Monday, November 26, 2007

Oh yes!...

... black treacle AND golden syrup!

To me, this is always a sign of a good thing. In this case the good thing is flapjacks. Soft, treacly flapjacks.

I think it occurred to me to make flapjacks because I bought one from a shop the other day and it tasted so sickeningly sweet - all glucose syrup and margarine - that I couldn't finish it.

I like good pale flapjacks (the ones made just with golden syrup, butter, oats and sugar) - especially chocolate dipped or fruit filled - but I like treacly ones better. And I hear treacle is a good source of Vitamin B, so they're practically a health food.

This recipe is the one my mum used when we were little - it's child-level simple and it makes dense ginger-y treacly bars, perfect for lunch boxes, or afternoon snackage. A good addition is some chopped dried apricots for a little extra fruitiness and moistness.

Treacle Flapjacks

In a saucepan, melt 75g butter with 50g dark brown sugar, 1/2 tbsp of golden syrup and 1/2 tbsp black treacle over a low heat until all combined.

Mix in 50g wholemeal flour, 75g porridge oats and 2-3tsps ground ginger (and 25g chopped dried apricots - optional)

Squash into a shallow dish and bake at Gas 3-4 for about 45 minutes until it looks set and browned on top. It will still be a bit wobbly at this stage, but will firm up as it cools. Slice while its still hot, but let it cool and firm before removing from the dish.

(NB - I like Jordans Organic Porridge Oats the best - they are the only ones I can find that are proper whole oats, not mashed up little pieces.)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The fall from innocence... (A tomato's tale)

Well, just imagine what you could do with these little bad boys! Aren't they superb all piled up like that? Handfuls and handfuls of ripe cherry tomatoes. And these ones they really smell like tomatoes, and they really taste like tomatoes; not the pale impostors you find on supermarket shops (my local Turkish shop, for its tomatoes and avocados alone, is one of the major plus points of living in Archway).

I feel a little bit guilty actually looking at them there, because here were these fresh ripe fruit, all bright-cheeked and eager. Just look at them!

And then, what did I go and do? I corrupted them, poor loves, with bucketloads of sugar and hot hot heat and bubbled them and boiled them so they were no longer unsullied and innocent, but sticky and broken and all in a heap.

Although, to be fair, they were going to end up meeting their ends via mine or someone else's greedy mouth anyway, so whether drizzled with balsamic, as part of a fresh greek salad or reborn as jam, I don't suppose they really minded anyway.

Yes, that's right, I said jam. And I suspect you might be a little sceptical. Tomato JAM?! You might even be wrinkling your nose up and wondering what the world is coming to.

Well, I saw this recipe in Vogue Entertaining and Travel you see. And it intrigued me. I couldn't work out whether it would be exquisite or grotesque or merely just mediocre. But the colour was superb, and the tomatoes were a bargain, so I thought I'd give it a go.

As it turns out, it's good, very good. But slightly disconcerting. There's lemon and pomegranate syrup in there too (the latter is my addition, the former in the orig.) so it's quite tangy and marmalade-y although not as bitter as a marmalade, not as pickly as a chutney, but not quite as jammy as a jam. So as you eat it you feel a little disorientated, as it won't fit in any gastronomic pigeonhole your tastebuds want to slot it in to.

But it's good on toast, and it's good in sausage sandwiches and it is fabulously red, so I think in the end it was worth it.

Tomato and Lemon Jam

- Chop 900g cherry tomatoes in quarters (I halved them, but then the skins are too big in the jam, so better to quarter I think)

- Put in a heavy-based pan with 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced, the juice of the other half of the lemon, 6 dessertspoons pomegranate molasses and 650g jam sugar.

- Bring to a boil and simmer until it reaches the setting point - to test this you take half a teaspoon of the jam and dot it on a cold plate. After a couple of seconds you push the edge with your finger. If it wrinkles, it's ready; if it's still just liquid keep cooking. For me, this took about two hours.

- Once done, bottle in sterilised jars (thoroughly cleaned old jars, put in a low oven for 10-15 minutes until hot)

- VE&T say it will keep for a couple of months in the fridge, but if the jars are airtight I don't see why it shouldn't keep longer unopened, like most jam.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Fireworks and overwork

Numbers have even started invading my sleep now - I surface to wakefulness only to be shrouded in a sleepy mirage of financial statements and tax calculations. Three weeks to go until these looming shadows can be cast off...

Anyway, whilst exam madness has been brewing, sadly other parts of my life - little things like eating and sleeping and any kind of domestic chore - have fallen a bit by the wayside.

I've been almost hibernating from things I'd like to do, think I should be doing, like updating this blog. But, well, it's time to get things a little in perspective. What's more important in the long run - informing the world wide web about the variant of sausage I have been eating or getting to grips with weighted average cost of capital? Well, obviously...

I have got a few more interesting things to post soon when photos have been uploaded and so on and so forth, but in the meantime some pictures from bonfire night, and a cunning canape idea...

We donned hats and coats and decanted to the balcony for fireworks night - hoping to see the sky light up as it had been doing on the drizzly walk home. Alas, we got sound but no visuals...

Still, we had Imogen's superb creation of mini baked potato - I can't think of a better canape for a bonfire night - New potatoes baked in a medium-hot oven for 30-40 minutes until soft to a knife, then filled with sauteed leeks and cheese, secured with toothpicks and popped back into the oven for a little meltage.
And we had the aforementioned sausages, with a homemade condiment, which I will keep you in suspense about until I post again. We had winter Pimms (which is scrummy, but I think really you'd be better off just to do your own with brandy or calvados, hot apple juice, apple and orange slices and a couple of cinnamon sticks, cloves, that kind of thing.)

And sparklers!

Let's hope my brain is sparking too, come mid-December...
Oh, and by the way, it was so lovely to return to two new comments from hitherto unknown readers when I finally checked in here. Thank you! and thank you for reading all, old and new...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Autumn Fruit Salad

A couple of weeks ago at college I was struggling though the finer points of tax accounting when my mind drifted (as is its wont) to food, and more specifically figs.

The stalls at Chapel Market had been heaving under the weight of plump velvety figs and I had been thinking about how they signify Autumn for me - around September/October every year as the leaves start to turn, London succumbs to a glut of figs. On street stalls and markets there are big fat purple figs aplenty. And I love them.

So I thought I wanted to celebrate them and their heralding of autumnalness.

Slowly a plan starting to form - Apple crisps that looked like leaves; nuts, that seem autumnal to me (although, are they?!); bright physalis the colour of golden leaves; pears, also lovely this time of year; a hint of alcohol to warm up the seasonal chill...

And lo, my autumnal fruit salad was born! I think it'd make a really pretty and tasty dessert for a nice meal - light without being too saintly and virtuous, and simple but a little special too.

Autumn Fruit Salad
(Serves 4)

1. Poach your pears
- Peel and quarter lengthways 3 slightly unripe, or only-just ripe conference pears. Place them in a saucepan with enough red wine to cover them (or add a little water if you don't want to use so much wine). You can add a cinnamon stick, some cloves and/or some orange peel for extra spice at this stage if you like.
Bring to the boil and let simmer slowly for 10-15 minutes until soft through to the poke of a knife (Don't over cook though!)
Take out and leave to cool.

2. Make your apple crisps
- Core and slice one apple (I like Pink Lady apples for this) very thinly. As thinly as humanly possible! (I did it with a knife, but I guess if you have a mandolin that'll be better). Lay them on baking paper on a baking tray and scatter scantly with caster sugar.
Bake in a low oven (about 120C) for 30-40 mins, turning halfway and sprinkling sugar on the other side. They should be nice and crisp when done.

3. Toast some almond flakes
Take about 75g almond flakes and heat in a frying pan, tossing regularly until just browned and smelling delicious.

4. Compose
- Trim and quarter 6 ripe figs
Halve 16 physalis
Chop pears into chunks
Optional: Quarter 6 unsulphured dried apricots.
Pile the figs, pears, physalis and apricots stylishly on little plates and scatter with almond flakes and apple crisps.

5. Serve as is or with rick greek yoghurt.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Quick'n'dirty coconut icecream

This has to be the quickest way to make ice-cream. It's kind of like cheating. And yes, it's not the best ice-cream in the world; but it got pretty good reviews from the people I fed it to. It's rich, so to my mind it wants to be garnished with tart fruit - I scattered raspberries and drizzled lime syrup, though my original plan had been pineapple.

Ever since my trip to Le Cercle (
review) I've been fantasizing about the roasted pineapple I had there - wondering how I can recreate it. I tried a few different variations, which unfortunately resulted more in stubbornly burnt baking trays and too sugary syrups than ambrosiac chunks of idealised pineappliness. I was gearing up to try again, and I started thinking about ice-cream to go with it. No idea how I could tackle spiced toffee, so thoughts drifted to coconut. In fact originally I thought about malibu - last drunk by myself on the streets of small town England circa 1996, but retro is cool isn't it...

Then I found out Malibu is really expensive nowadays! Frugalness kicked in, and I invested in a box of creamed coconut instead.

There's various recipes on the internet for coconut ice-creams - I amalgamated ideas and came up with this:

- First, put 1/2 pint milk and 1/2 pint double cream in a pan and heat gently
- Add half a block of creamed coconut and 300g of sugar and stir until both are dissolved
- Chuck in a handful of desiccated coconut (optional) for texture, and mix in
- Let cool a bit, pour in a freezer-proof dish and pop in the freezer
- For the next three or four hours, get it out each hour to give it a good beat with a wooden spoon and bash out the ice crystals

No roast pineapple in the end, as my impatience to experiment with the coconut meant this was made before there was a pineapple in the house, but it was pretty good with raspberries and lime, and for the next few weeks with crumbles and chocolate puddings and just on its own.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Guest Slot #2: John's Beef Stew

Another contribution from the house of Little Sister Saucepan, to make up for my slack efforts on the cooking front, this time from her equally talented other half.

Though I haven't tasted it myself, I have sampled enough of Mr R's cooking to confidently wager that it'll be pretty damn good. And one day when I have a minute between the important businesses of learning international financial reporting standards, ironing my clothes and watching America's Next Top Model, I shall put this to the test...

If you would like to do so too, you want to get hold of the following:

c.200-300g Steak (preferably braising steak)
a little bit of flour, salt and pepper
1-2 Carrots, chopped chunky
1 Onion, medium dice
3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine-ish

A handful of Button Mushrooms, left whole
50g Cubed Pancetta
Red wine, a couple of glasses
Worcestershire sauce - a dash
1/2 tsp mustard powder
2 bay leaves
Stock - about 750ml

John's Beef Stew
Serves 2

  • Heat a good splash of olive oil in a heavy based pan.
  • Chop steak into chunky cubes and coat in seasoned flour
  • Brown off in pan, once the oil is hot enough that it sizzles when you drop it in (not too hot though! oil shouldn't smoke)
  • Remove the meat from the pan and put carrots, onions, garlic, and button mushrooms in.
  • Once softened add the meat back to the pan and stir together.
  • In a separate pan dry fry some cubed pancetta or lardons, add these to the pot
  • De-glaze the lardon pan with red wine, and add this to the main pot
  • Add worcestershire sauce, mustard powder, bay leafs and stock.
  • Top this up with red wine so it is all covered. Bring up to a boil, then simmer for 4-5 minutes with the lid on.
  • Place into a preheated oven at 190-200C and leave to cook for 1.5-2 hours, stirring occaisionally.
  • When the sauce has thickened and the beef tender it's ready to serve.
  • Just before serving stir through some generous tablespoons of creme fraiche.
  • Serve with crusty bread, a green salad and a dollop of creme fraiche on the top!

Monday, October 08, 2007

A perfect pickle

Beetroot is so deliciously dramatic and flamboyant with that vibrant violet juice. It's just a shame whenever I buy it I never quite know what to do with the earthy-tasting little globes. I've tried baking and it didn't do much for me, I've tried plain boiling, and it's a bit like sapping its soul.

But I do enjoy them in jars - deeply pickly and purply. So when I saw a recipe for quick pickled beetroot I thought it worth a try (I forget where I saw it now - it's so simple I committed it to memory and carried it around in my head til I could try it out).

You take half a pint of white wine, add half a pint of white wine vinegar and 2 modest dessertspoons of brown sugar. You boil it slowly until the sugar's dissolved, and then you place your whole beetroots in and let them boil away until just cooked (I can't remember how long this takes - 10-20minutes I guess?)

You take them out, skin and slice into wedges. Then cover in their pickling juices and let cool. Then they can sit in the fridge, where they will keep for the next two or three weeks, and you will find yourself adding them to salads, garnishing dishes, and slyly sneaking one here or there whenever you happen to spy them in the fridge.

They're just so good! So much fresher and brighter than the bottled versions. Try it!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Min........ T!

It's worth eschewing peppermint tea bags sometimes and getting a handful of nice fresh mint leaves and dousing them in boiling hot water and letting them to brew until the water is rich with them.

And pouring the viridescent liquid into a little glass, augmented with a teaspoon or two of sugar if such is your wont.

And standing on the balcony in the last of the evening sun as it sinks away dragging its colour with it, enjoying the air and the sweet spiky warming tea and some moments of solitude.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Apple and cinnamon cupcake

Making cupcakes is always fun. There's something just a little frivolous about bite size cakes and their pretty frilly cases.

These ones are very moist and appley, streaked through the middle with a band of cinnamon sugar and crunchy with the same on top. Very tasty.

The recipe is adapted from a very cute little book called simply cupcakes! by Elinor Klivans.

Without further ado:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup sugar and 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  3. In another bowl mix 1 cup grated cooking apple with 2 tablespoons of the cinnamon sugar mixture
  4. In a larger bowl stir 1 1/4 cups plain flour, 3/4 cup soft brown sugar, 3/4 tsp baking soda and a pinch of salt together, and make a well in the centre
  5. Add 2 eggs, 1 cup sunflower oil and 1 tsp vanilla extract and mix well
  6. Stir in the apple mixture with any juice that has been released
  7. Put 12 cupcake papers into a muffin tray and half fill each with mixture
  8. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp of cinnamon sugar over each one and top up with more mixture
  9. Use a pastry brush to dab the top of the batter with the melted butter and sprinkle a tsp of cinnamon sugar on top of each
  10. Bake until the tops are light brown and a knife inserted comes out clean; about 25 minutes

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The guest slot #1: Sausage and Potato Salad

Well, I'm sit here working my way through a decidedly un-gastro supper of celery and houmous, feeling decidedly un-food-bloggerish (it doesn't make for much of a post really does it - 'hey kids, buy some houmous, stick some celery in it! et voila!) Um, nope.

Luckily, though Little Sister Saucepan has stepped into the breach to make her first guest-blogger appearance with a slightly more appetising and creative supper from the last couple of days.

It's very topical I think, in light of the continuing seasonal tomfoolery the heavens are playing - all kind of 'yeah, technically it's summer, technically we should have salad; but like not too cold or anything - basically it's just winter with some extra daylight hours'

So, A Warm Sausage and Potato Salad

1. Roast your potatoes - Par boil a couple of small potatoes for each person, chop into little bits and put in a preheated oven dish. To prepare the oven dish wipe a garlic clove around the dish and put a reasonable helping of olive oil in the dish. These will take about 20 minutes or until brown and crispy.
2. Make a base of spinach and watercress leaves on the plates
3. Add some finely diced red onion and sliced ripe tomato
4. Chop the roasted potatoes and scatter over
5. Grill or fry sausages as instructed on the pack. Slice as you wish and arrange on plate.
6. For the dressing mix olive oil, dijon mustard, garlic, white wine vinegar, pepper and salt.

et voila! (works better here than with the tub of houmous. Thanks Little Sister Saucepan!)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Using it up

Not so long ago I was lamenting my metamorphosis into a greedy, short-termist, zombified food consumer, abandoning my principles of resourcefulness and real appreciation of food.

Well, since then I've been more zealous about shopping frugally and seasonally; making my lunches and using whatever is to hand. Unfortunately, this hasn't resulted in much of interest to be posted here - lots of quite lovely but ordinary salads, sandwiches, stews and the like...

One new glad discovery for me though was pilaf. I've been a member of the risotto appreciation club for some while - once I'd tried it a couple of times and found it far easier than anticipated, and very amenable to a whole host of bits and pieces mixed therein, I wholeheartedly embraced it in my dinner repertoire. But pilaf, that was a ricey relative of risotto that for one reason or another I hadn't much bothered with...

But Anjum Anand's book has been sitting in our kitchen for a while, enticing me with bright, moreish looking Indian dishes, and one day I came across the pilaf recipe, a component of which was leftover veg...

Hence, the next time I had veg left over* I set to following Anjum's recipe. (I find her television programme vaguely annoying incidentally, but the book is very good.)

It's very simple, but if you like me haven't previously dipped your toes in pilaf waters you might be interested to know the general idea. Which is as follows:

1. Saute a chopped onion until soft (about 4-5 mins) then add spices and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds) - I used: a cinnamon stick; a bay leaf; a tsp cumin seeds; a few cloves; a couple of black peppercorns; and some coriander. Anjum doesn't use the coriander, but adds cardamom, which I would have done if it hadn't been for drawing blanks at the five shops I tried for it.

2. Add your chopped left over vegetables and cook gently for 3-4 minutes to heat through - I used carrot, courgette, green beans and peas. Anjum suggests cauliflower also, but there I would imagine there is practically no limit to what you can chuck in

3. Add cooked rice (this too can be left over, but I cooked from scratch) and gently stir fry for 1-2 minutes.

4. Stir in a squeeze of lemon juice and serve. (I served mine, above, with an egg curry from the same book and some fresh mango, which was a very good accompaniment)

As for quantities - it's just whatever you have or whatever looks about right; there's no hard and fast rules. Adjust spices down or up if you're making for significantly more or less than 2-3.

Super easy, but very very good and very versatile. (Still not very photogenic unfortunately!)

*well, to be fair I rarely have anything left over; these were kept over specifically with another destiny in mind, but it was still a way of utilising that which was already in my fridge and planned for one meal

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

banana bread

What to do when mid-afternoon in midsummer looks as ominous as this?

Storm clouds, thunder and lightning, hail stones as big as golf balls... Summer has forgotten its lines...

What to do in the face of such seasonal craziness? Bake banana bread of course. Well..., of course.

That's how it seemed to me anyway (especially as we had a fruit bowl of formerly yellow bananas lazily ripening into an inedible slush). It is good for this winter-summer though; it's got the sweetness and soft cakiness of wintery comfort food but the sunshiny taste of summer.

Banana and Walnut Loaf
adapted from Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course

* Preheat the oven to gas mark 4, 350F (180C)
* Grease a loaf tin, 9x19cm, or equivalent
* Beat 3oz soft butter with 4oz caster sugar
* Add in a beaten egg, slowly, and beat well
* Stir in 8oz plain flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder and a teaspoon of ground nutmeg
* Mash 3 bananas and add to the mixture, along with the grated rind of an orange, the grated rind of a lemon and 2oz roughly chopped walnuts
* Transfer to the loaf tin and pop in the oven for 50-55 minutes, until the loaf is golden, well-risen and springs back.
* Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then loosen round the edges and turn out to finish cooling on a wire tray.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Good things come in small (filo) packages?

I was still thinking about green stuff when I read somewhere about spinach with tea-soaked raisins and pine nuts. As ideas sometimes do, it wedged itself in my head and at the next available opportunity I set to exploring this combination which I think is pretty well-known, though I have never heretofore either eaten or made it.

I decided on filo pastry - I suppose I was thinking of spanakopita and how happily spinach and filo get on in that. I made my filling with spinach, tea-soaked raisins (do you really need to soak them?), walnuts (which are more economical than pine nuts), ricotta and egg. I baked them and I sat as they took on a golden crispiness, hopefully anticipating the finished product.

And... well, as I bit into layers of flaky, then chewy pastry, and got a mouthful of slightly bitter spinach, I must admit to feeling a little deflated. What makes spinach go bitter? How do I get it less so?

However, I'd made a batch so I took one to work as part of my current drive to take packed lunches as often as possible. And, happily, it surprised me by being much better cold. Easy to eat, filing, and not at all bitter on the second day, I enjoyed the moist spinach filling, the juicy raisins and crunchy nuts.

Not perhaps the most succesful of ventures, but a pretty decent addition to my lunchbox repertoire. This is the recipe - adapt it as you see fit. I think blue cheese might fit in nicely instead of the raisins, or parmesan and dried tomatoes...

Spinach, raisin and walnut parcels

  • Melt a knob of butter in a frying pan and drop a large bag of fresh spinach leaves in it, turning it over until all just wilted - leave to cool for a few minutes whilst you:
  • Mix together a tablespoon ricotta, one beaten egg, salt, pepper and a touch of nutmeg
  • Add a handful of chopped walnuts and a handful of raisins that have soaked in tea for half an hour or so
    Squeeze as much juice out of the spinach as you can, chop fairly finely and add to the mixture
  • Arrange 5 filo sheets in a cross shape by layering them in alternate directions, brushing each one with melted butter as you go
  • Put a large dollop of spinach mixture in the middle and fold in the sides one at a time, pressing down to get a tight fit
  • Coat in melted butter and put on an oven tray in a 190C preheated oven
  • Cook for about 20 minutes until golden-brown and crisp

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Green and lovely

When I chopped this beautiful pointed cabbage in half and sneaked a couple of those creamy white, crunchy baby leaves into my mouth, the sweet crunch and the sheer joy of all those squeaky green leaves almost made me sad to adulterate it at all...

But then I tried this recipe that I saw a couple of months ago in Yoga Journal of all places, and oh, it didn't hide this cabbage's loveliness, it elevated it into one of the most satisfying pleasing dishes I have eaten recently.

That made me happy.

It's a gratin. The inside is creamy and full of green cabbagey goodness, and the top is cheese and breadcrumbs - and I can not believe there is anyone who can resist a cheese and breadcrumb topping on anything. (But maybe that is just me?)

I used a pointed cabbage for this recipe as I mentioned; the author of the article favours swiss chard and kale, but the original recipe calls for savoy cabbage, so go with what you like. Cheese is flexible too. Try gruyere instead of the cheddar and parmesan I used or any other hard tasty cheese you fancy. This is the version of the recipe I used:
Green Gratin
  • Slice one onion in to the thinnest slices possible
  • Melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, add the onion, reduce the heat to low and cover to let the onions sweat, stirring them occasionally until they are very soft
  • Cut one pointed cabbage into very thin slices and add them to the onion. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or so until it has all wilted.
  • Remove the cover and continue to cook, stirring, until the cabbage is soft - about another 10 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 400F
  • Grease a baking dish and set aside
  • Sprinkle a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and a tablespoon of plain flour over the cabbage, increase the heat, stirring still, and add one cup of milk a little at a time as you continue to stir, creating a sauce for the vegetables
  • When it has thickened (about 5 minutes), spread the mixture evenly into the prepared baking dish. Mix 2 tablespoons grated parmesan with 2 tablespoons grated cheddar and 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs and scatter over the surface.
  • Bake for about 20 minutes until the top is crusty and golden and the edges are bubbling - about 20 minutes

The original recipe apparently came from 'Great Greens: Fresh, Flavorful and Innovative Recipes' by Georganne Brennan, which looks really interesting.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Yay - how cool is my lunch box?

I got...

Homemade bread, Moro Carrot Salad, Rhubarb and strawberry compote...
The carrot salad is straight out of the first Moro book and has been put to service a good few times now because it's really very good. You just:
  1. boil 4 or 5 (preferably oldish) carrots, whole with their skins and tops and tails on until soft
  2. when cooked, let them cool, and then scrape the skins off with fingers or knife and slice
  3. toast a couple of teaspoons of cumin seeds in a dry pan over a low heat until fragrant and starting to colour
  4. bash up the cumin seeds a little, and add to the juice of one lemon and about an equal amount of olive oil (and some chopped garlic if you so desire)
  5. Mix the carrots with a big bunch of chopped coriander and the dressing

Lovely as part of a mixed mezze

As for rhubarb and strawberries, well you don't need me to tell you how good those two are together - I just boil them with a little brown sugar and freshly squeezed orange juice. But if you fancy something in a whole different league of rhubarb and strawberry chic check out this incredibly beautiful creation from La Tartine Gourmand's talented Bea...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Breaking it down

So, it's been a bit quiet round here. Not so much a feast as a famine of words. And after all that about posting once a week and so on...

This is what happened. This time it wasn't simply my natural tendency to laziness and abandonment of projects. I've been working away a lot again, eating crap, eating junk, eating far too much. And then in the few days I had back home I would suddenly get panicky about posts and about making something 'good'. I would spend some obscene amount of money at the supermarket with some hasty idea in my head - something photogenic and impressive. And then it would be a bit ill-thought out and not so good and I would feel all disappointed.

And then I started to wonder what I was doing... This did not accord with my position on food, the reason I started this blog. I was getting all caught up in the end result and losing sight of what inspired it all in the first place. It wasn't the number of posts or the photos and whatnot. It was an appreciation of good food, of food as nourishment and joy and as something which draws links all over our world, that is important and inspiring. Wanting to share that.

I don't believe in buying a whole bunch of new things frantically, stressing over the cooking, not enjoying the end result, throwing stuff away because you bought too much.
I wondered what happened to the days when I shopped once a week and I had a cupboard full of veggies and fruits and staples and I made dishes depending on what I had, what needed using up. Sure, I'd be inspired by recipes, by reading, books and magazines. I still love the art of food, the experimentation, the craft of it. Sure, I'd buy special ingredients and plan stuff. But I'd fit it around being sensible and resourceful and thrifty.

Alongside this, I was putting in less effort. I was buying all my lunches and dinners, and it was making me feel dissatisfied, or nauseous, or sticky or gross. Disappointed...

So, first of all I decided to spend a week recording everything I ate, thinking about it as I ate - about how it made me feel, and where it came from, being more conscious of my eating. Trying to get back in touch with food, with my beliefs on food, trying to identify better what it was that made it good, what made it bad. Which was really interesting for me. I may post a link to this at some point.
And now I am just trying to get back into the routine of making lunch, of shopping wisely, of thinking about what I eat. Of delighting in food again.
And mostly that has just been big fresh salads - grated carrot and new potatoes and lettuce drenched in vinaigrette, juicy tomatoes and smoked mackerel or houmous or grilled halloumi. Or things unashamedly simple like the roasted vegetables in the picture at the top of this post.
Not particularly pretty, and nothing like the recipes I aspired to be churning out weekly. Not really postable lamentably...

But good. And now I'm going to try and experiment and find some new recipes and work that in to the mix. And hopefully I'll have more exciting things to post soon...
For now, here are the veggies above - eminently simple but really rather good. Broccoli turns sweet and crispy like the 'seaweed' in Chinese restaurants - slightly barbecue-y and very moreish. Fennel is delicate and slippery and sweet and roasted tomatoes just make my tastebuds sing...

Roasted Summer Vegetables

Roast fennels chopped in quarters, big stalks of broccoli and tomatoes with a liberal splash of olive oil, a teaspoon each of salt and sugar and a good grind of black pepper for about an hour at 180C.

And enjoy.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Peaches on Toast

This is one of those things you make when you’re bored and you fancy cooking but there’s really very little to cook and you can’t be bothered to go to the shop or do something proper so you just gather up the few edible items around, apply your ingenuity, imagine you are on Ready Steady Cook…

… and most of the time you end up with horrible student-esque concoctions, things like the flapjacks I tried to make without instructions, which were just a sticky over-sweet mess that I nevertheless devoured in one sitting. Or like the soup I once made from swede and cabbage (it was awful; really truly awful, don’t try it). Or frozen broad beans fried with onions and bread and bits of old cheese… Yum.

Anyway, this one happened to be a more happy experiment. It’s very very simple, but very very good. All you will do is pluck a ripe peach (or plum, or nectarine) from the fruit bowl, stone it and slice it. You’ll dip the slices into icing sugar then lay them in a heated frying pan and cook them on both sides until they are soft and brown and bubbling.

Then you’ll slice some crusty white bread and pop it in the toaster. And you’ll lay the peach slices on top of the toast, drizzling over whatever juices you can get out of the pan. And you’ll eat it and it will be like super super deluxe bread and jam, monstrously fruity and satisfyingly sickly sweet and slightly naughty.

Mmmmm Cardamommm...

Was it just my imagination, I thought, or did the subtly spicy milky coffee I just supped as I reclined on the sofa, settle in my belly with a warmth like the physical feeling of happy contentedness?

I had got home a little earlier from a lazy day enjoying the city, and had decided to crack in to my treat to myself of a bar of the beautiful blue and white packaged Rococo chocolate. Discovering I had unwittingly bought white instead of dark chocolate I was momentarily disappointed. (I’m not a big fan of the pale stuff.) However, the cardamom it was infused with converted it completely from a sweet milky confection to something regal and intriguing and good.

I hadn’t had cardamom for ages - my first memories of it are of surprising chewy mouthfuls of a strong bitterness, when encountering whole pods in Dad Saucepan’s curries. And, its reputation stained by childhood distrust, I hadn’t afforded it a place in much of my cooking. Like much met with an older palate, it was joyous then to rediscover and re-learn the flavour and to find I really – really – liked it…

Inspired by this discovery, I found an old jar of pods in the spices collection, smashed some up and added them to the milk I heated to make the aforementioned coffee, with its feelgood aftertaste.

And, carried away on a wave of fondness for my new best spicy friend, I set to augmenting a recent VE&T cake recipe, which turned out pretty nicely...

Spiced Summer Fruit Mini Cakes

Preheat oven to 180 degrees
Sift 200g plain flour with 75g ground almonds, 2 tsps baking powder, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground cardamom seeds and ½ tsp salt into a bowl.
Beat 125g butter, 220g dark brown sugar together until pale and fluffy
Add 3 eggs one at a time, beating well after each.
Add 150g sour cream, beat until just combined and then stir in flour mixture, followed by 100g raspberries or mixed summer fruits (I used frozen ones defrosted and drained).
Grease a muffin tin, spoon in the batter and scatter another 100g raspberries or mixed summer fruits on top.
Bake for 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Cool in tins for 5 mins before turning out.

PS - I’ve since discovered an utterly luxurious breakfast from a Jane Clarke article in the Times – you put a couple of crushed cardamom pods in with your porridge, and serve it with pomegranate segments and some thick greek yoghurt. It’s divine.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Lemon and Fennel Risotto with Scallops

It's a pity it couldn't be a little more pretty, but sometimes things just aren't so easy on the eye as the palate...

Imagine though, if you will, the creaminess of a risotto, cut through with clean, tangy lemon and studded with soft aniseed-y fennel. You place a little on your fork and add a slice of fried scallop with an almost caramel taste from the seared surfaces, and the inside all meaty and silky.

It's comforting and refreshing and a little bit special and chic all at once.

Make it. See for yourself...

Lemon and Fennel Risotto with Scallops
(serves 4)
  • Fry off a finely diced onion in a generous slug of olive oil over a low heat.
  • Once soft, add one fennel, cut into thin (about 5mm) slices.
  • Add about 400g/14oz arborio rice, and stir until all the rice is coated with oil.
  • Tip in a small glass of dry sherry or white wine and stir in.
  • Then add the juice and zest from two lemons and continue to stir.
  • Cover with a generous amount of vegetable stock, bring to a simmer and put the lid on. Stir every 5 minutes or so for the next 30-40 minutes, making sure the rice doesn't stick to the bottom, and adding more stock or hot water as required by the rice (I never bother with the one spoon at a time method - it's ever so consuming and I'm not sure it makes that much difference - do try not to forget your risotto tho - it will burn!)
  • When the rice is cooked to your taste, stir in a little butter and parmesan for extra creaminess (optional).
  • Heat a little oil in a frying pan til fairly hot, and sear 8 scallops on both sides. Turn heat down and cook for 3 or 4 minutes until cooked through.
  • Serve the risotto with a little parmesan and then the scallops and top, and some green beans on the side.

Adventures in Dining Out - Andrew Edmunds; Le Cercle; Barrafina

I thought I would do a little round-up of restaurant reviews, as I seem to have been (prandially speaking) getting round a little bit recently...

A couple of weeks before my 21st birthday I was wandering through Soho and spied a hand-written menu pinned outside a building so dark and unassuming as to be almost invisible. The dishes described thereon impressed me, and the cute, small, apparently nameless restaurant to which it belonged charmed me. So, I declared, that's where we would eat in my 22nd year.

Four and a bit years on I finally made it to the place I later discovered was called Andrew Edmunds. (Soho can be tricky, I forgot which street it was on, we didn't know the name... For my 21st, we ended up at a Greek place and had a largely forgettable evening.)

Another birthday - Mum Saucepan's this time - precipitated the long overdue visit. We went for lunch on a cold rainy day a few weeks back, and spent a couple of pleasant hours in the cosy, crowded basement of the restaurant.

Aesthetically it really appeals to me - well-chosen flowers, candles, mirrors, plain tablecloths, a simple, comfy, stylish look.

The menu changes weekly, and features fresh, simple dishes - we had a scallop ceviche with guacamole; langoustines with lemon mayonnaise and a salad of jerusalem artichokes, artichoke hearts and snow pea shoots to start. All were good and clean and tasty.

Mains of smoked haddock on lentil and green bean salad, daube of beef and duck confit slipped down equally well. They taste un-tampered with, more homely than restaurant-y. Traditional, relatively hearty and yet stylish and somehow still very London-y. (I have got to stop this horrible habit of lazily adding 'y' to nouns to disguise the fact I'm all out of proper adjectives)
The wine list is extensive and the service is good. It's cosy and friendly and definitely recommended. Glad I got there in the end...

Since then, I've had the opportunity to eat at one place which I had no preconceptions of and found to be a real treat, and one place I had high expectations of and found to be merely good. (Sorry - no photos for either of these...)

To start with the latter, Barrafina attracted great press interest when it opened a few months back. The brothers who own it - Eddie and Sam Hart - regularly pop up in newspapers here and there, either with respect to their well-received smart Spanish restaurant Fino, or with Spanish recipes (though they are not actually Spanish, rather British hispanophiles). They added to their existing media-friendliness by setting up new venture Barrafina in a room barely bigger than my lounge room. Hence, only 20 or so people can eat at a time, and with a no-booking policy queues form, making it a rare spot and therefore in many eyes a highly desirable place to eat.

I visited Fino a year or so ago, and had some magnificent pork belly amongst other good and excellent dishes (along with a hearty amount of sherries, riojas and brandies which may contribute to why my memory of said dishes is rather patchy).
The owners chatted with us, we had views of the kitchen from where we ate at the long bar, and the barman was lovely and helpful, all making it a rather pleasant experience.

Barrafina is a pared down kind of Fino. The few seats are all around the L-shaped bar, behind which the chefs work, and a narrow ledge on one side of the room holds the drinks of those waiting for seats to empty.

In keeping with the smaller, more casual venue, the menu is shortened and simpler. We went for a razor clam special, a classic tortilla and the now-ubiquitous chorizo, with watercress. Clams were rather
like I've found snails in the past - nice and garlicky and chewy, but really you could be eating any number of simple little life-forms. They were a lot smaller than razor clams I've had in the past. The tortilla was good - pleasantly less cooked than many, but really just a tortilla. And chorizo, similarly good but unspectacular. A santiago tart was unneccessarily accompanied by some kind of muesli-fruit mixture, and was not as good as others I've had.

One of the brothers - Sam - was there, welcoming guests, serving, clearing glasses; admirably involved. Our waitress however, albeit very friendly, was a little intrusive we found, and not altogether helpful.
At £22 a head with drinks, it's not bad value, but I wouldn't queue round the block for it.

A meal at Le Cercle on the other hand, I would happily wait in line for. I was a little sceptical - hidden away in the basement of a hotel on a side street just off Sloane Square, I was worried it would be overpriced and stuffy. A menu that could be considered somewhat gimmicky - small dishes are grouped into categories such as Marin, Terroir, Vegetal, from which you create a tasting menu for yourself or to share - didn't help allay my fears.

However, we soon stopped worrying when we started eating. In a tiny black pot, suitable it would seem for a pixie, or a squirrel, we found chanterelles in a port and wine reduction so full of flavour a single pixie-sized spoon seemed to spread flavour right throughout my body. Ravioles de Royan - a kind of very posh version of that lazy-persons favourite supermarket 3-minute pasta parcels - were bathing in a truffle juice, and were also delightful. A sliver of sea bass and some chunks of stuffed rabbit with a chicory gratin were similarly well executed and full of interesting tastes and textures. The piece de resistance however was a pudding which - I lie not - made me grin like a cheshire cat completely involuntarily. Roasted pineapple was somehow much more pineapple-y than I could have imagined and the accompanying spiced toffee ice-cream was one of the most dreamy things I have ever eaten - and this from someone who is not normally a massive fan of ice-cream.

The dishes are very small - so don't go if you prefer hearty, generous cooking - but we found that we felt fully satisfied without feeling full. I think the intensity and interest of the flavours means you savour the food for much longer and so fill up in a very grown-up kind of way.

The room is very smart and cosy - separated with chiffon-y curtains, and with views on to the wine cellar at one end (they have a large selection and recommend different glasses for each dish), and a cheese room at the other.

To me it felt somehow kind of foreign - I suppose because I don't frequent that style of restaurant all that often, and so gave me the pleasant impression of being out of London for the evening. A mini gastronomic holiday if you will.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

life is not too short...

... to stuff a tomato. At least not in my opinion. I mean, how long does it take? 20 minutes maybe? I must confess, I am not such a busy efficient important kind of person that I don't have 20 minutes to prepare some food...

I'll admit though - in the past, I have been a bit suspicious of stuffing vegetables. I didn't really see the point. Often the vegetables were better off by themselves. It seemed a ploy to make vegetarians think they were getting something exciting; a proper dish, just because it was all shoved together.

However, I've been converted by these little tomatoes, which I tried the other day. The cheesy stuffing goes all soft and oozy inside the roasty red shells. They are a little messy to eat - cutting into one can initiate a kind of landslide effect; but to eat, pretty good...

Tomatoes with a Goats Cheese and Chilli Stuffing

Per person:

1 largish tomato

about 30g goats cheese

1/4 of an onion, diced

about 1/2 a small red chilli, finely diced

2 dessertspoons wholemeal bread crumbs

tsp chopped walnuts

1 dessertspoon Creme Fraiche

Sweat off the onions in a little oil, and add the chilli

Mix onions and chilli with the breadcrumbs, walnuts, goats cheese and creme fraiche

Slice the top off the tomato, scoop out all the insides and stuff with the mixture.

Rub a little oil on the outside of the tomato, replace its 'lid'

And pop in a preheated oven at 180C for about 10 minutes, until the tomato looks cooked.

Serve with a little salad perhaps.

failures and freebies

myah ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha..

...that was approximate to the sound I made as I walked away from the new Daylesford Organics shop the other day with a bag of swag. No, I have not - as a mid-twenties crisis - taken up middle-class shoplifting; it was the sound of freebie glee, heightened by the fact that the freebies were not meant for me.

I had walked past the newly opened store in the morning, and - anything to prolong the pleasantness of walking in the morning air and delay the inevitable arrival at work - I stopped for a quick look. It's like a kind of foody roman palace - all made of marble, with completely ott displays of willow branches and other springlike decor. Food is piled up in seductive arrangements - bounteous fruit and veg, a well-stocked cheese stand, breads, beautifully presented cakes...

My eyes alighted on some jewel-pink rhubarb, sprouting proudly from a pot on the fruit table. A friendly man in a white coat informed me he had picked it personally at 6am that morning...

And so it was, that on my way back from the office I suddenly decided to buy the beautiful rhubarb and make a little pudding I had been sketching and planning in my mind for some time. When I reached the shop however, they informed me a prvate function was taking place. I explained my purcasing plans and they let me sneak in to get my wares.

The place was packed with people - your typical Daylesford clientele I would imagine. What I always find strange about rich people (or at least the kind of rich people who live in West London) is how clean they look. They look like they spend inordinate amouts of time being scrubbed and polished. Money may not be able to buy you happiness, but evidently it can buy you cleanliness.

Anyway, they were happily tasting English sparkling wine and various artful organic nibbles, comparing red corduroy trousers and bouffed up hairstyles, whilst I made my way towards the rhubarb and picked four superb looking stalks.

After paying some absurd amount of money for them, I made to make off into the night, when a tall man politely stopped me and offered me one of the goodie bags, no doubt for the official guests of the private event.

And so it was that I walked back to the tube grinning maniacally and inspecting my swag. There was a loaf! and a carton of milk! a pot of marmelade! a little spoon! (I think it rather a blessing, do you not, that free bread can cheer up my day so?)

As for the rhubarb - well, I had been thinking about a carrot terrine I had seen in The Cook's Book, where you layer up roasted carrot sticks, dipped in a carrot-juice and gelatine mixture, to make a glisteningly orange terrine. Rhubarb, I thought would suit it beautifully, make a grown up kind of jelly slice, which would be appealing on the eye, and tasty to boot. I was going to make a ginger cream to serve it with. Unfortunately I forgot how soft rhubarb gets when cooked, and how difficult then for it to hold its shape, even when set in jelly. So I ended up with a kind of sloppy cold rhubarb coated in jelly dish. Not so great. Ah well, nothing ventured nothing gained...

For more on Daylesford see here : . Yes, it is all a little bit expensive and chic - not your muddy farm shop kind of organic, but the food does look pretty good. And of course I am quite fond of them now, as I am easily bought with free food...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Home again, moving home again

So after five weeks working out of the office, crunching numbers in various delightful locations across the UK, I'm back to London for a little while. I've become inured to the humungous lumps of solid scrambled egg and tinned mushrooms that are customary to hotel breakfasts; sampled the delights of numerous staff canteens; got bored of a multitude of chain restaurants; sat in my hotel room eating avocados and grapefruit in front of the TV. And now finally I'm back; I've settled in to my second short-stay home of 2007, and I can cook for myself again... hallelujah.

So, recipes to come - soon I hope... Sorry it's been so long. What with the security on work computers preventing me from uploading photos, and the lack of a laptop, internet access, kitchens or fresh food recently it's all been a little difficult to stick to my regularity resolution... In the meanwhile, a picture of something green and fresh and unadulterated - the antithesis to the processed mass-catering I've had recently...