February 2010


For a birthday cake with a difference, I’ve just cooked up a batch of Valentine Warner’s Orangey Honey Buns. They’re from his 2009 spring/summer cookbook (What To Eat Now – More Please!), but I think a taste of spring in the depths of this cold, damp winter is no bad thing. I know Warner isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I find his goofy, greedy enthusiasm infectious – like Jamie Oliver, he’s the sort of inspirational TV cook who makes me crave fresh, seasonal food and gets me back in the kitchen even when I’m exhausted and short of ideas.

When I first saw these adorable little cakes, made from a sweet, yeasty dough, being prepared on Warner’s television show last year, I’ve been desperate for an excuse to make them. Heart-shaped silicone muffin tray procured, I spooned in the surprisingly small quantity of sticky dough, packed with egg for a lovely glaze on the finished buns, and left them to prove. My cakes did not reach impressive heights – perhaps one of the downfalls of a freezing cold flat – but rose satisfactorily in the oven. The next stage is to make a syrup of sugar, water, orange zest, honey, Cointreau, and a drop of orange flower water, before packing the buns into a sterilized jar and pouring over the syrup. They’re drinking up the fragrant, boozy liquid as I type, ready to be presented to the birthday lady tomorrow. Happy birthday, Jessie!

They'll be even tastier tomorrow…

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A vegetarian at the Anchor & Hope? I know, I know – it seems so wrong. But I promise I’ve been very well fed there in the past. More than anything else, I love the bustling atmosphere of the bar that spills over into the restaurant, the heavy red velvet curtains that divide the two sections, the buzz of the crowd, and that joyful moment when a waiter fights his way through them all to tell you that you finally have a table.

On a rainy Thursday evening, Laura and I splashed our way along The Cut to one of my favourite pubs. It was her first visit (it featured on her wish-list for 2010), and my heart sank when I saw how busy the bar was. How would we find anywhere to linger over our pre-dinner drinks, let alone to sit down and eat? We were warned of an hour-long wait for a table, which disappeared in a blur of verdicchio, Guinness, and gossip. Finally seated around a corner of a table for six, I was a little disappointed by my available menu options. Not to worry – I’d known what I was letting myself in for, and a quick iPhone search revealed that leeks gribiche was, indeed, vegetarian. I plumped for that, along with a green salad and new potatoes. Laura could be more adventurous, and chose a cuttlefish and ink risotto and a small plate of bresaola, and I treated myself to a glass of prune and prosecco fizz to make up for my restrained dinner.

Leeks gribiche

The leeks were beautifully cooked – tender, but still flavoursome – and the tasty sauce added a very welcome hit of rich, dairy goodness. Laura later declared her risotto to be “awfully nice”, and tucked into the bresaola with gusto.

Bresaola; cuttlefish risotto; new potatoes (obvs); leeks gribiche

I’d already made my mind up that a dessert was most definitely in order, shared or otherwise. Luckily, Laura was of the same opinion, and we shared a quince and almond tart that was, without a doubt, the highlight of the meal for me. The tart was stickily glazed, with quince cooked to tender perfection and beautifully buttery pastry, and came topped with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. As we headed out into the dark, damp night and the infinitely less convivial surroundings of the Victoria line, I was warmed by the memory of such a fantastic dessert.

Quince and almond tart