I were growing up, the Joy was one of our favourite cookbooks. With instructions on how to skin a squirrel and recipes that make 200 cookies, the Joy is sure to be a hit with young chefs. We would pore over it for hours before deciding to make some obscure cookies, candies or a cake. Mom never questioned our choices and was always supportive of our efforts, even when we really did make 200 German Honey cookies.

This recipe requires less cooking time than many others I have seen and is very easy. Enjoy it while it cooks and fills the house with a wonderful aroma, hot out of the oven with butter melting on it or the next day for breakfast (if there’s any left!)


Banana Bread

Preparation time: 15 mins + 45-60 mins cooking time.
Makes one loaf.

1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup butter or margarine
2/3 cup brown sugar
Grated rind of one lemon

2 beaten eggs
1 to 1 1/4 cups of ripe banana pulp

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C.

1. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

2. Blend the butter, sugar and lemon rind in a large mixing bowl until creamy.

3. Beat the eggs and banana pulp into the butter and sugar mixture.

4. Add the sifted ingredients to the sugar mixture in 3 parts, beating until smooth after each addition.

5. Fold in the walnuts.

6. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan.

Bake for 45 – 60 mins until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool slightly before sneaking the first hot slice.

The Crown

The Crown

223 Grove Road
Victoria Park
London
E3 5NZ
Map

The Crown occupies an ideal location on the corner of Grove Road and Old Ford Road across from Victoria Park. Formerly the site of a Spanish Tapas restaurant and a previous pub also called the Crown, the newly reopened Crown is a fresh and welcome addition to the Victoria Park scene. Downstairs there are a variety of seating choices including comfy chairs, big tables with chairs and high tables with benches. Upstairs is a dining room with about 12 tables.

Our first visit to the Crown was during opening week in April 2008 and the place was bustling. We didn’t get a table in the dining room but instead we sat on stools at a bar-like area outside the dining room. The menu was limited but considering they had just opened we thought we should cut them some slack.  We have been back for a drink in the evening, but hadn’t returned to eat until recently.

This time we got a table in the dining room and the menu was considerably bigger, but we don’t feel the quality of the food lives up to the price. For starters we had the Beetroot Soup and Melon and Parma Ham. The soup wasn’t very hot (although it didn’t seem to be officially a cold soup) but the Melon and Ham was great. We both ordered the Rib Eye steak which came with a tin pot of chips for £17. The steak was definitely not good enough quality to be charging that much for and the chips were a bit hard. To spare our waistlines and pocketbooks, we passed on dessert.

I’m not sure I’d go back for food, but its definitely a nice place to go for a drink. The bar service is prompt and the cider is cold.

Mushroom Salad

I forgot about this recipe for years but it has become a new favourite. I’m not a big fan of raw mushrooms, which might be the reason I haven’t made this salad in ages, but believe it or not, it doesn’t taste like mushrooms! It is still great if you don’t have time to let it sit for 2 to 3 hours, but it definitely becomes better with a bit of time for the mushrooms to fully absorb the dressing. Fresh and zingy, I think this salad is perfect for summer BBQs or enjoying on the patio.

Fast + impressive + different + doesn’t taste like mushrooms! Have with an omelette or quiche for lunch or supper.


Mushroom Salad

Make 2-3 hours before serving.

1/2 lb mushrooms (any edible variety)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
Fresh ground pepper
1/2 – 3/4 C olive oil (a lot!)
Salt
Fresh herbs, especially parsley, basil, marjoram, thyme, sage

1. Wash mushrooms gently. Trim stalks and cut in thin slices up and down, through stalk and cap. Put them in a medium to large non-metallic bowl.

2. Squeeze a lemon over them. Stir in minced garlic. Grind lots of pepper on them. Mix. Pour olive oil over
all.

3. Let sit 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally if you’re home.

4. Just before serving, add a little more olive oil if mushrooms are dry. Add salt to taste (up to 1 tsp). Add chopped herbs and mix again.

Mushroom Salad

Barcelona

As soon as we got off the plane, we could feel the warmth of Spain. Neither of us are sunseekers, but we found the temperature perfect at about 24 degrees.  After a slight detour to drop our friend off at his hotel, which turned out not be in central Barcelona at all, we arrived at our hotel Hotel Barcelona Universal.

The enormous Camp Nou in Barcelona

On our first day, we met up with some friends who had also travelled for the Champions League Semi-Final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United. We enjoyed beer and wine on various outdoor patios before making our way to the Camp Nou stadium for the match. It was my first trip to Camp Nou, which seats 98,000 and is the largest stadium in Europe. Seated in the 5th and uppermost tier with the United fans we had a birds-eye view of the match but the sunset was amazing. United played defensively and went home with a 0-0 draw. A goal would have been nice, but overall a good result for the away leg.

The second day began late after a much needed lie-in. We walked along the waterfront to Port Vell and then wove our way through the Barrio Gotic to the Taller de Tapas for a late lunch. Admittedly we weren’t at peak dining time at 5:00 in the afternoon but we got dismal service and the food was only average. After lunch we wandered up Las Ramblas to the Avenida Diagonal before taking the metro back to our hotel for a nap.

Tje view from Park GuellThe third day we got up earlier (around noon 🙂 ) and went to the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, two of the famous Gaudi landmarks. They were both packed with tourists but in the park we found a shady bench and some relatively empty paths. The picture to the right was taken from the mosaic covered serpentine bench along the main terrace. 

 

On the last day we returned to Rossini in Placa Reial (where we had eaten lunch on the first day) for lunch and then watched the Chelsea – Manchester United game in an Irish pub. After lunch we took a funicular up the hill to the Montjuic Park where the 1992 Olympics were held. The view over the city was amazing especially from the abandoned diving venue. Although some of the venues are still used, it was a shame to see dozens of birds swimming in the diving pool. After exploring the park a bit more we took an ancient cable car to the waterfront and had a quick walk on the beach before taking a taxi back to the hotel exhausted after another day of hiking around.

All in all it was a great weekend. Lots of rest, sunshine, good food and wine.

Vildsvin

Vildsvin

Ferran, 38
Barri Gotic
08002 Barcelona
93 317 94 07
Map

Where we should have gone for dinner….

We happened upon Vildsvin after our experience at Ateneu Gastronomic. We were looking for some dessert and a drink to recover from our unpleasant meal. Vildsvin has a clean modern style and looked to be much more our sort of place. There probably would have been a wait for a table for supper earlier, but this is the place we should have gone for dinner. We ordered the Chocolate Mousse, which was dreamy, and the Biscuit a la Creme, which was also exquisite. We enjoyed the selection of foreign beers upstairs in the less formal eating area, but there is also a quieter more formal dining room downstairs. And perhaps best of all, one of the tapas on the menu is a slice from a 120kg Bologna sausage which stands just inside the door.

La Fonda del Port Olimpic

Moll de Gregal, 7-8-9
Port Olimpic
08005 Barcelona
93 221 22 10
Map

This restaurant was recommended to us by our hotel. Having been to similar places in Madeira, I should have known that a seafood restaurant on the waterfront was probably not what we were looking for having asked for a “nice” place for dinner.

The hotel had made a reservation for us and on arrival we were taken to a tiny table for two at what turned out to be a major crossroads. La Ronda is probably best described as a zoo. The waiters were literally running around with whole fish and crustaceans showing them to the patrons who would later be eating them bumping into our table as they went. The place was bustling with the F1 crowd and outbursts of cheering and singing were not uncommon.

We ordered Fishermen’s Soup and Fried Calamari for starters, both of which were okay. We had a Seafood Paella for main course which was also good, but nothing special. Having spent enough time in this chaotic scene, we declined dessert and made a quick exit.

Ateneu Gastronomic

Ateneu Gastronomic

Pas de l’Ensenyanca, 2 bis
Barri Gotic
08002 Barcelona
93 302 13 57
Map

Based on previous experiences with “traditional” Spanish and Portuguese food, my first instinct was to avoid this place. But with the Formula 1 race this weekend, Barcelona was very full and there was at least an hour’s wait at better looking places. We should have left before the waiter carried an aluminum table from the outdoor patio into the restaurant and over the heads of unsuspecting patrons. Our table was placed about six inches from two other tables and was right in the middle of the main thoroughfare, as well as directly in front of the toilets.

We ordered the Fishermen’s Soup and Melon with Iberian Ham for starters. Although well over-priced at €15.50, the ham and melon looked to be one of the safest choices on the menu and was in fact very good. (However I think it is difficult to mess up a dish that consists of a piece of fruit and some cured meat). The soup was average and contained both recognizable and unrecognizable pieces of seafood.

For the main course we chose the Fillet Steak and Grilled Sole. The steak was ordered medium but when it arrived it was almost raw and wobbled on the plate. After we reiterated the request for it to be cooked “medium”, the plate was whisked away and returned about twenty minutes later. The steak now looked more seared on the outside and slightly less wobbly on the inside. Meanwhile I wrestled with the Sole which had been grilled to the point of being suitable for use as a weapon. Using both my knife and fork, I attempted to pry the hard rubbery flesh away from the bones while avoiding the drab over-boiled vegetables. As it turned out, it was lucky that my Sole adventure was almost over by the time the steak reappeared. The aluminum patio table was not up to the task of supporting the forces incurred by the cutting of the steak and wobbled almost enough to spill the wine out of our glasses.

When we sat down the couple next to us had just paid their bill and didn’t look very happy. Now we know why… When the bill came we were absolutely shocked. We have never been charged so much for such terrible food. Combined with the dismal table location and nearly being clipped in the head with a chair being carried across the restaurant, there isn’t anything positive to say about this place.

On our way out we heard another couple say to the waiter “Excuse me. This steak is not cooked!” Although tempted to tell them to leave now before it was too late we selfishly left the restaurant as fast as we could. As we were walking away we realized that not once had they asked if everything was okay with the food. I guess they they’ve learned over the years that it’s best not to ask!

Blueberry Muffins

Apologies.. it has been a long time since I’ve written a new post. I’ve been busy finishing up my PhD and unsurprisingly didn’t have any spare writing time. I’ve now pretty much finished it and have started work full-time. I’m planning to return to my blogging and enjoy cooking again. Earlier this week I had a craving for blueberry muffins so on Friday I bought some blueberries on my way to work and today I made some yummy blueberry muffins. I used the site NutritionData.com to calculate the nutritional information which I must admit was much worse than I had thought. I did use reduced-fat butter so the numbers should probably be a bit less than those quoted for my muffins. Feel free to use margarine or other reduced fat spread.


Blueberry Muffins

Makes 12 muffins.

Blueberry Muffins

1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease and flour muffin pans or use paper liners.

2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and mix in.

3. Mix flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture, alternating with milk. Mash 1/2 cup berries and stir into batter. Fold in remaining berries.

4. Fill muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and wait 5 minutes to remove from pans.

Per Muffin: 222 kcals, 9g fat(5g saturated), 4g protein, 36g carbs, 718g sugar, 0.6g salt.

Hotel du Vin Bistro – Cambridge

Trumpington Street
Cambridge
CB2 1QA
01223 227330

A week ago today Tim and I went to the newly opened Hotel du Vin Bistro for our last lunch before he left Cambridge. Having cycled by the Hotel du Vin almost every day during its construction we were both eager to try it out and having recently heard about their lunch specials, we decided to give it a go.

The lunch specials are £15.50 for two courses or £17.50 for three, which is clearly the better deal, but we were stuffed after the first two courses. As a starter Tim had the Caesar salad that came with an egg that appeared to have been poached and went with the salad beautifully. He had the bangers and mash for the main course and said, and I quote, “the bangers had a lovely rich taste”. I started with the Cauliflower soup which was very creamy and filling and then had a sweet pea risotto for my main course. I enjoyed the risotto even though the rice didn’t seem to be arborio rice, which I use for risottos. I probably would have had the bangers and mash if I hadn’t already taken some sausages out for supper.

We thought the service was great, even though we were a bit under dressed with our rucksacks and trainers, and the food the excellent too. We were a bit disappointed by the 10% service charge that was automatically added to the bill, but maybe that is just for the lunch specials. It seems more and more restaurants are adding service charge. Having been a waitress for a few years I know the value of tips and gladly tip 10% for average service (in the Europe, 15% in North America) and up to 20% if the service is particularly good. But when I see that 10% has just been added to my bill, I get a bit offended. It’s almost like they don’t trust me to tip well enough. However, the service charge has not put me off returning to the Hotel du Vin Bistro and I am looking forward to trying their dinner menu.

Update:

Saturday night Rob and I went to Hotel du Vin for dinner. Once again this week I was unsuccessful in securing a reservation but we decided to take our chances and turn up anyway. Just before we arrived they had a cancellation and we were seated immediately. As with lunch, the food for dinner was excellent.  Rob had a smoked duck starter and the venison main and I had a goat cheese crottin for starter and the double-baked cheese souffle for a main course. Dessert was also yummy.. Rob had the apple tart and I had a selection of ice creams. After dinner we went downstairs to the bar, where we drank another bottle of red wine. It wasn’t a cheap evening, but as our taxi driver said “it’s worth it!”.  Overall a great night out.

Dauphinoise Potatoes

I discovered this recipe from Masterchef: the Best of British Cooking a few weeks ago and it has quickly become a new favourite. Although it says it serves four people I always have leftovers which are great reheated in the oven or microwave the next day. I typically use more garlic than is called for here and substitute black pepper for white. I haven’t managed to take a picture of it yet since I’ve always made it for guests and didn’t want them to wait while I faffed with photography.


Dauphinoise Potatoes

Serves 4.

3 cloves garlic
1 tsbp sea salt flakes
300 ml (1/2 pint) double cream
300 ml (1/2 pint) milk
freshly ground white pepper
1 kg (2 1/2 lbs) potatoes, peeled and finely sliced
butter, for greasing
50g (2 oz) grated Parmesan

1. Crush the garlic into a paste with the salt. In a large pan, combine the garlic paste, cream, milk and white pepper.

2. Add the sliced potatoes, turning into the cream mixture to ensure all the slices are evenly coated. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the mixture has thickened.

3. Butter a ovenproof dish (9×13 or bigger). Gently pour the potatoes into the dish and level the top. Sprinkle over the grated Parmesan and place in a preheated oven at 150°C (300°F) for about 1 hour, until the top is nicely golden.