Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Catching up

The month of September didn't seem to leave much room for blogging. There was a lot of sugar used in my kitchen on jams, jellies and preserves, and a lot of digging to do in the allotment. October too was spent knee deep in mud, and November work related panic set in. December was a blur of fairy lights, forced paperwhites, evergreen wreaths, hazelnut caramels and an awful lot of mulled wine. Not to mention munching on manchego with my mother's homemade quince paste, and too many mince pies, clementines and slices of italian chocolate christmas cake. Divorced parents means two christmases, a beef wellington with dauphinoise potatoes for one, and roast goose with chestnut and apple stuffing and roast vegetables for the other. Desserts ranged from a wonderful figgy pudding, citrus and ginger fruit salad, to chestnut pudding and, I think best of all, warmed preserved damsons with hazelnut meringues and in which floated clouds of whipped cream.

The upside of being so tardy here is that I can now give the edited highlights, the recipes and meals that have stayed with me not just on the day, but a whole three months later. Perhaps not the way blogging ought to be done, but here goes.

Much of the work related panic in November was due to us taking a lovely break in Bordeaux and the Dordogne for a blissful few days. We got there via Paris which was engineered by me as a way of stopping to stock up on Valhrona Chocolate from the wonderful G. Detou on rue tiquetonne. I also ogled chocolate shop windows and ate the most wonderful crepes which started an autumn love of caramel beurre sale.

I played owning my own castle in Monbazilliac, which sadly is likely to remain a long-cherished dream for decades to come. I'm particularly in need of a bread oven and an apple store, not to mention a cellar of vintage Bordeaux.

There were about a million clementines eaten over December in our house

And because our flat is tiny (or 'bijou') we had no christmas tree but instead a lovely jasmine plant decked with silver baubles, which smelt divine

Between the family we baked three christmas cakes this year, my mothers recipe, Nigel Slater's, and a chocolate Italian christmas cake from the River Cafe. The chocolate one certainly had its devotees, but doesn't really fit the british christmas cake tradition. Its excellent for those who don't like traditional fruit cake, and as a change for those who do. My mother's recipe won out in the taste tests, and not because its the one she makes every year but because it was considerably moister. Which is not to say that Nigel's wasn't excellent, but next year we'll be making my mother's and the River Cafe chocolate one. Two christmas cakes is enough for any household.

Of course the stars of the christmas meals were the goose and the beef wellington, but playing a decidedly important supporting role were two wonderful salads.

The first figs baked at 200 oc with translucent strips of pancetta wrapped around them and then, when the pancetta was crisp, nestled on top of frisee, rocket and baby chard. The dressing for this was the fig juices, some very good balsamic and extra virgin, and a little pepper (there being enough salt in the pancetta). It was the perfect christmas salad; light, and yet rich in flavour, the hot salty pancetta with the sticky sweet fig and the earthy leaves.

The second was a traditional celeriac remoulade. Previously I have always spurned this, as I have all other salads which involved mayonnaise . I think this must be a lingering reaction to the school salad bar, and I think it still tends to be the right reaction when presented with salad drenched in mayonnaise. But it turns out that homemade mayonnaise is not only wonderful to dip chips in, or turn into aioli, but also to turn the humble celeriac into a thing of beauty. Clearly, everyone except me knew this, but for me it was a revelation. So in the last week I've made celeriac remoulade three times. It takes patience (especially as I lack a mandolin) but my knife and emulsifying skills are improving.

One preserve I will be re-making next year was the bottled damsons. Nothing so simple (far simpler than jam) but nothing so good. All that they required was to make a simple syrup, in which was also boiled a cup of damsons, a clove and a stick of cinnamon. This was then strained onto the uncooked damsons, which had been rinsed and put in sterilised jars. The lids were put on the jars (as per the instructions of whatever preserving jar you use) and they were then heated in the oven at 180 oc for half an hour. Three months later they were delicious with cream and meringues, but I'm sure the other jars will make their way into fools, pies and be poured over icecream as the year progresses.


These little bulbs were only thinking of making an appearance at Christmas, but now are putting a concerted effort into flowering for the new year. The pine boughs around them, however, have been consigned to the recycling.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Peach, Plum and Redcurrant Breakfast Bread

A yeasted open tart for the changing seasons. Everything locally grown and picked except the peaches (the weather just isn't that good). The dough enriched with ground almonds, the plums, red currants and peaches drizzled in home-made red currant jelly. Baked in the oven in the morning, and then scattered with fresh red currants and a little sugar. A warm slice of this with coffee, or cold with a little creme fraiche, makes a wonderful breakfast.

For the bread dough:

400g strong white flour
70g ground almonds
325ml warm water
1/2tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
20g fresh yeast

About 1 kilo of fruit: I used a mixture of plums, peaches and red currants
1 tbsp red currant jelly

Mix the fresh yeast with the water and sugar and leave somewhere warm for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to wake up while you measure out the flour and almonds. Put the flour, almonds, salt and yeast mixture into a bread maker on the dough setting. Once the dough is made slice the peaches and plums into slices and mix with the red currant jelly. Roll the dough out into an oval and spread the fruit in the middle, skin side down. Heat the oven to 200 oc and leave the dough to rise again on top of the oven and away from any draughts. After 30 minutes, and when it is slightly risen, put the dough in the oven and bake until dark golden brown. There will be a little juice seeping out into the dough and the fruit will be beginning to catch on top, going a dark caramel. Take out of the oven, scatter over the remaining red currants and dust with icing sugar.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Nothing is as perfect as the fruits of your own labour, and this little salad was the work of months. Some heavy digging to clear the ground, weeding and watering galore, and then a gap of months where we crossed our fingers and hoped. We planted these little tomatoes as tiny stalks in France in March, and then had to abandon them for the grind of daily life. How wonderful then that this neglect still bore fruit.

We planted poire jaune (yellow pear), tiger striped and moneymaker and baby plum tomatoes.

And the sun and occasional rain seemed to suit them...

The striped tiger tomatoes were probably our favourite: sharp and sweet all at the same time

And with produce this good cooking isn't needed: all these wanted was a little salt, pepper, olive oil and basil.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Warm baby artichokes with broad beans and mint

Something of a hiatus I know, but somehow there hasn't been that much inspiring cooking happening in my kitchen recently. Sure, there were things I could have written about but they were all a bit so-so, even the ones there were beautiful photos of didn't taste all that great. That rhubarb and custard tart I thought would look so pretty, well, it turned out a little heavy. In part I blame the vegetable gap - there are only so many roots a girl can eat. But even that won't wash as we've had pretty little lettuce fronds and spicy rocket coming from our window boxes for the past two weeks, and the organic veg box is full to the brim of lovely bright chlorophyl. So I'm searching for cooking inspiration in my photos, and while searching I remembered all the cooking we did on holiday in France. Barely three weeks ago but already it seems like an age, and I don't think I shared photos or recipes. Best of all we've now caught up and broad beans are well and truly in the shops. In fact they are even growing in my window box.

My favourite is a dish of braised baby artichoke hearts with broad beans and mint. Every year I look out for the tiny little artichokes specially for making this, and it never fails to feel like spring when you eat it, be it as a side dish or a meal in itself.

a bunch of baby artichokes - at least two per person and the smaller the better. Really ideally no more than an inch and a half in diameter
a handful of mint
a handful of broad beans each - again the smaller the better.
shallots - one or two each
olive oil, salt and pepper
white wine

First up pod your broad beans, and if the beans themselves are any bigger than your thumb nail then you'll need to take the hard casing off them too. If on the other hand you can get your hands on immature broadbeans, about an inch or two long at most, then you needn't even pod them but can cook them whole like a french bean.
Now take a long impartial look at your artichokes. How beautiful they are, right? But you're about to get as close to gutting as you ever will with a vegetable.

First up chop off the top third to half of the artichoke. It may seem wasteful but these spiny leaves aren't good to eat. At this point you want to survey the state of the inside of the artichoke itself. If the inner leaves are pointy, or there a spiny hairs which form more than a soft down in the centre then your artichokes have reached a level of maturity not ideal for this recipe. You'll need to aggressively trim out the spiky leaves and the sharp hairs or you're dinner will be rather unpalatable. If you see soft translucent petal-like leaves then all is well.

Now use a sharp paring knife to cut of the outside green leaves. You essentially want to carve around the heart itself, removing the dark green fibrous leaves but leaving the base of them intact, which is a milky spring yellow.
Then chop each artichoke in half lengthwise. It will now look roughly like the one above. Keep each one in a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon juice to stop discolouration.

Cop the shallots finely and cook them in olive oil until translucent but not browned. Add the artichoke hearts and a glass of wine and pop the lid on, letting it gently simmer for 15-20 minutes. When the artichokes are nearly cooked (they should still retain a little bit, like asparagus) add the broad beans. At the table scatter with mint,, and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Hot Cross Buns

I've been looking forward to making these. Last year they were lovely and I've been waiting it out until we're resepectably close to Easter. If I'd been organised I would have got these done for Mothering Sunday, as they'd be the perfect thing to wake up to. But I'm not, so instead they were afternoon tea for family who stayed the weekend with us.

Ferment Starter:

I large egg
215ml warm water
15g fresh yeast
1 ts sugar
55g strong white flour

For the dough:
450g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
90g butter
90g sugar
170g of currents or raisins
50g mixed peel
zest of a lemon and an orange

For the topping crosses:
2tbsp flour
a little milk
1 tsp sugar

For the glaze:
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp warm water

Use a large bowel as the starter will rise considerably. For the ferment starter whisk together the egg and water, then add the dry ingrediants and leave in warm place for 1/2 hour covered with a tea towel.The mixture should rise considerably as the yeast works its magic.

To make the dough you can add the starter ferment and all the ingredients to the dough to a bread machine on the dough setting. If you wish to knead it by hand then first rub in the butter to the flour, then make a well in the centre of the dough and add the zest, ferment starter, spices, salt and sugar. Draw the dry ingredients into the wet with your fingers until the mixture comes together then turn out onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. At this point knead in the dried fruit.
Now return the dough to the bowl and place it , covered lightly, in a warm places until it doubles in size (about an hour). When it has risen turn it out again onto the floured surface and knock back the dough. The idea is to lightly knock some of the air out of the dough so it lessens in size. Shape it into a ball an cover in a warm place for half an hour to rise again.
Finally turn it out onto a floured surface again and divide into 12 equal pieces. This is the point to return to the recipe if you've been cutting out work with a bread machine.

Shape the pieces into balls and place them on a well greased baking tray, with space between them. Flatten each slightly and score a cross in the top of each, then cover with a tea towel, leaving in a warm place to rest for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile mix together the topping for the crosses and turn the oven on to 240oc to preheat.

When the buns have risen drizzle the topping over the lines formed by the crosses. Out the buns in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. To make the glaze dissolve the sugar in the hot water. When the buns are cooked remove from the oven and immediately brush with the glaze. The buns can then be eaten warm straight away, or cut in half and toasted later (in which case the sugar in the glaze is likely to caramelise a lot in the toaster so watch them carefully- they have a tendency to get brown rather quickly as in the photo above).

Spring has officially sprung... I went for a walk and collected big branches of blossom

Friday, 20 February 2009

Snow days

This post is late - from a couple of weeks ago when Oxford was covered in snow. Most of us seemed to be hiding at home, schools were closed, and those of us who could make it into work were wishing we didn't live walking distance away. What was a girl to do, stay home baking?

Or bake, breakfast and then head out into the cold rugged up with hats, gloves and scarves for snowballs.

Cinnamon Buns

Many thanks to A. who lovingly translated this recipe for me from German. I then made a few additions or citrus and sultanas.

Cinnamon Roll Cake

1 packet of instant yeast
120ml Water, lukewarm
120ml Milk, luke warm
60g Margarine (plus some for spreading)
60g Sugar
1 Egg
1 Tsp Salt
480g Flour
zest of one lemon or orange

For the Filling:
2 Tsp Cinnamon
40g Sugar (Brown)
60g butter
2 handfuls sultanas
(you can also add handfuls of finely chopped apple or nuts such as walnuts)

For the Icing
120g Powdered Sugar
A few drops of vanilla extract
1 Tbsp Milk


Work together all the ingredients into a nice, smooth dough, which should come away easily from the bowl. Then put it in a warm place and let it double in size. (this will take about an hour).


Roll out the dough (about 76cm x 46cm). Spread margarine over all of it and sprinkle with the Cinnamon-Sugar mixture.

Roll up the dough from the wider side, and then cut the roll into pieces, about every 4cm. Put the pieces next to each other in a greased Springform. At this point you can if you like leave the dough overnight to bake in the morning in which case cover it with a cloth and leave in a fairly cool room or it will over-rise. Heat the oven and bake at 175°C for about 25-30mins.

Mix together the ingredients for the icing and drizzle it over the hot cake.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Beetroot and Goats Cheese Salad

This is a lovely way of using up the masses of beetroot that are making it into my veg box at the moment. The sweet beetroot with the sharp goats cheese is great, and really wakens up the taste buds in the dead of winter.

4 or so beetroot
handful of parsley
goats cheese

Boil the beetroot with their skins on in salted water until just tender. Let them cool a little and then peel them and slice thinly. Drizzle a little olive oil over them, chop the parsley roughly, scatter it and the crumbled goats cheese over the beetroot, and season with a little salt and black pepper.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Valentines Day

is fast approaching...

If I was in Paris I would like to wake up to something from Boulangerie Veronique Mauclerc

and a walk around Parc des Buttes Chaumont

Then I think I'd really have to go here

for a little bit of bit of cake and people watching.

Or even better to Gerard Mulot

Which would leave on the right side of the river for a stroll around the beautiful gardens at the Musee Rodin

And home to a bottle of something chilled and bubbly from here

But I'm not in Paris...

So I'll settle for something like this

Or a walk through the Botanical Gardens and down by the river