Monday, 10 December 2007

Gingerbread and Apple Muffins

Nigella Lawson has a book, Feast, which has a number of lovely recipes of which these are one. Her recipe leaves out the apple and chopped crystalised ginger, but I wanted something to make the muffins a little moister, and having tried both with and without I prefer them with the addition.

Adapted from Gingerbread Muffins in Feast, by Nigella Lawson

250g self raising flour
1 tsp of baking powder
2 tsp of ground ginger
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp of ground cloves
6 tbsp of vegetable oil
4 tbsp of black treacle
4 tbsp of golden syrup
75g of muscavado sugar
25g of caster sugar
150ml of milk
1/4 tsp of balsamic vinegar
1 egg
2 balls of crystalised ginger in syrup, very finely chopped
1/2 a cooking apple, very finely chopped

Heat the oven to 200oc
Sift the dry ingrediants together. Beat the egg in a separate bowl with the sugar until all the lumps are dissolved. Add the milk, oil, vinegar, treacle and golden syrup and mix to combine. Fold in the dry ingredients, being careful not to overwork the mixture; some small lumps may remain. Fold in the ginger and apple, then spoon into muffin cakes and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until they are risen, and slightly firm on top.

These keep well for a few days in an airtight container.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Cheat's Burger and Chips

Every so often I go past a kitchen shop and get drawn in by the idea of a deep fat fryer and wander home dreaming of tempura, and onion rings, and battered fish, and chips. And, even though I know it is BAD and will surely lead to BURNs I attempt to convince A with my dreams of freshly fried goods. Which is the point at which he lists the terrible things that happen to people with deep fat fryers, a tale in which if you don't immerse some part of you in boiling oil, or burn your house down, the mentioned freshly fried goods lead to obesity, and heart disease. And in this way we have so far resisted temptation.

The downside of this is no fresh chips, double fried and crispy. So we have developed a way of cooking them which, though unlikely to ward off obesity and heart disease, is (or at least feels) marginally less dangerous than a vat of boiling oil. So we cut our chips from potatoes, skin on, making sure they are of even thickness. And then we whack the temperature on the oven as high as it will go (a measly 220oc), space the chips out on a baking sheet, and spoon on a couple of generous dollops of duck fat and shake them around to cover before popping them in the oven. 30-40 minutes later and hey presto, chips. These easily rival your average home-made restaurant chip (it may be the duck fat) though I admit they do not rival the wonderful chips at La Tupina in Bordeaux which double fries its chips in duck fat.

Anyway, we ate lots of these last night, with suitable lashings of fleur de sel and mustard (and ketchup for me because I am a philistine). They were great with the last of the beef burgers from our Riverford Meat Box and fresh bread rolls that A made, although as you can imagine both of us were rendered unable to move from the over-consumption of beef, potatoes, duck fat and bread.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Delia's Cottage Pie

Our veg box last week had two swede in it, and what do you know, they're still malingering in my fridge. My only brush with swede is in my childhood in Edinburgh, where Burn's night is celebrated with haggis, neeps and tatties (neeps being another name for swede). They're boiled or steamed and served with lashings of butter, salt and black pepper, and maybe a little nutmeg if you're lucky. I'm not adverse to this, but I can't eat two of them like this, and getting haggis in Oxford may be a stretch. But I came across a Delia receipe for shepards pie with swede in it, so thought I'd try it out, substituting beef for lamb and hence turning it into cottage pie.

500g of minced beef
2 carrots
2 large onions
1/2 swede
a glass of red wine
a good handful of parsely
3 leeks
a handful of chedder cheese

Dice the onions, carrots and swede into small cubes. Brown the onions with the thyme and some olive oil, then add the diced carrot and swede and cook for a few minutes. Transfer to another dish and turn the heat up high. Brown the mince in batches, then turn the heat down and sprinkle in a spoonful of flour, browning it gently in the fat from the mince. Add the cooked vegetables and the glass of wine and simmer for 3 minutes. Chop the parsely and add, taste the mince and season. Meanwhile boil the potatoes until tender and mash with a few knobs of butter. Season well.

Layer the mince at the bottom of an oven dish, and spoon the mashed potato over it to cover. Slice the leeks into rounds and cover the mashed potato with them, then sprinkle over with chedder cheese. Bake in a 180oc oven for 30 minutes.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Mussels with Chorizo

I cannot take credit for the cooking of this, nor really the recipe (see Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles cookbook), but it was just so good, that it needed a mention. Everyone has those tired days, when you arrive home soaked through by rain, cold, shivering and fed up with life. Cooking is a far away dream but you think you might just be able to summon the energy to order takeout, though even deciding what you want to eat is a little beyond you.

I arrived home in just such a state a few nights ago and A. happily sat me down in the kitchen and cooked me this. The smell of the shallots and chorizo cooking was heavenly, and then the white whine bubbling away, and then a big bowl full of steaming mussels, with the chorizo and herbs jostling for space. It was really a wonderful meal.

1 cooking chorizo
a handful of shallots
1 1/2 kilos of mussels (well bearded)
a handful of parsley
two handfuls of coriander
a glass of dry white wine (and the rest of the bottle for drinking)
lots of crusty bread for dipping

Chop the onions and chorizo finely and fry in a little olive oil until the onions are translucent and the fat is coming out of the chorizo. Add a glass of wine and bring to the boil. Check through the mussels one last time discarding any that are open and do not close when tapped. When the pot is boiling add the mussels and pop the lid on. Chop the herbs. After about 8-10 minutes the mussels should have opened wide. Now chuck in the herbs, and serve in bowls with bread for mopping up the juices.

A note of caution. Buy mussels on the day you want to eat them, and don't store them in the fridge (most fridges are to cold and they will die), but wrapped in newspaper and covered in damp cloths. A few hours before you want to eat them empty them all into the sink and scrub (no soap!) off any barnacles and pull off any beard. Any mussels that are open and do not close when tapped are dead and should be thrown out.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Carrot Soup

I spent the last two weeks in France, attempting to do some work and with A cooking me up all kinds of delicious things in the kitchen to fuel the study. The weather was crisp and clear, and the countryside around us as beautiful as ever.

It all seems a distant memory now that we are home, on this bleak Oxford day. I have that overtired feeling where I just want to wrap up warm and cook cosseting food thats gentle and cosy. A little carrot soup seems in order.

2 large Onions
6 large carrots
olive oil
4 garlic bulbs
salt and pepper
chicken stock

Slice the onions finely and then cook them long and slow with the olive oil and thyme, adding the garlic. When you have a rich colour add the chopped carrots and cover with the chicken stock. Bring to the boil and then simmer until the carrots are tender. Use a hand blender to get a thick puree, and season with salt and pepper.
This is best served with thick hunks of good bread spread with generous quantities of butter.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007


The light has definatly changed in Oxford: a warm autumnal glow in the evening and crisp, crisp blue skies in the morning. The air has changed too, its sharper somehow, and no matter how warm the late afternoon sun might be, it would be silly to venture out without a cardigan and scarf.

Sunday found me holed up at home, jumper and socks on and heating full blast to beat the chill, playing with yeast. Our new breadmaker whirred away as I type, knocking up a little brioche dough for me to play with.


250g of strong white bread flour
75g of butter
3 eggs
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of fast acting yeast

All mixed together in the bread maker on the dough setting. My bread maker requires liquids to be added first, but some start with dry ingrediants. The dough was then shaped into pairs of large and small balls, popped small on top of large in greased moulds and left to rise for half an hour. It was then glazed with an egg wash before being baked at 200 oc until golden brown.

Few things beat the smell of baking bread on a cold sunday afternoon...and brioche only makes it better.

I had meant to take photos, but in the end ate most of the brioche before I got my camera out. The photo above is of the last lingering one, while below are the moulds I've just washed up, a little knackered, and not quite brioche moulds, but fitting the bill.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Months lost...

Good intentions do not write blogs. August and September have been a blur, moving house being probably the most major upheavel. It sounds kind of lame when written down, but it meant that most of my kitchen spent its life in boxes for several weeks, and is only just emerging into my nice new kitchen. But on the plus side it now means I have an electric convection oven instead of the hateful gas one which plotted against me to ruin my baking at every opportunity. Not only that, but my kitchen is actually big enough to house a kitchen table, which is the fulfillment of what had become a surprisingly heartfelt desire (seperate dining rooms several doors away do not make for domestic bliss).

So, down to the cooking. In truth, I have been slaving away about 60 hours a week in a local deli, which has honed my chopping skills somewhat, but has meant that when I come home I tend to demand food rather than cook it. A has consequently been doing a lot of the cooking. So, although I pretty much missed the joys of redcurrents, blackcurrents, and the last of the raspberries, I'm looking forward to the figs, beautiful greengages and damsons which spell this time of year. Not only that but the winter veggies are beginning to appear, and s

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Lemon Icecream with Strawberries and Raspberries

I've been thinking of making something like this for a while now, but somehow never got around to it. I find I have far more recipes lingering in my head than I'll ever have time to cook, or people to cook for. A friend of mine is having us over for dinner tommorrow night though, and I offered to cook dessert. He's making pea and mint soup to start with, and then (weather dependent) some home made burgers and wedges, so this throwback to british childhood birthday parties seemed perfect, plus it fits in nicely with the fact that I'll be running around like a maniac tommorrow and so need something do-ahead.

Lemon Icecream

My icecream maker is out of action at the moment, so instead of a usual custard base icecream I made a pate a bombe with lightly whipped cream folded in. Pate a bombe is egg yolks whipped until they are light and frothy, and tripled in volume, with a hot sugar syrup beaten in so that the yolks cook. The heat of the sugar syrup cooks the egg yolks, while also trapping the air. Into this is then folded lightly whipped cream. As both of these mixtures contain a lot of air the resulting icecream acheives a lightness without the constant stirring a usual custard requires.

100g of sugar
50ml of water
250ml of double cream
6 egg yolks
zest of 3 lemons

Whisk the egg yolks until light and fluffy and at least tripled in volume. Meanwhile heat the sugar and water until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture reaches the boil. At this point pour it slowly into the egg yolks, continuing to whisk the mixture all the while, and keep whisking until it is cool.

Whip the cream lightly, and zest the lemons. Fold the zest and cream into the egg yolk mixture. Put in a covered container in the freezer overnight, folding occasionally. To serve, slightly thaw the icecream in the refridgerator for 20 minutes before serving.

I usually like to drizzle a little triple sec over strawberries before serving them, but with this icecream they really don't need it. A little lemon zest and sugar is perfect.

Madelines with Cherries

These are inspired by Clafoutis, with a cherry imbedded in each tiny madeline, the stalk poking out as a handle ready to pop each one into your mouth.

I love madelines simple and plain, but a little fruit complements the light cake wonderfully, and, with the almonds, cherries are an easy choice. I played with a Gordon Ramsey recipe for madelines from his Just Desserts cookbook, increasing the ground almonds, reducing the flour, and using a little vanilla to flavour rather than the lemon zest he suggests. if you wanted to make them more dessert like, then we all agreed that a dash of kirsh in the madeline batter would go a long way.

Just warm from the oven these made scrumptious little bites.

75g of unsalted butter
80g of sugar
3 medium eggs
60g of ground almonds
60g of plain flour
a few drops of vanilla extract

Heat the butter in a little pan over a low heat until the solids seperate and then brown. Strain the butter to remove the browned solids, and set aside to cool. In another bowl whisk the sugar with the eggs until they are light in colour, and leave a trail when drizzled over the surface of the mixture. An electric beater is a godsend for this job. If you don't have one don't be tempted to give up at an early stage as this is what gives the madelines their lightness. Fold the flour and almonds gently into the egg mixture, being very careful not to knock out the air. Lastly fold in the cooled, but still runny, butter. Leave to sit for two hours. Meanwhile heat the oven to 190oc, and butter the madeline moulds. I used half the mixture to make plain madelines, and with the other half I made cherry madelines, but in little cake moulds rather than the traditional madeline mould.

For the plain madeline simply spoon the mixture into the moulds until they are two thirds full and bake untl golden brown. For the cherry madelines also fill the moulds until two-thirds full, but then pop in a whole, unpitted cherry with the stalk attached. There is no need to push it down more than half-way into the mixture: as the madeline bakes the mixture wil rise around it. Bake until golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes in the moulds, then turn out onto a rack to cool more. They are best eaten warm, with a mug of tea or coffee, but can also be kept in an airtight container, in which case I like to just warm them slightly in a very low oven before serving them to take the chill off them.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Clafoutis with Plums

I spent the last couple of weeks in france, recuperating from the stress of finishing my thesis.

Unfortunatly I missed the cherries by a couple of weeks, but there was a lovely bush of little yellow plums, a lot like greengages except for their colour. A little Clafoutis seemed like the best way to use the huge amount of fruit. Clafoutis is half way between a cake and a custard, with a golden top but a moist interior.

Traditionally clafoutis is made with cherries, but any fruit is very good with it, particularly stone fruit like plums, greengages and damsons, though I've made it with apples and pears before too. Fruit with big stones is worth de-stoning and slicing in half, but these plums were only slightly larger than cherries, so stoning them seemed a little labour intensive, plus my father always insists the stones add to the flavour when cooked.

Heat the oven to 210oc. Melt 60g of butter. In a bowl mix 80g of sugar, and 3 medium eggs. Add 300ml of milk, and 200ml of creme fraiche, and fold in 90g of flour and a teaspoon of baking powder, and last but not least the melted butter. Place the fruit in a shallow ovenproof dish and spoon the mixture on top. Bake for about 30 minutes (depending on the size of the pan) until the top is lightly risen and golden, still leaving the bottom moist and custard-like. Serve hot, either plain or with a dollop of icecream, cream, creme fraiche or yoghurt.

Friday, 15 June 2007


In the deli where I used to work making pesto was my favourite job. Picking over the basil in the sun was a lovely way to pass a quiet half hour. The ingrediant themselves are delicious: basil, olive oil, parmesan, toasted pine nuts and garlic. They add up to more than the sum of their parts.

Making basil at home isn't really something its easy to do unless you grow your own, or find a cheap and plentiful supply. My own basil plants got summarily slaughtered by a band of maurading slugs, but riverford had big bunches of basil, so I ordered a load and got stocked up with pinenuts and parmesan in preparation.

A. did a trial run a couple of days ago, with a pot of basil from tesco. Very good it was too so I followed his recipe, with the addition of a bit more olive oil to help it keep better.

4 cloves of garlic
80g of basil
50g of pine nuts
50g of parmesan
Olive oil to loosen

Toast the pinenuts until golden in a low oven, keeping a close eye on them as they burn quickly. Then grate the parmesan and add all the ingrediants to a food processor and blend until combined. To keep the pesto pop it in a jar, smooth over the top and cover with a layer of olive oil to keep out the air. The top of the pesto will oxidze a little and go brown, but will still be good to eat.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Duck with petit pois

This is my father's recipe, adapted somewhat from an Elizabeth David cookbook if I remember right. He makes it with duck legs, but I decided to try it with a whole duck, making the confit slowly over the afternoon. The melting richness of the duck contrasts perfectly with the fresh spring peas. The whole duck works, although duck legs are easier to confit as turning them over is easier.

Take the duck out of the fridge and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Leave for at least an hour, then sponge off any dampness on the skin with a paper towel.

Melt a tin of duck fat in a large casserole, and when hot add the duck, browning all over. Turn the heat down, or remove to a very low oven and, continue to cook for at least 2 hours, perferably more, checking every half hour, until the meat is tender. Meanwhile use the giblets, a onion and a bay leaf to make a little stock. Once the duck is cooked and tender take it off the heat. At this point strain off the fat and reserve for cooking at a later date. Remove the duck from the pan and place to one side. If you wish you can at this point cover the duck with the fat and keep it in the fridge for several weeks to reheat at a later date.
Dice an onion finely (or two if you have a lot of duck) and add to the pan the duck was cooked in. When the onion is cooked add a large quantity of petit pois, fresh or frozen, and the strained stock. Place the duck on top, skin side up to brown, and place in a high oven until the liquid is just beginning to bubble and the duck skin is crisp.

Season and serve with mashed potato.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Rhubarb with Creme Anglaise and Shortbreads

I made dessert recently at my father's house, and we had a load of friends around for dinner. There were raspberries in the shops, and at first I was thinking hazlenut daquoise with raspberries and cream. But my brother was adament that he wanted to make creme anglaise, which I love, so we settled on triflesque layers of raspberries, creme anglaise and crumbled meriangues studded with hazelnut. The meriangue was sort of taking the place of the sponge and toasted almonds all at once, crumbled on the top of the creme anglaise. It was very good, but unfortunatly I made the mistake of going with the trifle theme and adding a dollop of whipped cream on top. Don't ask me why. As a friend of the family commented, it just took away from the beauty of the creme anglaise.

So when I got a load of rhubarb in the organic box this week I decided to keep it simple. Far too hot for crumble, but rhubarb compote, cooled and served with chilled creme anglaise and a plain shortbread seemed to hit the spot. No messing around, just good milk, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla pods. And a sharp rhubarb compote shining through.

I've been wanting to try out a new way of cooking rhubarb: roasting it in the oven. I can't remember which blog I read it on first, but its certainly been making the rounds. I was hoping it would allow the rhubarb to cook without breaking down into pulpy mush. My only worry was it getting too dry, so I popped it in a little le creuset pot with the lid on, on a low heat until it was tender. It worked pretty well, although I think I need to perfect the technique slightly: my rhubarb was a little overcooked and disintegrated on touch.

For the creme anglaise you'll need

6 egg yolks
500ml of milk - or equal parts milk and cream depending on how rich you want your custard
a vanilla bean
100g caster sugar

Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until combined and slighly paler. Meanwhile bring the milk/cream and vanilla pod to the boil. Once it has boiled leave to steep for a moment, then, when it is cool enough to handle, fish out the vanilla pod and split it lengthwise, using the point of a knife to get out the seeds. Pour vanilla pod, seeds and milk/cream onto the egg yolks in a gentle stream, whisking all the while to combine. Pour back into the pan and, on a very gentle heat cook until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. Now is the time for attention and patience. If these aren't your strong points then its a good idea to have a bowl ready to pour the custard into when it is done. You will notice it thicken slightly, to the consistency of double cream. If you start to get what appear to be small granules, or lumps, then you have overcooked it and the egg has seperated. Immediatly pour it into the bowl so it stops cooking if this is the case. Ideally though you should notice it thicken, perhaps slightly coating the end of the spoon as you stir the bottom of the pan. When it does this remove it from the heat and leave to chill.

My shortbread recipe is pretty much all in the eye now. I crumb good butter, caster sugar and flour together in rough proportions. Then I shape the shortbread into balls and pat it down with my fingers. It needs to be baked in a low oven, at about 140 oc until it is light gold in colour. I use about 300g of flour and 70g of sugar to 200g of butter. In this case I left the shortbread plain, but I often substitute ground nuts for some of the flour: ground hazelnuts are particularly good.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Plaisir du Chocolat

I went back to Edinburgh this weekend to see family and found out that this lovely chocolatier has gone into administration, and, as of yesterday, is no more. It will be much missed, and Edinburgh will be the worse off for it. It was not a place I visited regularly, frequent trips being rather beyond my means, but on the occasions when I did go through it was thoroughly delightful. They served a range of different kinds of very good hot chocolate, my favourite being the chocolate expresso, a mixture of 70% chocolate and cream, and the hot chocolate with chillies, which was made with maybe 85% chocolate, and was wonderful.

Their cakes were also good, but best of all was their pastry. Thin, crumbling and delicious, I ached to make pastry like it. That said, very recently it had gone a little downhill, too thick, not crumbling and, dare I say it, a little soggy in the middle.

Their chocolates were truly beautiful, thin shelled creations with coloured cocoa butter prints on top. More importantly they tasted fabulous, and came in a treasure trove of flavours enough to make anyone weak at the knees. Lavander, pepper, green tea with jasmine were some of the more unsual, but wonderful pralines and salted butter caramels were also stand out.

I managed to get there in its last half hour of trading, and joined the many people paying homage by buying up the last of the home made chocolates.

Ironically, many of these flavours I will be trying for the first and last time.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Scones with Clotted Cream and Jam

As the weather is dreak and damp it seemed appropriate to break my work with some baking. Scones are one of my favourite things for afternoon tea. Decked with golden clotted cream and jam, and with a big pot of steaming earl grey they are quinessentially english. The best ones use buttermilk, which makes them ever so light and lovely, but I made do with normal milk.

225g of flour
75g of unsalted butter
pinch of salt
2 tsps of baking powder
1 egg
50ml of milk

Firstly sift the flour, salt and baking powder together. Cut the butter up into cubes and rub it into the flour with the tips of your fingers as if making pastry.

Beat the egg with the milk and stir into the flour crumb. You want the consistancy to be pliable, but not wet and sticking to your fingers. Try and work the mixture as little as possible when you mix it, or the scones will be heavy.

Roll, or press with your fingers to form a round one inch thick. Use a cutter to cut the scones into rounds.

Place on a greased baking sheet and bake at 180oc until risen and golden.

Serve warm with generous amounts of clotted cream and jam. My favourite jam to have with these is raspberry, but strawberry is traditional, and rhubarb and ginger jam is fantastic.

Scones go stale very quickly, and are best warm out of the oven, so either make a small batch or freeze the leftovers and reheat from frozen. Not that leftovers is often a problem.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Birthday Cake

It was a friend’s birthday a few days ago, and we all decided that in celebration of his advancing years we’d book a restaurant, get dressed up, and go out for the evening. I was on birthday cake making duty, which is something I love to do. The thing about birthday cakes is that they aren’t ever meant to be serious. Silly, celebratory and over the top is good, but pared down minimalism isn’t what is called for.

When I was little my mother would indulge my sweet tooth ad make layers of almond daquoise and fill them with a praline coffee cream for my birthday cake, decorated with piped whipped cream and swirls of caramel. Or icecream bombs with layers of different flavours. She even attempted a volcano for my brother, complete with fleeing lego figurines and fireworks.

Now I often make daquoise, or layered chocolate cakes for birthdays. They are easy to make for a crowd I find, so rich that all you want is a sliver of cake. But this time I decided to go down a different path: layers of sponge with cream and raspberries, decorated with merigangues and more raspberries.

Firstly I made a whole lot of meriangue and piped little meriangue kisses on silicone paper and baked them until they were almost completely dried out.

Then partly because I don't have a big enough cake tin to feed 30 people, and partly because it seemed like a fun idea, I made three sponge cakes in different sizes. At the last minute I split each into two and layered them together with raspberries and cream. Then I covered the whole lot in a thin layer of cream to allow the meriangues to stick, and covered the lot with little meriangue kisses and some plump juicy raspberries.

Simple, but effective. I got a bit worried about my sponge layers at the bottom sinking under the weight of those on top, but in actual fact they held up admirably, and the raspberries and cream kept the cake nice and moist.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Sea bass with samphire and pink fir potatos

It has been a beautiful spring in oxford so far, unseasonably warm even. But these last days have given way to clouds and jumpers.

Spring in Oxford means May Morning, which I, liking my duvet too much, didn't make it to this year. Its traditional to stay up all night to watch the choir sing at dawn from the top of Magdalen tower, and in previous years I've attempted this, only to fall asleep an hour before dawn, and have to drag myself out of bed on half an hour's sleep to watch the choir from a cold, half lit lawn. Its a beautiful, though very weird experince. I've always watched it from inside Magdalen, where there is an eerie, pre-dawn feeling, and various students walking around in various states of semi-sleep. A hush descends as the choir begin to sing, and then we all troupe back to breakfast, or bed. In the last few decades a pretty crazy 'tradition' has grown up where people outside the college jump from the tall bridge into the few inches of water in the river. This is supposedly traditional, but seems a pretty recent phenomenon, and has resulted in a lot of broken bones, the drop being substancial, and the water not deep enough to break the fall, and crowded with old shopping trolleys. I can only assume its some kind of link in to the idea of kissing the dew. In Edinburgh, where I used to live, people do this, with a distinct division between the morning hymns that take place on Arthurs Seat, and the all night revelry of Carleton Hill.

Anyway, all these seem traditions seem to add up to a time of rebirth, a cleansing, a lusty celebration of the new year.

Which brings me to dinner.
I found some lovely samphire in the market, perfect just steamed with lashings of butter. Samphire grows on shorelines and salt mudflats and has a distinctive fresh crisp flavour. It starts to be available in good fish mongers at about this time of year, or you may see it growing near the sea.

Unsurprisingly its lovely with fish, so I got some seabass fillets that looked good to go with it

Plus there were simply the sweetest little potatos in the Covered Market, they were all eyes and ears, and thin-skinned elongated beauty. Anyway, I boiled them whole, and then slugged them with plenty of butter, black pepper and the fleur de sel I love so much.

The samphire, like asparagus, just requires gentle steaming or a few minutes in a pan of boiling water. Make sure to wash any grit off it well first though, and also don't add salt to the pan, as it tends to be salty enough already. In fact I wish I'd soaked my longer, as it was a little too salty for my taste. The sea bass I just pan fried with butter and served the lot with wedges of lemon.

This is my entry for A Taste of Spring, held by What's For Lunch, Honey?

Monday, 30 April 2007

Victoria Sponge

Victoria sponge traditionally relies on the air beaten into the eggs to rise the batter, rather than a raising agent such as baking powder. Some recipes call for beating the egg yolks with the sugar seperatly from the egg whites, but I followed Michel Roux's recipe for a genoise, which is the french equivalent. This recipe whips the eggs together with the sugar, then folds in the flour and a very small quanity of melted butter. Although it seems from the various recipes I can find that the butter is not traditional, this is the way I remember my father making sponge cakes.

For those without an electric beater this recipe constitutes excercise rather than baking. It took my little hand-held beater 10 mintues to get the eggs and sugar to the right white fluffy consistency. Usually I'm all for hand whisking, particularly with meriange, but this would require some kind of team effort, a kind of pass the whisk relay. Egg yolks, unlike egg whites, are very difficult to get air into, and require a great deal more beating in order for them to double in volume in the way they need too.

Although I often bake, I tend to make cakes with butter in them, and often using nuts instead of flour. The weather being what it is though, it seemed like a good time to make a foray into the world of baking without rising agents.

It can seem like an impossible task when first looking at your ingrediants. Eggs, sugar and flour: is this really going to make a cake? But as long asyou aerate the eggs enough, and take care not to knock the air out when folding in the flour, its all good.
The one last temptation and potential pitfall is opening the oven door. I was dancing around the door, attempting to take sneak peaks through the glass, which was entirely futile as I'd placed them too high up to get a look into the tin. Because these sponges have no raising agent they are a lot more delicate and tempermental than normal cake. Like a souffle, if you shock them with cold air before they are cooked, they will fall.

4 medium eggs
125g caster sugar
125g of sifted flour
30g of melted butter cooled to room temperature but still liquid.

Grease a cake tin well and flour the inside lightly. Heat the oven to 190oc

Beat the eggs with the sugar until light, white and creamy. Thye should at least double in volume.

You may be tempted to give up when they look like this:

But keep going, they aren't ready until they look like this:

Then gently fold the flour into the eggs , being careful not to crush the air out. Lastly fold in the melted butter.

Place in the tin and bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden and springs back when pushed, emitting a faint hiss.

I cut my sponge into layers, and spread them with lemon curd, whipped cream and passionfruit pulp.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Wet Garlic and Cultured Dill Pickles

Wet garlic is the new seasons garlic, a little premature, and with a sweeter, more rounded taste. Its leaves can also be eaten, gently sauted or raw for a more powerful kick. It came all prettily tied up in a bunch in our organic veg box this week.

My father had given me a pot of dill pickles to try. Instead of the normal added ingrediants these are cultured dill pickles, alive in the same way yeast is. Pickles are something I almost instinctively avoided as a child, perhaps because the first time I encountered them was bedecking an overdone hamburger, a sad and sorry little piece of pickle if ever I saw one. The pickle was ingrained in my food memory as soemthng distinctly unappealing until I was served a little homemade rillettes de canard with a side of pickled cornichons. Mainly because they were so miniture and cute, I tried one and realised what it was all about. Sharp pickle enlivens, cutting through the fat, bringing out the flavour of the meat.
Since then I hardly ever eat pate without pickles (pickled walnuts are also a favourite). The joy of pickle with potato was discovered at a friends house when she served a very rough mash, complete with chunks of pickle, onion and boiled egg. Comfort food at its best.

A little potato salad seemed an appropriate way to combine both. Potato salad , too, is something I only came round to when I realised that slathering it mayonaise was entirely optional, and that a healthy glug of olive oil did the job just as well. I'll eat most foods, but mayonaise is usually store bought and awful, something akin to eating flavourless and aerated oil. Homemade mayonaisse is almost an entirely differnt thing, great to dip a chip in, rich and tasty. Such mayonaisse though, is encountered even more infrequently that bearnaise or hollandaise, and its usually the stuff out of the jar, slathered on thick, that makes its way onto potato salad.

Wet garlic (or one clove of raw garlic and some spring onions)
Dill pickles
boiled potatoes
olive oil

Chop the wet garlic and parsley finely, and the dill pickles a bit more coarsely. Its best to add these and the olive oil to the potatoes while they are still warm, as they seem to absorb the flavours better. Season with salt and black pepper.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Almond dacquoise with rose cream and strawberries

Flowers add a delicate and subtle scent to all sorts of dishes. Here I have paired one of my favourite desserts with rosewater and a sprinkle of rose petals. Cooking is all about simple recipes that can be played with as the wont takes you. Daquoise is a perfect base for such desserts, being a meriangue flavoured with ground nuts. Both the type and quantity of the nuts used can be changed, giving a texture like crisp meriangue or delicate cake. Almond and hazelnuts are perhaps my favourite ways to flavour daquoise: hazelnuts go perfectly with raspberries while almonds are a more delicate foil for the first strawberries of the season.

The cream that sandwhichs the two together can be left plain, or embellished with fruit liquours, vanilla, spices, or in this case rose water.

The rule I subscribe to for meriangue and dacquoise is that each medium egg white requires at least 55g of sugar and ground nuts, of which 30g at least of this must be sugar. You can of course add more than 55g of dry ingrediants, and the more you add the drier, or more sandy, the dacquoise will be.

There are a couple of things which make meriangues and dacquoise much much easier. A good copper bowl for whipping your egg whites.

Mine came from Lakeland, but Mauviel also do one which also has a stand allowing one-handed whipping. Copper bowls aren't necessary, but they do help for anything which requires beaten egg whites, as the copper allows you to acheive fluffy clouds with the minimum effort. I also try and keep mine solely for egg whites, eliminating the possibility of pesking bits of grease getting through my sub-standard washing up and ruining my egg whites.

The other piece of equiptment is far more indispensible: silicone baking parchment. Again Lakeland, but increasingly more and more shops sell these. It allows you to forget about ricepaper, and that incredibly annoying job of teasing the meriangue off the baking sheet, all the while hoping it doesn't fragment into little shards in your hands.

3 egg whites
150g of caster sugar
50g of ground almonds
1/2 pint of cream
a drop of rose water

Whip the egg whites to soft peaks, then gradually add the sugar and continue whipping until all the sugar has dissolved. The meriangue should have a firmer consistency and get increasingly hard to whisk as you add the sugar. Fold in the almonds. Pipe or dollop onto the silicone baking sheet, or rice paper, and bake for about an hour (depending on the shape and size of the meriangues) at 100oc. When done the outsides should be crisp and they should peel off the parchment easily, but the middle will still be marshmallow like in consistency.

Leave to cool.

Lightly whip the cream until it is just holding its shape, and then fold in a couple of drops of rose water. Hull the strawberries. Spead the cooled meriangues with cream and decorate with strawberries.

Unfortunatly, we ate this before I got a chance to take a picture of the final product.