James Martin I love you

When the dilemma between working in the evening or cooking for friends arises, unfortunately (for my PhD) there is only one choice.

I picked one of my favourite dishes ever for the main, the one with the catchy little title Chicken in Tomato and Red Wine sauce with Cinnamon and Nutmeg. I could omit the cinnamon and nutmeg bit I suppose, and even the red wine but, trust me, it’s so important it has to be in the name. It is what makes the kitchen smell heavenly and suddenly the time you spent skinning 10 chicken thighs makes sense. Hoping that I have demonstrated my love for this dish enough, I feel that it requires its own special post so I’ll leave it for another time (yes, I got greedy again and forgot to take a picture of the finished product).

For pudding, I thought I’d make something new. I had just bought James Martin’s Desserts book and so many things looked so exciting. I wonder now what made me choose Sticky Toffee Pudding with Toffee Sauce, since I’ve only eaten it once or twice and it certainly never made much of an impression. It must be the winter.

The recipe isn’t too difficult, but you need both a food processor and a blender. You will be rewarded though when the kitchen starts smelling like sweet treacle and golden syrup.

Sticky Toffee Pudding (from James Martin’s Desserts, or here)

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

75g soft butter
175g dark brown demerara sugar
200g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp black treacle
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g pitted dried dates
300ml water
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

First thing I want to say is, make this even if you don’t like dried dates. Now we’re over that, grease a 23cm tin with the 25g of butter (I made it in a orthogonal one, whatever suits you best around that size) and dust the inside with flour. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius (180 if fan assisted).

Put the butter and the sugar in the food processor/mixer and blend them. Slowly add the golden syrup, treacle, eggs and vanilla extract and continue mixing. Then, add the flour, but turn down the mixer to a slower setting if you don’t want to kill all the raising agent (you don’t).
Now, the dates. Boil them in the 300ml water and then use a blender to puree them. Add the bicarb of soda and watch it come alive! While it’s still hot, add this to the egg mix and combine. Pour into the tin and bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 mins.

Toffee Sauce

This has been such a success that I was instructed to make it last night to go with the Guinness Chocolate Cake instead of the chocolate ganache I was planning to make. We call it JJ, but it is just inappropriate for me to tell you what it stands for. It is the easiest thing ever.


100g dark soft sugar
100g butter
200ml double cream

Not the healthiest thing ever, but do it anyway. Melt the sugar with the butter and then add the double cream. Bring to boil and simmer it until it’s thick enough.

Vanilla ice cream will go really well with this but we didn’t have any. It was still heavenly. You can reheat both the sauce (just bring to boil again) and the sponge. I just put it in the microwave for 10-15 secs but James says you could also use the oven for 5 mins. You can also freeze the sponge apparently, although I can’t see how it’s possible to make it and not eat it all in the next few hours.

What I like about Minneapolis

Well, this is going to be a hard one. My initial idea for this title was the offensive but accurate “Minneapolis is rubbish” but to be honest I didn’t have such a bad time, even if it was because I was with fun people and I was quite busy with maths. So, I decided to stop moaning, and write about the good things. I will number them as well, because then it will feel more of an achievement every time I manage to come up with one extra thing. There it goes:

1) Sky walks: It’s 6.30 in the morning and you are on your way to the conference centre, for 10 hours of talks. It’s cold and you’re tired (jet lags only happen when you go East as far as I’m concerned) and the last thing you want to do is get out of the hotel. Worry not:

You don’t have to.

2) Hell’s Kitchen: They make something called sausage bread with the texture of a really moist cake and the taste of heaven (oh, the irony). And they serve it with something that I can only hope is whipped butter rather than whipped cream. If someone can confirm that it is actually butter, my respect for Minneapolis will increase by about 450%.

And, if you order a sandwich, you can expect your bread to have been buttered to death and then fried. Don’t get me started on the portions. This one is a big hit apparently, with loads of cheese, ham and poached pears. It was yummy.

Finally, they claim that they make the best peanut butter in the world. They might be right.

3) Joe’s Garage: Yes, more food, but this is a food blog and I am starting to struggle for ideas. Joe’s garage looked pretty terrifying from the outside but, once on the inside, we were served juicy and tasty burgers by someone (presumably called Joe) who seemed friendly and competent. He memorised our order (although we all had different toppings and sides on our burgers) and only made one mistake.

4) The twin city of St Paul: Ok, not strictly in Minneapolis but if you’re looking for some type of sightseeing, you can have a look at the only two interesting buildings we managed to spot in the two cities:

The Cathedral

and The Capitol

It is advisable that you avoid looking at the ceiling or wall paintings if you have a sensitive stomach or any sense of style.

5) Hard-working people: The lady that gave us an amusing tour of The Capitol – highlight was her using the word sophisticated to describe the decoration of this:

also turned out to be working at the cloakroom in the conference hall. Coincidence? Maybe there are actually only 3 people living in Minneapolis after all, which could well explain the empty streets.

All in all, you wouldn’t go to Minneapolis out of choice, but if you find yourself having to, pick a good restaurant. They do exist, but they might be hiding away in a basement.