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Tuesday, 14 December 2010

In anticipation of some excellent new posts

I've been terrible at blogging in the past few weeks, and for that I can only apologise.  Why does everything go completely MENTAL in the run up to Xmas?  Like, not only is there actual work to be done, but I have to combine that with nightly booze sessions and obligatory family get-togethers.  Mr. F and I are off to Toronto on 18 December, and I am frantically clearing my desk in anticipation so that I can do a couple of posts while I'm there, in between all the Bikram and days at the spa that I have planned.  I am intending to stun my in-laws with an extravagant vegetarian (contradiction in terms?) Christmas lunch, so will attempt to write about that if it doesn't all end in tears.  Talking of Christmas lunches, I went with my ma and pa to Viajante on Sunday, in lieu of cooking for them at home (which I was unable to do having run completely out of time).  I might write about that too because it was a great meal...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Just so you know

The tomatoes in the post below look a bit tired don't they?  If you look closely you can see where they're beginning to wrinkle and pucker.  Nice. 

I should explain. We bought these baby plums a couple of weeks ago, at the Sunday market on Brick Lane.  I can only apologise for the fact that I was buying fresh tomatoes in deepest, darkest November: I think I must have been shocked into purchasing them by the fact that they were only a pound a bowl.  When I got them home I thought I would make a nice batch of fresh tomato sauce, but Mr. F begged me to leave them for his lunch boxes during the week.  He said they were his friends (yes, he literally said that).

So, I washed them and put them in the fridge, which I know is another controversial step.

And there they stayed.  Uneaten and unloved.  I don't think Mr. F touched them once.

I decided last Sunday night that something had to be done.  And here is what I did.

I cut all of the tomatoes in half, lengthways (I reckon there was probably a kilo and a bit of toms), and laid them cut side up on a couple of baking sheets.  Then I mixed together equal quantities of caster sugar and table salt (i.e. not Maldon sea salt flakes), making a combined quantity of about a third of a cup or 70g.  I added a pretty good grinding of pepper.  Then I sprinkled this over the tomatoes, and put them in a 50 degree oven overnight.  In the morning I just turned off the oven and left them there.

When I got back from work, I put the wizened, I mean dried, tomatoes into a kilner jar with a finely chopped clove of garlic and covered the whole lot with a mixture of sunflower and EV olive oil.  Who knows, they'll probably stay in the fridge for the next six months, following which they will be unceremoniously binned.  But I'm hoping that I'll make good use of them in an appetizing range of exotic dishes.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The things our parents teach us


When I was a teenager my father embarked on a cookery course.   In the years that followed he would routinely take responsibility for producing one of our family's weekend meals.  The kitchen became his exclusive domain for half a day and the recipes he relied on were big on process (think de-boned chicken stuffed with other birds and complicated stuffings).  He made a lot of fresh pasta which he would dry on our laundry rack.  A fine film of semolina would end up covering every surface.  His cooking was an event and his food very different from the excellent meals that my mother fed us each night. 

The difference between how men and women approach cooking is something that Rose Prince acknowledges in her latest book, Kitchenella.  In addition to being beautifully produced and brilliantly written, it contains recipes which are accessible but have just enough quirk to pique one's interest.  I read her recipe for tomato sauce the other day, and was gratified to see that she uses the same method as I do to de-metallicise tinned toms.

The one thing that was transmitted from father to daughter as a result of my father's flirtation with cooking was how to make a delicious tomato sauce, a plain one that can be used to dress pasta or annoint a pizza.  My father has also taught me a lot of other important things through the years (how to hold cutlery appropriately, to avoid using mobile phones on trains if at all possible and generally to be a bit of a snob), but making this tomato sauce always makes me think of him and the food he used to cook for us.

The quantities below make enough for about four servings and can be kept in the fridge in a covered bowl for four or five days.

To make the sauce
One 400g tin of chopped Italian tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, minced
Olive oil
1 tspn of sugar
Dried oregano
Salt and pepper
1 small knob of butter (optional)

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over a low-ish heat.  Add the garlic and a pinch of salt.  Fry the garlic gently for a minute or so.  You want it to become fragrant and to cook without browning.  My father hates the taste of burnt garlic.  Add the tomatoes, sugar, oregano and seasoning to the garlic.  Turn up the heat to high.  Fill the empty tomato tin with cold water and add to the pan.  Bring the sauce to the boil, and then turn down the heat.  Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes until the sauce has reduced and thickened to your liking.  Add the butter at the end of cooking - it lends a richness to the sauce which is nice if you're going to eat the sauce on its own with spaghetti.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Winter vegetable pissaladiere

I love this time of year.  Even though the weather here in London has been unspeakably naff this weekend, there's something really special about hunkering down at home and spending quality time in the kitchen, big glass of wine in hand.  I braved yesterday's squalls to venture down to Broadway Market, where I picked up fruit,veg, fish, oysters and cheese (from the incomparable L'eau la Bouche).  My haul included some ruby chard and fennel bulbs, but I couldn't think of anything interesting to do with them other than serve them up alongside some protein.  But then, a flash of inspiration struck, and I decided to make a pissaladiere.

Pissaladiere, as the name suggests, is a Provencal version of pizza.  It generally comprises a puff pastry or bread-dough base topped with silky caramelized onions, anchovies and black olives.  My take on it added the chard and fennel to the onions, and also saw some soft goat's cheese strewn on top.  The finished article tasted highly satisfactory and the colours were redolent of this year's autumn.

To make a pissaladiere that serves four:

For the dough
250g strong white bread flour
1 tspn salt
1 tspn sugar (I'd go for granulated or caster)
1 tspn quick yeast (I use Doves Farm instant yeast.  Other brands may require more or less yeast for this proportion of flour, so check)
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

For the topping 
Two large onions, cut into fine half moons
One fennel bulb, cut in half lengthways and then shaved into papery slices
300g of ruby chard, stalks separated from leaves
2 big sprigs of thyme
75g soft goat's cheese
2 tspns of capers
25g of pine nuts
8 anchovy fillets soaked in milk
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the dough, place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together.  Gradually add enough tepid water to bring everything together to form a dough that's soft but which comes away from the bowl.  Tip it on to a floured surface and knead until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.  It's ready to let prove when poking it with your finger leaves an indentation that doesn't bounce back.  (Alternatively, you can, as I did, put everything in your Kenwood Chef, dough-hook attached, and let it go about its business for 10 minutes or so.)

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm, and put in a warm place to let rise for about an hour.

Whilst the dough's doing its thing, start on the topping.  Heat a generous glug of oil in a wide-bottomed pan over a low heat.  Add the onions, seasoning and thyme leaves from one of the sprigs.  Stir, cover and let cook for between 30 and 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You want the onions to be golden brown and soft.  Cook the shaved fennel in another pan in the same way, but for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Slice the chard stalks into inch-long pieces.  Heat more olive oil in a wok or frying pan over a medium flame.  Add the chard stalks, salt and pepper, and cover with a little water.  Cook until the water has evaporated off and the stalks are tender, about 10 minutes.  When they're cooked, add the chard leaves and allow to wilt.

Mix the cooked onions, fennel and chard together and add the pine nuts, capers, and remaining thyme leaves.  Check the seasoning, but remember that there will be anchovies and goat's cheese on top of the pissaladiere too.  Set the mixture to one side.  It should look something like this (i.e. well autumnal):

After an hour, remove the dough from the warm place in which it's been safely stowed.  Take an oiled baking tray, and shape and flatten the dough to fit on to it (you might be assisted by a rolling pin in this operation - I was).  Cover the dough with a clean tea towel and leave it to rise again in a warm place, probably for another 25 to 30 minutes.

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees centigrade.

When the dough's had its second rise, cover it with the vegetable mixture, leaving a one inch border.  Arrange the anchovies and spoonfuls of goats cheese over the top.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is deeply golden.  Eat whilst watching Harry Hill rip the p*** out of Nigella Kitchen.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Spiced pumpkin cheesecake

I'm pretty pleased with this recipe, even if I do say so myself.  Unfortunately, this is not reflected in the quality of the photographs that I have taken of the finished product.  Thing is, I'm getting back from work quite late these days, which means that I can't take snaps of the food I'm cooking with the beautifying benefit of natural daylight.

This has been the best that I could manage:

Yeah.  So, sorry about that.

But anyway, let me give you the lowdown on this recipe.  It's a baked cheesecake, which uses condensed milk as the sweetening agent, ricotta for the cheese element, and a magical trio of cinnamon, ginger and allspice to create a subtle yet distinctive fragrance.  With all this going on the pumpkin (or, more accurately, butternut squash) could get lost, but it doesn't.  Instead, it adds an almost imperceptible  vegetal quality.  In a good way. 

One thing that I would recommend is making the cheesecake one or preferably two days before you want to serve it.  This gives the flavours time to mature, and the cheesecake somehow seems to get creamier.

To make one cheesecake:

One 23 cm springform cake tin - a good one that doesn't leak

250g of digestive biscuits or gingernuts
75g unsalted butter
1 tspn of ground ginger (unnecessary if you're using gingernuts)

One large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 4cm-ish cubes
One 397g tin of condensed milk
250g of ricotta or cream cheese
100ml of double cream
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn ground ginger
1/2 tspn ground allspice
Finely grated zest of one lemon
4 eggs

Preheat your oven to 140 degrees.

Blitz the biscuits in the food processor until fine crumbs.  Tip into a mixing bowl.  Melt butter and add to the biscuit crumbs.  Mix well and then pour into your baking tin.  Press the crumbs down evenly to form the base.  Chill for ten minutes or so.

Steam the squash cubes until tender, which should take seven to ten minutes.   Whilst they're steaming, wash the bowl of the processor out thoroughly and dry.  When the squash is soft, transfer it to the food processor and process to a puree.  If you were going all out you could pass this puree through a sieve before adding the other ingredients.  I didn't and the cheesecake was still silky smooth.

Transfer the puree to a mixing bowl and add the ricotta, condensed milk and cream.  Attack the mixture with a whisk, and go at it until it's smooth.  Add the eggs, lemon zest and spices and beat well. 

Take the base out of the fridge.  Pour the mixture on to the base, and place in the oven.  My cheesecake took about one and a half hours to set, but I'd check after about an hour by giving it a light shove.  You want it to wobble - think creme brulee or other baked custards.

When cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin before transferring to a plate, covering with clingfilm and chilling thoroughly.  Like I say, this is best eaten a couple of days after it's made.  Serve with lashings of creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Omelette Gordon Bennett

OK, OK.  I know that the eponymous omelette is named after Arnold Bennett, novelist, critic and, I suspect, fusspot.  The thing is, when you're forced to make it with smoked mackerel and some Elmlea that, by luck would have it, you happened across in the fridge, it feels like a bit too much of a liberty to bring it to table and declare it to be the very same dish offered up at the Savoy.  Having said that, the finished article turned out really well, and it was so quick to prepare that I thought it worth sharing.  Those of you who return home from work delirious with hunger will appreciate this one.

In other and unrelated news, I am VERY excited because I have just booked my ticket to go to Vegas (baby!) in April 2011, and have made a pact with my travelling companions to visit one of the restaurants there with three of them Michelin star wotsits.  Any recommendations on this front will be gratefully received.

But back to the task at hand: you will need a frying pan that is man enough to survive a five to ten minute blast under a medium hot grill for this dish.

For an omelette that will feed two to three people:

250g smoked mackerel (about three fillets), skinned and de-boned, and torn into flakes (I, probably like Arnold, am a bit funny about the bloody/fatty layer under the skin so tend to discard that too)
Six eggs, beaten
100ml double (heavy) cream
50g Parmesan
Zest of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
20g of butter

Pre-heat your grill on a medium heat.

Melt butter in the frying pan on a low to medium heat.  When it starts to foam gently, season the eggs with salt and pepper, and add to the pan.  Allow the eggs to set slightly, about one minute.  Add the mackerel pieces and cook for a minute more, gently pulling down the omelette from the side of the pan to allow the uncooked egg to run over and cook.  Pour over the cream and scatter over the Parmesan and lemon zest.  Put under the grill for three or four minutes, or until golden and bubbling.

I know that a lot of naff recipes say that a complete meal can be created by serving the dish in question with crusty bread and a salad.  Here, forget the bread, but do serve this with a green salad into which you've thrown a handful of fresh dill.  Dress with the juice of the half a lemon that you zested, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Flageolet bean gratin

How I cook by Skye Gyngell is a really nice book, but like Nigella Lawson's Kitchen there's a bit too much of a focus on meat for it to become a collection of recipes that I'll turn to again and again.  One dish, however, that grabbed my attention on the first flick through was a white bean gratin in which the beans are cooked with creme fraiche and garlic.  I thought it sounded delicious and resolved to give it a try on the basis that autumn's arrival warrants something a bit more ribsticking than a side order of mange tout.

Serves four

For the beans
250g dried flageolet beans
Big sprig of rosemary
2 bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
A whole fresh red chili, pierced all over

For the gratin
300ml of double cream
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely grated
Sprig of thyme, leaves stripped from the stalk and finely chopped
50g freshly grated parmesan
50g white breadcrumbs
20g unsalted butter
Salt and pepper

On the day before you want to cook the gratin soak the flageolet beans in plenty of cold water.  Leave overnight.

The following day, drain and rinse the beans.  Put in a heavy based pan.  Tie up the rosemary and bay leaves in a piece of muslin and add to the pan with the garlic cloves and the chilli.  Cover the beans with cold water and bring to the boil.  Skim off any scum that appears.  Turn down the heat and cook for two hours, or until the beans are tender.  You will need to add more water during the cooking time so keep an eye on the beans.  Drain once they are cooked.

When you are ready to cook the gratin pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.

Mix together the cream, grated garlic cloves, and thyme.  Season very well with salt - when you taste the cream mixture it should seem over-salted, but remember that the beans have not been salted during their cooking time (to prevent the skins from becoming tough).  Add the beans to the cream mixture, and then pour into an ovenproof dish.  Cover the top with parmesan and breadcrumbs, and dot with butter.  Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until golden on top. 

I served this just with some steamed broccoli on the side, but I think it would be good with ham or gammon for the carnivores amongst you.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Me old china

The division of labour is pretty equal in my house: when one person cooks supper the other person has to clean up.  We have a small dishwasher (and no, that's not a euphemism for Mr. F) and my policy is to put all crockery in it, to get it really clean.  If there's no room in the dishwasher, I'll just neatly stack the dirty plates on the side.  Mr. F's approach is to wash everything up and then position stuff haphazardly on the drainer.  The other day he did this with a 1930's sandwich plate that was an heirloom from a great aunt.  Needless to say, as soon as another item on the drainer was nudged my plate met a sticky end: a great big chunk was gouged out of it.  I consequently spent the next few days scanning ebay for a replacement, and found not one, but several (six to be precise).

I have a bit of a thing for vintage crockery and have, over the years, amassed a modest collection of odds and end.  The pictures below are some of my most favourite acquisitions.

I bought two of these "Ferndale" Meakin pudding bowls as part of the latest ebay haul.  I'm in love with them.

Vintage Heaven on Columbia Road is a treasure trove of gorgeous crockery.  I bought these 1950s glasses there a few months ago.   

This pretty lidded dish was a present from a dear friend.  It's almost too lovely.

Another one from the ebay haul, and dating from the 1920s.  Wouldn't breakfast on that just make your day?

I bought this jug  at a jumble sale on Haverstock Hill about seven years ago.  It's got a gigantic crack in it which renders it useless as a jug, but's just too beautiful to part with.

This sandwich plate is the replacement for the one that was injured.

Another sandwich plate off ebay.  (Manicure: Particuliere by Chanel.)

More Vintage Heaven heaven.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Maida - Bethnal Green Road (not Vale)

Mr. F's always going on at me about how I should tailor this blog to make it more east London-centric, concentrating on all the amazing eateries that there are in our area.  The thing is, whilst he's right about the wondrousness of lots of them (special mentions going out to Pizza East, Cay Tre, and the new Busaba Eathai on Old Street), I think that most people know that you can get a decent Vietnamese meal on Kingsland Road, and are also aware that New Tayyabs and Lahore Kebab House serve up delicious tandoori lamb cutlets, great dry meat (a term of art, not a slur) and fresh, fluffy naan.  I'm not sure how much light I can shed on this already well illuminated patch of London.

In fact, when pressed, I can only think of two places which would genuinely seem to be a bit "undiscovered" to those who live in all but the closest proximity.  The first is Cafe 338 on Bethnal Green Road, which was, I think, formerly called "First Choice".  It's under new management and has been spruced up, but still serves caff staples like all day breakfasts, toasted sandwiches and jacket potatoes.  I had an absolutely delicious cheese omelette there one day when I was suffering from a swingeing combination of hangover and jet lag.  I honestly thinked it saved me.  The service is sweet and efficient, and you can breakfast like a king for under £5, including a capuccino topped with a luxuriant amount of billowy foam.

The second place which is a firm favourite with Mr. F and me is Maida, located on Bethnal Green Road close to the top of Brick Lane.  This restaurant unassumingly serves up authentic north Indian cuisine and unlike many (all) of the Brick Lane curry houses doesn't rely on touts or free pints to get you through the door.  In fact, it doesn't serve alcohol, and nor can you bring your own.  But who needs booze when the food is fresh and carefully, if powerfully, spiced?  There is an emphasis on fish and meat cooked on the grill or in the tandoor, and the smell and sound of food sizzling on charcoal will have you salivating as soon as you've taken your seat.  Being constrained by Mr. F's dietary limitations means that I am more familiar with the vegetable subjis on offer.  My top pick is, and will always be, the lasooni saag, a dish of fresh spinach cooked simply with aromatics and garnished with fresh ginger slivers and coriander.  Eating this with a roomali roti, a huge, thin and stretchy bread, is pretty much my idea of heaven.  The daal makhani is also wonderfully fragrant and comforting, although it's not without a fiery kick.  The pilau rice is a minefield of cardamom pods, peppercorns and cloves and is all the better for it.  And for those for whom the maxim "a moment on the lips is a lifetime on the hips" doesn't apply, there are the infamous chocolate bar milkshakes which I imagine would be an efficient way of cooling the mouth and rounding off the meal. 

So, that's it: my two favourite places on the Bethnal Green Road.  Other east London recommendations, be they restos, cafes or emporia, all gratefully received.

Friday, 1 October 2010

My top 5 hero products

A little while ago I posted a recipe for pappardelle with peas and beans, but was unable to remember the brand of pasta that I had used to create this particularly delectable dish.  Well, I was in Waitrose, I mean the John Lewis Foodhall, the other day and saw an elegant box of Filotea pappardelle, which is the brand that I  deployed so successfully.  I reckon it'd be great with a homemade pesto or with a meaty ragu.  It's a available here.

Thinking about how I would incorporate that information on to the blog got me thinking about the store cupboard/fridge essentials that I wouldn't or couldn't be without.  Here they are:

1.  Expensive jars of marinated artichokes.

I remember when I was a student seeing people buying these in Sainsbury's on Sidney Street and thinking: "What on earth!  FOUR QUID for a jar of preserved vegetables!  Get OUT OF TOWN!"  But then I got a job and started buying them.  Now I use them in pasta dishes (with roasted aubergines, diced fresh tomato, pine nuts and basil), on pizza, and as an alternative to olives with an aperitif.  The other day I also added a few chopped up preserved artichokes to peas that I was braising with garlic, white wine and vegetable stock.  They were delicious. 

2.  Breadcrumbs

Folk who are able to do meat cookery will probably have cause to use fresh breadcrumbs more often than I do because they'll use them in stuffings and that.  I use toasted breadcrumbs to scatter over pasta dishes, and coat fish- and bean-cakes with dried breadcrumbs (NOT the gross out yellow crumbs that are clearly nothing to do with bread).

3.  Frozen spinach

Oh my!  Frozen spinach is one of my favourite things!  Not to eat plain and unadorned you understand, but to have in my freezer.  When I've got a stash in I know I am going to be able to create such wondrous things as saag paneer, spinach and feta pie, and cannelloni.  I'm sure I should defrost the spinach before I use it, but, truth be told, I never do. It seems to withstand the extra cooking that is necessary to ensure that the excess water cooks off. 

To make my spinach pie I fry two big cloves of garlic, grated, in a lot of olive oil, before adding the frozen spinach (about 400g, weighed frozen), a good grating of fresh nutmeg and a bunch of salt.  I cover and let cook for about 10 minutes.  After the spinach is all melted, I uncover to let the water evaporate off (about 10 minutes more).  I then roll out a block of shop-bought puff pastry into a square that's about 0.5mm thick.  I place it in a square baking tin (measuring about 17cm by 17cm - the pastry will be way too big, but that's fine) and pile the cooked spinach in.  I cover with about 100g of feta cheese, a good glug of olive oil and a bit of chopped dilll.  Then I fold the edges of the pie up, brush the top with egg yolk, and bake in a medium oven for about 30 minutes.  This is delicious served with a simple, thick tomato sauce.

4.  Parmesan

Need I say more?  Anyone who associates with vegetarians is going to appreciate the need for an umami kick when chowing down on yet another supper based on chickpeas.

5.  Plain yoghurt

If you've got plain yoghurt in the house you'll always have a quick sauce or raita available to you.  I used to think that Greek yoghurt was the only yoghurt that I could palate, but then I gained 20 pounds and realised that I needed to back off things that were more than 10% fat.  So now I use Yeo Valley natural yoghurt, which is mild and tart, without being distressingly acidic.  I use yoghurt in everything, including baking.  It's really great in pastry (see the plum tart recipe here) and in scones and pancake batters.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Ridiculously good apple pancakes

I ate way too much this summer.  Glossy magazines always tend to suggest that you'll get firmer and slimmer over the summer, partly because you'll permanently be on one of their "get bikini fabulous" diets and partly because summer is the season of salads and Atkins-friendly barbecues.  I say b******s to that: summer is the season of ice-cream, cold white wine and holidays where one throws dietary caution to the wind.  I also reckon that I ate more in June and July because I was on a serious Bikram yoga trip which meant that I was able to persuade myself that the extra slice of pizza (or in fact any pizza) was permissible because, you know, I'd done a serious workout.  As we now know, exercise won't make us thin because it messes with our minds in this way - check this out.

So now what am I doing now to counteract the effects of the past few months?  Why, I am doing something which I know deep down is a bad idea, but which has been espoused by the two great dietetic influences in my life: Liz Hurley and my friend Kathleen.  I am skipping breakfast.

And you know what?  It's gone ok over the past week or so.  I was a bit hungry by lunchtime, but no more than I usually am when I've had breakfast.  The big skinny coffee that I have in the morning does seem to tide me over.  Obviously I wouldn't recommend this if you're pregnant or if you do serious manual labour or if you are training for the Olympics or anything like that, but when you spend most of your working day hunched over a desk I really don't think that you're going to be putting your life at risk by trying it.  If you want.

But I draw the line at skipping breakfast at the weekend.  On Sunday just gone I made these apple pancakes for Mr. F and me, and they were really something. 

Makes four big pancakes (enough for two greedy people)

For the batter

150 g of plain flour (although I used half plain wholemeal and half tipo "00", which I would recommend)
1 and a half tbsps of caster sugar
One egg
Half a teaspoon of salt
Half a teaspoon of cinnamon
A teaspoon of bicarbinate of soda
100ml of milk
Half a teaspoon of vanilla extract

For the other bits

2 eating apples (I used Braeburn), peeled and cored and cut into slices no more than 5mm thick

2 teaspoons of butter for frying

(I make these pancakes in two small frying pans which speeds up the process considerably.)

Firstly, melt half a teaspoon of butter in a little frying pan over a medium heat.  Neatly arrange the apply segments in an attractive pattern, like this:

Let the segments fry for about four minutes, until they start to turn caramel-coloured around the edges.

Whilst they are cooking make the batter.  Start by tipping the flour, salt, sugar, cinnamon and bicarb into a bowl, making a well in the middle and then cracking the egg into the centre.  Whisk the egg and begin to draw the flour in.  When it becomes too thick to whisk gradually add the milk into which you've stirred the vanilla extrat.  The mixture should be slightly thicker than the consistency of double cream.  (You can make the batter in advance.  Many people will tell you it makes a better batter.  I don't know about that, but if you do I would leave out the bicarb and only add it just before you're about the cook the pancakes.)

When the apples have cooked for the aforementioned four minutes carefully pour about 1 quarter of the batter over the slices, ensuring that you fill the hole in the middle.  Don't worry - there will be enough batter for the four pancakes that you're aiming to make.  Let the pancakes cook until bubbles/little holes start to appear in the raw batter.  Flip the pancakes and cook for a further two to three minutes, or until golden on the other side.  Transfer to a warmed plate and cover with a tea towel if you're going to make a batch to serve.  Otherwise, eat with maple syrup and plain yoghurt whilst standing in the kitchen wearing manky pyjamas and an embarrassing pair of fluffy slippers.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Plum and almond tart

This is a photograph of a plate on which Mr F and I were served a delicious pudding during our honeymoon in Italy.  I can't remember what the pudding was, or even the location of the restaurant.  The only reason that the photograph is here is because I failed to take one of the plum and almond tart that I made at the weekend and which I took to my friend Jo's birthday party.

Mr. F said it was one of the nicest puddings that I had made and I think he might be right.  Certainly, it was a particularly successful batch of a pastry that I whipped up.  I have previously commented on this blog that I don't understand why people include souring agents in pastry recipes.  However, when I was making this pastry on Friday I was running low on eggs so decided to use yoghurt as a means of enriching normal shortcrust.  It produced a good result: the pastry was crumbly and yet also crisp.

A note on blind baking: this recipe is adapted from Shaun Hill's How to Cook Better.  He is an advocate for a controversial technique whereby he just whacks the pastry case in the oven, sans baking beans and everything, and lets it cook for fifteen-ish minutes.  If it rises up too much then he just presses it down with an oven-gloved hand.  I tried this method for the plum and almond tart and it worked well.  I often worry that blind baking with beans means that the pastry case retains an unappetising soggy bottom.  This was well and truly avoided using the Shaun Hilll way.

For the pastry
200g of plain flour (or tipo "00")
100g of unsalted butter
1 tbsp of caster sugar
1 tbsp of plain yoghurt
A jug filled with about 100ml iced water (i.e. cold tap water with some ice cubes floating in it)
Pinch of salt

For the filling
8 medium-sized plums, cut in half lengthways, stone removed
100g of ground almonds
100g unsalted butter
2 eggs
50g icing sugar
100g caster sugar
1 tbsp Amaretto

To make the pastry, put the butter, flour, sugar and salt in the food processor and blitz until fine breadcrumbs.  Add the yoghurt and set the processor to pulse.  The mixture should start to clag. Add a few drops of the iced water through the processor's funnel until the pastry begins to come together.  Tip it on to a work surface and knead lightly to encourage it to form a solid ball.  The dough should be fairly soft.  Wrap in clingfilm and chill for half an hour in the fridge.

After half an hour, roll out the pastry to fit a 23 cm fluted tart case.  Trim the sides.  Place the case in the freezer, uncovered, for ten minutes, or chill again in the fridge for another half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.  Bake the pastry case for fifteen minutes.

Whilst it is cooking, whisk together all the ingredients for the filling, except for the plums.

Remove the tart case from the oven and reduce the heat to 160 degrees. Spoon in the almond filling and smooth with a spatula or palette knife.  Arrange the plums in attractive concentric circles.  Bake the tart for 40 to 50 minutes.  You are looking for the filling to be set: the best way to check, as with cakes, is to insert a sharp knife or skewer into the centre of the tart and see whether it comes out clean.  When it does, remove the tart from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for about half an hour.  Then remove and cool further on a wrack.  It is best eaten cold with double cream.

Sunday, 5 September 2010


The eagle-eyed among you will have discerned from a recent tweet that Mr. F and I took ourselves off to Murano, the restaurant over which Angela Hartnett presides, for supper on Monday evening last.  I should explain, lest the flippant way in which I tweeted suggests otherwise, that this was an extravagance which was a celebration of Mr. F's last weekend of freedom from employment.  Splashing out at a pricey restaurant may sound like a counter-intuitive way in which to mark the passage from eternal student to economically viable adult, but it was actually important in that it signified the end of the era in which such last- minute moments of unrestraint were logistically possible.  Basically, we've both got full-time jobs now innit?

So, off to Murano we trotted.  I was intrigued, having read a number of reviews which were complimentary of the food but scathing in respect of the decor and ambience.  The london-eating website also revealed that several past diners had thought the portions measly and the service desultory.  It was therefore with a mixture of hunger, anticipation and trepidation that we stepped through the door.

And what did we find there?  Well, firstly, an elegant dining room done out in what some people have described as Gordon Ramsey beige but which actually seemed to me to be closer to Farrow and Ball's Pavilion Grey (look, we recently did up our flat, OK?).  There are Art Deco touches and a pleasingly curvy mural along one wall.  The grown-up colour scheme and mirrored surfaces were nicely offset by small posies of orange roses on the tables. 

We ordered apperitifs and wolfed down the delicious greaseless arancini, tiny little balls of a mushroom risotto.  Mr. F and I had decided prior to arrival that we were probably going to have to have the tasting menu, which is £75 (plus extra for cheese) for seven courses.  A brief perusal of the menu confirmed this.  I started with a dish of roasted San Marzano tomatoes with goats curd.  It was ok: I'm not entirely sure how I feel about goats curd.  Most of me thinks that it's just under-salted soft goats cheese and wouldn't it be better if we all just acknowledged that sometimes a bit of chevre is nicer.  Anyway, after that we both had a girolle risotto with a truffle vinaigrette.  I'm a fairly recent convert to mushrooms, and can still be a bit tentative on that front.  This was really savoury, and despite the presence of the truffle element, had none of the pungency of mushrooms which, along with the sponginess, is the bit that can put me off.

Next came some braised halibut with apple, not a combination which I would have immediately thought successful.  But it was fantastic - the crunchy sweetness of the apple complimented the salinity and soft texture of the fish.  There then followed a salad containing ripe peaches and raw almonds, which I personally thought was slightly under-salted (although having said that, readers should note that I am a complete salt hound).

I am rarely able to resist ordering duck when it's present on a menu, so guess what I had for my main course?  This time it was served with roasted melon and some of the best Pommes Anna I've had.  It was a brilliantly conceived and executed piece of cooking: the duck breast was tender and the skin crisp, the potatoes were perfectly seasoned, and as for the melon... Well, I'm not sure if you'd asked me before this meal if I thought that would be a winning combination whether I would have said yes.  But now I can say this: duck and melon is an extemely good combination, especially when the melon in question is a nice piece of Charentais which has been cooked with a serious amount of butter and salt.  It was a blinder.

We ordered cheese on the basis that it would be churlish not to.  It was fabulous, but to be honest I can't quite remember what we had, apart from a Pecorino, which had been repeatedly bathed in red wine.  I think it was called "drunk Pecorino".  And then there were two courses of pudding, which was real reason why I think I elected to go for the tasting menu.  I mean, how often can one get away with having two pudding courses?

The first dessert was an Amalfi lemon tart which although it pains me to say, might have been better than the one I made at Leiths.  The pastry shell was something to behold - perfectly cooked throughout, and really, really thin. 

And then there followed a dish that caused us such unparalleled delight that I am almost getting a bit teary thinking about it now.  It was a pistachio souffle with a hot chocolate sauce.  Now, we "did" souffles at Leiths, so I know what a massive scary faff they can be.  This pistachio number emerged from the kitchen having puffed up to stand a good two inches proud of the ramekin in which it had been cooked.  It didn't even deflate when its sugared carapace was scored and a deeply dark chocolate sauce was poured into the hole.  And when we tasted it, well, suffice it to say that a profound silence descended over the table.  It was sublime.  I've been sitting here trying to think how to describe the taste.  I keep wanting to say that it was really nutty and yet really light and yet also really creamy.  That sounds terrible, but is also the closest I can get.

I think the cooking at Murano is pretty special.  It's clever and considered, yet the menu is really appealing.  There's nothing on it that makes you think "ooh, that sounds a bit weird and not in a good way".  The staff are utterly charming.  The sommelier got the measure of Mr. F and me straight away, and recommended a Gattinara Riserva which served our purposes well, it being smooth and full, but not too tannic.

So, Murano gets a proper double thumbs up from me.  I reckon it would definitely be worth a punt if you had something to celebrate, even if it is just your thirty-something husband having finally knuckled down and gotten a job.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Last night's venison supper

Venison cheeseburger with spinach and mushroom salad, mustard vinaigrette:

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Some good places at which I have eaten this Summer

Malbec Petit Bistro, Stratford upon Avon - seasonal menu with French accents cooked with exemplary precision - all the fish dishes we tried were out of this world

Pan y Vino, Menorca - she (Spanish) runs front of house with charm and faultless English, he (French) cooks a menu which will leave you the most indecisive you've ever been.  Three courses are a steal at 32 euros

Scallops at Pan y Vino

Gilead Cafe and Bistro, Toronto - according to Mr. F, Jamie Kennedy is Toronto's only celebrity chef.  I'm not sure how true that is, but he is certainly cooking up a storm at his latest venture, which focuses on locally and ethically sourced produce

Asuka Japanese Restaurant, Toronto - no naff conveyor belts round here; it's a traditional sushi emporium serving delicately sliced sashimi (try the butter fish) and picture perfect sushi
108 Yorkville Ave., Toronto, ON M5R 1B9; tel. 416 975 9084

Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles - Mario Batali's one of the folks behind this new LA mainstay, so go expecting hearty pizza toppings, a boisterous atmosphere and wait staff with plenty to say for themselves.  You won't be disappointed

A Coach farm goats cheese, leeks, scallions, garlic & bacon pizza from Pizzeria Mozza

Black bean soup

I don't know about you, but after a period away on holiday where alcohol, bread, rice and potatoes featured heavily on the menu I crave protein-rich dinners to try to regain some semblance of dietary control.  Since returning from Canada (where we made the obligatory post-Bikram visit to California Sandwich) I've been on a serious egg trip, and last night made this Mexican-inspired soup as a precursor to a main course salade nicoise.

It's intensely flavoured and rich, but the addition of plenty of lime juice and Tabasco both during cooking and once it's been ladled into warmed bowls enlivens the taste.  I recommend a spoonful of yoghurt or sour cream drizzled on top, but it would also work well with slices of avocado, salt and lime juice laid on top.

To serve four

250g dried black beans, soaked overnight and then boiled for about 1 hour (or until soft) with 2 bayleaves and a sprig of rosemary
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons of coriander seeds
1 dried red chilli, crumbled
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1 tin of plum tomatoes
Juice of 1 lime
1 litre of vegetable stock (Marigold Bouillon is fine)
Tabasco, to taste
EV olive oil

To serve - plain yoghurt or sour cream, coriander leaves, Tabasco, slices of ripe avocado, salted tortilla chips

Heat a good glug of EV olive oil in a heavy bottom pan over a medium flame and add the onion.  Saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a dry pan until golden and fragrant.  Grind to a fine-ish powder in a pestle and mortar.  Add the garlic, chilli and crushed spices to the onion and fry for another minute or so.  Add the drained beans, the tomatoes, the stock, lime juice, a serious shake of Tabasco and season well.  Bring the mixture to the boil and then simmer for about 45 minutes until the contents of the pan have reduced by 1/4 to 1/3.  Check seasoning and then blend using a hand blender.  You can reserve some whole beans to add after blending if you prefer a nubblier texture.  Check the seasoning again after blending and add more lime juice if necessary.  Serve with the garnishes of your choice.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The extraordinarily delicious lemon tart I made at Leiths

The recipe for this is in the wonderfully comprehensive Leith's Cookery Bible, which, frankly, I find of invaluable assistance.  This recipe is adapted from the 2003 edition.

For the pate sucree (made the trad way)

170g plain flour
A pinch of salt
85g unsalted butter, softened
3 egg yolks
85g sugar
2 drops of vanilla essence (I would use extract here)

Sift the flour with the salt on to a board.  Make a large well in the centre and put the butter in it.  Place the egg yolks and sugar on the butter with the vanilla essence.

Using the fingertips of one hand, mix the butter, yolks and sugar together.  I learnt on the course that this is called pecking.  After that, chop in the flour.  When combined, frasier the pastry.  This involves shaving slivers off the ball of dough with a pallet knife, and then pressing all the slivers together to form your finished clump of pastry.

If the pastry seems too soft, wrap it in clingfilm and chill in the fridge.  Then, roll it out to fit your tin, and chill again before baking.  I recommend blind baking (I nearly mispelled that as "bling baking", which is something completely different) this tart case for about 15 minutes.  You can remove the baking beans, or whatever you're using, for a bit to give the bottom a short flash of heat.  The crust should be lightly golden and smelling shortbready when you remove it from the oven.
For the complete tart

Pastry - in the quantity set out above
4 eggs
1 egg yolk
170g caster sugar
150ml double cream
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
Icing sugar, sifted, for dusting

Firstly, preheat the oven to 190 degrees C/375 degrees F/gas mark 5.

Make the filling by mixing the eggs and egg yolk with the sugar until smooth.  Pass through a sieve.  Stir in the cream and add the lemon zest and juice.  The mixture will thicken considerably, but fear not.  The filling is best made the day before and left in the fridge to mature.  Make sure you taste it again before cooking, and add more lemon if necessary.

Pour the filling into the pastry case.  Bake in the oven until it is almost set but still wobbles attractively when given a light shove.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Pappardelle, peas and beans: Part Deux

I know, I know; this is more than seven days after the previous post in which I swore that I would put up the recipe within the week.  Whatevs.  I've been busy, ok?  But busy with food-related diversions, so I hope that's alright with you all.  I am, this week, undertaking a week-long stint at Leiths (intermediate level), a lovely present from my family for a recent and significant birthday.  It's providing me with a welcome opportunity to learn about, cook, and eat meat; today's demonstration showed us how to flambe guinea fowl in whiskey, serve up liver with a ginger and pecan sauce, and de-bone and stuff a chicken.  It's fair to say that I have never done anything as technical as this, but I feel like it's a great addition to my culinary repertoire.

Anyways, more on Leiths later (and some photos if you're lucky).  Here's the peas and beans pasta recipe.

For 2 hungry people (are people ever anything else when it comes to mealtimes?)

200g of egg pappardelle - you can use fresh, but Mr. F supplied me with some dried (but egg rich) Italian stuff from his secret stash.  I think it's available in Waitrose, and will endeavour to find out the name as it was something really special.

100g of fresh peas, shelled
100g of broad beans, podded and removed from their tough outer skins
1 onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
A glass of white wine (about 150ml)
200ml of light vegetable stock (i.e. weak Marigold Bouillon)
75g og grated cheese - half Pecorino and half Parmesan works well

Zest and juice of half a lemon
8 - 10 mint leaves, finely chopped
EV olive oil and butter
25g of pine nuts, toasted

The eggy pasta that we used only took two or so minutes to cook, but yours may vary so check.  In any event, start the operation by boiling the kettle.

In a medium-sized saucepan melt a small knob of butter with a glug of olive oil.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until both are soft and translucent but not brown.  Pour in about 150ml of the stock, the wine, and bring to the boil and simmer to reduce by about half to two thirds (and to ensure that the harsh alcohol taste is burned off).  This should take about 5 minutes.  When the sauce is reduced add 50g of the cheese, a little bit more butter, and the lemon juice and zest.  Stir to make sure that the cheese dissolves (you might feel the urge to go in with a whisk.  Feel free!).  Taste to check the seasoning.

Fill a pan with the hot water from the kettle, bring to the boil and season very generously with salt.  Add the pappardelle and bring to the boil.  Cook until al dente.

Add the peas and beans and half of the mint to the wine/cheese sauce.  If there's not enough sauce, add a little of the left over stock.  Cook the vegetables until tender.  Aim to have this stage co-incide with the pasta being done.  Drain the pasta and add it to the pan containing the vegetable and sauce.  Toss well.

Serve in warm bowls with the remaining cheese, pine nuts and mint scattered over.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Pappardelle, peas and beans

I'm going to post this picture so that I can be held to ransom if I fail to write up the recipe in the next week or so.  I am, unfortunately, having to do my "proper" job today, so have no time to wax lyrical about how particularly sweet yet savoury, filling yet oddly refreshing, rich yet light, this bowl of noodles was.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Cherries from Broadway Market

Cretan odyssey

I think Mr F and I chose the perfect time to venture to Crete for the first time to see our dear friend and photographer extraordinaire, Thanasis.  The tourist season hadn't really started in earnest and there was room on the beach for us.  Plus, the fruit and vegetables, especially the peaches and nectarines and tomatoes, were at the peak of ripeness and abundance.  We've also been fortunate enough to return to the UK on the one weekend this year when summer has chosen to make a prolonged appearance.

As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, we ate some fantastic food in Crete.  Oddly given that it is an island, Crete is not the place to which to travel if you are looking to gorge on seafood - which was something of a disappointment for Mr. F.  Cretans are big on meat, and aren't ashamed to proclaim it from the (almost) rooftops:

Of course, Thanasis knew where to take us for a fishy feast, which was straight to the Amateur Fisherman's Association Restaurant in Heraklion.  It was there that we ate some of the best fried calamari I've ever had.  The cuttlefish in its own ink was deeply dark and savoury; the batches of tiny fried fish were crisp and salty.  We ate all this outside, with a view of an enormous yacht that one of our party valued at 50 million euros, with the sound of a World Cup game/vuvuzelas in the background.

Grilled octopus at the Amateur Fisherman's Association Restaurant

I don't think it's unfair to say that the town of Malia has been ruined by the hoards of young tourists who go there each year to take full advantage of bargain all-inclusive package deals.  The main street is populated by shops selling hideous souvenirs and massive bottles of Bacardi at heavily discounted prices.  The old town retains some of its charm, but we knew that round any corner we could happen upon a group of marauding shirtless (and unfeasibly pale/sunburned) Brits.  Some enterprising bright spark has also decided that supplying the aforementioned hoards with quad bikes is a great idea, which means that the streets roar with the sound of revving engines and whooping passengers riding pillion.

We went to Malia with the intention of going for lunch at Kalesma, a taverna recommended on several blogs.  But when we arrived we discovered that it doesn't open until 4pm, a fact which all of our sources neglected to mention.  The menu focuses on food from Northern Greece, and looked promising.  Unfortunately, we were too hungry to hold out so decided to walk to a taverna that Mr. F and Thanasis had sampled a couple of days earlier. It's called The Blue Sea and you will find it at the easternmost end of the beach, close to the archaeological site.  The taverna has a standard menu (boasting the usual Greek salad, souvlaki and taramasalata) and a shorter list of daily specials.  Our stand out dish, from the daily menu, was a plate of courgette flowers filled with a mixture of rice, artichokes, onions and lemon juice and served with a big dollop of tzatziki on the side.  It was a perfectly balanced plate of food.

Another Cretan friend took us to O Kafenes tou Kayabi, an atmospheric restaurant with the friendliest and most hospitable of proprietors and staff.  The walls are covered with an eclectic mix of theatre posters and photographs of famous communists, and one gets the feeling that the decor has remained unchanged since at least 1968.  We ate there a traditional omelette of courgettes and potatoes.  There is something special about the potatoes that they grow on Crete (I wonder if they give them massages and feed them beer in the manner of Wagyu cattle?); they are more flavoursome and potato-y than any others I have tasted and they make perfect chips.  This omelette was a fine showcase for them in fried format.

In addition to our meals out, we were also invited to our friends' home for some wonderful sushi, and were even allowed to participate in the rolling of some vegetable maki.


Mr F and I decided to (try to) repay our hosts' hospitality by cooking a vegetarian Indian meal.  Given the Greeks' fondness for meat and scepticism of heavily spiced food we weren't too sure how this would go down, but we were up for the challenge.  Cooking Indian food with great vegetables, especially with the fantastically ripe and flavourful tomatoes, produced its rewards, but I have to confess that finding fresh ginger and canned chickpeas in Heraklion was a test of my patience until, that is, we happened upon a small supermarket run by a Bengali man.  The meal went down well I think, and the evening marked a fittingly fun and raki-fuelled end to our stay.


Asparagus tart

We're coming to the end of the asparagus season now, but I reckon you still have time enough to nab a bunch of English asparagus to whip up this tart.  Mr F and I have eaten a lot of asparagus this season in a variety of guises.  Asparagus tart has been a big favourite, but we also enjoyed it simply steamed and served with grated hardboiled eggs, fried breadcrumbs, parsley and capers.  Mr F also had considerable success with Georgio Locatelli's recipe for asparagus risotto; the end result really allows the sweetness of the vegetable to shine through.

This recipe serves four as a light supper, and is great served with a lemon-dressed salad and a glass of dry white wine.

Asparagus tart

One packet of all butter puff pastry
A bunch of asparagus
2 eggs
100g grated cheese (cheddar, aged pecorino, gruyere, or a mixture of all three)
Small bunch of spring onions
Teaspoon of grainy mustard
2 tablespoons of Greek yoghurt or half fat creme fraiche
Handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Roll out the puff pastry until it forms a rectangle about 0.5 cm thick.  Place on a baking sheet and chill in the fridge for about 15 minutes.  Place a sheet of grease-proof paper over the pastry and put a slightly smaller metal baking sheet on top.  Bake the pastry for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the exposed edge of the pastry is golden brown and risen.

Prepare the asparagus by breaking off the woody ends.  Parboil in well salted water for a minute and a half.  Drain and cool under cold running water.

Beat the eggs, yoghurt or creme fraiche, cheese, mustard and spring onions together to form a thick-ish paste.  Season well, especially with black pepper (you can go easy on the salt owing to the presence of the cheese).  Spread the mixture on to the pastry sheet, leaving the border exposed. Place the asparagus on the mixture (have your pastry in a "landscape" alignment and ensure that the spears are all pointing in the same direction).  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Crete innit

I'm currently on me holidays in Crete, and am aiming to write a couple of pieces for the blog in the next few days.  In the meantime, let me tell you some of the delicious things we've eaten here so far: boiled beetroots with dill and tzatziki, little fried fish (called sardella I think), cuttlefish cooked in its own ink, and hortopita (a fried pie filled with greens - including dandelions - and flavoured with dill, an unexpectedly wonderful combination).  The iced coffee is also something pretty amazing.

We're off to the market on Thursday in order to cook an Indian feast for our kind host!

More soon....

Monday, 3 May 2010

Courgette pizza

Let's not beat about the bush, for most sane people pizza is a vehicle for cheese and lots of it.  A friend of mine refuses to darken the doors of Pizza Express on the basis that they skimp on cheese; a pizza from Pizza Express is, for her, a pointless exercise.

My approach to pizza is similar and I have never ever opted for a cheese-less number.  But then, the other day, Mr. F and I dusted off our pizza stone and decided to whip up a couple for our supper.  I was set on making a margherita using some delicious fresh buffalo mozzarella and then a fromage free pizza using thinly sliced courgettes that had been marinated in lemon, oil, garlic and thyme.  The latter was delicious!  A revelation!  We didn't even miss the cheese...

To make two pizze you will need:

200g of strong white flour
Instant yeast - about half a sachet but check the proportions as brands seem to differ
A generous pinch of salt
Warm water, enough to bring the dough together
A pinch of sugar
A slug of olive oil

Two courgettes, thinly sliced lengthways using a vegetable peeler or mandolin
Juice of half a lemon
Lemon zest
A clove of garlic, finely chopped
A dessert spoon of thyme leaves
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Lemon juice and roughly chopped flat leaf parsley to serve

Start off by making the dough.  I do this by tipping everthing into my Kenwood Chef, dough hook attached, and letting it knead for about 5 minutes.  Transfer the kneaded dough into an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to prove in a warmish, or at least draft-free, place for about an hour and a half to two hours.

About an hour before you want to cook the pizze, heat the oven to get your pizza stone good and hot. (What do you mean you don't have a pizza stone?  Get one!  The fact that your home will smell like a pizzeria whenever you use the stone will be justification enough for this modest outlay.)

About half an hour before you want to cook the pizze, marinate your courgette strips by mixing all of the marinade ingredients together and coating the slices in it.

When the dough has doubled in size, knock it down and divide it into two balls.  Flatten out each ball as much as you can, until they're a couple of millimetres thick (I use a rolling pin for this, which doesn't feel very Italian, but I haven't got my dough-throwing technique perfected.  Yet.  I also use semolina in place of flour to assist in this operation; it gives a more authentic appearance and crunch.)  Place the courgette strips in a neatly overlapping formation on each disc of dough.  Bake the pizze one by one (you're unlikely to have room in the oven for both) for between 7 to 10 minutes.  When they emerge from the oven squeeze on some lemon juice and scatter over the parsley.  Serve immediately with a cold beer.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Griddled wild tiger prawns with wild garlic risotto and asparagus

Mr F and I are lucky enough to live a stone's throw from Broadway Market which has a great, proper fishmonger (Fin and Flounder, 71 Broadway Market) selling a veritable cornucopia of spankingly fresh and sustainably sourced fish and seafood.  Once or twice a week we head over to pick up something for supper.  As a relative newcomer to the joys of all things piscine Mr. F knows no fear - he regularly returns home to present me with a few pearly white squid or a clattery bag of clams.  Last Saturday we decided upon some huge wild tiger prawns.  The helpful fishmongers recommended cooking them simply in a hot pan for about a minute and a half on each side.

Our favourite vegetable stall was selling bunches of pungent wild garlic (which is to garlic what chives are to onions) and some early asparagus.  We eagerly fell on these, and decided to cook a simple risotto with fennel and wild garlic to go with the prawns.  As pink and green look so pretty together, we went the whole hog and added the asparagus into the mix.

I marinaded the prawns for a little while in olive oil, a sliced red chili, a sliced clove of garlic and parsley.  I am not sure how much it added to the flavour given that I cooked them with the shells on, but it gave me the opportunity to take some atmospheric food photos, like this:

To serve two you will need:

For the risotto

A mug of risotto rice (arborio or carnaroli)
An onion, finely diced
A fennel bulb, finely diced
One bunch of wild garlic, stalks removed and the leaves finely sliced
One clove of garlic finely chopped
Butter and olive oil
A glass of a light, sharp white wine (sauvignon blanc for example)
Vegetable stock
Lemon juice to taste and zest of half a lemon
Small handful of grated parmesan
A handful of finely chopped parsley

Melt butter with olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat and add the onion and half of the diced fennel.  Cook until translucent but not brown, about ten minutes.  Add the rice and stir until it also starts to become translucent around the edges.  Add the garlic clove and remainder of the fennel.  Turn up the heat and add the white wine.  Stir until the wine has evaporated.   Reduce the heat, then begin to add the stock (which should be in a pan on a low heat) ladleful by ladleful, stirring regularly.  When the rice is creamily falling off the spoon whilst retaining its texture it is ready.  Turn off the heat and add the wild garlic, lemon juice and zest, parmesan, butter, and parsley.   Taste and adjust seasoning.  Leave your risotto for five minutes to settle before serving.

For the rest

Four wild tiger prawns
One bunch of asparagus
Lemon juice

Whilst the risotto is resting, boil a pan of water and heat a griddle pan.  Cook the prawns over a high heat for a minute and a half on each side.  If they are very thick then it is also worth holding them on their backs for a few seconds to ensure that they are cooked.  Cook the asparagus in well-salted boiling water for between 2 to 3 minutes depending on thickness.  Drain and dress with a little olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and season.

Serve the dish with wedges of lemon, finger bowls and a receptacle for the shells and heads.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Burnt sugar cream puffs

For some reason I have recently gotten into the habit of denying that I have a sweet tooth.  In response to interrogation on the subject of predilections for puddings I am likely to respond "Oh well, you know, I'd rather have a plate of cheese any day".  Now, I have been known on some occasions to order cheese in place of pudding, but I do love sweet things, particularly those which involve copious amounts of luscious things like cream or creme patissiere or mascarpone.  I don't know why I've been disavowing them of late.

As we don't serve meat chez Chateau Forkful I feel dutybound to ensure that the final course (cheese always before pudding if it's going to be served) offers a richly satisfying end to the meal.  Tiramisu often makes an appearance on a menu, as do dense flourless chocolate cakes served with lashings of creme fraiche or thick double cream.  For a recent Friday night supper party I decided to make some choux buns filled with creme patissiere lightened with whipped cream and covered in burnt sugar.  They were a big hit and also came in handy the following morning when making breakfast with a rampant hangover was an impossibility.

This recipe serves 8 to 10 people.

For the choux buns

180ml of water
180 ml of whole milk
180g of unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon of salt
180g of flour (sifted twice)
6 large eggs

Preheat your oven to between 200 and 220 degrees, depending on how hot it gets.  Position one rack in the top third of the oven and another on the bottom third.  Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Bring the first four ingredients to the boil over a medium heat.  When the butter is melted tip in the flour and stir vigorously until a dough forms.  Continue to stir for 1 to 2 minutes more, until a film forms on the bottom of the pan.  Put the dough in a large bowl and leave it to cool for a few minutes.  Give it a prod now and again.  When it has coolled a little add the eggs one by one.  You will need to stir it very well after each egg: the mixture will look like a curdled mess, but some serious elbow grease should see that it all comes together to form a smooth and shiny dough.  Put teaspoons of the dough on to the greaseproof paper, about an inch and a half apart.  You can neaten the dough by shaping it with a wet finger.

Bake the puffs for 15 minutes.  Reverse the baking sheets and reduce the temperature to 180 degrees.  Bake for a further 30 to 35 minutes.  You want the puffs to be deep golden brown and dry.  If they are not sufficiently cooked through the finished dish will go soggy in a matter of minutes.

For the creme patissiere filling

300ml of whole milk
100ml of double cream
6 egg yolks
90g of caster sugar
30g of plain flour
30g of corn flour
One vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped out
300ml of double cream, whipped

Place the milk and 100ml of cream in a saucepan and bring to steaming point.  Cream the eggs and sugar together in a bowl and then mix in the flours.  Add the vanilla seeds to the milk and cream mixture, and then pour the whole lot on to the eggs in a thin stream, whisking as you go.  Return the mixture to the pan and cook over a low heat until the mixture bubbles and makes a smooth, thick cream.  (I had a hairy moment when it looked as though I had over-cooked it and had made scrambled egg a la patissiere - some vigorous whisking got me back on track, so fear not.)  Taste to make sure that the flour is cooked.  If the mixture looks as though it is getting too thick but still tastes a bit floury, add a little cold milk or cream and keep stirring.

When the creme is cooked, transfer it to a bowl and press some greaseproof paper on to its surface.  This will ensure that a skin doesn't form.  Chill well (for at least two and a half hours).

When you are ready to fill your buns stir in the whipped cream.  This is best done by adding one spoonful to slacken the creme patissiere and then adding the rest of the cream bit by bit. 

Then, slice the tops almost entirely off the buns and fill generously with the creme.

For the burnt sugar

300g of caster sugar

Heat the sugar in a non-stick frying pan until it is melted and deeply golden.  Then, carefully dip each bun into it (burnt sugar really burns so you may wish to use gloves for this bit.  I tried to do it using a fork, but it made the operation much harder and much, much messier.).  Position your buns either in a single layer on an enormous platter, or, as I did, in a mound on a plate or cake stand.  The sugar will set hard making them fiendishly difficult to extract neatly, but it looks really dramatic and, after all, it's the taste that really matters once they're on each plate!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Paris recommendations

"Two posts in one day!" I hear you cry.  Why yes, dear readers, but this one is only a list of recommendations from my and Mr. F's recent weekend in Paris.

The first thing I would advise you to do is to seek out one of the numerous markets.  I had resolved to visit one of the ones listed in our Time Out guide, but a friend and Paris resident recommended Marche D'Aligre near Bastille.  Go.  It's phenomenal and makes Broadway and Borough Markets look more than a little lacklustre by comparison.

Amazing fish

Amazing shellfish

Amazing sauerkraut (?)

In terms of restaurants, I would entreat you to go to L'Os a Moelle (3, rue Vasco de Gama).  It's one of Steingarten's favourites, and we ate an extraordinarily delicious and balanced meal there (35 euro for a four/five course menu, excluding wine). 

We tried to go to L'Ami Jean (27 Rue Malar), but it was fully booked.  I've heard great things though.

Our friend took us to L'Olivier (88, rue Ordener), where we had a good meal served up in hefty portions.

There were a couple of nice patisseries near to where we stayed: Le Moulin de la Vierge (166, avenue de Suffren) does an incomparable coffee eclair and the window displays at Patisserie Traiteur Secco (Rue Jean Nicot) are mouthwatering.


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