Sunday, 30 December 2012

Recipe: Coeur à la creme

God it's been grey. I feel like I'm in a scene from The Others, thick damp mist, gloomy interiors and er, thinking I'm alive when actually I'm dead. Ok, maybe not that bit.
But this morning, opening my shutters, I saw a few green shoots in the window box, which cheered my heart, this reminder that there will be a Spring.
This recipe is very Valentines Day; the heart of the cream once the whey has drained. It requires that you purchase a white ceramic heart shape dish with holes in the bottom. Go on, you know you want to. Failing that, you could use disposable tin foil cups and punch some holes in the bottom for draining.
It's also dead easy. You get maximum deliciousness, look like you are a whizz in the kitchen, with minimum effort.
Set the heart in a dish of warmed forest berries. I'm making a habit of keeping a half kilo bag of mixed berries in the freezer. You can whip them out at any point, heat them up and add some sugar, some lemon juice, a little liqueur if wanted and serve with cream, yoghurt, muesli, meringues, on waffles, pancakes, french toast....

Cream Heart with alcoholic forest berries
Makes about six

150g Mascarpone
100g Double cream
50g Icing sugar
A few drops ofVanilla essence
500g frozen Forest berries
70g Sugar
A glug of Creme de cassis
Juice of Half a Lemon

cheese cloth

Mix all the cream heart ingredients (mascarpone, cream, vanilla, icing sugar) together by whipping gently (not overmuch as mascarpone easily turns to butter).
Dampen the cheese cloth and line your dish with it, pressing the cloth into the corners of the heart.
Scoop the mixture into the cheese cloth lined dish and smooth the top. Give the mould a little bang on the worktop. Place on a saucer in the fridge to drain for a few hours.

Warm up the berries with the sugar, lemon juice and creme de cassis until they are bubbling hot.
Let it cool to lukewarm.  Grab the cream heart, unmould it carefully, gently peeling off the cheesecloth, flip it over onto the dish. Surround the heart with warm berries. Serve.
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Saturday, 29 December 2012

Meatless Christmas: more recipes

On Christmas Day, we ate shop-bought croissants before my mum and I started on the meal. My dad changed all my light bulbs, scrubbed my toilet with a toothbrush and Spirit of Salts then cleaned all the limescale off my bath. It was the best present. A couple of years ago, he spent Christmas cleaning all the stains off my upholstery. Under the sink at home, my dad has a kind of chemistry set of stain removers for every possible type of stain. He is also known as 'Araldite Man'. Sometimes on a Sunday, he'd get out the Araldite, two tubes, mixed them together with a special little spatula and stick something together. He always had more than he needed and would call around the house for broken items to repair.
Meanwhile I decided to make an Italian starter which is traditional at Christmas: tortellini en brodo. It was beautiful, the stock was clear and light, the pasta silky and satisfying.
Fresh pasta is easy if you have a machine or attachments for your food mixer. It makes the whole process more or less effortless. Never ever wash a pasta machine or the attachments. They go rusty.

Here is the recipe for a vegetarian Tortellini en brodo.
Makes 20 tortellini

Pasta dough
400g of 00 flour or plain flour
3 eggs and 1 egg yolk (keep the remaining egg white)
10g salt
200g Italian blue cheese
1 Egg white

Put the flour, 3 eggs and salt into a food processor and pulse. When it looks like fine couscous, add the last yolk. Now it'll look like big couscous. Take it out and knead with your hands. Cover with clingfilm and leave it to rest for half an hour.
Once rested (which makes it easier to handle, more relaxed), then cut off a section the size of a tangerine. Cling film the rest as you don't want it to get dry.
Putting the dial of your machine onto the widest setting (1) put the section of dough through. Then fold over the dough and, open end downwards, put it through again. Keep doing this (folded over) until you hear a pop on the folded closed end of the pasta.
Then, unfolded, run the pasta through the machine, on a tighter setting each time, going through 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and ending on 7. For tortellini or ravioli you don't want the pasta so fine it'll burst.
I laid out the strip of pasta, cut 6 to 7 cm squares and placed a small ball of Italian blue cheese in the middle. I seasoned the ball with salt and pepper. Then using the remaining egg white, I used a pastry brush to moisten the edges of the pasta square and folded it into a tortellini/loni shape.
Then I placed the tortellini onto a tray dusted with semolina. Although the filling is quite dry, it's best not to let them touch each other. You want to make sure they don't stick.
I then did the same process with each tangerine sized section of pasta dough.

The night before I made a clear vegetable stock.
2 onions, chopped roughly, leaving on skins and all
5 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly
2 fresh bay leaves
3 spring onions, chopped roughly
3 carrots, chopped roughly
1 stick of celery, chopped roughly
1 fennel bulb, chopped roughly
2 tablespoons of some good vegetable stock such as Marigold, to bump up the flavour
1 glug of Maggi sauce
10 peppercorns
1 manky bunch of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
A handful of dried porcini mushrooms
2 litres or so of water
(You can pretty much put all of your floppy vegetables from the bottom drawer of the fridge into a stock unless they are starchy)

I left all this to simmer for a couple of hours. Then I left the pan overnight. In the morning I strained all the vegetables into a chinois, pushing it down with my hand (or a wooden spoon), to get all the flavour out of the vegetables. Check for saltiness and add if necessary.

Just before serving, I heated up the stock until almost boiling point. I added the tortellini. When they floated, bobbing around on the surface, I used a ladle to put the stock into a bowl, adding 3 to 5 tortellini in each.
I added grated pecorino and white pepper.

For the main course I made butterflied salmon (they can do it at your fishmongers) basted with a Mexican achiote, roasted and soaked Ancho chillis and citrus (orange and lime) paste. This would be even better on the barbeque but as it was pissing down outside, I roasted this in the hot oven of the Aga. We had this with brussel sprouts in red wine and roast potatoes and parsnips.

Then as a 'palate cleanser' I made a Clementine and gold leaf jelly. This went down very well, exactly the refreshing break you need during a Christmas meal. I used a recipe from the Bompas and Parr Jelly book and then added my own tweaks. Yes I know using gelatine breaks the 'meatless' rule.

7 leaves of gelatine (silver)
400ml of clementine juice
A slug of Chase Marmalade vodka
1 or 2 gold leaves
Almond oil

First squeeze the clementine juice into a jug. Then soak the leaves of gelatine in cold water.
Decide which jelly mould you are going to use. I used a copper pineapple mould. Oil it with almond oil.
In a glass jug, I mixed 2 of the gelatine leaves with a slug of Chase Marmalade vodka and then heated the mixture gently until the gelatine melted. (I did this on the black enamel of the Aga, but you could do it in a microwave (30 seconds) or in a saucepan. Don't overheat). I then carefully, using a damp tine of a fork, placed the gold leaves into the jug and whisked vigorously.
I poured this into the jelly mould and placed it in the fridge to set.
I then mixed the clementine juice and the rest of the gelatine leaves, heating gently until melted. I let it cool and then poured this into the mould.
Place in the fridge for a few hours.
Turn out the mould onto a cake stand and your Christmassy gold leaf jelly will look beautiful.

For afters, we ate steamed treacle pudding with creme fraiche. Then, end to end, just like the impoverished grandparents in Charlie and the Chocolate factory, we all sat in my bed, for I don't have a sofa anymore, to watch a film we'd downloaded from itunes. The film, 2 days in New York, was crap. We liked 2 days in Paris but this was embarrassingly bad.
The other day, when I did a question and answer session for Stylist magazine, one reader commented 'you are living the dream'. I cannot disagree.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Meatless Christmas: pizza and dating

It was a small quiet Christmas this year with just my mum, dad and The Teen. My parents were a little reluctant to come over as they have no transport and we don't have a TV. I gave them my bed on Christmas Eve and they put up with no telly until they got buses home on Boxing Day (there being a tube strike).
For Christmas Eve I made fresh pizzas, baked on the floor of the Aga (which I'd pumped up to it's highest heat, note to self, always remember to turn it down afterwards or the oven may explode). Most domestic ovens don't go above 230ºC-240ºC (464ºF) and you need over 260º (500ºF) for pizza. I can get the Aga to that temperature if I whack the knob up to the maximum a couple of hours beforehand. (I also flirt with the Neil the Agaman to get him to increase the gas flow to enable higher temperatures on his yearly visit.) I've heard some pizza freaks 'cheat' a domestic oven by baking the dough during the cleaning cycle when the temperature is higher.
I use my version of Richard Bertinet's simple olive dough, made with a sourdough starter from the last batch, stretching it thinly over a cast iron crepiere pan on top of the Aga, similar to my naan technique, to seal the bottom so that I could shove it onto the floor of the roasting oven. All I want for christmas is a pizza peel!
A few hours previously, I had 'sun-dried' some tomato halves in the simmering oven. Before baking the pizza, I tore up a ball of good mozzarella, one per pizza, and thinly sliced, Goodfellahs style, some smoked garlic over the top. Once baked, blackened bottom and bubbly top, I sprinkled over some rocket and grated a frozen lemon (I now keep some in my freezer and add to everything, it's good for your health) onto the pizza.

Olive Dough
2 pizzas

500g strong bread flour (of which 100g was sourdough from my last batch of pizza making)
20g semolina
50ml olive oil
10g sea salt
7g fast acting yeast
320ml water, luke-warm only, so as not to kill the yeast
1 tablespoon of honey.

2 balls of mozzarella, (one each pizza), torn
1 kilo of oven dried tomatoes
2 cloves of smoked garlic
20 ml Olive oil
1 bag of rocket
1 frozen lemon, grated over the top
A little Maldon salt

Put the yeast, honey and water into a jug and let it froth. Mix dry ingredients together with the olive oil. I do this in my Kitchen Aid food mixer. Once you are sure the yeast is live and kicking, add to the dough and mix thoroughly for 5 minutes.
I then cover the bowl with cling film and wait an hour till it's risen.
I cut the rise dough in half and using my hands, on a well floured surface, I try to stretch the dough into a circle, just like they do in pizzerias.
I top it with the mozzarella, tomatoes, garlic.
In the meantime I have heated my cast iron crepiere pan on top of the Aga. I sling the dough onto this heated circle to seal the bottom. I also cover the edges with a thin stream of olive oil.
Then I shove the pizza circle onto the floor of the roasting oven. If you have an ordinary oven, it's worth buying a pizza stone or purchasing a square of marble to approximate the same effect.
Within 10 minutes the pizza is cooked. Pull it out, place on a large plate, and throw some rocket and salt over the top. You could add some thinly sliced parmesan too. Then, I grate a frozen lemon over the pizza.

Then having stuffed ourselves, mum, dad and The Teen came to look at my profile on an online dating site. I gave up for a while, despairing of the behaviour of the men on these sites. But now The Teen is at university, I feel I must make an effort.
Asian families help their children find a partner, arranged marriage seems to work, so why not ask for help from my parents? Ok I'm the wrong side of 40, but you never know.
My parents approached this as if I was asking them to look at hard porn.
After a few minutes, my mum declared that my profile picture looked "very nice".
My parents only seemed interested in the men that shared their interests: for my mum, it was watercolours and my dad perked up when we found a man who goes skiing.
One of the candidates was called Mr Licky. I groaned. "Perhaps he works at the Post Office?" suggested my mum.
Another fancifully calls himself The Roaring Lion. He looks like he works in IT.
Most of them lie about their age.
While we were gazing, huddled around the glowing LED light of the computer, a very modern Christmas, my Teen said:
"I'm suspicious of men who are on a dating site on Christmas Eve"
"But we are on a dating site on Christmas Eve?" I counter
"Yes but we are doing it as a family so that's ok".

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boxing Day recipe: Smorgåstårta/Sandwich cake

Smorgastarta, a typically Scandinavian sandwich cake, would be a fantastic showpiece for Boxing Day.
One wants simpler food after the belly stretching richness of the Christmas Day banquet, maybe sandwiches or the sharper, hotter tastes of foreign food. It's a day to use up leftovers, turkey sandwiches, turkey curry!
This savoury 'rainbow' cake would be a great 'carrier' for leftovers. I've done this Smorgåstårta with traditionally Scandinavian ingredients such as smoked salmon, fish roe, fish roe paste from Kalles and pickled cucumbers. But do use up whatever is in your fridge!
My version is made out of Chorley Wood style sandwich bread, a nice slice of Warburtons or Kingsmill, which, though nutritionally deficient, can sometimes hit the spot.
This is also a very indulgent recipe, it's far from low fat, I used shed-loads of butter.
Processed bread is soft and difficult to butter when untoasted. I have two tips for you:
  • Whip up the butter in a food processor. I used unsalted butter and added Maldon's salt.
  • Use a rubber spatula to spread it, it won't break the bread. (Sandwich bar trick that!)
I decided to make a round cake to make it look like a wedding cake but it's easier to make a square or rectangular sandwich cake because of the shape of the bread.

Top Left: the 'crumb' layer of cream cheese icing. Bottom Left: I did a hack by taping a small cross piping nozzle to a tube of Kalles caviar.

2 loaves bread, one brown, one white, crusts cut off
3 packs of Philadelphia cream cheese, whipped 
1 pack of butter, whipped (or for a lighter feel, use mayonnaise on one side of the bread)
1 cucumber, cut finely
1 punnet of cress or alfalfa sprouts
1 jar of cod's roe
1 large pack of smoked salmon
1 tube of Kalles caviar (available from Ocado and Totally Swedish)
3 eggs, hard boiled, sliced finely
I jar pickled cucumbers
2 spring onions, sliced thinly into lengths
1 bunch of dill
You could also add prawns, thinly sliced cheese, cold cuts, feathery dill sprigs, radishes, thinly sliced red pepper slices. Get creative!

Cake stand
Cake tin with removable bottom
Sharp knife
Rubber spatula
Piping nozzle in a star shape

First of all prepare your ingredients: cut off crusts with a sharp knife, whip the cream cheese and butter, cut up the cucumber and eggs.
On a cake stand (you may as well go for the full camp birthday cake look) start to assemble your bread, buttered both sides. 
Do one layer with white bread, fitted together tightly, add your sandwich filling, mine was pickled cucumbers.
Then do the next layer with brown bread, position the slices so that they overlap the white slices underneath in a different direction. My next layer was smoked salmon.
I added a white bread layer with alfalfa sprouts then a brown layer with egg and salmon.
On each layer make sure you butter the bread both sides, this helps the cake to stick together.
You could use mayonnaise if you want it to be lighter.
Then place a round cake tin over the top and cut, with a very sharp knife, around the inside of the cake tin, cutting through the layers to get a round shape. This is admittedly a bit tricky, you might have to push the slices together a bit if they start to pull apart.
Discard the cut away corners or give them to hungry children/guests lurking about.
Then, again using a rubber spatula, with the cream cheese, lay what is called a 'crumb layer' around the sides and top of the 'cake'. 
Then cling-film the cake and cake stand and put it in the fridge for an hour or so to chill and harden.
When you've done that, add a thicker, smoother layer of cream cheese around the cake sides and top.
I then started to decorate the cake using:

  • Shaped cucumber slices placed around the sides and top
  • Piped Kalles fish paste
  • Strips of spring onion
  • Dill sprigs
  • Strips of red pepper.
And I piped more cream cheese around the edges of the top with a star shaped piping nozzle.
I think this is spectacular also for kids parties.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Necessary Pleasures: The Food Programme

I was delighted to be invited to talk about Christmas food on BBC Radio 4's The Food Programme with presenter Sheila Dillon, publisher Tom Jaine and contributions from Jamie Oliver, Charles Campion, Paul Hollywood, Tim Hayward and others. There was an interesting discussion on citrus, the difference between mandarins, clementines, satsumas and tangerines as well as the confession by Tom Jaine that games at Christmas is his idea of hell. I think I've probably offended everybody in my family when I confessed how much I dislike their 'stale vol au vents' at family parties. Oops.
Listen by clicking on this link:

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Recipe: Muslim mince pies

muslim mince pies

It's a bit cheeky calling them that, but I'm giving a little nod to the thousands of non-Christians in the UK, who also like to celebrate the midwinter festival. My recipe is inspired by Middle Eastern flavours such as saffron, raisins, sour cherries and barberries. In fact the mince pie was 'invented' by crusaders coming back, laden with Middle Eastern ingredients, from the holy lands. Another thing: in this recipe there is no suet (yucky stuff) so they are good for vegetarians too.
I put a crescent moon on top, to represent Islam. Islam, strangely, considering some of the oppressive attitudes to women, is a very feminine religion. It follows the lunar calendar rather than our solar calendar. Much of the architecture is also feminine, think of the Taj Mahal, a monument to a woman, and the way that all the beauty and secrets of a typically Islamic building are hidden, with the emphasis on the interior as well as the exterior (the courtyards, the mihrabs or niches, domes and cupolas, all reflect the female form).
In art history, the moon, darkness and the left hand side, is considered sinister (la sinistra is Italian for left) and therefore feminine. We are also suspicious of the number 13 in our culture, possibly because it is associated once more with the feminine, with witchcraft, with scary female power: there are 13 moons in a year.

Until recently I never liked mince pies until I started making them myself. This has become my philosophy about food: stuff I think I don't like is transformed and refreshed when home-made.
muslim mince pies
You can mix and match your mincemeat recipe; although getting the ingredients below will give it an unusual Middle Eastern influence, also feel free to just shove in whatever is lurking in your cupboard, dried fruit wise. The saffron is pretty fabulous as a flavour, both musky and floral, ( I find I'm putting saffron into everything at the moment), and adding some sour fruit also prevents it from being too heavy and sweet.
Any leftovers just keep in a jar in the fridge for the next batch.

Muslim Mince Pies Recipe

Makes 12

200g plain flour
pinch of salt
100g butter at room temperature, cubed
2-3 tablespoons of water
Icing sugar

Mince filling
200g Medjool dates, pitted
30g Barberries (lovely and sour, available from Persepolis)
50g Sour Cherries (again available from Persepolis)
50g Pine Nuts
50g Slivered Almonds
30g Slivered Green Pistachios (optional) (from Persepolis) ( I didn't this time but I think it'd be nice)
A big pinch of Saffron, ground in a pestle and mortar with a pinch of sugar
100g Raisins soaked in Sherry (skip the sherry if you are Muslim)
100g Dried Blueberries
10og Candied Orange/Lemon/Lime Peel (but this must be home-made or of good quality otherwise it tastes horrible)
75g Grated Butter
Zest of a Lemon
A pinch of All Spice, ground
A pinch of Cloves, ground
1 tsp Cinnamon, ground
A grating of Nutmeg
A pinch of Salt

Sieve flour and salt together. 
Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until it forms a ball, adding a little water as you go.
Roll out the pastry onto a surface sprinkled with icing sugar.
Roll it thinly and evenly and cut out 12 circles with a cutter or a glass. 
Lay these circles in a buttered and floured shallow bun tray. (I'm a big fan of Tala's products so here is a link to one of their trays that is suitable)

Mix the mince filling together in a bowl. You can grind the saffron together with a little sugar in a mortar and pestle and add it to the bowl.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc

Then add a generous spoonful of mincemeat to each pie 'hole'.
Then cut out a shape, it could be a crescent moon which you can do with a round cutter or a glass, placing it on the edge of one of your already cut out circles for instance. Or use any cutter you like the look of, or just cover with another circle of pastry, making a little nick in the middle for steam to escape.
Stick this top on with water or milk using a pastry brush.

Bake for 15- 20 minutes in the baking oven of the Aga or at 200ºC in a normal oven.

Friday, 21 December 2012

End of the world dinner

Achiote, a Mexican paste; Mayan woman

Tomatillos are easy to grow in the UK
A village in Mexico; steaming tamales
The market in Oaxaca
The Mayan face
Making tortillas in Oaxaca; squash, beans, tomatillos and physalis fruit

Mexican baby (so cute) and Chichen Itza in Mexico
Different types of Mole in Oaxaca; black bean chilli with chocolate and smoked chillis; cevicheria; different chillis.
Mayans ate a very similar diet to modern Mexicans: maize, beans, squash and chillis and sweet potato. This was supplemented with tomatoes (tomatoes with pasta, the Italian dish, dates only from the 19th century), husk tomatoes (tomatillos), avocado, and fruits such as papaya, pineapple, guava. Even our traditional christmas turkey is a new world animal. The invading Spaniards must have been amazed at the variety and novelty of new world foods. The discovery of America in 1492 heralded the modern era, it was as extraordinary as embarking upon extra-terrestrial travel. Can you imagine if we discovered a whole new part of the world today, with an entire new palate of flavours, spices and ingredients? 

So tonight's End of the World dinner menu is:

Salsas, tomato and tomatillo.
Corn tortillas recipe here
Tamales recipe here
Butterflied fish with achiote recate
Roast potatoes

Thursday, 20 December 2012


Sous-vide means 'in a vacuum' or more literally 'under emptiness' (very French and philosophical that eh?). Food is sealed in an airless plastic bag and cooked slowly, at a low temperature, for hours.
I was sent a sous-vide supreme machine, cost £450, to see what I thought of it. It's the size of a small microwave oven, so could easily be incorporated into a domestic kitchen. I found all the machinery, including the seal pack machine, very easy to use.
The machine came with an accompanying booklet suggesting that fish, potatoes and apples could also be made the sous-vide method.
I tested two pieces of salmon, some potatoes with rosemary, and made spiced apples. The salmon I poached for 50 minutes at 60ºC as per the instructions. Chefs on Twitter and Instagram immediately suggested that it should be cooked at a lower temperature, say 47ºC.
The fish that emerged at the end of 50 minutes, was somewhat boil in the bag in texture and necessitated finishing off with a quick searing on both sides (especially on the skin side, I can't stand soggy fish skin).
Once seared, the fish did taste good. The fact that it had already been cooked in the centre meant that one didn't have to wait until it was cooked through. I could see this being very useful for a restaurant having to do several identical covers very quickly.
The rosemary potatoes however were a disaster. I cooked them at 93ºC for hours. In the booklet it suggested 1.5 to 2 hours at that temperature. I ended up cooking them all night but they still had an uncooked texture at the end. Chefs on Twitter talked of only using waxy potatoes rather than floury. Perhaps that was my mistake.
Finally the baked apples, stuffed with raisins, butter and spices, were cooked at 93ºC for several hours.
These lacked the simple deliciousness of normal oven baking: split skins oozing, a soft yielding interior texture, the slight caramelisation around the edges of the core. While they were cooked through, the consistency was also rather granular.
I wouldn't particularly recommend this method for this recipe.
According to the videos, sous-vide does preserve the colours of vegetables such as courgettes and carrots, without overcooking them. I might try that out.
For me the best method of cooking is something that approximates fire. As someone who doesn't cook meat, probably I'm not seeing the technique at it's best: for this slow poaching method stops meat becoming tough during the cooking.
I'm also inherently suspicious of food cooked slowly at a low temperature on a food safety level. As with canning, one risks botulism if the food isn't eaten straight away or chilled.
Honestly though, it's not a patch on my Aga, but has its uses no doubt.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Hobbit food

My inspirations for this menu were of course derived from the books but also, from woodland and wild foods. I tried to avoid New World foods so no tomatoes. Although Gandalf does smoke a pipe, filled with tobacco? Would that have been a New World import ?
Guests were warm and happy in the cosy yurt.

Elevenses menu:
Mulled cider
roast chestnuts
Coffee (imported by dwarves according to Tolkein)
Tea (in a brick from Tibet)
Elven bread (lemmas) made from spelt flour and Icelandic moss
Home-made strawberry jam
Seed cake
Honey cake
Apple pie
Home made muesli
Wild berry compote
Smoked salmon
Pickled herring
Smoked mackerel
Cheeses, chutneys and pickles
Liquorice Gandalf pipes

Supper menu:
Mulled cider
Roast chestnuts
Spelt crisp bread with truffle paste
Wild mushroom soup with oat bread
Whole sea bass baked in salt (this was for gollum)
Roast roots
Dandelion salad and other wild leaves
Cheeses and pickles
Mince pies
Apple pie with cream
Chocolate coins (that Smaug sat on)

Here I am in the Ham and High with some of the 'elevenses' guests. Yes I do possess a Gandalf style hooded cloak. I just exude cool don't I?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Cupcakes baked in a cup

Cupcakes are much derided these days, rather like 'yummy mummies'. That bastion of feminism, The Guardian, seems to be carrying pieces that are prejudiced against yummy mummies. Why? This is just dislike of uppity women who are 'yummy' because they've kept their figure and their looks, even though they've had children. Good for them!
But of course as we know, women who've had children should keep quiet, frumpy and stay indoors. 
The original cupcakes were called that because they were baked in tea cups (in a range cooker as it cooled off). I figured I'd try the same thing. After all porcelain and pottery are baked in a kiln at a very high temperature so an oven should be safe.
Less washing up and they look cute! Just like yummy mummies in fact...

115g sugar
115g flour
115g butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature

Butter Cream icing

300g icing sugar
150g room temperature butter
A few drops of milk

Pre-heat oven to 150 C
Next just put all ingredients into a bowl then mix till smooth.
Using butter or a vegetable oil spray, grease the insides of your tea cups. You could also put a sprinkling of flour inside.
Spoon the cake mixture into your tea cup. Place the teacups onto a baking tray with a teatowel in the bottom as an extra failsafe in case of cracking. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre of a cake comes out clean. Aga instructions, I did this on the bottom shelf of the baking oven.
Leave the cups to cool.
Mix up the butter cream icing by mixing together the icing sugar, butter and a little milk until it binds, not too sloppy. 
Scrape with a palette knife onto your cake or pipe. 
Add sprinkles and have a nice cup of tea. 

Digital food: QOOQ and Jamie Oliver's FoodTube

No I'm not talking about finger food. This is about how we cook nowadays. I loved having a cookbook come out last year. I love books, I have stacks of cookbooks. I flick through them on the loo, in bed, while eating, while not eating, while thinking about what I'm going to eat next. I don't, however, travel with them, or read them on the bus or the tube like I do other books. Cookbooks are too big and cumbersome for that.
Another confession: once I've greedily devoured every page of the cookbook I put it away and pretty much never cook from it or even look at it again. If I want to know how to cook something, I'll google it. I'll work out how to cook it from the tried and trusted food sites such as the BBC, Jamie, Delia or I'll go to one of my favourite bloggers.
There is a real problem with cookbooks: it's almost impossible to remember which recipe is in which book. Granted, if I'm cooking a specific cuisine, say, middle eastern I'll reacquaint myself with Sally Butcher's work or Claudia Roden. But if I say, want to cook a middle eastern style recipe but the ingredients I have in the fridge are one pomegranate, some filo pastry, a bag of raisins and some oranges, I'll probably look it up on the internet.
The reason people are still writing cookbooks is for prestige. God knows, it's not for the money. Only Jamie, Nigella, Gordon and Delia make any proper money from cookbooks. It's like a giant glossy 'blad' (which is like a promo brochure for your book) for your internet presence.

And so to Paris last weekend for the launch of QOOQ, a French product, a sturdy 'tablet' with recipes, videos and instructions. Unlike the iPad, which  is a sensitive unstable little bugger in comparison, you can throw ingredients onto it, it can withstand heat, it has toughened glass. QOOQ produced their tablet in France, in 2009, the iPad launched in 2010.

France has form when it comes to being ahead of the game in terms of technology.*
When I moved to Paris back in 1989, one of the things that most excited me was the minitel. This was a small computer style box, rented by France Telecom for a tiny monthly fee, and you could look up phone numbers and addresses, you could book your train tickets, theatre tickets and you could access rather pixelly porn via the infamous 3615 numbers. The screen wasn't fancy, the user interface was more amstrad than apple mac. It, like teletext, was sometimes rather slow and frustrating. But this was the future.
Apart from looking up recipes on sites and blogs, I'll look at YouTube videos. This too is not ideal. Sometimes you miss a bit of the instructions and it's difficult to stop on the exact bit. The best way to follow a recipe is to have a series of still photos as steps which you can control. This can be swiped with your finger, but cooks often have messy hands, so some enterprising apps allow you to make a sound, shout 'next' or clap for the next step.
I'd like to make more instructional/funny/food videos but as I live alone, it's not easy to film yourself. Editing video is a bit of a pfaff too as I've only got the shitty iMovie software. I've got my own YouTube channel by the way. 

Jamie Oliver is obviously thinking along the same lines with his latest project: foodtube. He's running a Jamie Oliver YouTube dedicated to food. Great idea. The impression I get is he's going to have new talent presenting food and recipes on it. It's interactive too.

QOOQ has the right idea but is sort of going the wrong way about it. It's rather too expensive at around £300. People will prefer to spend their dosh on an iPad for that kind of money. The design is allright although the wire stand at the back is a bit amateurish. The advantage of it, the fact that it's sturdy enough for the kitchen, is also why no one will carry it around, it's too heavy. Nor is it cheap enough for people to buy an iPad and a QOOQ.
The content (recipes, graphics, photographs) at present is visually poor, especially compared to some of the sumptuous photography one finds on blogs and apps, and rather old fashioned. The translations we looked at were clearly not written by a native Anglophone speaker. (At the moment it's translated into American, with cup measurements, they plan to translate it into UK English too). There are many mistakes with ingredients. With a catalogue of 4000 recipes, that's a lot of editing, checking and translating. Very expensive to pay someone to do that. QOOQ plan to install 1000 recipes on the UK version and you have to pay around £79 per annum to get more recipes. This simply isn't going to work in my opinion. Why would anyone pay extra for more recipes when you can get them for free on the internet?
At the moment they are using French chefs, most of whom are men except for the odd implausibly skinny mediatique chefette.
I got the impression that QOOQ plan to hire famous UK chefs to promote it. I think that would be a mistake. They'd do better to get food bloggers on board, maybe paying them a percentage per view. As in Paris, they could build a demo kitchen, complete with lights and a place to put the camera. Anyone could be filmed in there, demonstrating their recipe with a pro film crew who would then edit and upload it. Many food bloggers are competent and original cooks, whose work may not be seen on YouTube so why not use that pool of talent?
I feel sorry for  QOOQ as they are a small family firm rather than a massive global corporation like Apple (who I think have gone right downhill. I've always used Apple macs, since 1992 when I got my first laptop. But they've become greedy and corporate). There is something in what QOOQ are doing, but it's not quite right for the UK.

* (They are also pretty much the only country that refuses to use the word 'computer' or a variation upon that word. No they've decided it's called an 'ordinateur'. And they had to had a different TV signal system from everybody else too: SECAM rather than PAL or NTSC. Only ex-French colonies and Russia joined in with theirs.)

What do you think? Do you still cook from books or do you trust the internet? Are books just glossy aspirational pretty things to have around? Is it wrong to read cookbooks on the loo? (Just askin'). Do you risk following cooking videos on your precious ipad when you are in the kitchen or would you invest in the more robust QOOQ?

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Kimchi Gangnam style

Korean food has turned from an upcoming food trend to having actually arrived, even my local Tesco now has a section devoted to it. My first Korean meal, two decades ago, was, bizarrely, in Ecuador. And while Korean food is predominantly meat-based, my enduring memory of the meal was the delicious kimchi, or fermented spicy cabbage.
Fermented foods are very good for the health, and Koreans do love a pickle. They put kimchi in everything, soups, broths, on rice and ramen. Any vegetables packed and seasoned with salt are called kimchi, whereas soy pickled vegetables are called jjang achi. The most well known kimchi is baechu, made with Chinese leaves, but there are usually a selection of pickles in a typical Banchan bar to accompany the Korean meal. Today I made cabbage, baechu, kimchi and cucumber and daikon kimchi.

Both are easy and quick, the basic ingredient, a Korean ground hot pepper is now easily obtainable in the UK. Traditionally the longer the kimchi has been fermented, the better tasting and the better for your health. I'm looking for a suitable clay pot in order to bury a batch in my garden over the winter. The frost will break it down even more. Burying food in the ground over winter is a traditional method of preservation in many cultures: think of gravad lax in Scandinavian food; bog butter in Celtic cuisine, burying cabbage by Appalachian homesteaders and a general fear of the apocalypse by some survivalists in Florida!
The expert on fermented foods is Sandor Ellix Katz, or as he is known on Twitter @sandorkraut. The food programme has interviewed him and I've recommended his book Wild Fermentation in the bibliography of my book. I've been mucking about with fermented foods, inspired by his book, for a few years now. I made sauerkraut which is like a Western version of kimchi. Forget the sauerkraut you buy in shops, homemade is the thing.
You can even feed the excess fermented juice to your plants, it's a similar concept to Bokashi composting.

Recipe for Baechu Kimchi

2 heads of Chinese Leaves
2 litres of cold water
200 g of coarse sea salt
15g of finely chopped garlic
15g of finely minced ginger (I keep a stick in the freezer and grate it directly with a microplane)
75g Gochugaru Korean red chilli, ground. (You can order this from
30g caster sugar
5 spring onions, chopped into 5mm slices

In a food grade plastic container or other non reactive container, mix the seasalt with the water.
I separated the leaves of the cabbage and placed them in the container. You could also put the whole heads in. Make sure it's submerged, put a plate over the top and a glass jar filled with water.
I soaked the cabbage for 24 hours, so it was soft and pliable. (When you make sauerkraut, you 'punch' the cabbage to soften it).
Then draining the cabbage from the salt water, rinse it and squeeze it dry.
In the meantime, mix the garlic, ginger, chilli and sugar in a food processor.
Chop the spring onion.
I then placed the cabbage back into the plastic container in layers.
Onto each layer I spread the chilli mix and some spring onions.
I continued until I had used up all the cabbage.
Then I packed the seasoned cabbage, rolling it up, into a glass Le Parfait jar.
Let it ferment in a cool place for 3 days before eating.
If you want to try fermenting it for longer, check it every few days to make sure it isn't building up too much gas in the jar. Just open the top of the jar a little.

Recipe for Cucumber and Daikon kimchi

1 litre or so of cold water
5 cucumbers, peeled, cut into thirds.
40g sea salt
4 cloves of garlic, minced
75g of Gochugaru Korean chilli
5 spring onions or Asian chives, cut into 5mm pieces
1 Daikon, peeled and grated
30g caster sugar
Optional: you could also add toasted sesame seeds either into the pickle or last minute, as it's served.

Dissolve the seasalt in the water.
Take the thirds of cucumber and quarter them lengthways, taking care not to cut down to the bottom.
Submerge the cucumbers into the salty water and leave to soak for an hour.
Grate the daikon and cut the spring onions.
In the meantime, mix the garlic, chilli, sugar.
Then drain the cucumbers, reserving the brine and fill the split end with the chilli mixture.
In a sterilised glass container such as a Le Parfait jar, place each filled cucumber upright.
You can probably squeeze in 3 per layer. Feel free with both these recipes to squeeze them right in as the vegetables compress and later there is more room in the jar.
Between each layer dump a bunch of the grated daikon radish.
Keep filling all the jars, I filled 3 x 1 litre jars.
At the end, if the cucumbers are not submerged, add some of the briney water to each jar so that the cucumbers are covered.
Leave to ferment for a couple of days.
Afterwards keep in the fridge.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

How not to fuck up a Jansson's Temptation

Jansson's Temptation is one of my favourite dishes. How can it not be? Floury potatoes, fried onions, thick cream and the umami boost of anchovies baked in the oven. I'm not sure however that the classic matchstick shape of the potatoes has the satisfactory mouthfeel, I'm also not too keen on how the anchovies turn the dish an unsightly grey. So I decided to thinly slice the potatoes à la gratin dauphinois and layer the anchovies on top in a criss-cross fashion, a bit like a pissasaladiere tart. This way it would look pretty as well as taste good.
So far so good. Things were going swimmingly until I decided to forgo the salted anchovies I usually use and go all authentic by using Swedish anchovies as recommended in Jeremy Lee's recipe. I was ordering from Ocado's Scandinavian section and now Swedish anchovies are easily available, plus they came in a really nice tin. Yippee!
I tasted one and they were er, raw and...sort of pickled. Swedish anchovies aren't actually anchovies at all, they are sprats. Perhaps I should have listened to Annie Bell instead.
Many recipes for Jansson's Temptation are mongrels, non-Nordic bastardisations. Recipes can't even agree whether one should use floury or waxy potatoes.
I felt like I needed to get to the bottom of this, my primary question being: Swedish anchovies or not?
Last night I tested three Jansson's Temptation recipes to see: one by Swedish author, Margareta Schildt-Landgren, therefore I guess, the most authentic. The second by Signe Johansen and the last created by myself.
The authentic Jansson's Temptation recipe by Margareta Schildt-Landgren. Tasty but messy, bit dry at the top.
The Swedish author's recipe was tasty but, as I said, not very attractive visually. It looked like a load of oven chips crammed into a baking tin. It was also rather dry at the top due to a lack of cream even though I covered it with foil and I used slightly less potatoes than she specified in her recipe. It did use Swedish anchovies, and this time, the sweetness of the pickled anchovy was, while unfamiliar, very effective.
Signe Johansen's take on the Jansson's Temptation.
Sig's recipe worked very well, it had enough cream. On the inauthentic side, she went for the sliced rather than chipped potatoes, and her onions were pre-fried rather than raw as in the Swedish recipe. In the authenticity stakes, she also used Swedish anchovies. 
My recipe used sliced potatoes and Italian anchovies. It was good, like a gratin dauphinois but felt like a safe option. It lacked the exotic tingle that the juniper and sugar-cured sprats give to the dish. The edges burnt so forgive the non-magazine standard photo, but the crunchy bits in the corners and bottom taste the best. (In fact I think they should just sell a plate of crunchy bits in restaurants, just like Koya, the noodle bar in Soho, sells a side of tempura crunchy bits.) 

So here's my final recipe, which is not entirely authentic, but uses Swedish anchovies, looks pretty and will not frighten the horses. As for the burning floury/waxy question, I still don't know, the same debate 'rages' around the subject of Gratin Dauphinois (which I regard as one of my signature dishes). I would require another testing session for that but if readers have any comments on the type of potato please weigh in. I used floury Maris Piper potatoes.

Jansson's Temptation

Enough for 4
Use a small baking dish of around 15 x 15 cms.

Unsalted butter to smear the baking tin
1 clove garlic, cut in half and rubbed around your baking tin
1 large brown onion, peeled and sliced thinly
1 kilo, which is the equivalent of 5 medium peeled, potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced.
1 x 600ml of double cream 
1 jar of salted anchovies or anchovies in oil (drained)
1 jar of Swedish anchovies to be authentic.

Prepare the baking tin with butter and garlic.
Fry the onions till soft.
Layer the baking tin with neat overlapping rows of potato rounds. Do four thin layers and in between add some of the fried onions. After the second layer, add half of the anchovies.
Salt each layer slightly.
On top place the anchovies in criss-cross style.
Cover with foil and bake at 180 degrees centigrade for 30 minutes until a fork goes through the potatoes easily. Then uncover and bake for another 15 minutes.
Smaklig måltid!