Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Nigella's Birthday Custard Cake

As we grow with experience, we can let our culinary instincts guide us to our own clever inventions; a blueberry eaten with blue cheese or the addition of gin to an aperol spritz.

With a baking recipe from a trusted source in your arsenal, cake baking is rarely enhanced by our own instincts (unless perhaps you are a professional). Cake decorating is where the creativity comes in, the rest is science: precise weights, timings, vessels, temperatures. The use of said 'trusted source', such as a reputable book, means that you've had legions of recipe testers come before you to ensure that this recipe will work. For me, there is undeniable satisfaction to be had in crating precisely the number of fairy cakes you are told you will produce without a lick of batter to spare (ala Nigella or Mary Berry).

I got bitten by a baking bug a couple of weeks ago and proceeded to deviate from my usual recipe bank and found a few exciting recipes on the internet I wanted to try. This was a mistake. Perhaps a more experienced baker would have foreseen discrepancies in this selection of recipes and used their instinct to adapt, but as a novice I know it's best to do as I am told. My spiced apple rock cakes were short to the extreme, and a cup of tea was a required accompaniment; whilst my jaffa cakes had sodden bottoms, not just soggy. I have learnt that the internet is not a trusted source, no matter how much you trust the website, ahem, The Guardian, proceed with caution.

Finally, a good excuse for me to buy more cookbooks.

Here is a Nigella Custard Cake that did go right, a little something to be proud of.


Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Nigella's Cappuccino Pavlova

This delicious pavlova is so good – chewy, marshmallow-like centre, crispy shell, silky cream, bitter cocoa and lovely cappuccino flavour. All hail Nigella, Domestic Goddess; Potentate of Pavlova.

As I'm sure Nigella would agree, one does need an excuse to make this, but this week I found many, including:

  • left-over egg whites from the home-made egg pasta at the weekend
  • it's mid-March, and I'm still wear a polo-neck jumper everyday, as I have been for the past three months (excluding a recent trip to Italy)
  • I'm addicted to sugar (and I'm #sorrynotsorry)
  •  it's Tuesday

I followed Nigella's recipe for Cappuccino pavlova from her delicious Nigellisima series, but halved the ingredients and the cooking time (from 1hr, to 30mins). The two egg-whites I had produced a lovely sized pavlova, enough for 4 portions, with enough to spare for a dainty-sized portion left-over for me to eat when I'm home alone.

See, here's the math:

  • 250 grams caster sugar / 125g caster sugar
  • 4 teaspoons instant espresso powder (not instant coffee granules) / 2 tsp instant espresso powder although also works with 'Americano' instant coffee powder as I discovered)
  • 4 large egg whites / 2 large egg whites
  • 1 pinch of salt / 1 pinch of salt 
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour / 1tsp cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar / 0.5 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 300 millilitres double cream / 150ml double cream
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder / 0.5 tsp cocoa powder
Once the pavlova was cooked and cool I put it on a plate and wrapped it in cling-film to be stored in the fridge. The main thing is to store the pavlova as air-tight as possible, and in a place as-dry-a-place as possible so that it doesn't go soggy – the cling-film and fridge combination works just fine.

I assemble the pavlova with the whole works (cream and cocoa additions) just before eating.

Nigella will tell you that you can actually freeze egg-whites – excellent for emergency pavlova-making, stash them in freezer bags and label how many egg-whites are in each.



Monday, 7 March 2016

A Simple Way to Cook Monks Beard

Monks Beard is a rarely seen green. It's from Tuscany and has a very short season (late Jan - early Feb) and it's only around for about 5 weeks. Blink and it's gone.

Sure, like all rare things, it's expensive. But you'll likely only be able get your hands on one bunch a year anyway – so you might regret not 'getting it while you can'. I found the beautiful bunch in my local 'Natoora' in Chiswick, a gorgeous green-grocers who only sell the best produce from expert growers in the UK, France and Italy.

It looks like the spiky kind of grass that grows at the beach and it kind of tastes like a very delicate spinach.

When it comes to cooking there are limited recipes on the internet so I went with the flow and had mine as part of one my favourite week-night dinners: greens and eggs on toast.

I washed my monks beard (very hairy) and steamed it in a frying pan – (I say steamed, I put it in a pan over a low heat with the aforementioned washing water, lid on). Seasoned. And that was it.

I toasted my sourdough bread (home-made, more on this another time), rubbed a garlic glove over it, trickled over some olive oil over the toasty, garlic-y bread, topped with monks beard and crowned it all with a couple of poached eggs. What a handsome week-night dinner.

Julia Child's Egg Poaching 
The egg poaching, I have recently been experimenting with Julia Child's method. You boil the eggs in their shells for about 10 seconds, then remove them from the water, turn the boil down to a simmer, then crack the eggs into the water and cook for about 3 minutes. Sometimes the eggs aren't perfect, but it's the most consistent egg-poaching method I have found.
NB: those smart men, the Hairy Bikers do it this way too (read about it The Hairy Bikers' Meat Feasts)

Beautiful Monks Beard from Natoora - so pretty.
Eggs and Greens, the perfect week-night supper

The bountiful crop in situ at Natoora



Monday, 20 July 2015

Korean Bone Broth

Bone brooth - a super cliche if you read the Guardian, the stock you've been making from carcasses for years if you don't. One of the good things about bone broth is that you eek out all the tasty goodness from bones so you can make the most of the animal who a) gave its life for you and / or b) you paid for. Honour and frugality, the cornerstone of any good woman cook*.

Here are some of the good things bone broth does according to the internet ('Wellness Mama' to be precise): a source of minerals / good for the immune system / improve digestion / high calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus / high collagen content / apparently it can even eliminate cellulite! I'm not a nutritionist, so I'm not sure where the truth lies in that, but I do know that this is tasty and hearty and I do know that if it's been a long day then this will make you feel better.

This simple broth takes inspiration from a small Korean cook book which features basic Korean recipes and bad food photography. You're working with four main taste-makers: garlic (lots of garlic, a whole clove), ginger, chilli (or gochujang) and soy sauce.

Here's what I used:

Beef ribs
Stock veg - onion, celery, carrot (plus bay leaves and peppercorns)
Garlic (minced)
Ginger (peeled and grated)
Gochujang (a Korean sauce which is like super hot turbo ketchup, supposedly its as ubiquitous as ketchup is to us Brits in Korea) use chillies otherwise, but if you can get Gochu from an Asian supermarket then you should grab it.
Soy sauce
Thick slooply udon noodles
Coriander
Spring onions

Here's what I did:

The cooking liquor of the meat is your soup. So I covered the ribs in water and added peppercorns, a carrot, a peeled onion and bay leaves, and boiled them for about 3 hours. When the meat was falling off the bone, I added sieved the liquor, removed the veg and other bits and pulled the meat off the bones in chunks using a fork.

In a separate saucepan, fry your garlic and ginger in sunflower or vegetable oil to take the raw edge off, and add your gochujang, followed by the soysauce, then add your stock / broth back and at this point you could add some chopped carrots and celery - perhaps also some mushrooms and cook for about 20 minutes. A little while before the end, you will need to add your noodles to cook through (packet instructions), and you will need to add the meat to heat back up. Garish with LOTS of coriander and spring onions.

Serve and slurp.

*Joking - dark ages.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Mary Berry's Bara Brith

Last week I was away on a gorgeous trip to North Wales. Having not had a distinct break from work since Christmas, this trip was just the tonic. We stayed in a beautiful house, right on the beach and went for wild walks and ate lovely food, and above all it was nice to be reminded to slow down and enjoy the view and the mountain flowers.

As an ode to Wales and a reminder to slow down once in a while, my boyfriend and I made a Bara Brith on Sunday. When coming back from a holiday on a trip, cooking something reminiscent of the trip can make the holiday seem to last so much longer.

The epitome of slow baking, the recipe we used (Mary Berry's, naturally) suggested that the currants and sultanas be soaked in tea overnight so that they go all fat and juicy. Waiting all night for the soaking really takes the impatience out of baking, you can relax for the evening; have a beer, and luxuriate in the fact that your hands will tied on the baking front until the next day. 

The baking itself is a doddle. You mix the fruit, flour, sugar, mixed spice and two eggs (yes, that's it), and bake for a really long time. We sat back and watched the tennis whilst the scent of the bara permeated the house. We ate ours in slices with a little butter and dreamed we were still kicking back on the Neolithic Coast of Anglesey, and not under the Heathrow flight path.

Queen Mary Berry's recipe was found here: http://forums.digitalspy.co.uk/showthread.php?t=1145824


Lovely Rhosneigr - the view from our garden *sigh*
And some thoughts on eating in Rhosneigr: We were staying in a beautiful house with a well-equipped kitchen, so most of the eating was done at home. However we did treat ourselves to a few lunches and dinners out. And the best treat of all was the Oyster Catcher in Rhosneigr. This was restaurant was a hop across the sand-dunes from where we were staying. The restaurant is elevated so you can see out across the Llyn Maelog lake. The food is very nice - I had a 'smoked fish platter' which was listed as a starter, and chips. They source the fish locally, which would be a crime not to when you're within 5 minutes of both the sea and a lake. The puddings were also good - Most notably the rice pudding, controversial choice from James - but the right one - the creamiest rice pudding I have ever tasted. As we were treating ourselves, we also had coffee - making for a very pleasant lunch all-in-all. One of the nicest things about the restaurant is the ethos behind it - it's a chef academy where young locals can fulfil their dreams of becoming a chef, and as it's a social enterprise, all their profits go back into training their staff. The prices are approaching London prices, and we did chalk up a £50 bill for lunch - but hey, a treat is well-deserved and the service, ambience and food were worth it.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Ottolenghi's Aubergine Risotto

Ottolenghi's aubergine risotto. Smokey, seductive and sharp.

Yes, I know - another Ottolenghi recipe. But, if you need to make something which will make people say 'did you really make this', or 'what's in this - it's delicious', then follow an Ottolenghi recipe carefully and await the praise to roll in.

I made this risotto for my boyfriend on a dark night around the start of January when we were cocooned in my kitchen waiting for Spring. He was impressed; and thus, this simple, wonderful, dish foretold the fact that my frost bitten kitchen of the drear month is now 'our kitchen'.

The recipe can be found here on The Guardian website. And, as I said - follow to the letter. Otto is a genius and must be obeyed. 

Now, go forth and charm everyone you know with this knock-out risotto.



Tuesday, 9 June 2015

A Big Fat Frittata

Remember a few years back there was an advertising campaign for eggs? The slogan was 'eggs: fast food and good for you', I remember thinking 'yeah, who doesn't know that', but in reality, I often forget that if I'm short on inspiration, time or energy then a frittata makes for a immensely satisfying supper. This one in particular, taken to delicious heights with chilli and chorizo.

What you need:
A little olive oil (for frying)
Around 100g (or more) chorizo
1 garlic clove (pressed)
1 green chilli finely sliced (seeds removed)
4 Eggs
1 handful of parsley
Salt and pepper
100g (or there abouts) strong grated cheddar

What you do:
Cut the chorizo into rounds and fry in the olive oil until it releases it's own orange juice oils. Add the garlic and fry it for a little bit. Add the chilli for mere moments to suck up some juice.

Break the eggs and whisk them in a bowl and season with the salt and pepper, and add most of the parsley, (keep a little parsley back for a pretty garnish). Tip into the pan with the chorizo and give it a jiggle. Put the grated cheese on top and cook the frittata away until it starts to set. Then move it to the grill and continue cooking. Transfer to a plate and top with the remaining parsley. Eat with bread and butter, maybe.