Monday, 28 November 2011

Tasting The New Menu At ASK Italian

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited up to ASK Italian in Spring Street, London to sample their newly revamped menu. All 123 of their restaurants are currently undergoing complete transformation in order to bring a 'fresh, bold and authentic dining experience to the high street.' The new decor is inspired by Italy's fashion capital Milan and as you can see from the pictures below, is refreshingly colourful and vibrant.

ASK Italian have also been working closely with experts Theo Randall and Adrian Garforth

Adrian Garforth is the Master of Wine (Mow) at ASK Italian, one of only 300 MoWs in the world, he developed a passion for Italian wines during his time working with vineyards and wineries in Italy. He has worked with ASK Italian to create a wine list that complements the flavours of their new dishes. The all Italian wine list is currently on trial in 11 restaurants and due to launch nationally in March.

Theo Randall is one of the UK's most celebrated chefs, he spent ten years working as Head Chef at River Cafe and is passionate about Italian food. He is helping to inspire the team at ASK to create a truly authentic seasonal Italian menu.

Below are some of the dishes from the new menu that we sampled:

Antipasti: Olive Marinati

From the front: Gamberoni, Insalata Caprese & Prosciutto e Rucola

Primi, From the front: Spaghetti al Pomodoro, Fettucine Con Verdure, Lasagne della Casa

Secondi, From the Front: Panino Pollo, Panino Portobello, Spigola al Forno & Risotto Gamberoni

Pizza: Prima Pizza Gamberetti e Zucchine

Insalata dello Chef & Prima Pizza Caprina

Prima Pizza Natale, ASK's festive special - 'featuring tomato, mozzarella, chicken, smoked prosciutto, sautéed mixed mushrooms and Grana Padano cheese. Served with a side-mix of sautéed chestnut, red onion and pancetta for you to add the finishing touches.'

With added Christmas sparkle of course!

And finally, Dolce: From their selection of Gelato, Espresso flavour & Gelato Con Frutta

With Chef Theo Randall

I have to admit that I hadn't been to ASK for a very long time but was pleasantly surprised by how different the restaurant was. The decor is bold in a kind of either love-it or hate-it way but I was won over with their funky touches. It's also really nice to see that they go the extra mile for genuine ingredients, the little extras like their Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Puglia. From speaking to the Marketing Manager and Marketing Director of ASK Italian I can see that they're very passionate about Italian food and more importantly about getting it right. I really enjoyed their new menu, a wide variety of Italian classics, done simply, but done very well.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

Ever do something that seemed like a really good idea at the time but in hindsight was probably best left well alone?! Well readers, allow me to introduce to you the Martha Stewart Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake... Our local newsagents has started selling Martha Stewart Living magazine and I picked up a copy for Thanksgiving dinner inspiration only to be seduced by this picture:

Image from

So I saw this picture and thought 'Hey! I'll make this cake!' No real occasion... just because! I do really love Salted Caramel, I love the whole 'Urgh salt really shouldn't be in there... but Ooo it works really well!' reaction to it. So I just really wanted to make this cake and more to point to prove to myself that I could actually make it.

The recipe is in 3 parts, the sponge, the caramel and the frosting. I warn you now, this cake is not for the faint-hearted... The amount of butter, cream, sugar and chocolate in this is unreal!

So I started the cake on Wednesday night, I thought if I broke it down then it'd be a bit less scary to make. The sponge went absolutely fine, as it was quite late I just left the tins on the side to cool and figured that I'd unmould them in the morning. And that's where it all started to go wrong. I refrigerated the cakes in the morning, as recommended, so they firm up a bit and are easier to frost. Except now I couldn't get them out the tins... After a little gentle persuasion (and by gentle persuasion I mean stabbing with a palette knife and banging the tins violently on the worktop) I managed to get them out.

I'd also, quite unbelievably, managed to make the caramel for the filling. I really struggle with caramel, I'm very aware that the golden rule is that you let it do it's thing, no stirring, no touching. But I'm terribly impatient and somehow I just can't seem to LEAVE IT ALONE! The thought of burning sugar gives me actual anxiety. But I was very restrained and had actually managed to make this caramel, painfully stirred in a whole block of butter, one... tablespoon... at... a ... time, and had left it on the side to cool. Being the tidy baker that I'm really not, I thought it'd be best to try and tidy up as I went along so I went to soak the pans the caramel had been in, only to find that I'd managed to glue my Le Creuset casserole to my glass oven top with caramel. So I'm pulling away at this dish and it's really not going anywhere, in fact I probably had more of a chance of lifting my whole oven off the floor than I did getting this dish off the hob. So then I tried to prise it off with a spatula, and I'm huffing and puffing and thinking 'I bet this never happens to Martha...'. So there's only one thing left for it, and in the hope that it's gonna make it better and not worse I turn on the hob to try and melt the thing off. Success!

Fortunately I managed to whip up the frosting without a hitch so now for the tricky part, putting the whole thing together. Now because I'm so impatient I may have not waited for the caramel to 'cool completely' as advised... So I'm sure you can imagine what's going to happen next. I layer up the cakes, put it in the fridge to set and all of a sudden it's really starting to resemble the Tower of Pisa. So regular adjustments are required to make sure the Tower of Pisa is still standing... until wait... it slides over in the fridge. Great. So I stack it all up again and insert two metal skewers as a kind of makeshift scaffolding until it sets. Except my whole fridge now needs to be rearranged to make space for the cake to fit in with it's skewers sticking out the top. At this point I'm just really glad I didn't decide to cut the cake layers in two to make a six layer cake. Could quite easily see myself in a ball on the kitchen floor rocking back and forth haha!

After an hour the cake showed signs of behaving itself so I attempted to frost it. If you ever make this cake I'd really recommend making double the amount of frosting. I know, just pretend you don't know how much chocolate is in it! I found that I had just enough to coat the cake. It also sets pretty quickly too so you have to work fast to get a smooth layer. I have to say this was my favourite part, because even the biggest of flaws can be masked with a thick glossy layer of frosting : )

Ta-Da! Was really quite chuffed with the end result and it tastes really good, though you only need a tiny slice as it's sooooo rich! Definitely pleased that I made it but next time I get the urge to make an extravagant cake I think I'll leave it for a special occasion!

If you do fancy making this cake then just click on the hyperlink at the top of this post, it'll take you to the recipe : )