Look at this platter. What a pile of Italian delights. At Il Vesuvio in Tunbridge Wells they claim to be ‘a corner of Southern Italy in the Garden of England’. I’d have to agree. The atmosphere is as warm as you’d hope for a place named after a smoking Neapolitan volcano. Nothing is too much trouble for the staff. They’re bambina-friendly. The food is authentic and they even serve Lacryma Christi, the renowned Vesuvian wine. A couple of solid Sardinian numbers have also made it onto their list.
If you find yourself in Tunbridge Wells with an empty tum, do try Il Vesuvio. They’re at 112 Camden Road, TN1 2QX, telephone 01892 534 420.
A tin filled with Fruity Tiffin and Tropical Breakfast Bars
Whitworths is a British baking institution, their products having lined the pantries of many a baker or home cook since the company’s creation in 1886. The name belongs to the three Whitworth brothers, who were flour millers. In 1953, some decades after founding their mill and starting to supply flour to local bakeries, the company moved with the times and started to use the milling equipment to spin, wash and dry dried fruit – literally a revolutionary concept for the time. Think about how popular fruit cake was back then and how many dried fruit ingredients used to go into each. Whitworths were bound for new success as suppliers of specialty sugars and fruits.
Skip forward to the seventies, when Whitworths won Royal Warrants from both Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and her daughter, the Queen herself. Whitworths had now invaded the palaces of our green and pleasant land.
Mergers and management buy-outs followed and the warrants seem to have disappeared, but nothing has shaken this firm. In 2012 it was voted the UK’s number one brand for dried fruits and is still leading the way with the extensive range of Whitworths healthy snacks, baking and cooking products.
Cue July 2015 when I was fortunate enough to join a group of food bloggers and the Whitworths crew to do a bit of baking with their products. Our tutor? Holly Bell, finalist in 2011’s Great British Bake Off and blogger at Recipes from a Normal Mum. She’s gone from strength to strength since her time spent baking under the BBC’s bright lights and now makes regular appearances on This Morning and QVC – the shopping channel.
First up – the kitchen. We were at a teaching kitchen in Wandsworth with a gigantic island and industrial-sized appliances. I lusted after the wall (yes, wall) of chrome-fronted fridges. There’s never enough room in our fridge at home and, although I love my kitchen, I have Big Fridge Envy.
We donned our bright red Whitworths aprons and took to our stations to try out a couple of Holly’s recipes. We started with Tropical Breakfast Bars, a healthy, on-the-go snack, but the one I found to be dangerously moreish was Fruity Tiffin. Here’s Holly’s take on it, with the occasional note from me:
- 50g toasted mixed nuts
- 50g chopped apricots
- 50g berries and cherries
- 80g juicy raisins (go for the plumpest you can find)
- 225g ginger nut biscuits, finely crushed
- 150g salted butter
- 30g caster sugar
- 50ml golden syrup (wipe the spoon with oil first so the syrup just falls off)
- 25g cocoa
- 100g milk chocolate
- 100g dark chocolate
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
Note: we used Whitworths products for the first four ingredients, but they may not be available where you are, so do use your local equivalent.
Double note: you can substitute different fruits and I really like digestive biscuits in my own tiffin, so if you’re not a ginger NUT, like me, use a different biscuit.
- Grease and line a 20cm square tin
- Place the butter, sugar, syrup and cocoa into a large pan then melt over a low heat, stirring occasionally
- Once melted and mixed together, remove from the heat then add the biscuits and dried fruits
- Stir well then press into the tin, place a piece of parchment paper over the top then press and level out using your hand
- Melt the chocolate together either in your microwave or a bain-marie method. Stir in the oil then pour over the top of the mix
- Leave to set at room temperature, then cut into pieces using a sharp knife.
I made a bit of a mess of my icing, so hid the evidence beneath a sprinkling of chopped nuts. It looked SO much better afterwards, thank Heavens. A dusting of desiccated coconut would work well, too. Even better ‘cos I love coconut.
Then we popped our tiffin tins into those gorgeous, big fridges to help the setting process, as it was a muggy day. I kept mine in the fridge at home – and cool tiffin is even better than room-temperature tiffin, especially in this warm weather.
Last note from me: to make it a really GROWN UP tiffin, add a dash of sweet sherry. It works so well with the chocolate and raisins. If the mix gets too sticky as a result, just add a few more crushed bikkies before pressing it all into the tin.
**I’ll be trying out more of Holly’s baking recipes with Whitworths products as part of the #whitworthsbakingchallenge, coming soon. I’ll post my favourite recipes here, as soon as I’ve tried them out.
The Whitworths baking goods website
Holly Bell’s blog, Recipes from a Normal Mum
Our lovely teaching kitchen, the Milan, was one of two at Venturis Table, just around the corner from the villagey Tonsleys area of Wandsworth.
One of my favourite activities when travelling is checking out local supermarkets. When the Crev and I arrived in Madrid last autumn, it was one of the first things we did. No matter that we actually NEEDED to go to the supermarket. For a start, I’d left my hair brush at home. Again. Not to mention the need for toddler snacks or cold coffees to get me going in the morning. As I pushed the Crev about the aisles, staring in wonder at familiar and unfamiliar products, it was in an air-conditioned stupour. The different foods intrigue and inspire me. I almost look forward to returning home to my own kitchen to undertake some culinary experimentation. Almost. Just not quite yet, por favor.
I took this photo without a problem, and managed to take about a dozen more before the paëlla man in the food-to-go area shouted at me and shook his fist. Did he think I was an industrial spy? With a toddler and buggy as my disguise? Had my spoken Spanish been better, I might have smiled at him whilst explaining that I was merely showing admiration for his displays. Instead, I spluttered and shook a little as I hurriedly shoved my camera out of sight, racing for a suitable aisle within which to hide. Ridiculous. What I should really have done is take a more Latin attitude and shaken my fist right back.
I love just about everywhere in Italy, but the southern parts are where it gets real and raucous and honest and in-your-face. If I could choose anywhere in the world to live at this point in time, current economics aside, it would probably be Puglia.
The Friday photo this week was taken in a courtyard in the midst of Bari’s old quarter. It’s a rambling tangle of cobbled lanes, lined with ancient buildings, the thoroughfares so narrow that even the thinnest Ape might find driving here a bit of a squeeze. Flowers, fresh and plastic both, are set before saints occupying niches in the crumbling walls. Old men hold court on plastic chairs in the shade of Bari’s archways, chatting about football and family and who in the ‘hood cheats at dominos. Meanwhile, aproned signoras press out fresh orecchiette with the ease of decades spent fine-tuning their technique.
This boat represents Bari in more ways than one: it speaks of the fishermen whose livelihoods were borne out of Bari’s coastal location, and is named for San Nicolà, or St Nicholas, whom we remember at Christmas, and whose relics are interred here, in this very city. In fact, they lie in a basilica bearing his name, just around the corner.
On Lisa McGuigan’s wine website she calls wine ‘the perfect fashion accessory’. The bottle of Cab Shiraz from her Wilde Thing range, sat before me on the kitchen table, bears this out. It’s modish. The label is black, with what can only be called a graffiti splash for the name, the vintner’s own name incorporating crosses and backward letters. Sedate, this look is not. Then again, nor is that of its maker, with her spiky ebony hair, vermilion lips and voguish biker leathers, so what did we expect?
Lisa McGuigan is a fourth generation winemaker from South Australia, but she didn’t always want to follow in her family’s footsteps. Instead, she went into hotel management, getting a close look at the other side of the wine business. Eventually, McGuigan returned to the family fold, developing her own wine, Tempus Two, to great acclaim. In 2011 she launched her own wine label, with four core wines. She has since won coveted contracts with Jetstar and Qantas and is now introducing her wines to the UK market.
So how might I drink the Wilde Thing Cabernet Shiraz? At this time of year, it’d have to be outside, lounging on a gingham throw with hunks of sourdough and mild, soft cheese, like a plain chèvre or a wedge of Wigmore or Waterloo. This wine is full of dark fruit yet isn’t at all heavy. It can happily take a bit of chill – making it perfect for warm weather consumption. I liked it enough to want to try McGuigan’s other wines. Next up? I’m going to try the Wilde Thing Chardonnay Pinot Grigio.
Wilde Thing wines by Lisa McGuigan are now available in the UK. For more information, please see Copestick Murray’s website here.
Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time organising my photo stock. It’s one task I find addictive, taking me back in time to great meals, interesting trips, quality time spent with my favourite folk, watching my daughter’s development, trying to capture those moments when the simple beauty in nature leaves me (and my lens) glassy-eyed. So I thought it might be time to share some of these images – one a week, on Friday: the Friday Photo.
Here’s the first one.
This is the view from our room in the turret at the Château de la Treyne, a hotel overlooking the Dordogne. We’ve stayed there twice now, the first time when we became engaged. The castle is a family-run affair, fashioned from creamy stone and giving directly onto the Dordogne. Imagine throwing open the window each morning to this misty view. Magic. No wonder I said yes.
It’s sweltering. I’m dripping, not in a good way. And thanks to the well-meaning directions of a Brixtonian or two, I end up at the wrong end of Coldharbour Lane. This is not good. Anyone who knows the length of Coldharbour Lane will attest to that. It’s so long that I’ve almost ended up in another suburb. Then my Oyster Card runs out and I have to get off the bus going back in the right direction (bus drivers won’t take change anymore), find a newsagent in this foreign land and top it up. There’s another wait for a bus. My third bus tonight. I should have walked.
I’m an hour late in arriving at the hole-in-the-wall Brazilian eatery back in Brixton proper. There’s a big carafe of water on the table – I pretty much down it in one between breathy greetings to my review partners for the evening. We’re here courtesy of Yelp to see what we think of Brazilian food. Forget Brazilian waxes – that’s so five minutes ago. Brazilian FOOD is the flavour of right now in London. Admittedly, I’m not too familiar with the cuisine of this South American country, but I did once briefly date a guy who’d fallen so hard for coastal Bahia that he jacked it all in here and moved there. Permanently.
A modest tumbler of Caipirinha packs more punch than expected, especially in this heat. I’m playing catch-up now as most of the others are already a course down, so I dig in to the Pão de queijo – a dense, cheesy bread ball, which I’m assured by the menu is Brazil’s favourite savoury appetiser. It’s good, moreish, and potentially devastating to my diet. I reluctantly limit my intake to one.
Bahian fish cakes
Then Bahian fish cakes arrive in a threesome, with a smear of sweet chilli sauce beneath. These are a complete surprise, with a taste so strong that my palate goes into temporary shock. Then I realise that there’s possibly an entire dill plant in there with the fish. I like dill, but am not accustomed to quite so much of it in one mouthful. Still, now that I’ve worked out the origins of such intense flavour it’s easier to enjoy the olfactory dance taking place with my taste buds.
Cured Portuguese chorizo on the grill
There’s still a lot to get through. The cured Portuguese chorizo arrives as dark as a black sausage. Biting into it, the texture’s similar, too, but the smokiness of flavour takes the front seat here. This is the best chorizo I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. It’s so rich that a little goes a long way. It’s meant to be savoured, shared and fought over. The black honey syrup in attendance adds a touch of sticky and sweet, whilst the maize bread is a great vehicle for mopping the plate. Once again, the bread adds an element of surprise. It’s like fat flat bread, if that makes sense, but where the inside is soft and warm, the skin of the bread is fine and crispy, with welcome crunch and crackle.
1/2 chargrilled spicy chicken served with Brazilian churrasco sauce
My neighbours tucked into grilled beef and smoked bacon skewers, called ‘espetinhos’, before moving on to the chargrilled Jacob’s Ladder ribs. Both arrived with healthy helpings of churrasco sauce and sides of cassava chips. I tried a cassava chip – it looked a bit like a roast parsnip, but had a milder taste and starchier texture. Then my spicy chicken arrived. You could taste the grill in the flesh of this bird – more smoke and fire coming through. The marinade had been allowed to properly flavour the chook – with orange, fresh peppercorn and spice, adding heat and citrus to the mix. The result was a tender, flavoursome poultry dish, with a gluten-free onion ring salad toppled across the meat in a marvellous mess.
Time for a top up as the Caipirinha was now long gone. A nearby Yelper literally yelped ‘Rio, Rio,’ at me. ‘Rio?’ ‘Yes, have the Rio Vermelho – it’s diVINE.’ So I followed her advice in the interest of research, not to mention variety. The Rio Vermelho is a cool blend of red wine, fresh orange and lemon juice, sugar syrup and cahaça, that wicked spirit made from sugar cane that is so popular in Brazil. It was, again, quite strong, given its medium-ish sized glass. Where drinks are concerned it’d seem that less means more here. They don’t overload you with the quantity of cocktail at Carioca, but they certainly don’t skimp on quality or strength of content.
Having clocked the cakes under glass domes on the counter, we were all intrigued to finally try them. A wedge of chocolate cake, with slivers of mango; another of berry-filled sponge. Both were excellent, but after a couple of bites I was done. A sweet end to a warm evening with even warmer food.
So you don’t get lost, like I did, when visiting Carioca, stay at the Ritzy end of Coldharbour Lane and enter the covered market at Market Row. Turn right and Carioca is at numbers 25-27.
Carioca, Market Row, 25-27 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London SW9 8LB
Tel 020 7095 9052
See what they’re up to on Twitter- @Cariocabrixton
*I dined courtesy of Yelp and Carioca. The opinions given here are my own.*