C is for cookies

We were having some friends over after dinner at ABC for Simon’s birthday, so I decided to make some cookies we could nibble on while we chatted and drank wine and tea. There’s always room for cookies right?

I’d seen a great article about classic biscuits in Jamie magazine. Initially I wanted to make Garibaldis as I hadn’t them for ages and remember them fondly from childhood. But they required a few too many steps, and I was feeling sort of lazy. Will try them one day though. Anyway, there was also a recipe for ginger nuts, so I decided to try them out.

It was pretty simple – just mix the dry ingredients together, add butter and mix by hand til it resembles breadcrumbs. Then add golden syrup, combine and roll out into balls. I had some crystallized ginger in the cupboard so I chopped that finely and added it in. They turned out really well. I think next time I might add a little less flour so they come out a bit thinner and harder, these were slightly cake like in the middle even though I pressed them quite thin.

Ginger nut dough, being rolled into balls

Ginger nuts ready to go in the oven

The final product!

I also decided to make some chocolate chip cookies, with the same recipe I always use. But I wanted to make them a bit different this time as everyone had tried them before, so added white chocolate chips, cranberries and oats to the mix. It took a couple of rounds to get them right – basically you need loads of oats before they really make a difference to the texture.

Cookies straight out of the oven

The finished dark and white chocolate, cranberry and oat cookies

At this point, I probably should have stopped as I was fast running out of boxes to put all these cookies in, but I wanted to make my fail proof recipe for chocolate brownie cookies, just in case the others weren’t good (I’m very paranoid about not having enough food when people come over).  They always turn out great and you can adjust them depending on whether you want something a bit more brownie like (add more flour and egg) or something richer and more chocolatey (add loads more chocolate and butter.) This time I went for the brownie-like version.

Chocolate brownie cookie dough with my new mini ice cream scoop from Shanghai Street!

Cookie dough ready to be baked. I add the chocolate chips on top rather than mix them in.

Chocolate brownie cookies fresh out of the oven

I love making cookies – maybe because they are so easy and allow you to be creative – plus you can quickly see if you need to adjust the recipe after you’ve baked a batch. Sadly I’ve now eaten my body weight in cookies this weekend so it’s going to be a while before I bake any more!

Ginger Nuts

Makes around 30.

  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 tspn baking powder
  • 1 tspn baking soda
  • 2 tspn ground ginger
  • 2 tspn nutmeg
  • 1 tspn cinnamon
  • 1 tspn ground cloves
  • pinch of salt
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 120g butter, cut into cubes
  • 5 tbspn golden syrup
  • crystallised ginger, chopped into small pieces
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with baking paper or grease it.
  3. Place dry ingredients into a bowl and mix together well.
  4. Add butter and mix with hands til the mixture resembles breadcrumbs
  5. Add golden syrup and use spoon to mix in.
  6. Add ginger (use as much as you like, I only used a couple of small pieces and cut them into small slivers)
  7. Roll into balls and press flat with palm of hand or bottom of a glass.
  8. Sprinkle a little granulated or raw sugar on top of each cookies
  9. Bake for 10 minutes.

Chocolate chip cookies

Makes 30 cookies

  • 120g butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tspn vanilla essence
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 tspn baking powder
  • 1/2 tspn baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • chocolate chips, cranberries – add as much as you like! can also add pecans or other nuts, or raisins.
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Mix together butter and sugar til well combined then add eggs and vanilla
  3. In another bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients except the oats.
  4. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Add oats.
  5. Stir in chocolate chips / cranberries etc.
  6. Scoop out spoonfuls of the dough and roll into balls. Press down with a fork.
  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown but still soft.

Chocolate Brownie Cookies

Makes 24 cookies

  • 160 g dark chocolate chopped
  • 140 g butter chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Heat chocolate and butter in a pot over a low heat, stirring constantly until melted and smooth.
  3. Meanwhile, beat together eggs, sugar and vanilla essence until pale and fluffy. Fold chocolate mixture into egg mixture.
  4. Sift together flour, baking powder and cocoa then add to the mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Place spoonfuls of the mixture on a greased or lined baking tray and bake for about 10-12 minutes. Cookies should be soft in the middle so best to under cook rather than over bake them.

10 of the best

Travelling for a month in Mexico and California meant that we ate (pretty much) in a different restaurant every night, so I thought trying to pick my top ten dishes out of all these meals would be difficult, but it was surprisingly easy once I sat down and started listing them.

So in no particular order…

1. Shrimp tacos at Taco Fish, Hermosillo

So so tender and fresh, and packed full of flavour, seriously the best ‘fast’ food I’ve ever had.

Shrimp tacos

2. Cheese risotto with sock eye salmon and brown butter sage sauce at Cook, St Helena

I  suggested Simon ordered this then spent the rest of the meal annoyed that he’d gotten it and not me. Hands down the best risotto I’ve ever had, incredibly cheesy but not too rich, the salmon perfectly cooked and fresh, and best of all the brown butter sage sauce. Heaven.

www.cooksthelena.com

Sockeye salmon on cheese risotto

3. Queso Fundido con Chorizo at Restaurant Palominos, Hermosillo

Seriously is anything better than a bowl full of melted cheese (chihuahua!) and melt in your mouth home-made chorizo? I think not.

www.restaurantpalominos.com

Queso Fundido

4. Jumbo shrimps, Water Grill, Downtown LA

I’m actually salivating thinking about this. Plump, juicy and tender, perfectly cooked, served with a delicious cocktail sauce and a garlicky saffron aioli. Love love love!

www.watergrill.com

Shrimp

 

5. Chocolate tart with chewy caramel & sea salt at The Slanted Door, San Francisco

Right, so chocolate tart base filled with flowing caramel, covered in solid dark chocolate and then sprinkled with sea salt? I think I might love you Charles Phan.

www.slanteddoor.com

Chocolate caramel tart

Last mouthful

6. Cinnamon roll, Alamos, Mexico.

Steaming rolls coated in freshly ground cinnamon goodness, slathered in a hot cinnamon sauce…I’d go back to Mexico just for another one of these.

www.teresitasalamos.com

Cinnamon Roll

7. Three Twins Organic Ice cream, downtown Napa/ Sweet Rose Creamery, Santa Monica

The best ice-cream I’ve ever had. Ridiculously creamy, packed full of delicious fresh ingredients. I tried the vanilla chocolate chip and Mint Confetti (mint ice cream with flecks of dark chocolate).

That is ’til we stopped by Sweet Rose Creamery in Santa Monica and tried their salty caramel ice-cream with a good sprinkle of Fleur de Sel on top – absolutely astounding. Didn’t get a photo as my camera broke minutes before this, but that just means I have to go back.

www.threetwinsicecream.com
www.sweetrosecreamery.com

Vanilla chocolate chip and mint chocolate chip organic ice cream at Three Twins

8. Rustic Canyon Burger, Rustic Canyon Wine Bar, Santa Monica

Wow. Simply the best burger I’ve ever had. Incredibly juicy beef patty, home-made burger bun that was bordering on brioche, just the right amount of melted sharp cheddar cheese, a rich onion fondue, herb remoulade and beautifully cut french fries. Wait, did I mention we added confit bacon to the mix as well? Yep. Went back on our last night in LA to have it again it was so good.

www.rusticcanyonwinebar.com

The burger at Rustic Canyon

Burger, cross section

9. Peach Crostata with Homemade Vanilla ice-cream, Rustic Canyon Wine Bar, Santa Monica

After burger bliss, we almost ordered a chocolate and salty caramel tart, but that would have been a big, big mistake. Recommended by our server, this used in-season peaches and the most buttery, rich pastry I’ve ever tried. The juice of the peaches and sugar leaked a little through the pastry, creating incredible caramelised edges. Not only did we go back and order this again but also went to their bakery for breakfast and fought over a take away strawberry and rhubarb crostata as we sat on the beach for afternoon tea. Simon said he wanted to marry the pastry chef. We could work something out, I’m sure.

www.rusticcanyonwinebar.com

Peach crostata.

10. Pretty much everything at French Laundry.

So after seeing that they had an over 6-month waiting list, we decided just to turn up at French Laundry and try our luck. And how lucky we were to get a table and experience their incredible food. A mind-blowing meal, so good I can’t say which was my favourite dish. Possibly all. But the real standouts were probably the oysters and pearls (caviar with oysters) and the butter-poached lobster tail. Awe inspiring.

www.frenchlaundry.com

Caviar and Pearls

Butter-poached lobster tails

Seafood spectacular

I had the best meal of our trip today, and possibly one of the top three dining experiences I’ve ever had. And it was at lunch.

This was the one must-visit place in LA we had on our list – infact, Luis’ friend Grant told him not to come back if we didn’t go. The Water Grill is in downtown LA, and after a good hour’s drive from Brentwood, we finally found the restaurant, which was on the ground floor of an unassuming looking office building.

We were seated in front of the seafood bar, and I couldn’t resist photographing all the different varieties on show. The menu changes on a daily basis, depending on what’s fresh and in season. We shared a small seafood platter, which arrived glistening and packed with five different oysters (not my favourite food, so I didn’t try), Peruvian Bay Scallops (incredibly fresh) served with orange and pistachio, Wild Jumbo Pacific Shrimp (they were so amazing and fresh we ordered a dozen more to share), Prince Edward Island Black Mussels (huge!), Cherrystone Clams and half a hard shell American Lobster.

The seafood platter

More seafood

I ordered the calamari fritto mist – swordtail squid with olives, basil leaves, zucchini, lemon, and harissa sauce. I hadn’t seen lemon deep-fried before but it worked incredibly well, rind and all.

Calamari Fritto Misto

Simon had a Thai-inspired hand cut big eye tuna tartare with vermicelli, green papaya, red chilis and candied peanuts, all in a spicy coconut sauce. Such an unusual combination that worked really well – I imagined the tuna would be overpowered but it was really well seasoned and mixed with fresh herbs so it held up well against the spicy sauce.

The Thai-inspired tuna tartare

Luis chose their signature clam chowder. It was packed full of clams and vegetables, topped with Niman Ranch smoked bacon and was very rich yet still light ( apparently made lighter because of the climate).

Clam Chowder

Our server, Scott, was a real charmer. Perhaps I’ve been in the US a bit too long now, but there was something very endearing about being called ‘my lady’ every time he served me something or I had a question. My main course, pan-seared sea bass with Prince Edward Island black mussels with a fennel and carrot ragout and an orange emulsion, came a little overcooked, and he was incredibly gracious about it (though I imagine the problem was our shrimp order – the fish probably ended up sitting under the heat lamps for some time) and thanked me for mentioning it as it was his favorite dish on the menu and he wanted us to love it too (yep, I’ve been here too long!).

When it did come back, it was very slightly undercooked, but perfect nonetheless. The soft flesh of the sea bass worked really well with the small plump mussels and fennel and the orange sauce was surprisingly delicate.

Sea bass, second time round

Simon and Sergio both had the sturgeon – it was good, but the sea bass was much better.  I don’t normally order sturgeon – it’s a lot heavier, almost meaty, a bit like chicken, but personally I like much lighter, less fleshy fish. It was served with a lovely roasted beet risotto that I thought was the best part of the dish.

Wild Quinault Reservation Sturgeon

It seemed a bit too much to have dessert as it was only lunchtime –  but we made the mistake of ‘just having a look’ and were hooked as soon as we saw ‘ red velvet cake with cocoa nib streusel and raspberry and marscapone ice cream’. Then we decided we might as well try a couple of others as well and ordered a Tahitian Vanilla Flan (served with orange Cognac caramel, mandarin orange sorbet and cardamom churros) and a Vermont Maple Pudding (with creme fraiche, fleur de sell and pecan shortbread).

Red velvety goodness!

The Tahitian flan

Cardamom churros

Maple pudding

Hands down, the Red Velvet cake was the best dessert. It was warm, soft and deliciously chocolately. The streusel was also rich, warm and crumbly and the cocoa nibs added a little bit of crunch. The flan was good – lovely deep vanilla flavor and a smooth creamy texture, and went well with the crispy churros.  But the real surprise was the maple pudding. I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but the presentation, served in a jar, with the homemade shortbread on the lid, and with a quenelle of creme fraiche worked really well. The deep mellow maple flavor was almost a little smoky but was offset with the sweetness of the other ingredients to perfection. I pretty much finished this off by myself.

As we started to wobble out the door, Scott brought over some petit fours – mini dark chocolate ganache macarons, lemon curd and fresh fruit jellies. Great end to an amazing meal. I’m thinking about going back already!

The Water Grill
544 S. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90071
www.watergrill.com

Fruit jellies, chocolate macarons and lemon curd

Black mussels

Sea urchin

Interior of restaurant

Kitchen at Water Grill

The best burgers in LA?

Luis told me we had to go and try ‘the best burger in LA’ (according to GQ magazine) at a place called Umami Burger, where they apparently grind their own meat, pickle their own vegetables, process their own cheese, and make their own ketchup from scratch. Sounded good to me!

We had spent the morning at Santa Monica pier and beach, and by the time we were ready to eat, it was well after 3pm. It took us some time to find the restaurant – the address we had for it was a department store – Fred Segal – so we kept walking and had a look at a few other places including a great deli where we bought some freshly baked peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies (eating healthily has gone completely out of the window by this point of the trip).

Umami Burger entrance

We finally realised it was actually at the back of the department store, and there was no signage or branding anywhere!

Needless to say, we were famished by this point, so ordered straight away. Between us we had the Umami burger ( beef patty with grilled shiitake mushrooms, parmesan cheese wafer, caramelised onions, and roasted tomatoes), truffle burger (beef patty glazed with truffle oil and topped with truffle cheese), the Greenbird (Turkey patty with crushed avocado, green cheese, butter lettuce, alfa alfa and green goddess) and the Pork & Stilton burger (served with port-caramelised onions). We also ordered some sweet potato fries, homemade ketchup and roasted garlic aioli.

The menu - the logo looks like a pair of lips but I guess it's a burger!

I had big expectations and all in all was quite impressed. The Truffle burger was by far my favorite – the beef patty was tender and juicy and the truffle glaze on it complemented it perfectly. The Umami burger was good, same beef patty, but there was perhaps too many other tastes and textures to contend with, however this is meant to be the key to the famed ‘umami’ flavor.

The Umami Burger

The Truffle Burger

The Greenbird

The turkey burger was a little dry, but perhaps it was an unfair comparison after having the truffle burger. the Pork and Stilton was also a little dry, and either there wasn’t enough Stilton or it was very mild, but I could barely taste it.

I really liked the bun the burgers were served in – light and fluffy, almost like brioche, with a lovely glaze on top. Each was branded with a grilled ‘U’ on top, which I thought was a great (design) touch.

The sweet potato fries were delicious – they were twice fried and coated with a mixture of cinnamon, salt and brown sugar, which worked really well. Dipped into the roasted garlic aioli, they were incredibly moreish.

Sweet potato fries

Roasted garlic aioli

We didn’t order more of them though – we decided to share two more burgers between us. After much deliberation we settled on the Manly burger ( beef patty with beer-cheddar cheese, onion strings and lardons) and the Triple Pork Burger (ground pork, chorizo and bacon, served with manchego cheese and pimento aioli).

Luis expertly cut them into four when they arrived and we quickly polished them off. The Manly was a little bit too heavy – the lardons in particular were very salty and chewy. The Triple Pork burger was tasty but the chorizo was the most dominant flavor and overpowered all the other ingredients.

Inside the Truffle Burger

Manly Burger

Triple Pork Burger

Outside the restaurant

Umami Burger
500 Broadway, 
Santa Monica, CA 90401

www.umamiburger.com