Urth Cafe

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Cruising around LA last month, I took my friend Daniel’s recommendation and pulled our convertible red Mustang up outside Urth Cafe on Melrose Avenue.

The place to be seen, I’d recognised it from many an episode of Entourage, watching Vince and the boys talk about their latest female conquests over coffee and over-sized bagels and muffins.

It’s a cool spot in Hollywood, and celeb radars are on high alert – people look at people wondering who they are, what they do, and how much money they have… but the true show stopper at this cafe is not the militarily organised staff, not the street side location, it’s the food.

Everything about the food at Urth Cafe is just… better!

Better ingredients, better sizes, better portions, better colours, better flavour, healthier, heartier, smugger, stickier bagels, creamier cream cheese, fruitier jam, smokier & thicker smoked salmon, riper avocado – the list goes on.

Do not visit LA without treating yourself to sampling a few things on this delicious cafe’s menu!

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The Venetian, Las Vegas

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We were only in Las Vegas for two nights as part of our California road trip last month so time was precious, and after flaking out by 9.30pm from a severe case of jet-lag on night one, night two had some very high hopes to live up to!

Las Vegas Boulevard is literally just that – a long strip road, which holds on one side or the other, everything you can conjure up in your mind which represents the Vegas you have seen on so many films and music videos – be it the front of the Flamingo casino with its blinding 70’s style illuminations, the half size replica of the Eiffel Tower standing proudly out of the Paris hotel, or the giant billboards advertising Cirque de Soleil in as many different themed productions as there are ticket sellers for “naked girl shows”

To say we only had one full day, we covered a lot of ground, and even managed to fit in a lunch at the Paris – what better way to visit Paris whilst in Vegas than moules frittes and a pint of Stella on the outside terrace, watching every American demographic imaginable roam up and down The Strip!

Having epically failed to get into the Vegas spirit on our first night, we made sure we were back to our hotel, The Mirage, early to tart ourselves up good and proper for a night on the tiles of Sin City.

The Rhum bar was our first stop – set off to the side of The Mirage, it was just an elevator ride away… and the Citrus Mojito was the perfect aperitif. As we sat and sipped and watched the sun go down over the Boulevard, we could see the golden letters down the side of The Venetian shimmering, almost beckoning us inside for a glamorous Italian dinner.

As we walked past the canal circling the hotel, and down onto the piazza outside the entrance we were greeted by a carnival parade – masked and medieval dancers, fire throwers and jesters on stilts provided some fantastically colourful pre-dinner entertainment.

Five minutes later and we had wondered through the rows of slot machines, bypassed the roulette tables and were exploring the halls of the hotel, which all ran parallel with the indoor canals, decorated with striped jumpers and gondolas.

Finally we walked out into St. Mark’s Square, or actually what was, dare I say it, better than the real deal itself! Building replicas, a perfect fake dusk sky, designer shops to drool over – with not an inch of scaffolding in sight. We spotted the restaurant hot-spot on the far side and headed over the cobbles to choose our menu for the evening.

We opted for Canaletto, a Venice inspired restaurant with a great open-air dining area which meant we could indulge in some people watching between courses whilst sipping our $40 bottle of red.

Canaletto is one of the fine dining options within The Venetian and is run by Chef Gianpaolo Putzu. The food was very typical of Italy, although not specifically Venice. I guess Venice being so seafood orientated, poses a small problem when you’re in the middle of the desert. However I ordered the slightly more desert friendly, and extremely Venetian, beef Carpaccio, which arrived adorned with capers and rocket – tissue paper thin and even, it was a great choice for a light starter.

We followed up with Cannelloni di Pollo and the Quattro Formaggi gnocchi fatti in Casa. Both equally rich and creamy, piping hot and full of indulgent flavour.

From dining in Venice last year, to dining at The Venetian in Las Vegas, I have to say there is simply no comparison. As much as you might begin to feel like you’re living out your romantic Venetian fantasies, there is something not quite right about the middle aged blonde with puffy lips, frozen eyebrows and a deep southern accent, serving your food, calling you honey and taking every opportunity to remind us that she works for tips.

She was friendly enough though and Canaletto is a great option for dinner in Vegas. I’d certainly go back.

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Tapas in Tarifa

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When I did a little research into the must-see places during a trip to Andalucia this summer for a friend’s wedding, Tarifa seemed to come top of everybody’s list! The long stretch of beach, the spectacle of hundreds of kites dancing in the air as the kite surfers get swept out towards the horizon… It truly is a great place to visit if you’re in the area.

The highlight though, is the old fort town hidden behind rows of surf shops. Once you”re inside the town’s old white walls, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped into southern Italy. With winding alley ways and boutique homeware and jewellery shops, it’s is the perfect place to get lost. But as with every day trip and sauntering exploration of traditional old town architecture, must come lunch. And in this case, it was wine and tapas.

Tapas, meaning top (as the Spanish use to add a nibble plate as a drink topper), is what most people think of when conjuring up images of traditional Spanish fare. This is a great way to enjoy lots of flavours, dishes and to share amongst your table.

We found a fantastic little place – Delicatessen, which spilled out onto a small courtyard, simple wooden tables and chairs circling the tree in the centre. The menu was simple and local – exactly what you want when your in a new and foreign town or village! We went for the sticky figs with local Iberian ham and a soft local goats cheese with sweet onion jam – topped off with a couple of glasses of crisp cold white wine and a quick call to the UK to wish my grandma a happy birthday, it was one of my favourite foodie afternoons I have had!

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Handling Fresh Turmeric

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There are lots of basic Asian recipes which require you to peel, chop and grate fresh turmeric, and now that the little ginger-esque root stems have been introduced into mainstream supermarkets such as Morrisons, we can use the real deal, instead of replacing with the dried bitter golden powder.

As with all fresh herbs and spices, fresh turmeric gives a much subtler, cleaner flavour than dried but it comes with one big hazard: the colour!

Turmeric is a vivid yellow and has often been used in traditional Asian clothes making as a colourant, so handle with care. Even Nigella doesn’t get her hands dirty with this one – invest in some latex gloves and keep your clothes covered whilst you prepare your dish.

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Nando’s Sweet Potato Mash

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I won’t lie, this mash is heavily inspired by Nandos – a restaurant I’m sure most fellow food bloggers would curse me for frequenting…

However, their succulent chicken, spicy rice and golden corn on the cobs are an easy and tasty mid-week treat, but it is their fino side: sweet potato mash which makes my mouth water every time.

So here is how to make it:

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into rough but small chunks
1 tbsp butter/margarine/ soya spread
Splash of milk
100ml creme fraiche
Good pinch of salt & pepper

Boil the potatoes until soft (if they slide of a fork straight away they are ready), drain reserving a small amount (2tbsp) of the water in the pan.

Add all the other ingredients and mash to a rough consistency – the dairy will help some of the potato turn to a paste-like texture, but you want to retain some small and satisfying lumps!

Serve up with grilled chicken and corn on the cob.

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Panzanella-ella-ella

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We all know that Jamie Oliver”s finer moments are when he scoops things out of the fridge, squelches them up in his hands and then serves it up on a plate… and Panzanella (from Jamie’s Italy) is definitely one of his finer moments!

Trust me this isn’t a made up word. It’s meaning comes from Pane (bread) mixed with oils, herbs and tomatoes. It’s a yummy rustic Italian bread salad and one of those recipes which started life as a way of using up leftovers but now takes on a life of its own – bellissima!

The great thing about Jamie’s recipes is that they help you get the basics down, then you can put your own flavour on them – so here is my version of Jamie’s Panzanella – A no-fuss, “get your hands in there”, summer taste of Italy.

What’s more, in the true spirit of using up your leftovers, you can warm through in a pan, add a bit of vegetable stock and blitz to make a gorgeously warming soup – perfect for a hearty lunchtime appetite.

Ingredients

3 red peppers – de-seeded and roughly chopped into strips or chunks
2 x punnets of cherry tomatoes – try to mix the types to add a bit of interest to the salad
1 handfull of basil
1 3x day old french stick (or any partly stale rustic bread)
1 cup good extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt

Firstly put the chopped peppers on a baking tray, smother in olive oil and roast for about 20 minutes

In the mean time, halve all your tomatoes and add to a large bowl – lash with salt and stir

Break up the bread into bite size chunks and set to one side

Add the oil, vinegar and lemon juice to a jug and stir well

Then for the fun bit (make sure your hands are clean!):

Add the bread, basil and peppers with all the oil to the bowl of tomatoes.

Pour over the oil mixture and then squelch!

Make sure all the bread is covered with the juices and leave to soak it all up for at least 10 minutes.

Serve on it’s own or as a side dish… and don’t forget to save some for your soup mixture

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