London Food Tour - Covent Garden with Celia Brooks

On a chilly and bleak London morning I huddled outside of Covent Garden tube station with a small squad of hungry strangers. We'd all be invited to try out Celia Brooks's new food tour of the area, and fortunately she knows how to get a group giddy and chatting right from the start.

Once introductions were made she simply opened a box procured across the road from legendary macaron-maker Ladurée, and the brilliantly coloured discs instantly lit up the atmosphere. Pistachio, black currant, salted caramel... there wasn't a wrong choice to be made and the box was soon empty.

Celia is a cook, food writer, and guide of London gastrotours around Portobello Road, Marylebone, and now, Covent Garden. Over several hours she led us to some top quality shops, market stalls, and cafés where we tasted everything from English cheese to Venezuelan corn cakes to Indian street snacks. She offers nuggets of historical trivia along the way, and her love for food is clear when she introduces each of the producers on the tour.

Our first stop was for cheese, glorious cheese....


St. John Hotel: London City Centre Accommodation with Great Taste

Famous for introducing nose-to-tail eating into the general dining lexicon, St. John Restaurant is now looking after overnight guests with the same thoroughness at its St. John Hotel. You will feel comforted from head-to-toe relaxing in this sleek London city centre inn.

Our stay here was a surprise for my birthday plotted by Alex. A night at a chic hotel in your own city is a thrill. It's not everyday that I pack an overnight bag and hop on the local bus. We alighted in China Town, and walked under a canopy of festive lanterns, until we stopped before a brick frontage that belies its glamorous interior...


Mad Men Party Canapés (Betty and Joan would approve)

Please, do not host a Mad Men viewing party. Terrible idea. Watching Mad Men is like reading a brilliant book; you savour every line, become mesmerised by the poignant storyline, and everything else around you fades away. The experience doesn't benefit from someone wedged on the sofa next to you, gnashing snacks and shouting out observations over the dialogue.

I watch it alone, in a dimly lit room. Just me and some beautifully damaged characters, trying to find our way in this crazy world... some of us a little drunker than others.

So, no, I won't be attending any giddy gatherings the night the new season debuts here in the UK. I can't abide all the silliness that's sprung up around the show recently — retro costumes, wacky internet videos. I'm not a kill-joy but this isn't Beach Blanket Bingo people. Mad Men is not goofy. The wackiest thing that ever happened on it involved a run-away riding lawnmower and (spoiler alert) that did not end well.

But the day aprés episode I can't wait to get social about Don Draper and company, and this is when a Mad Men party is ideal. Invite some fellow fans over and serve up retro cocktails and canapés to compliment the era you're all engaged in.


Pancake Day UK: Spelt Pancakes with Creamed Spinach, Traditional Lemon and Sugar Pancakes

British Pancake Day is a tradition I've come to love after living in the UK for many years. This is the day, also known here as Shrove Tuesday, when you indulge before forty days of Lent. In America they have wild Mardi Gras style street parties, in Rio there's Carnival, and in Britain, well, they make pancakes. Everyone lets loose in their own way...

The traditional way to eat pancakes (note to Americans: when I say pancakes I mean the British version which resemble crepes; they are thin) is with lemon and sugar, but I have a savoury tooth and like to make a heartier version as well. This way you can have an entire pancake meal, which seems fitting for Pancake Day!

This year for the first course I whipped up spelt pancakes and topped them with warm, rich, melt-in-your-mouth delicious creamed spinach. Alex was initially very skeptical about the inclusion of a savoury round, but I've convinced him with this combination.


Tasting Menus: PipsDish Pop-up Restaurant at Islington Barn in London

Walk up a little alleyway off of Upper Street. Enter a disused car repair garage. Duck behind a curtain. Grab a seat on a hay bail. Relax. You've arrived at Islington's most exciting new restaurant.


Chocolate Custard Muffins Recipe

Sunday morning we awoke to find London covered in a thick duvet of snow. Big feathery flakes had started falling before we fell asleep — the first snow of winter illuminated the city in a pure white glow. Hello? Are you listening to me wax lyrical about the enchanting affect of frozen water? No, you're fixated on the image above, the glistening, cocoa-saturated handful you want to get your teeth into, instead of hearing about the weather. Yeah, I don't blame you, (I've been eating them and you really need to soon) let's get down to the business of chocolate custard muffins.


Violet Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake with Treacle Fudge Frosting Recipe

Our neighbours welcomed a cute new flatmate recently — a baby.  Many visitors bestow infants with onesies or hats topped with animal ears, but I like to treat the parents. Parents love cake. When their little girl's name was revealed I was instantly inspired to find some crystallised 'Violet' petals to add a personalised touch to a cake recipe I've been eager to try. Almost nine months later (new parents are quite busy!) Violet Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake was born in my kitchen. 

Sure, the kid couldn't eat any of it (she has many years ahead to juggle a conflicted love affair with desserts) but she seemed happy enough watching us scoff thick chocolaty slices as she gnawed on green beans.


Tasting Menus: San Diego Mexican Food in Restaurants, a Diner, and a Market

Hola. It's been a while, eh? Well that's what a couple weeks in the California sunshine will do to a girl, dazzle her and then leave her feeling jet lagged and grey upon return to an English January. I've been eager to share my San Diego dining recommendations with you; we tried a range of Mexican food, in restaurants, a diner, and at a market. The following picks won't be found in the Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego's bustling tourist area, where many of the big hotels are located. But don't worry you only need to make very short trips to get your mouth around this fine Southern California Mexican food...

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