Cox and Baloney Vintage Tearoom

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I miss many things about working in a cafe. The smell of a freshly-opened tin of coffee beans, that hisses out as you pull back the metal lid. The meringue-like foam spooned carefully onto a cappuccino. The rustle of tea leaves shaken out of a jar. The witty (if I do say so myself) banter with customers.  And not to forget the practically unlimited access to cake.

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However, one thing that I don’t miss is working at the weekend. Everyone else is having a great time, and you’re at work. Helping them have a great time, but still. I relish going to a cafe in the weekend now, even if it’s to take pleasure in watching the waiters and waitresses rush around like headless chickens. What’s that long German word for it? Schadenfreude?  Even though I take slight pleasure in their stress, I always make a point of assuring them that there’s no rush, and to get to us when they’re ready.  I know what it’s like to have ten different table-fuls of people eyeing you meaningfully, all thinking they came in first.

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In a bid to make my blog more ‘out and about’, me and my camera went on a jaunt to this lovely cafe just round the corner from my house. The cafe, called Cox and Baloney Vintage Tearoom, also houses a ’boutique’, selling vintage-inspired clothes. You have to book a table just to have tea in this place on a weekend it’s so popular. There’s a wide and impressive selection of loose leaf teas, with the standard English Breakfast (although it’s named ‘Mr Darcy’) rubbing shoulders with eccentric varieties such as strawberries and cream, containing white chocolate and strawberry pieces. We (and by ‘we’ I mean me and my friends, not my camera) were heartily encouraged to go up and smell the teas, which were standing proudly on the counter in glass jars. In the end, after much sniffing and deliberating, we opted for Sir Bountiful’s Bounty – Ceylon tea combined with a slightly bizarre mix of coconut slices, chocolate drops, thistle flowers and cornflowers. It turned out to be lovely – more than a hint of coconut, with a faint whiff of fragrance from the flowers.

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The cafe is famous for its afternoon tea, which comprises scones, jam, clotted cream and an assortment of cakes and sandwiches, all piled high on a vintage cake stand. There was an impressive assortment of inventive and delicious looking cakes, including lots of gluten-free options. The coconut and chocolate sponge and an orange polenta cake were serious contenders, but in the end we narrowed it down to three:  a peanut butter and chocolate cake, a cherry bakewell, and something called a ‘jewel cake’, studded with cranberries. The peanut butter cake was the winner for me, it’s one of those cakes that you’re not entirely sure how it’s made, but you instantly want to spend hours in the kitchen attempting to recreate it.

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Our experience of Cox and Baloney was very good: delicious tea and cake, polite and attentive staff all in a lovely atmosphere. The ‘vintage’ theme is so often overdone, but here it really added to the experience. We all loved the mismatched china our tea was served in, some retro to the point of garish, and I am a bit of a cutlery obsessive, so the bone-handled silverware was appreciated. I know it’s a cliche to end with this, but I will definitely be returning. Mostly because of the peanut butter cake.

 

 

 

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Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies

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I made these when my friend Jenny came round. She is gluten intolerant, so brownies seemed like an obvious choice. Wheat flour can easily be substituted for another flour, such as rice flour, or ground almonds, as I’ve used here. Adopting a gluten free lifestyle seems to be all the rage nowadays, whether or not you actually have coeliac disease. Two of my favourite food blogs are by people who don’t eat gluten – Tartlette and La Tartine Gourmande.

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Gluten seems to be hidden in a remarkable amount of things. According to a quick Wikipedia glance (the extent of any ‘research’ I do for this blog) gluten is found in cosmetics and hair products. Baking powder often contains gluten – although I’m skeptical of how useful baking powder is. Especially in brownies, as I’ve made them with or without, and can’t see any discernable difference, so I was happy to leave it out here. I’m still a little uncertain as to what gluten actually is – in my local healthfood shop you can buy large packets of a flour-like substance that is simply, and a little bizarrely, just called ‘gluten’.

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This recipe was inspired by something I had from the Hummingbird Bakery in London. They produce an amazing concoction: a layer of brownie, topped with a layer of cheesecake, then a layer of vibrantly pink raspberry-flavoured cream. I did away with the separate layers, and swirled a mixture of cream cheese, egg and crushed raspberries into the top of the brownie batter before it goes in the oven. Doing my bit to make coping without bread and pasta a little bit easier.

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Baked Chicken with Lemon, Courgettes and Farro

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Food is my main motivator for travel. That, and taking photos: of the scenery as well as the food. The thing that excited me most about my trip to South-East Asia and Australia last year was the different tastes that awaited me in the five countries. From paad thai on the streets of Bangkok via smoked duck in Singapore to kangaroo in Adelaide, South Australia, it was a pretty epic range of tastes. One of my favourite destinations in terms of food has to be Italy. Italian food is so much more than just pizza and pasta – although the pizza and pasta are, usually, excellent.

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I first had farro in Florence, in a tiny café nestled somewhere in the city’s ochre-coloured, labyrinthine streets. We took refuge from the baking hot sun in the middle of the day, and had several platefuls of a very memorable salad: farro with cherry tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. When I first tried it, I thought the mysterious grain was simply pearl barley, but that for some reason it tasted so much better than the dowdy English variety. Farro is in fact Italian pearled spelt, very similar to pearl barley but with a nuttier taste which makes it altogether more likeable. It’s great cold, in refreshing salads, or warm, with unctuous layers of tomato sauce poured over it.

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It seems I’m not the only one who is a fan of farro: there was an Ottolenghi recipe in Waitrose Magazine this month for grilled lettuce with farro and lemon. Here, in keeping with Italian simplicity, I decided to combine my new favourite grain with some chicken baked with lemon, and some gently fried courgettes. A spray of roughly chopped parsley and an extra squeeze of lemon finished it off. This dish could work as well warm as cold – more suitable for lunch cold and dinner hot, maybe. But for the purposes of needing good midday light for the photos, I had it warm for lunch, rendering that previous claim somewhat redundant.

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Chocolate and Hazelnut Mousse

Food, for me, is about so much more than something we need to consume to stay alive. It has the power to evoke memory: to immediately transport us back to a particular time or place. Nutella, for example, instantly takes me back to childhood summers spent in France. My friend and I would secretly stuff ourselves with as much fresh baguette smothered with far too much Nutella as we could before our parents caught us.

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So Nutella was the inspiration for this mousse. As any Nutella addict will tell you, chocolate and hazelnuts make a good team. I have made many a chocolate mousse in my time, but never tried adding hazelnuts. It makes sense: the earthy sweetness of the roasted hazelnuts complements the dark bitterness of the chocolate. And the occasional crunch from the nuts alongside the velvety smoothness of the mousse is a winner.

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I made this to serve at a dinner party for my birthday. It’s ideal for this, as it can be made the day before and left in the fridge to firm up – just remember to take it out of the fridge a little before serving, so that it’s not too cold. We had a mushroom and pesto lasagne, followed by rather ridiculously large helpings of the mousse. We had such a lovely time, so from now on the taste of chocolate mousse will instantly bring me back to that evening.

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Carrot, Orange and Coriander Salad

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I’ve recently got a new camera. I finally took the plunge and upgraded to a full- frame model. I found it a bit intimidating at first. For the first few days after I got it, it just sat in the corner of my room, and I would give it little nervous glances now and again, as if it was suddenly going to jump out of its box and quiz me on my photography knowledge. But eventually, I bit the bullet and took it out of its box, charged it up and attached my macro lens.

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This is my first blog shoot with the beast. I used a wooden crate turned upside down as a background, to create a (cringingly food styling word alert) ‘rustic’ feel. I used a black plate, to make the bright orange of the carrot and the vivid green of the coriander leaves stand out. I spent what felt like a ridiculously long time pushing the ribbons of carrot around with a fork, trying to tease them into an attractive shape, but they didn’t seem to quite want to behave themselves.

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I sometimes really enjoy making a meal that is just for me. To put lots of effort into making something taste delicious and looks attractive, even though it’s only you that’s going to eat it, is quite satisfying. This salad was born out of a whim to make something simple, healthy and refreshing, to antidote a period of creamy overindulgence, demonstrated by the preceding tiramisu. Carrots, orange and coriander is a textbook combination. I’ve recently started experimenting with using spices in salad dressing – here I’ve used cumin, another of carrot’s best friends.

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