Tuesday, 3 March 2015

King's Cross

When I first moved out of halls of residence, I found a little flat on King’s Cross Road which I shared with a lovely Greek girl called Elpida. We paid our rent by cheque to the Italian man in the shop below, who owned the flats above (or at least it appeared so – I did have to leave the “name” line blank on the cheque, which didn’t strike me as peculiar at the time but now seems pretty dodgy to me). Our bedrooms were divided by just a curtain, and a little old man called Giuseppe would clean our windows from time to time. We’d plan dinnertime around the next instalment of “10 Years Younger” and “How Clean Is Your House?”, and Elpida would make kleftiko. It was a happy time.

I feel like such an oldster saying this, but King’s Cross was very different then, almost a decade ago. There wasn’t much past the Tesco on Caledonian Road – in fact, I don’t think we ever dared to venture further. The facade to the station was a monstrous green accolade to 70s design, and St Pancras was still closed. The canal was a place for vagrants, not 19 year old girls. 

But, oh how it’s changed! 

When I met the lovely Ron for brunch last weekend, I searched for Dishoom King’s Cross on Google maps and was totally confused by where it was taking me. But a short walk past the new part of the station, over the canal, and before you know it, you’re at the new Central Saint Martins – and it is gorgeous. Canal boats parked on the side of the water selling second-hand books, the swish sound of a huge water fountain, people eating outside in the sunshine (despite the freezing temperature)…King’s Cross has gone upmarket! 

The Texan came to meet me after brunch (I recommend the kejriwal by the way). With the sunshine beaming down on us, it would have been rude not to take some photos – so we did.

What I’m wearing  |  Jacket: Zara  |  Chambray shirt: Gap  |  Skirt: Aubin & Wills  |  Sunglasses: Marc by Marc Jacobs  |  Shoes: Vintage Ferragamo  |  Bag: Cambridge Satchel Company (but not mine sadly, it belongs to a friend!)  |  Belt: Vintage

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Mexican Street Food

I've shared a lot of baking recipes on Take Courage over the years, but for a while I've wanted to have a go at photographing and sharing some proper home cooking with you lovely lot. Unfortunately, however, I am a terrible cook (and that's an understatement). The Texan is head chef in our household - otherwise we'd be living on baked beans on toast and not much else - so, given that it would be disingenuous of me to kid you into thinking I'm some blonde Nigella, the Texan and I switched places!

So, without further ado, it's over to the Texan for this Sunday's blog post!

When people ask what I miss about Texas, ranked just below open space (think a straight road for 100 miles interrupted by red canyons and Dairy Queens), 350 days of sun, West Texas family and culture is ... Tex-Mex food. It is pretty difficult to find decent Tex-Mex in England and sadly the closest thing has been the recent imported burrito craze. The most famous Tex-Mex restaurant in London is was the Texas Embassy (now closed!) housed in the former location of the Texas Embassy - thats right Texas was a country and allied with British in the 1800s! However, paying £12 (or almost $20) for some bland enchiladas and Tesco style 'cool' salsa and chips is ridiculous to any Texan.

The only real option is home-cooking - so I give you Tex-Mex street food. I don't brand myself a 'foodie' and don't really like the cooking cliches (won't use 'pukka' and 'luxurious' here); however, this recipe really wont work without a few key fresh ingredients. In Texas this generally isn't an issue but if you have visited a Tesco, Asda or Morrisons in the British winter it is almost impossible to find the few fresh ingredients which are necessary to this recipe: tomatoes, jalapeños and avocados. As a significant portion of British tomatoes in the big chain stores come from Thanet Earth, it isn't really surprising I suppose!

You will need to seek out an independent fruit and veg shop. I buy from our local fruit and veg shop in Camberwell - it's called Cruson, and is run by a tribe of old Greek men, one of whom referred to me as a 'regular' this weekend (memorable to him only because I squeeze his avocados to check if they are ripe - which I can tell really annoys the hell out of him).

You will also need to get a hold some chipotle paste (online, at a megastore or if you have a specialty Latin American foods grocer).

You will need, for the chicken  |  2 chicken thigh/leg, skin on, bone in (don't remove the skin, it's the best bit!)  |  1 tsp dried oregano  |  1 tsp whole cumin  |  1 clove garlic  |  Small dried chilli  |  250ml tomato passata  |  1 tsp caster sugar  |  1 tsp white wine vinegar  |  1 tsp chilli - mashed up  |  1/2-1 tbps chipotle paste (absolutely necessary)  |  Dash of oil for cooking  |  Salt and pepper to taste

You will need, for the toppings  |  2 red onions  |  4 medium tomatoes (fresh, red, soft with strong tomato smell)  |  3 medium avocados (fresh should be soft to touch)  |  2 jalapeño peppers  |  1 clove of garlic  |  1 tsp of dried chilli, to taste  |  2-3 limes, to taste  |  Extra virgin olive oil  |  Fresh coriander, to taste  |  100g sweetcorn (I use fresh corn but tinned would be fine)  |  Salt and pepper, to taste  |  Sour cream

You will need, for the tortillas  |  Fine corn meal flour / semolina  |  Plain white flour  |  Olive oil  |  Water

Step 1: Grind cumin seeds, oregano, garlic, chilli and a pinch of salt in a pestle and mortar and mix into a paste. Rub this into the skin side of the chicken - you can marinate if you like for about 20 minutes for more flavour, or you can cook it immediately.

Step 2: Heat a frying pan on a medium heat then add a splash of oil (the key is to not let the pan get too hot), place the chicken in the pan skin side down and pan fry until golden on both sides.

Step 3: Add the passata, caster sugar, white wine vinegar and the chipotle paste to the chicken. I put a bit of extra sugar and white wine vinegar to taste. Stir well, then turn the chicken and cover the pan with a lid. Cook over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and until the sauce is thick and shiny.

Step 4: Prepare the toppings. You can either do this prior to cooking the chicken or during if you are up to the challenge.

First, prepare the salsa by chopping the tomatoes, 1/2 red onion, 1 clove garlic, 1 jalapeño pepper without the seeds and put in serving bowl. Squeeze the juice of 1/2-1 lime and add salt and pepper to taste. Pour olive oil over generously and add coriander on top. My grandmother makes it with lots of lime and blitzes it in a food processor but this is served with tortilla chips. Pro tip: the longer it sits the better it tastes.

Step 5: Prepare the guacamole by halving the avocados, removing the seed (can be popped out with the edge of a knife), cutting into a grid and spooning out into the serving bowl. Then cut 1/2 red onion, 1 tomato finely chopped, 1 jalapeño pepper without the seeds and put in the serving bowl. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 lime and add salt (the key is the ratio of salt and lime!) and pepper to taste. Mush up to the desired texture - I like mine a bit chunky. Pour olive oil over generously and serve.

Step 6: Prepare the pan fried corn salsa by blanching two heads of corn and cutting the corn off with a sharp knife. Then finely chop 1/2 red onion and 1/4 of jalapeño pepper without the seeds. Fry the ingredients until the corn is toasty and popping.

Step 7: To prepare the mini corn tortillas, you will need to pour in a mixing bowl 8 parts corn flour to 2 parts plain white flower. Pour in water in parts, hand mixing until it becomes the consistency of play-dough. Roll out by hand small thin patties and fry in hot oil until toasted on both sides.

To explain the use of wheat flour - the corn flour needs to be finely ground which is difficult to find in England. If you are finding it difficult to get a mixture which can form patties, the wheat flour can form a gluten base and keep the mixture together.

Step 8: Remove the chicken from the sauce and shred from the bone (discard the bone). I prefer to do it this way so I can assure the consistency of the meat. While shredding, let the sauce condense down in the pan until thick. Then mix the shredded chicken in well with the sauce. Add some salt and pepper if needed.

Step 9: Serve! Try different combinations of chicken and toppings but don't forget sour cream! Wine is ok but for the really authentic meal try a Corona or Negro Modelo (if you can find it) with a slice of lime squeezed in the neck of the bottle. Wouldn't be really complete without one of these but I think that might be asking too much!

Friday, 27 February 2015


I know, I know, I’ve just gone from a post about saving your hard-earned pennies to a post about spending them all on frivolous things, but who doesn’t love a good haul post? Actually, this is just a little haul, and one that wasn’t done in a hurry – each of these items were purchased in the last 60 days, using the first two techniques listed in my previous post. So no judgment, ok?! While it’s important to save money, it’s also important not to deprive yourself. You work hard, and should allow yourself a few indulgences accordingly, I say!

1. Breton top from Labour & Wait 

You can never have enough breton tops, in my book – on the last count I had five, and I’m not remotely ashamed because they go with everything and look stylish even with jeans and plimsolls. I saved quite a few pennies on this one too, because it’s actually child size (age 12!) and that means it doesn’t attract VAT. There’s another money-saving tip for you if, like me, you happen to be miniature size – hoorah!

2. Tulips from Pesh Flowers 

We all need more flowers in our lives, especially on grey rainy days. Fresh flowers once a week are a splurge I’m willing to indulge, especially if it means supporting a local florist rather than Morrisons (whose flowers are rubbish anyway). Change the water out every couple of days and starve the tulips with a vase just 1/3 full of water – they will last longer!

3. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

You might have seen that this is the next book in the Take Courage book club – it’s a chunky one, so we both better start reading! I’m hoping to get through this before the flight to Japan, but I’ve got a feeling that may not happen… 

4. Michael Kors Jet Set Across-Body Bag

This was a gift, rather than a purchase, so the Texan isn’t allowed to frown at this one – I think it will really come in handy while travelling through Japan, as it’s just the right size for my phone and purse, without dragging my shoulders down. I’ve always carried a big bag, but I think it’s about time I down-sized in the hope of saving what’s left of my posture.

5. Sena iPhone case

No one told me that if I got an iPhone 5c, I wouldn’t be able to find a nice case for it anywhere, but annoyingly all the lovely Rifle Paper Co and Leah Goren cases are designed for iPhone 5/5s and not 5c. Grr. It’s meant that for months I’ve been handling my phone like a baby, desperately hoping not to drop it. The best alternative was this leather wallet – I love the colour, but sadly still fear for my bank balance every time I answer a call – it’s only a matter of time until the screen smashes into a million pieces, and Chutney’s love of Friskie’s Cat Fishing isn’t helping the prospect! 

6. Marc by Marc Jacobs Havanna Crystal Sunglasses

Another gift (I’ve been a lucky girl this month), these sunglasses have hardly been used given the never-ending greyness of February, but they did make an appearance during today’s commute to work – finally, blue skies! Before I went to Texas for the first time in 2006, I bought a pair of Chanel sunglasses from Harrods for £220. Even now, with some semblance of an income, that’s a serious splurge. However, I have worn those sunglasses every summer since (that’s 8 years!) and so, needless to say, I feel a bit of an infidel parading around with a younger, more handsome model…

7. Essie nail polish and Mac lipstick 

I’ve been trying really hard since this post to quit biting around my nails, but to be honest, they’ve improved only a little. We’re very close to the end of the trial I’ve been working on since October, and the late nights have taken their toll on my little digits. I’ve been arguing with myself about paying for a manicure (I am trying to save money!) but I think I will just bite the bullet tomorrow – it is pay day today, after all, and if I’m frank I’ve probably spent the same amount in new nail polishes anyway, including this lovely shade of pink called “Bump Up the Pumps”. Even on my horrid nails, Essie polish looks incredible; I can’t believe I hadn’t discovered them sooner.

I’ve also been trying to incorporate a little more bright lipstick into my make-up routine. A friend at work always looks immaculate, and that’s partly because her lips are never seen without a fresh coat of lippie (she’s from Liverpool, which explains it!). This bright fuchsia pink, “Girl About Town” by Mac, is easy to apply even without a lipstick brush and really lifts my mood when I slap it on – no need for a new wardrobe, just stick on a new lipstick and you’re good to go.

8. Dorling Kindersley’s guide to Japan

Konichiwa! Domo arigato! Sayonara! Ok, that’s the limit of my Japanese – but I better get practising, because in less than a month I’ll be in Tokyo! I am so excited, but also really very overwhelmed by how little planning we’ve done. The last time we did a big trip was to China in 2008, and we simply used our Lonely Planet guide to navigate from one place to the next. Now, however, the internet is so much bigger (even since 2008) – if you Google “things to do in Japan”, there are literally millions of websites and recommendations, it’s just too much to wade through and I have serious FOMO. So, I’ve gone old school with a DK guide instead.  If any of you have visited Japan before, I’d be very grateful for your recommendations!

So there you have it, my latest haul of goodies – but not too bad on the bank balance, I think. I’ve a few bits and pieces that I need for the trip to Japan, but I’m going to stick to my list so I don’t get carried away. After all, I’ve got to save my pennies for all the wonderful treasures to be found in Tokyo!