Sunday, 28 April 2013

Ice ice berg lettuce baby

One of the cookbooks I've most enjoyed recently is by a blogger, Deb Perelman of The Smitten Kitchen. It's charmingly written with a dry, wry, warm, frank and chatty tone, reminiscent of my heroine Nora Ephron, another smart talented New York Jewish girl. It's also fantastically photographed by Deb. If you look carefully, all of the pictures are taken on one laminated fake granite kitchen surface, next to a window, in her tiny kitchen. But it looks professional, simply lit, but giving you all the info you need about the dish while looking good. Finally and most importantly, the recipes are just great. The sort of stuff you just want to cook all the time. In most cookbooks you see, maybe, three recipes you want to cook. On this one, on almost every page you inhale and say 'I wanna make that'. That is the mark of a great cookbook.
The United States is waaay ahead of us in terms of blogging. They have blogger superstars: The Pioneer Woman cooks aka Ree Drummond (whose story has just been bought up by Hollywood which will make it the second film about blogging but again about a food blogger. (The first was the Nora Ephron directed movie starring Meryl Streep, about Julie Powell of Julie/Julia). Deb's book is number two in the New York Times best seller lists.
Just think, in five years time in the UK, we will have a handful of big deal bloggers, the ones with klout equal to newspaper columnists and tv chefs.
I have nicked one of Deb's recipes. It's really simple as is much of her stuff. I've tried some of her other recipes and its such a relief to cook from a book that has obviously been so thoroughly tested in a domestic kitchen by the author.This recipe is all about the iceberg lettuce, the humble, unchic, non-artisanal, crisp, light green ball of crunchy leaves. As Deb points out, there are times when nothing else will do. You don't want trendy salads, peppery rocket, or beetrooty red leaves or radiccio, you just want an uncomplicated lettuce. That you don't even have to wash.
She makes it look chic and tasty of course. Her technique is to cut it into slices, layered in between with a creamy dressing and other salady bits and bobs. I've changed her original recipe with blue cheese, radishes and celery into my version, with goats cheese, baby carrots and seeds. Because that is what I had in the fridge. I also added one of my favourite ingredients, yuzu paste, a Japanese citrus. You can buy it online. I love it, it makes everything taste special.
1 iceberg lettuce, sliced horizontally into 1.5 cm thick slices
Baby carrots, quartered,
Pumpkin seeds
Finely diced red pepper
150g of goat's cheese
2 tablespoons of sour cream
25ml of milk
1 tablespoon of yuzu
Assemble, putting some of the ingredients on each layer plus the creamy dressing.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Salt in slovenia

According to the guide at the Piran salt flats, dry salt all tastes the same. It's only when it is wet that different flavours emerge. He confirmed what I always thought, when cooking: sea salt, that is 'sweet salt', is less salty.
In the bay of Piran, that tiny shimmering crescent of access to the Adriatic for Slovenia, the traditional method is used to make salt, the last place to use it. Many of the salt farms were abandoned in the 1960s due to an influx of cheap salt from Africa. This salt is grown underwater, using a blue/green algae or cyanobacterial carpet, plus clay and carbonate which creates a Petola crust.
There are 7 different types of Piran salt, of different densities: the denser, the better quality, with more minerals and smaller granules.
The best salt from Piran results from 40 consecutive days over 30º c without rain. This only happens every 3-5 years. This salt is highly valued, costing 20 euros a kilo in Slovenia but 100 euros in Japan.
These are the most northern saline fields in the Mediterranean. Situated one metre below sea level here, the salters, 35 in all, harvest daily. Each salt pan has a hut where they keep their tools. Salters are men, whose fathers and grandfathers have done the same job. The work is highly physical with long hours. Starting in April, every day they must cultivate a special mud mat from the sea.They work 4 am till 11 am then 4pm till sundown. In the peak periods, the entire families help. Their average salary is approximately 600 euros a month, plus extra for good quality and more production.
Each salter can produce 5 tons each day, for 100 days.They produced 6,200 tonnes last year and 50 tons of the 'salt flower' fleur de sel' the highest quality. In the year 2000, there was no salt. It rained too much therefore the salters only got their minimum wage.
The average salinity of sea water is 3.5% ( which means that if you take a litre or gallon of sea water and boil it for a couple of hours, you will be left with 35g or 35 pints of sea salt). Piran salt has 8 times that salinity. Like sel gris cooking salt from France (which I always bring back from visits), it's damp or 'oily' in feel.
The Piran salt pans are important for wildlife: rare and endangered birds nest there. The creatures, such as brown shrimp, that live in the extremely salty water are called, rather brilliantly...'extremophiles'.
Pictures from Piran in Slovenia.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Mermaids in Slovenia

Aquaculture, that is fish farms, have a bad name. But Fonda, created ten years ago by a family of Slovenian micro-biologists, have four 'fields' (marked by coloured buoys) in the Northern Adriatic sea, in the bay of Piran, where vicious sea bass are grown carefully.
Sea bass are old old fish, living from 50 to 100 years. When you buy a large one, you are basically eating an OAP. It takes seven months for a seabass to grow six grams. They grow slowly.
A salmon, by comparison, only lives seven or eight years.

The Adriatic sea, which has a unique 'continental' character, where temperature fluctuates seasonally, is expensive and best for fish, especially the North.
Fonda sea bass are expensive compared to most aquaculture reared fish "At the beginning we mostly sold to Italy where they are accustomed to paying good prices for the best products." The Italians eat 25 kilos of fish per person per annum. But the Portuguese eat more, over double that, more even than the Japanese.
Fonda are starting to franchise their method, starting in Croatia. Irena claims that the Croatian sea bass taste different despite being reared and fed identically. The viniculture notion of 'terroir' exists for sea fish too, Irena says the Croatian fish have a different texture, the sea has a different salinity.
The dad has built a reef. Big fish come to reproduce there, dolphins and sharks, outside of the netted pens.
Irena, the daughter, is not what you imagine a fish farmer to be, with a sinewy glamour.
She throws handfuls of dark brown pellets into netted areas, like playpens, where the sea bass are grown. I eat a pellet: it has 22 components including sardines, grain, soya, ashes. It tastes not bad.

As we again approach the netted pens, Irena whispers to the fish and they seemingly respond by flipping into the air "they know me, our boats" she hums in a low voice.
It suddenly occurs to me that this Irena is no ordinary woman, with her metallic blue eyelids and clothed in shades of mediterranean seawater.
"Are you a mermaid?" I blurt. The others on the boat laugh.
"My name Irena is from the word Sirena, Siren" she looks at me solemnly. "Mermaids are not nice and pretty like in Disney" she looks sad "no, they are bad. When our fisherman go out to sea and don't return, it is because of the mermaids in the Adriatic"
At lunch I notice the cooked mussels still have their beards, little green tangles left in the shell. Irena explains "It is torture to de-beard them while they are still alive. We sell fish yes, but they are still living beings, we must respect them. It is better to cook the mussels and pull the beards off later, also it is easier. Our sea bass, we put them to sleep in freezing water before killing them"

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Orange wine makers of Slovenia

As well as wine, the Mlecniks also grow spelt.

These wines are named after the Mlecnik grandparents: Ana and Angel
Valter Mlecnik and his son, Klemen

Lush. Slovenia is lush. Telly Tubby green hills with stepped terraces, a Northern Tuscany. On the way from Trieste airport in Italy, one side of the road is Slovenian, the other Italian. This played havoc with my phone data roaming. I'd racked up a bill simply by sitting on the wrong side of the car, near the middle lane.
I screwed up straight away, asking the guide "You use the euro in Slovakia don't you?"
"You are in Slovenia, not Slovakia"he said.
"I'm sorry"
"That's ok. I'm used to it" replied our guide.
This tiny country is new. Once the northernmost tip of Yugoslavia, elbowed between Italy and Austria, it was a region not a country. During the communist era, Slovenians did their shopping in Italy, smuggling back fashionable jeans by wearing several pairs at once. Only trouble was, it took all day to queue at the border, there and back.
Slovenians were the first to leave Yugoslavia, slipping out before things got nasty: yelling 'see ya, wouldn't wanna be ya' as they ran into the arms of Western Europe.
Although their language is Slavic, they don't consider themselves to be Eastern Europeans. Most of them speak fluent Italian as a second language.
We were here to try the celebrated 'orange' wines: skin-macerated white wines, marmalade-hued and natural. We met the Mlecnik family on their large property. During the communist years they were only allowed to live in part of their house, their farm was confiscated in 1964.
"My great grandfather was clever"explained Klemen, the son "he joined the local cooperative, so we were allowed to stay on the farm".
They got their farm back in 1986. On the side of the building and up in the hills one can still see the old communist propaganda. The name Tito is scratched out and renewed annually on the hill.
"Who does this?" I ask.
"Working people want to return to communism. They want an easy life, eight hours a day, then to forget about work. They preferred their lives before. But if you want to do something, to achieve, you are happier now"
The guide explained also "before everybody got paid the same, good wine or bad wine. They planted for mass production, not quality. So why bother?"
"Are you saying that communism doesn't work?" I ask.
He laughs.
These winemakers are relearning the old ways. Their wine is 'natural', biodynamic, organic. Vineyards have meadows between lyre shaped rows, wild flowers, wild leeks, geese. Lush. That word again.

With experimentation they realised it was best not to prune early, for new growth susceptible to disease. Instead they tie up the vines. Then they discovered grandparents did it that way.

Aleks Klinec vineyard in the village of Medana. He rides around on a bright yellow vespa and listens to chill out rave music with his Oasis styled brother.

Miha Batic, of the Batic vineyards, with impressive Jay Rayner hair, is 30 years old. His family has owned the vineyard since 1592.
"In this region, nobody ask you what you will do when you grow up, because they already know"

To find out more about Slovenian orange wines, visit the RAW wine fair in London on May 19th and 20th. Tickets available here.
Na zdravje! Cheers!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Tears and carbs

passion fruit curd doughnuts

So the teen went back to university yesterday after being at home for a month. I drove home from dropping her off at Kings Cross station and self-medicated with comfort food: freshly fried doughnuts filled with passion fruit curd. The best doughnuts I ever had was at the Brick Lane Bagel shop which used to fry up jam doughnuts on a Saturday afternoon. They've got to be freshly fried.
I needed the carbs, I justified, because I had to park far away and drag her suitcase, which is as big as she is, the weight and size of a coffin, my heart pounding with the effort, miles down the York Way so she could take a train to York.
When she's home, I feel better, I don't have that feeling of something being missing from the house. I only have the one you see and I don't have a husband. The first couple of weeks when she's gone, I still think she's present, in her bedroom (she spends most of her time in her bedroom even when she's home). It's a strange feeling, like a phantom limb. I've got no one to shout at.
It's getting better, however, the mini-bereavement every time she goes away, not as bad as last October, the first time she left. But this Easter holidays I got the vibe from her that I remember so well from how I was with my parents: that sensation of slightly not being able to stand being around them for very long, being both bored, irritated, depressed and powerless. Of feeling that being with my parents was not the centre of the world. It's disconcerting to be on the other end of that. It makes you feel old.
The tough bit with having children is not the baby stuff, the sleepless nights and the not going out. It really isn't.
It's this: knowing that you will fade from importance in their lives, that your main value to them is when things are going wrong, when, quite rightly, they will boomerang right back. That you will see less and less of them as the years go on, as they form relationships and have children. That Western society regards clinginess to parents as a bad thing. Worse, if you are a man, mother love is seen as the primary symptom of a future Psycho killer.
As a parent, this is the only relationship in life where you must tolerate this inequality. It requires mountains of self-sacrifice. I only hope I'm strong enough.
Until the end of course. I don't see my parents often enough, they are always travelling, but I dread my parents dying. What will I do? Who will I go to for advice? How will I ever go home again? Home isn't a place but a history, a habit.
Will the tape in my head, comprised mainly of their values, which half of the time I fought against, determining what I thought not what they thought, still play? I'll have two big parent-shaped holes in me. Emotionally, I'll be a doughnut.
passion fruit curd

Recipe for Passion fruit curd doughnuts


4-5 passion fruits, scooped out
4 egg yolks
100g (1/2 a cup) caster sugar
75g (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
Pinch of salt

Put the yolks, passion fruit and sugar into a pan and cook slowly, stirring constantly, as it forms into a custard. It should reach about 70c/160F and take 10 minutes.
Then take off the heat and slowly stir the butter in gradually. Add the pinch of salt.
Strain the passion fruit curd into a container and let it cool.
passion fruit curd doughnuts


I used Dan Lepard's recipe from Short & Sweet but it did take a long time. Do punch holes in the doughnuts, I found that the inside was not sufficiently fried if I tried to fry them whole.
Here is a quicker recipe and next time I will try that.
Fry in clean vegetable oil (that hasn't been used for anything savoury) in a deep frying pan or use a dedicated deep fat fryer. They fry really quickly, within a minute or less, so do keep an eye and fry a few at a time.
Then dip them in a bowl of caster sugar, turn them over and sugar both sides.
To fill them with the curd: fill a piping bag and cut a small hole in the side of the fried doughnut, driving it either side of the hole. Fit the tip of the piping bag in and fill. This works!
Best eaten on the day with a cup of tea.
Options: try dusting them with different sugars: Tate & Lyle's delicious Golden Syrup sugar, lavender infused sugar or cinnamon infused sugar
passion fruit curd doughnut

Friday, 12 April 2013

It's a wrap menu and recipe for home-made 'After Ates' mints

Saturday's supper club will feature all kinds of foods wrapped up. (Note: this is a follow up theme to the previous ultra-silly supper club called 'On a stick'.) Nature has meant that some foods come with their own wrapping: eggs, bananas, oranges. Other foods are delicious when cooked in some kind of wrapping: banana leaves, vine leaves, pastry, dough or salt. I'm a big fan of the al cartoccio method: spaghetti or say, potatoes, cooked in a bag. I'm going to be exploring some of these within the menu:

Vietnamese fresh spring rolls
Tofu pockets
Fish in banana leaves with a veggie option
Vegetables wrapped in lettuce
Potatoes in a bag
Deep fried icecream in filo pastry
Grilled caramelised bananas
Physallis fruit

We will also play food 'pass the parcel': winner gets the prize when the music stops. (We'll play the version where there is a small gift in every layer).
Guess what music will be on in the background? Rap! 

A food that comes in it's own little packets is always a joy, particularly After Eight's. Is there a kid that hasn't descended in the morning after the parent's dinner party to rifle through the dark satiny envelopes  to see if there are any chocolates left?
So I've made my own After Eights, during the process of which I had a revelation. The name After Eight doesn't just refer to the hour after which they can be eaten, it's also a wordplay 'After ate'. After you've eaten...geddit?

Home-made After Eight Chocolates

1 egg white
300g (2 cups) icing sugar
Juice of half a lemon
A handful of fresh mint(1 cup) chopped finely
A few drops of peppermint essence
4 bars or 400g of dark chocolate

Whisk the egg white until it is stiff. Add and mix the icing sugar, lemon, mint and peppermint essence together with the egg white.
Using a spatula, spread the fondant thinly (2mm) over a silicon mat (silpat) or a sheet of baking parchment.
Melt 2 bars of the chocolate either in a bain marie (over a water bath) or, even easier, in 30 second blasts in the microwave. Normally 2 blasts are fine. Do not be tempted to press for longer than 30 seconds or your chocolate might seize up and become unusable. Do it slowly and check it time.
Once the top of the fondant is dry, pour the chocolate, smoothing with a rubber spatula, over the fondant.
Wait for it to dry for a couple of hours.
Then carefully flip over the silpat/baking parchment and carefully peel it off. Leave to dry until the top is touch dry.
Melt the last two bars of chocolate and smooth it over the top.
Leave to dry.
Cut it into After Eight size sections.
You can use old After Eight envelopes or serve as is. Garnish with mint leaves.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Recipe: Bulgar wheat Quinoa salad with roast vegetables and hazelnuts

I'm trying to eat different grains. Not just pasta. Quinoa, pronounced 'keenwa' (I'm sure y'all knew that but I feel I have to keep repeating it), has recently attracted controversy because anti-vegetarian investigative journalist Joanna Blythman think that evil vegans are pricing out poor Peruvian farmers* from eating their own crop. Why she thinks non-animal eaters are entirely responsible for this I'm not sure. Girl's got issues (said with a finger snap and a Harlesden accent). Supermarkets are now doing mixes of bulgar wheat and quinoa which make a change from the usual. Quinoa comes in several colours from white, pink, brown, black and red. The mix I used had red quinoa which is nuttier and perhaps more flavoursome than the white, which is more commonly found on grocery shelves. Quinoa isn't a grain but a grass that contains healthy fat and proteins, but tricks the appetite into thinking you've had a nice bowl of starch.
This recipe would make a complete meal if accompanied by a few slices of grilled halloumi. Just spent the afternoon chatting with a friend who is doing a cooking course at Leiths. I'd love to do a cooking qualification but unfortunately the majority of the course is dedicated to learning about meat; it's butchery and cooking. Why? Why are organisations like Leiths still drumming home the message that a meal without meat isn't a meal? This isn't sustainable, this isn't healthy and it's a very dated attitude to food. Cooking schools and catering colleges need to be at the forefront of teaching and influencing future chefs that there is more to food than meat.

Try this instead, it's not 'cheffy' but it is gorgeous tasting.
Bulgar wheat/Red Quinoa salad with hazelnuts and roast vegetables recipe

A dozen carrots, sliced lengthways into quarters and roasted with some oil
250g (2 cups) of quinoa and bulgar wheat, cooked in salty boiling water
1 aubergine, sliced lengthways and roasted in olive oil, sliced into strips
1 large red pepper, roasted, deseeded and finely sliced
75g hazelnuts, toasted
1 preserved lemon or lime, finely diced. (Do make these, I chop them into everything.)
A handful of fresh basil leaves, rolled and cut into fine slices (a chiffonade).
Olive oil

Preheat your oven for 15 minutes at 200º C. (Aga instructions: the vegetables can be roasted on the top shelf of the hottest oven.)
Prep the carrots, topping and tailing them, peeling and put them on an oven tray to be roasted. I covered them with some porcini oil but olive oil is fine too.
Add the pack of bulgar wheat/quinoa into a saucepan of boiling salted water and cook for ten minutes. Drain.
Prep the aubergine and pepper and roast.
Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan for five minutes to release the oils.
Mix all the ingredients together, adding the preserved lemon or lime, the basil, the olive oil and the salt.

*I spent five months in Peru and Bolivia, mostly with Quechua speaking villagers, and I didn't once have quinoa. We ate potatoes, rice and 'fideos' (macaroni). This was quite some time ago, in the early 90s so maybe it wasn't popular then so it seems strange to claim that Andean dwellers have a desperate daily shortage of quinoa. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

Weekend lunch: Recipes for farinata and tabbouleh

Farinata with cumin and onion
The weather does seem to have a strong effect on what I cook and eat. If it's grim outside I can have the urge to hucker down and eat comforting stodge or sweet things. On the other hand, especially if there is a little weak sunshine poking hopefully through the clouds, I experience a sudden bolt of impatience and start making summery foods in anticipation of better weather, as if to say 'hurry up'. If only I could change the weather with my cooking. Perhaps that would be my super power of choice.
This weekend it was walks on the heath, farinata and tabbouleh. Farinata is a gluten-free thick pancake made with gram flour, or chickpea flour. In the South of France, you may know it as 'Socca'. I first had it in Turin when I attended a pink bloc tactical frivolity protest against Berlusconi. My daughter was being home educated at that time so she was dragged along. We were both part of a political samba band Rhythms of Resistance and we, along with the rest of the London band, travelled to join the Turin branch. Turin, a Northern Italian city, has always been very political, with strong unions and a university that was regularly 'occupied' by students. We played at the university, at a march in support of transgender rights and reproductive rights for Italian women, and outside an Italian call centre that was mistreating workers by only giving them daily contracts in order to avoid employment legislation. 
It wasn't all political action though, because, being at heart a bourgeoise gourmande, I managed to include some activities such as tasting the icecreams of several gelaterias, attend a chocolate festival in the centre of town and try the fudgy farinata sold at the local bakery. Which was a useful food stuff as half the London samba band were either coeliac, vegan, freegan or, in the case of my child, just plain fussy. The Italian activists on the other hand, ate everything and anything and were rather perplexed by our multiple special diets.
I made the farinata with onions and cumin to give it a slightly middle Eastern vibe. Combined with the tabbouleh, it made for a light and healthy weekend lunch. 

Cumin and onion farinata:

Serves 4-6 people

400g (3 cups) of gram flour (available at most Indian shops)

300g (2 cups) of water
100g (1/2 cup) olive oil

1 tablespoon of ground cumin
1 tablespoon of sea salt
Olive oil for frying

2 brown onions, sliced finely and fried in olive oil till caramelised.

Mix the flour and water together and leave for 2 to 12 hours. I left it overnight. Add the cumin and salt.
You will need a frying pan, ideally cast iron, but one with a handle that can go in the oven. Even more ideally, you will have two of these, so that you can make two farinata at once!
On the stove top, add a little olive oil to the pan until it warms up. 
Add the gram flour batter until the farinata covers the bottom of the pan and is about 1.5 cms thick (a bit less than an inch). 
I then added the caramelised onions.
Once the bottom seems done, that is 'set' place the whole frying pan in the oven under the grill. (In the Aga I put it on the top shelf of the roasting oven).
Leave until brown on top and slightly crispy at the edges. You can start on the second one. 
This mixture is enough for three farinata but I reserved the last third of the mixture for making onion bhajis.
Making sure you use oven gloves pull out the frying pan and cut it into slices like a pizza.

Tabbouleh salad with couscous

Tabbouleh is a refreshing Arabic salad that lots of people get wrong. They think it's a Bulgar wheat salad when in fact it is a parsley salad. I had the remains of a packet of couscous and a recent delivery of my organic box from Riverford Organics, so as a variation I've used couscous (which they tend to use in France) rather than Bulgar wheat. 


200g (2 cups?) flat leaf parsley, washed and 'picked' (the leaves taken off the stalks), chopped
75g (3/4 cup?)fresh mint, 'picked' and chopped finely
100g (1 cup) couscous (not quick cook)
1 cucumber, skin peeled, quartered and cut into 1 cm slices
6 tomatoes, quartered (I don't bother seeding, I like tomato seeds)
1 bunch of spring onions, outer leaves peeled, cut into 1 cm slices
Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil
Sea Salt
A sprinkling of Sumac,  a lemony dried berry (optional)

Refresh the parsley in a sink or bowl of cold water. Throw in a handful of salt and let any grit fall to the bottom. Wash and chop the mint.

Spread the couscous out on a tray and use the method I describe here to plump up the grains. You sprinkle the couscous with salty warm water every 10 to 15 minutes. Do this 3 times. You do not need to steam the couscous as the water in the vegetables will finish hydrating the grain. You don't need to soak and drain the couscous and my method means that the grain remains fluffy and not waterlogged.
In the meantime prep the cucumber, tomatoes and spring onions. Add them, along with the parsley and mint, to the couscous after the third sprinkling of water. Add the lemon juice, olive oil and salt. 
NB: I have many American readers and so am attempting to add cup measurements as well as grams as I realise many Americans don't use scales. It's not an exact translation but, except for baking recipes, exactitude isn't always necessary, I'm just trying to give a visual/volume idea of how much is used. I'm also trying to avoid such silliness as 1/2 a cup plus 2 tablespoons of, say, sugar. Can anyone explain why these irritating measurements are used? 

Friday, 5 April 2013

Recipe: Black Forest Gateau

It's snowing, in April. As large snowflakes, big as tissues, fell yesterday at a blizzarding rate, I needed comfort, a reminder of childhood skiing holidays (as an adult I can't afford them). I loved the food we had when skiing: gluwein; frankfurters, sauerkraut and mash with yellow Austrian mustard; raclette and cheese fondue and hot frothy chocolate drinks. I wanted to make something that suggested snow ploughing between pine trees, forests and frost.
I had recently been sent some early cherries, called 'Glamour', from a grower, Mr Ortiz, from a farm in Lleida, Spain. Unusually these cherries are available in March and April. It's a good name for this fruit, as there is something both pristine and pornographic about the cherry. This led me inevitably to baking a Black Forest Gateau, a notorious relic from dinner party menus of the 70s but actually dating from the 1930s. The Black Forest Gateau cake is rather more 'Cabaret' and Liza , all sheer dark stockings with glossy red lipstick, than sweet trollies in suburban restaurants and Alison Steadman in Abigail's Party. 

Recipe for Black Forest Gateau:

You'll need two 8 inch sandwich tins, buttered up to the edges and lightly floured. Lined with baking paper if you wish. 

Cake bit:
80g unsalted butter, room temperature
200g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
280g caster sugar
3 tsps baking powder
2 pinches of salt
240ml whole milk
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Decoration and filling:
I jar of black cherries in kirsch (cherry liqueur), drained, kirsch set aside
2 punnets of cherries (Glamour are available at M & S, Harrods, high end food shops)
600 ml of double cream, whisked or 150g of double cream whisked with a large tub of CoYo coconut yoghurt. This made for a slightly exotic flavour. 
2 tablespoons of icing sugar

  • Preheat the oven to 170cº.
  • Prepare the cake tins by greasing and flouring.
  • In a stand mixer, or by hand in a bowl, beat the butter until smooth, pale and fluffy.
  • Add the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, salt into the stand mixer or a bowl and beat together until combined.
  • Whisk the milk, egg, vanilla extract together then pour half into the flour mixture, beat together, then add the second half.
  • Keep scraping the sides down yeah?

  • Tip half the mixture into each sandwich tin. It doesn't matter if it's not smooth, I  rather like the uneven 'mountainous' look for this cake. 
  • Bake for 45 minutes in 160c degree conventional oven.
  • In Aga I baked for 20- 25 minutes in the bottom shelf of the baking oven. I found they rose better without the cool shelf. If you have a 2 oven, use the hot oven with the cool shelf.
  • Check they are done by sticking in a clean metal probe, if it comes out clean, they are done
  • Place on a wire rack to cool
  • Prod with the probe to make holes all over the cake, pour Kirsch cherry liqueur or the liquid from the black cherries, all over the holes. About 4 tablespoons per cake.
  • Whip the cream into soft peaks
  • Place the first cake on a plate and ladle 1/3 of the cream onto the base, leaving a border all around so that it doesn't squirt everywhere when you put the top on.
  • Add half the cherries from the black cherries in Kirsch
  • Place the top cake on, ladle on the rest of the cream.
  • Add the rest of the black cherries in Kirsch
  • Add the punnets of fresh cherries, stud them in the cream and stack them artfully in a pyramid shape on top. You want a look of tumbling plentitude.
  • Dust with icing sugar in a tea strainer.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Foraging supper club next weekend

John's notebook and wild tinctures: feel free to bring your camera or iphone to take 'sunprints' like these

John Rensten and I appeared on The Discovery Channel last summer when they filmed us on a foraging walk around Clissold Park . I was impressed by his knowledge and infectious enthusiasm. John Rensten runs Forage London, which specialises in foraging in an urban environment. I find it fascinating to discover how much is edible or useful in London. 
Next weekend, on Sunday, I am thrilled to present a combination wild walk and supper club. John show us what to eat in the hedgerows of North West London. He will lead a walk around Kilburn and Willesden and then I will cook a foraged supper. Tickets are £60 for the walk and supper. Concessions are £40. 
You will be given a 'foraged' cocktail in a jar to talk on your walk but BYO for the meal. 
It'll be interesting to see what is available right now considering the weather: examples are wild garlic, nettles, St George's mushrooms, mallow, alexander buds. 
I'll be playing around with fusions such as Indian and foragey food: nettle aloo? 

Book here:
Filming with The Discovery Channel