Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Recipe: seared sesame seed tuna with strawberry bruschetta

Seared sesame tuna and strawberry bruschetta

A simple summertime recipe, seared sesame tuna with strawberry bruschetta, is just what you need in this muggy weather. I used a Japanese seed mix called Furikake, full of black and white sesame seeds with fragments of nori seaweed and dried bonito flakes. This adds a delicious texture and flavour to tuna, but you can use just white or black sesame seeds if that's what you've got in your pantry. Furikake is also an excellent umami booster on plain rice.
I briefly seared the tuna filets indoors on my griddle pan but you can also do it outside on a barbeque. If you prefer your tuna cooked through, just leave it a little longer on the grill. To be sure, your seared tuna must be spanking fresh if you are going to cook it rare.
I'm loving how strawberries and tomatoes are eating right now; this is their moment, perfectly seasonal. I never put tomatoes in the fridge, it will make their flesh taste mealy. I keep tomatoes in the  fruit bowl. As for strawberries and berries in general, give them a quick rinse with a diluted vinegar and water mixture and they won't go mouldy so quickly. You know that disappointment when you bought say, raspberries only yesterday and already there are a few greenish ones. Seriously, make yourself rinse them as soon as you are packing away your shopping and you'll be astounded as to how long they last.

Seared sesame tuna with strawberry bruschetta

Serves 4 


heavy frying pan or grill pan


For the strawberry bruschetta:

8 slices of sourdough bread

50ml olive oil

16 strawberries, sliced thinly

Small fresh basil leaves

Sea salt

Black pepper

For the seared sesame tuna:

4 x 250g ahi tuna steaks (I used yellow tail)

50ml olive oil

50ml toasted sesame oil

Sea salt

Wasabi paste (optional)

200g of sesame seeds both black and white

Salad greens

The full recipe is in my July column for Winetrust100 along with some wine matches.
seared sesame tuna salad

strawberry and basil bruschetta

Monday, 14 July 2014

Recipe: blue cheese and green olive frittata

Blue cheese and green olive frittata

What is a frittata? It’s a posh word for omelette. The only real difference is that an omelette is cooked, then the filling added and the cooked egg folded over. Whereas an Italian frittata, like a Spanish tortilla, has the filling ingredients mixed in with the egg. An omelette is cooked just on the hob, but a frittata is baked in the oven. The great thing about eggs is that you can mix virtually anything with them, a great user of leftovers.

Blue cheese and green olive frittata

Serves 4
You will a good quality non-stick frying pan such as a Greenpan which is non stick but the lining doesn’t peel off or a seasoned black and shiny cast iron skillet.


Olive oil
1 clove of garlic, cut in half for rubbing
6 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tbsps of creme fraiche
150g blue cheese
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 small tin of green olives, stuffed with red peppers or anchovies.


Preheat the oven to 200c. Prepare your oven proof frying pan or skillet, rubbing it with olive oil and a clove of garlic. Beat the eggs, adding the creme fraiche and pepper. Pour a little more olive oil into the pan. Pour the beaten eggs into the pan and then crumble in the blue cheese and the garlic. Then dot the stuffed olives all over. Put the pan in the oven and ‘bake’ for five minutes or until golden and cooked through if that’s how you like your eggs.
If you are having this for lunch rather than breakfast, serve with a glass of tawny port, a glass of champagne or a glass of slightly oaky chardonnay such as Chamonix Chardonnay.

Postscript: reader and fellow blogger Rachel Eats, who lives in Rome (lucky thing) says the word  'frittata' comes from 'Friggere' to fry. She says that in Italian recipes, a frittata is made on the stove top, and is a "fat open omelette cooked slowly on a low flame". MFK Fisher however suggests "Pour the whole back into the skillet, cover the pan tightly, and cook over a slow fire until the edges of the frittata pull away from the pan. If the middle puffs up, prick it with a long sharp knife". 
Uncooked blue cheese and green olive frittata

Saturday, 5 July 2014

June Bites Roundup

I've been busy this month, too much work. But I love it. As Joan Rivers says "What fun is this, to wake up and say, “I don’t have a minute free today?” It’s fabulous." Cos I've been that person who has no work. In the two decades that I've been a single parent, I spent approximately one decade of it unemployed (in as much as a single parent can be unemployed), frustrated, silenced, wanting to be a part of the conversation and having no voice. This is why blogging is important, especially for women. To this end, for the last three years I've talked at the Britmumslive conference, an annual parent blogging event. In the last talk I got a bit heated because of the emphasis on 'monetising' your blog. I think it's vital that blogging is not entirely taken over by PRs and brands. It's essential that we make the most of this opportunity to have our voices heard and not just be chasing the freebies. Blogging is revolutionary, access to mass communication. It changes lives. Food writing has always been the preserve of connected upper middle-class women and men. And now it isn't.
The food styling workshop, my award for Outstanding blog, Emma Freud the keynote speaker and her husband, writer and film director Richard Curtis.I've enjoyed an unexpected burst of publicity, owing to the Marmite cupcakes plagiarism post, which led to articles in the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail.
BBC Good Food magazine ran a three page spread on me and my kitchen. I'm obsessed with homeware and crockery, and appreciate any opportunity to talk about it.
I did a camping food video for South Africa fruit. We filmed it at safari park Africa Alive in Norfolk. 
Top left and clockwise: Head chef of the Dairy Clapham, Robin Gill; Restaurant magazine editor Stefan Chomka (one of the funniest men in food) and Ferran Adria giving the award for the best UK restaurant; the audience, almost exclusively male; Giles Clark, the winner of the Young British Foodie chef awards, for which I was a judge. He's is now working at Koya and hoping to win a scholarship to Japan. 
I attended the National Restaurant awards at the Hurlingham Club. Notice anything about the pictures above? Virtually everybody has only one 'X' chromosome. The women that attend? Mostly front of house, WAGS (wives and girlfriends) or PRs. It was a good event, rubber-necking at famous chefs, however. I had a chat with Robin Gill of the Dairy Clapham. Last year Marina O'Loughlin wrote a very positive review of this restaurant in the Guardian. But it was the comments that provided the most entertainment, specifically the complaint by Angeliqiue(sic) Murphy, which went viral. Robin Gill told me that the restaurant was accused of writing the comment themselves, which, while untrue, is not a bad idea for the creative restaurant PR.

Viv Albertine and Thurston Moore talking at the Stoke Newington literary festival
I found my copy of ZigZag mag, the cover featuring The Slits. It was first edited by Pete Frame who made wonderful Rock Family Trees. He should do one for chefs.
I went to the annual Stoke Newington Literary Festival to attend a talk with Viv Albertine of The Slits who has written an autobiography 'Clothes, clothes, clothes. Music, music, music. Boys, boys, boys.' I'm reading it at the moment, it's almost like reading my own autobiography, except for the part where she joins the groundbreaking female punk band. Being a punk in Muswell Hill, you really felt like the only punk in the village. I remember arriving at Creighton school at break with spiky blue hair and having 2000 kids scream and laugh at me. I remember walking down the street and a red bus would pass by and every head would turn and stare at me, mouths open, in unison. I remember seeing The Slits play at the Vortex and Palmolive thumping the drums and thinking 'girls can be this too'. 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Blueberry ripple ice cream recipe

vanilla blueberry ripple ice cream

Tomorrow it's going to be boiling weather. Ice cream weather in fact. Time to dust off the ice cream maker.

Blueberry ripple ice cream


400ml whole milk
400ml double cream
200g caster sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla paste
5 egg yolks, whisked together

150g Blueberries
100g sugar

Make the custard base for the ice cream by putting the milk, cream, sugar, salt, vanilla paste in a medium saucepan on a medium to low heat. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Have the whisked yolks in a separate bowl, then 'temper' the ice cream by adding a few tablespoons of the warm milk/cream to the egg yolks, stirring. Then dump the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan containing the milk/cream, stirring with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Continue to heat gently until you can run a finger down the back of the spoon/spatula and it leaves a clean line through the mixture. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. (If you need this quickly, put the pan in an ice bath, making sure no water gets into your custard.)
Once cool, add the mixture to your ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturers instructions.
To make the ripple, put the blueberries into a small saucepan on a medium heat. Add the sugar and cook until the blueberries break down and you have a syrupy mixture. I don't mind a few chunkier pieces of blueberry in there but you could strain the skins out if you wish. Leave it to cool.
Then ten minutes before your icecream has finished churning, add the blueberry syrup in a steady stream to the ice cream. I probably could have added more and had a stronger 'vein' of blueberry but I was a bit nervous because it looked like the ice cream was going purple all over. But when I dug below, it was streaked so don't be scared!

Tips for ice cream making:

  • If you are making this fresh then you will have a perfect scooping consistency. But if you are making this in advance for another day, then you can transfer the ice cream to a plastic container and put it in the freezer.
  • Once frozen, if you want a softer serve, take your ice cream container from the freezer and store it in the fridge for 45 minutes before serving. This way it will soften evenly rather than just the edges going melty while the centre remains rock hard.
  • Buy a decent ice cream scoop if you want lovely rounded icecream balls. Expect to pay around £15. The Kitchn recommends the Zeroll ice cream scoop which costs around £25. But in this, as in all else, buy cheap buy twice. You might as well get a good one that lasts a lifetime.
  • Basic vanilla ice cream can be jazzed up as above, by adding the flavour as a ripple, about 10 minutes before the end of churning. You can also do this with chocolate. Melt some chocolate in a bain-marie (double boiler) or 30 secs in the microwave then drizzle it into the icecream as it is churning, 10 minutes before the end. 
  • With the Cuisinart ice cream maker, what I really like is that I can make fresh ice cream as and when. Got guests coming over? You can start the ice cream at the beginning of the dinner and it'll be ready by pudding time. The only issue is cooling the custard mixture, but you can do this faster by putting it in an ice bath. Then transfer to the ice cream maker. I was given this ice cream maker by Cuisinart (thanks guys!) but this is not a sponsored post. I don't do sponsored posts but I do give thanks where due. 
  • It's so simple to use this machine, it doesn't take up much space either. The whole thing about kitchen machines is that you've pretty much got to have them out, to hand, or they gather dust in a cupboard. I'm fortunate in that I do have a medium-sized kitchen. What tricks have you got for storing your kitchen gadgets? 

vanilla blueberry ripple ice cream

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Cupcake wars

Kooky Bakes Red Velvet Cupcake

The history of the cupcake as phenomenon, cultural symbol of western femininity and modernity, started in 2005 when the first series of Sex and the City aired. In between zipless fucks, Manolo Blahnik heels, Mr Big and Manhattan cocktails, our fearless protagonists, that is, four go mad in New York, would buy cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery. Before that cupcakes did of course exist; they were mass produced and sold in supermarkets, they were baked in china cups in the dying embers of range cookers by Little House on the Prairie homesteaders. But nobody had really noticed them before. They weren't a thing.
Suddenly the small cake was pimped up, with a new hairstyle and attitude.

Cupcakes take the cake.
So after the Marmite cupcake debacle, I decided to look closer into the sweet but savage world of cupcakes. I'd received several private messages recounting dastardly deeds with baked goods; it seems rip-offs abound. Cupcake bakers will get very angry if their designs or original ideas are taken by another company. Magnolia Bakery started in 1996 but the California based Sprinkles, who claim to be the world's first cupcake company, opened in 2005. By 2012, Sprinkles even opened a cupcake ATM in New York, for addicts. Sprinkles are fairly litigious when it comes to stealing designs, specifically their signature 'dot' fondant design. But some cupcake companies seem to be totally cool about others being like, really really similar.
There can be difficulties when famous bakeries produce cookbooks. The first Humingbird bakery, which started in London in 2004, brought out a cookbook in 2009. There were many complaints;  it seemed they'd merely divided their large scale commercial recipes down to 10 cupcakes and of course, the recipes didn't work. They had to get in testers and now insist on domestic testers for each book, so the problems have been ironed out. Since then the books have been the most popular cupcake recipe books in the UK. But bakers can be a tight-fisted and paranoid lot: I know of at least two famous UK based bakers who put inaccurate recipes in their cookbooks, I got this inside information from their ex-employees. One will see desperate tweets and Facebook questions from amateur cooks who blame themselves rather than the cookbook.
Big cakes aren't dying but there are an increasing amount of people living alone, and the cupcake is perfect for them. You could almost say the cupcake is a diet food, for it is portion control!

This week, I went with my friend Scott of Kooky Bakes on a 'cupcake crawl'. Instead of beer, we got drunk on sugar and buttercream.
Our first stop, the Primrose Hill Bakery, is in the heart of yummy mummy land, nestled between the green heights of Parliament Hill and the gritty delights of Chalk Farm tube. The interior consists of icecream pastels; lemon yellows, mint green and strawberry pink with the polished chrome detailing of 1950s furniture. Scott tried a Red Velvet cupcake while I tried their signature bake, the salted caramel cupcake.
The Red Velvet cupcake was not very red. They'd gone for the 'natural' look of faintly rosy brown. Primrose Hill doesn't use much buttercream. I know people criticise the amount of buttercream, the ridiculous height of a cupcake in comparison to the humble low-key fairy cake, but I actually like buttercream.
How much buttercream should there be on a cupcake? I interrogate my expert companion.
Scott sighs: "I do a third. A third of the height of the cake.This would be a classic American cupcake."
Why do you think cupcakes are so popular?
"People think that starting a cupcake business is easy, they can do it from home. That's how I started, but now I have a unit and three assistants." He continues,"the market is saturated. But there is still a huge appetite for it."
Scott arrived in the UK from America in 1999.  He wanted to work in food and twice got to the semi-finals of Masterchef. The first time, he was in the same section as Thomasina Miers, who went on to win. Scott started his company in 2010. He doesn't have a shop but sells at markets like Brick Lane, Brockley, Tottenham, Wapping, Kerb and Street Feast.
Why do you think people get so angry about cupcakes?
"It's hip to be down on cupcakes."
It's true, the cupcake craze has been blamed for the demise of the modest fairy cake; the reversal of feminism and the obesity crisis.
What is the future of cupcakes?
"Well cupcakes rode through the recession. It's the perfect little treat, a cheap luxury. Cupcake companies are starting all the time, there is obviously the business for them. So I think it's still growing."
Scott adds: "There is no new cupcake. Yes we have the cronut and other things but nothing supplants the cupcake. The cupcake is extremely functional, portable, individual. You can buy one for yourself and not feel guilty."
Scott charges £2.50p per cupcake, the standard London price. "It's a fair price for small batch hand-made cakes."
At the Primrose Hill Bakery, we take a systematic approach to tasting.
First, we look at the buttercream density and consistency.
Scott's advice:
"Buttercream should be light but not claggy and it shouldn't fall apart. It shouldn't be hard, it should be soft, with no crust. I look at the levels of sugar, butter and cream cheese. I look at acidity and tang. But most importantly the buttercream should taste of something."
Secondly, we consider the cake:
Scott: " It should be moist with an even crumb, no giant holes."
Scott likes to squeeze them a little, around the casing, to see if they are moist. He prefers a thin cupcake case, slightly translucent, it doesn't pull apart.
He changes his recipe according to the weather, if the temperature is warm then the whole thing, buttercream and cake, is softer.

What size should a cupcake be?
"A US cupcake is the size of a British muffin. The sponge should come up to the top of the paper cases. A UK cupcake is a little bit smaller. There are three size baking tins: muffin size, bun size and fairy cake size."

Next we visit Sweet Things a few streets away in Primrose Hill. The shop isn't as pretty but they have interesting glass panelled sweet-filled tables.
Scott again orders the Red Velvet cupcake (£2.60p). Straight away we can see that there is more buttercream and that they've used the classic Number One sized piping bag nozzle which makes a bouffant swirl.
The sponge is softer and moister "made with vegetable oil" informs Scott knowledgeably, but it's fairly tasteless and greasy. It's not sweet enough either. The colour on the other hand is a proper crimson red.
The salted caramel cupcake (£3) has chocolate buttercream icing with a little sea salt on top. I like the sea salt but feel the buttercream should have been caramel not chocolate. Scott extracts a microscopic hair from my cake. "I'm obsessed with that sort of thing".
Scott says sadly: "There is not much flair here. The Red Velvet buttercream is cream cheese heavy.
Vegetable oil is used because it has a longer shelf life, especially in the heat. It's very common in baking in the United States. Sometimes margarine and vegetable fat can work well, Dan Lepard has been known to use Trex. But this Red Velvet cake, it's not sweet or tangy, there is no buttermilk. There should be buttermilk."

Scott gives me a present of one of his cupcakes, the most popular flavour, Red Velvet, which I try when I get home.
It is perfection. The height of the buttercream, the ratio of frosting to cake is ideal. The colour is vibrant, the cake has the sour flavour of buttermilk undercutting the sweetness. The sponge is moist with a small even crumb and no holes. You want American baking? Ask an American to bake for you.
In Primrose Hill