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caramel & cocoa

Caramel & Cocoa - cooking, parenting, fashion, diy, eating, living, a blog

Monday, November 28, 2011

El Camion Mexicano (Soho London) - Restaurant Review

El Camion Mexicano (Soho) - 25-27 Brewer Street
Cuisine: Mexican Food

I consider myself a bit of an expert when it comes to Mexican food so I thought that I would start my restaurant reviews with what I know best. 

Summary: The food was tasty and verging on authentic but overpriced for the portions. The atmosphere was loud, colorful and the decor reflected a stereotypical characterization of Mexico which is both good and bad (ie tequila, Virgin Mary, Che). I was there (on my own) on a Friday night and the place was very busy, in slang terms, "kickin". The staff and service were inadequate - but that might just be my snobby American attitude towards service.  Read on mis amigos

The Food: Like I said, Mexican food is my domain and well, I ordered the the tacos "de picadillo" which is a ground beef based but very well seasoned taco. I actually really enjoyed the actual tacos and they tasted "authentic" enough but the portion was so small I then ordered another set of tacos but this time shredded pork ones and I will admit they were tasty as well. Two sets of tacos and a diet coke cost me £17.10. Far too expensive, albeit good.  

The Atmosphere: If you think of all of the images that pop into your head when you think "Mexico", that is exactly what this restaurant looks like. The walls are loud vibrant colors, any open space or surface is covered with assorted tequila bottles and salsa containers. And of course, the token statue of Our Lady makes an appearance as does a portrait of "Che", who by the way, was Argentinian but lived and died in Mexico. I was there on a Friday night and the restaurant was very busy, as was the street where the restaurant was located. Couple after couple left after hearing the length of the wait for a table. In the background, Mexican music was playing, though it was completely muffled by the sounds of people shouting across tables and drunken laughter coming from group tables. It is the type of place you really have to be "in the mood" to stomach. 

The Service: I mentioned earlier that the place was busy. It is always a good sign for a place to be busy. But it is not good for the staff to look rushed, stressed, flustered. Upon entering the host looked at me and I had to initiate contact. I told him I would be eating alone and did not mind eating at the bar. He basically told me to wait for a seat and sit down when I saw one. A bit - rude but I kept an open mind. As soon as I found a free stool I sat and waited for about 10 minutes for the eating area before me to be cleared, a task which I had to request to be done as well. Finally the waiter came who was nice enough but I could tell rushed. I already knew what I wanted so I immediately ordered and away he went. I would never see him again. My food, drink, second order, bill and eating utensils (brought after the food) were all placed before me by different servers. No one so much as smiled and I don't think even made eye contact. In all honesty, the servers all looked like very nice people, so I think the poor service is a result of poor training. I did not leave a tip. 

Would I go back?: No. Unless I was very drunk or starving. While the food was good, the experience left me feeling like I paid a lot of money for a fast food experience. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My diet continues! The Force is with me.

So. I have had moments where I am questioning this whole "diet" I am on. Why? because it is a very slow process. In the past, I have gone through insane stages. I went through a period of time where I would run 18 - 25 miles a week & partook in various types of gym classes, and yes I was thin. I have also been known to try fad diets and lose 10 pounds in a week. But the problem is that the weight never stayed off and I kind of just want to get to a comfortable point where I can just maintain maintain maintain without having to be a gym rat or refuse myself foods. My diet is all about balance. BALANCE BALANCE BALANCE. This is about balance. oh & yes it is about the FORCE too. Well, not really, but I came across this photo from the Star Wars Exhibition 2008 Madrid & well, I thought it was relevant. But it's not.

Monday, November 21, 2011

cha cha heels

I recently went to a "Christmas ball" which is really more or less, like an adult prom. I had a great time, but I had a terrible time finding something to wear. It is just that, at the moment, I am not completely comfortable in my own skin and I wanted to be able to move and dance without worrying about any bumpy parts of my body, anything falling out of a dress, something too long or too short and my goodness I wanted to wear comfy shoes. Oh - and above all I did not want to spend a fortune. Above is the look I chose after consulting with Emily from This is what she told me. 

"As for dresses, I'd suggest something in a fun, jewel color (avoid black) with sleeves (it is winter, after all) and a slightly billowy waist. Wear a statement necklace (preferably something sparkly to draw the eye up), a pair of nude/metallic platform heels and you'll be good to go!"

This is what I went with. I could not find a billowy waisted dress but loved the long sleeves and loose waist. It made me feel comfy. The shoes I have had for years and the clutch really completed the look. Best of all I spent very little. 

1. Dress from Monsoon as seen here.
2. the Clutch bag I got from TK max for a 10.
3.  I bought the statement necklace at an arts and crafts fair for 35 pounds. I am sure I will get alot of use out of it.
4. The shoes I have had for donkey's years. "that means for a long time"

Slow Roast Lemon, Orange and Garlic Chicken with Parsnips.

This was my Sunday experiment and it was an absolute DELIGHT! This will certainly become a regular in this household. Easy to do. You just need a bit of time because it slow cooks in the oven for 2 hours and then cooks at a higher heat for about 45 minutes.

a whole chicken cut into 10 pieces. Though I used 10 chicken thighs because it is cheaper meat. It is best to keep skin on.
2 lemons cut into eighths
2 oranges cut into eighths
6 garlic cloves peeled
thyme (a small handful)
olive oil
pepper & salt
10 ounces red wine though you can use white wine as well. I used red wine because it was already open.
parsnips or carrots or potatoes or a mix of them.
basil leaves if you have any

1. Heat oven to 300 F (150 C / 140 if you are using a fan).
2. In a large bowl combine 4 tablespoons of olive oil and the garlic cloves. Squeeze in the juice from the lemons and oranges. Keep the lemon and orange pieces and toss those into the bowl as well.  Throw in the leaves from the fresh thyme. If you have any on hand, add a couple basil leaves. Mix loosely with a spoon. Set aside.
3. Place the chicken pieces in a roasting tin/oven dish. Spread the olive oil/lemon/orange mixture over the chicken and mix well with your hands making sure that the chicken is fully coated. Try to face the chicken skin up.
4. Pour the wine (red or white) over the chicken. Add salt and pepper. Cover very tightly with foil and roast in oven at 300 F (150 C/140 C if using a fan) for 2 hours 15 minutes.
5. 15 minutes before the chicken is done slow roasting, bring your vegetables to a boil and boil for 10  minutes.
6. Add the vegetables to the roasting tin with the chicken and try to mix into the juices a bit.
7. Increase the oven heat to 390F (200 C/ 190 C if you are using a fan). Cook for about 45 minutes uncovered. The chicken skin should be a golden color and the oranges and lemons will look burnt at the edges.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Margarita's Cheesecake

Margarita is my mom. Now. My mom only taught me a handful of dishes and baked goods and this has always been my favorite. But I'll admit I had to ring my sister and ask for the recipe since I always forget it. It is easy and so so yummy. Pie crust is easy to make too. My only tip is to make sure the dough is cold when rolling it out (ie use cold butter & ice water) and put in fridge if you are not rolling it out immediately. Working with a warm dough causes it to break while rolling out. Alternatively, you can by the crust ready made.

For Pie Crust:

1 cup flour (220 grams)
2.5 ounces cold unsalted butter (145 grams) best to cut it into pieces
teaspoon of salt
ice water (2 tablespoons)

For the Filling:
about 300 grams cream cheese (about 10 ounces)
3/4 cups white sugar
3 tablespoons light brown sugar (I use muscavado)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon juice

To make the pie crust:
In a large bowl add flour and salt and mix. Cut the butter into squares and add to the bowl. Mix contents together using your fingers. Combine until the mixture resembles wet sand. Then use ICE COLD water to bring the mixture together and form the dough into a disk shape. You might not need all of the water.

Sprinkle flour over your counter top and on the rolling pin. Roll out the dough to a large circle shape and place over into the pie tin. Once that is ready put aside.

To make the pie filling:
Heat oven to 350 F (175 C, about 20 degrees less if you are using a fan)
In a large bowl place the cream cheese, white sugar, brown sugar, vanilla extract and lemon juice until smooth. I just use a hand wire whisk. Pour the batter into the pie tin. Bake until the top is a golden color and a fork inserted comes out clean. The time depends on the oven but should be between 30 - 40 minutes.

To serve let it cool. I served mine with a bit of maple syrup. It was very good and if I am honest, I now have a second one in the oven. ;)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mince (Ground Beef)

I like to make ground beef (minced meat) every now & again because it can be popped into different types of dishes or served on rice or with vegetables. Great. I made this lot and stuck half of it in the freezer which I will defrost sometime in the future when I don't feel like cooking.

Mince is easy to make, but the hard bit for me is getting my toddler to eat it without picking out the onions or garlic. I have started turning the onions and garlic into a paste and cooking that first, then adding the mince. It takes minutes to do, really improves the mince and the child eats it.

How to:

Take 1 diced onion, 2 garlic cloves, 2 basil leaves (if you have any on hand), a bit of leek, a tablespoon of butter, 3 tablespoons of water and whatever other herbs and spices you like (I used a knorr cube) and pulse it in a food processor to create a paste. I just use a blender because I don't have a food processor. You might need to add more water.

Once the paste is done, pour it onto a large saucepan with olive oil on it & cook it for a few minutes.

Add the seasoned beef and brown. Season.

Add a can of diced tomatoes and let bubble. Once bubbling, reduce the heat and cook on low turning and mixing every now and again. Depending on how much beef you have, it can take anywhere from 20 - 40 minutes to cook thoroughly & you might need some more tomatoes. Be creative & just go with it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Waste not Want not Wednesday : Roasted Eggplant (Aubergine) & Steamed Cabbage

Another Wednesday has arrived which means my organic fruit & vegetable box arrives tomorrow & I need to eat up all of the stuff in the fridge. It's been a hungry week and all I had left in the fridge was 1 eggplant (called aubergine in the UK), half a cabbage and some leeks. Deciding to keep the leeks for the weekend, I had the aubergine and cabbage. It was a vegetarian delight and so good that I really hope the delivery tomorrow has more aubergine (eggplant) in it. Tip - simple meals go well with a full-bodied, spicy red wine. I had a glass of Rioja.

Easy meal:

Set oven to 190 C (380 F). Cut the eggplant (aubergine) lengthwise. Score the cut side into little diamond shapes. Salt. Pepper. & drizzle with olive oil. Oil an oven pan and place eggplant (aubergine) on top, scored side up. Place in oven for about 45 - 50 minutes or until very soft inside. Raw eggplant is not very nice so it is always better to overcook than to under-cook.

For the cabbage, place cabbage in a steamer for about 10 - 15 minutes. Drizzle with olive oil & balsamic vinegar before serving.

I'm always mistaken for the nanny & I'm ok with that

This little spiel is sparked by a series of articles I read recently that really hit home and got me thinking about social behavior and manners. 

I'll just blurt it out. My kids don't look anything like me. I am the token Latina from Southern California, and they, while one of them is slightly tanner than the other, they take completely after their Irish father. In other words, they look "white."  Yep. I've said the "w" word! But I felt I had to. 

My first, who also inherited lovely blue eyes, was born in Madrid and my second in London. I will be anecdotal in that I will only mention the most recent occurrence, but similar things have happened to me in Spain, London and California. 

Yesterday, I took my girls to the park where I met a lovely toddler called Hannah. My girls must have spent 30 minutes frolicking about with Hannah. It was getting late and cold and my toddler blurted out "Mami - vamos a casa (mommy let's go home)" and Hannah's father, turned to me stating "That's Spanish for mum. Is she yours?" The next ten minutes were spent, him apologizing for thinking I was the nanny and me explaining the racial makeup of the household. His assumption was based on appearances alone he admitted. 

Now, this is sort of a running joke at home since it happens all of the time. Am I mad? No. Do I think Hannah's father was rude, impolite or lacked tact? No. Of course not. Do I believe his statement was judgmental, racist, or showing a lack of acceptance for mixed families or non-traditional families. No. Not at all.

I do not believe it is outrageous to assume children take after their parents. I do not believe it is outrageous to assume that working parents with small kids often hire nannies. Looking at a map, it is true that people from specific geographic reasons tend to look like each other. We, are all human, and make judgments based on our perceptions and senses. So - I cannot honestly say that his comments bothered me. If anything, I take his comments, as I do with most, as one which highlights how wonderful and unique science and human reproduction is. The science behind genetic makeup is astonishing.

I understand that in the modern world families come in all sorts of shapes and sizes: mixed races; same-sex parents; stepmoms; stepdads; unmarried couples; adopted children; very young parents; older parents. And it is all great. I don't think it is fair to get angry at those who make natural assumptions. They are probably just curious. I don't really buy into the whole "mind your own business" approach. We can't walk around never asking questions or conversing because that is not a world I'd like to live in. We can't always mind our own business. And if I am honest, I am a person that likes to know my neighbors.

I tend to take things with a grain of salt and not sweat the small stuff because as a good friend of mine always reminds me when I get angry, "if you are going to react like that to this, what's going to happen when something really bad happens." Very true.

If you want to read the pieces here they are.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Apple Pie

I didn't start liking apple pie until I started making my own and I did not start making apple pies until I moved to England where there is a plethora of apple trees, and as a result, a plethora of apples, which I don't like. But anything sweet, I love. 

This apple pie is so richly sweet and absolutely delicious. It is a tough one to execute with kids at your feet because it involves making a pie crust, which is absolutely easy but very messy. I'd recommend having a friend film you because it can get pretty hilarious. 

2 cups (220 grams) all-purpose flour
5 ounces, or 10 tablespoons (145 grams) unsalted butter
teaspoon of salt
Ice water
4 large apples
4 oz (115 grams) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 oz (115 grams) confectioner's sugar (icing sugar) 
4 oz cup (100 grams) packed light brown sugar (I use muscavado) 
teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (60ml) water
Ground cinnamon, to taste

How to: 
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) 
2. Make pie crust - cut the butter into small pieces. You need to keep them cool so put them back in the fridge. Combine the flour and salt into a large bowl and slowly add 1/3 of the the butter, and using your hands mix in the butter. Keep blending with your hands until you have added all of the butter. Use a tablespoon of ice water at a time, to work it into a nice piece of dough. Cut in half, and form each half into a disc. Wrap one disc in plastic wrap (clingfilm) and refrigerate. Roll out the other disc into a nice round shape and place at the bottom of your pie pan.
3. Peel, core, and cut the apples into small pieces. Wrap the apples pieces in plastic wrap and place in the fridge.
4. In a large saucepan melt butter completely then add the flour and stir well. Add all both sugars, salt & water and bring to a simmer. Stir for about 5 minutes then turn heat to low. 
5. Grab the pie tin (which at this point should be lined with the bottom crust) and toss in your apples. Try to mound them & sprinkle with cinnamon. 
6. Pour the pie filling over the apples. Try to make sure most apples are covered.
7. Roll out the top crust and place over the pie. I seal the top and bottom together with milk. Flute the edges either with your fingers or a fork. 
8. Cut steam slits into the top to look like a cross but they should NOT connect at the middle (OR THE PIE WILL CREATE A CAVE). 
9. Brush a bit of milk over the top & sprinkle with cinnamon and a superfine sugar if you like. 
10. Bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C, gas stove mark 4), and continue baking for 35 to 45 minutes.
Tips - Apple pies are a bit gooey in the oven, so if there are any spills in the oven try & clean them as soon as pie is done & out. When rolling out the dough for the crust spread flour over your work surface. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mint Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

I was naughty Saturday morning but I really wanted to use up some of the chocolate baking bits in my cupboard. This is not the thing to make if you are wanting to stay away from sweets because they are so good but then again they are so good you have to try it. The best bit is you can make it your own with your favorite sweet ingredients.

This recipe will make 24 pieces & they are each rather large.


2 oz soft dark sugar
8 oz confectioners sugar (icing sugar)
2 oz soft butter
8 oz peanut butter

7 oz milk chocolate
4 oz dark chocolate
Peppermint extract/flavoring
anything else you'd like to use in it. I used white chocolate flakes and butterscotch chips.

To make the filling, blend all of the ingredients together in a food processor until combined. Don't over mix. The mixture should be somewhere between sandy & smooth. If I am honest, I combined using my hands because I don't have a food processor.

Put cupcake liners in the cupcake tin and distribute the filling mixture evenly in each of them. You should need about a full tablespoon per cupcake. Make sure to pack the filling in tightly to the bottom.

Next, combine the milk chocolate and dark chocolate in a heat proof bowl and melt over a pot of simmering water. Keep mixing. You don't want it to burn. Once melted add a 2 teaspoons of peppermint extract and mix. Spoon the chocolate mixture into the cupcake tins over the peanut butter filling. You want to cover all of the peanut butter but do not want to fill the cupcake liner. You should need about 1 tablespoon of the chocolate mixture per piece.

Place in fridge for 30 minutes to an hour and enjoy with a cup of coffee.

I added a bit of white chocolate to this one 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cooking With Kids

I've been flooded with emails asking if I really cook my meals and my kid's meals. The answer is yes. I don't buy anything packaged or eat out.

It is a ton of work, takes planning, patience and juggling of the kids' needs. But, it can be done. It's healthier for them. You'll be shocked to know I don't use a microwave either, ever.

This is what I have to work with when I am cooking.

The baby in the spice cupboard. She found a box of knorr & proceeded to place a wrapped cube in her mouth.

A Whole Chicken & Maple Glazed Parsnips (& other vegetables)

Tonight's dinner was sensational. I shocked myself. The girls loved it. I loved it. And the husband ate it cold, he thought it was that good.

So. The easiest thing in the world to roast is a chicken. You basically heat your oven to 190 C (375 F) and cook 20 minutes for every 450 grams (per lb) then add on 10 minutes. I always stuff an onion in the middle before roasting and cover with foil when the chicken is done. It always comes out perfect using this formula.

But the vegetables in this meal were fantastic, especially the parsnips. You must use parsnips. yum.

Ok. You will need parsnips, maple syrup (or golden syrup), butter and hot water. I also used some potatoes and carrots.

1. Peel and cut the parsnips and other vegetables.
2. Place in a pot with water and allow to boil. Let the vegetables boil for 5 minutes. Don't overcook. You don't want them too soft at this point.
3. Remove vegetables from boiling water and drain well.
4. Add 3 tablespoons of butter to a large pan. Once melted add about 8 - 10 tablespoons of maple syrup (or golden syrup) to the butter.
5. Mix in vegetables and cook for 5 minutes. Make sure all vegetables are covered with the syrup.
6. Put vegetables in an oven dish and place in oven at 200 C (390 F) for 35 minutes or until very tender.

note. I just tossed my vegetables in with the chicken for the last 50 minutes at the lower heat of 190 and they came out fantastic too. Cooking is about flexibility. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ice Cream Cake by Nigella

Cristina's first birthday cake

This, aside from being the easiest cake I have ever made, was also the most delicious thing I have ever made. Absolute luxury with every single bite! I can't take the credit. The concept is really easy. Take a look at the youtube video and play around with ingredients. The butterscotch sauce is a must!

I can understand why some people choose to never have kids

first born at 11 weeks
I'll be the first to admit it. I, long before I had kids would be the first to judge someone for stating they "never wanted to have any kids." I was convinced they would never feel fulfilled in life and that they possibly needed some sort of counselling.

4,000 nappies later, I have changed my mind. No. I don't mean that I regret having kids. I love them more than anything in the world & I want more. Yes I am broody! I just mean that, yes, I can see why someone would opt not to. And many people don't have any. And many of us are waiting until our careers are so established that we can hire nannies to help carry the workload.

Today, the girls were fantastically well-behaved and they had me in stitches I was laughing so hard but I am still worn off of my feet.  I was up an hour before them to get a run in, but from 7am -7pm it was CONSTANT attention. And during those hours all I managed to do was to meet their daily needs. Nothing else was accomplished.

Young kids rely on you for everything from changing, dressing, feeding, entertaining, educating, fixing, saving, protecting, making pain go away, mediating sibling arguments ... And yes, it can be exhausting, and for me it is exhausting to have someone rely on you for everything when occasionally, all I want to do is sit and have a cup of tea in silence. I will admit that I was not around babies or toddlers much when I was growing up, so I didn't appreciate how much work they would be or how much one could crave adult conversation.

However, I now acknowledge all those who I used to judge for not wanting kids as being well-informed. Ok. Off to try and tidy up ...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jewelry Tree by Me

The current theme of my life is about re-invention and streamlining, which also means streamlining all of the bits in my life. I never wear any of my fashion or statement jewelry but whenever I am out I wish I would have remembered to put some on. The reason is that while I only have a few pieces, those pieces I own are put away in a very untidy and chaotic manner. I don't even know what I own. As I was clearing out my clothes for donating, I decided enough is enough and set out to tackle the beast. Seen below.

I ran into the garage and found the following items not being used. The lamp doesn't work and the four candle holders I stopped using because I don't like using candles in the house when there are babies around.

I just used string, a needle, buttons, scissors and started decorating the lamp. I wanted to get tons of little areas to stick things on or loop things around. I was not sure where I was going with it and I was prepared to toss it if I failed. But I am very pleased with the result. The best part, it cost me nothing.