Friday, 27 September 2013

Recipe for pickled walnut and blue cheese salad


Networking is a skill. Many of us that are good at social networking are not actually terribly sociable irl (in real life). An interesting book  'Quiet; The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking' , out last year, declares that introverts are especially good at social media. (Believe it or not, I think I'm an introvert but one who has learnt to be loud).
 Somebody that is good at networking, is a professor of it, is Julia Hobsbawm, who runs an organisation called Editorial Intelligence. Last year I was lucky enough to be invited to one of their annual 'mini-breaks', replete with the great, the good and the downright quirky. (I think I'm in the last category). The event, appropriately called Names not Numbers, took place at the location of the 1960s cult show The Prisoner, at Port Meirion in Wales, a spooky and enchanting architectural folly. I felt awed by my fellow guests. I was meat in the room with alpha types such as broadcaster Jon Snow, MP David Davies, Mrs Moneypenny from the FT (she's a hoot!), the brilliant writer and academic Sarah Churchwell and financial journalist Mary Ann Sieghart to mention just a few. Highlights included listening, along with a hushed room, to astronomer royal Martin Rees explaining the universe and everything, and political columnist Steve Richards doing standup, he's a mimic of Mike Yarwood style talent.
Julia is fantastic at mixing and matching people. She's not a snob which I think is an essential quality for a good hostess. And she always makes sure that there are plenty of women, chosen for character and interest, not just looks.
This is a circuitous way of explaining how I came to create this recipe. I met Natalie Melton at Names Not Numbers, she remembered me, and commissioned this recipe to highlight The New Craftsmen, the name of her gallery/ workshop space in Mayfair. Again I was in elevated company, the other chefs included Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis and Skye Gyngell
The New Craftsmen promotes British craft, with exquisite hand-thrown pottery, woodwork, glassware, textiles and furniture. Worth a visit before it closes. 
We were all asked to create a British recipe that would fit well into a ceramic bowl made by potter Billy Lloyd. At the same time a limited edition illustrated set of recipe cards was drawn. I'm a witch in my drawing. How did the artist know? 

Recipe for walnut, pickled walnut, grilled pear and blue cheese salad.

Pickled walnuts seem to be a particularly British speciality, they taste nothing like the walnuts we know, being pickled with their shells, before it hardens and turns brown.
This is a classic salad: the saltiness of the blue cheese (use Stilton or Stichelton to continue in the British theme), the vinegar tang of the pickled walnut, the fudgy, nutty texture of the walnut and the sweet pear, grilled to bring out all of honeyed flavour. A perfect autumnal recipe. 

 Serves 2 or 3

50ml olive oil
A few drops of walnut oil (optional)
Balsamic vinegar (the good stuff)

2 pears, halved, cored and grilled
100g of baby leaves, spinach, rocket or mixed
100g of blue cheese, sliced
3 or 4 pickled walnuts, sliced thinly
a handful of walnuts
Malden salt, sprinkled last minute for texture

Make the dressing by whisking together the olive, walnut oil and balsamic vinegar.
If you have a grill pan with a grid, toast the pears, cut half down on their for around 5 to 10 minutes. Otherwise just grill or bake them.
In your bowl, heap the salad leaves, then add the pear halves. Scatter the pickled walnuts, the walnuts and the blue cheese.
Pour over the dressing and crumble on the Malden salt.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

How to make a sourdough loaf in 15 easy steps

Gluten! We loves it. Emmanuel Hadjiandreou.

This is following Emmanuel Hadjiandreou's technique. Which has worked like a dream for me. The great thing about his method is there is none of this throwing half the starter away rubbish. You don't have to waste flour. I always hated having to throw away starter.
Why is this? Effectively, once you have your live mother, you keep it in the fridge and just use a tiny bit every day to make a poolish or pre-ferment. (Yes poolish is connected to Poland. The person that invented this technique was a Polish baker living in France. Actually the French invented sourdough, someone took that to San Francisco, where they perfected their own sourdough). 

As stated in the last post How to cure a sick mother, you have taken 5g of your starter, and added 50g of flour (rye is best to get it going again, white is fine too) and 50g of luke warm water. You've covered it and left it over night.
You now have 105g of sourdough starter. But overnight your starter will have lost 10g so call it 95g.

What to do now?
1) Now take 75g of it. Put the rest back in the fridge. If you are not baking again for a while, you can add it back to your original revived mother. (If you are going to bake again very soon, you can keep the 20g and feed it with 50g of flour, 50g of water, leave overnight, do the whole cycle again.)

Get out your digital scales. Because you have some don't you? Seriously you need to buy these for any attempt at efficient baking. They don't cost much. I know my American readers are resistant to scales but look! You can buy them in America too! Only 25 bucks! You can change them from ounces to grams just for this recipe.
Babes, I want you all to be gram perfect. I want you to become anal about weighing. 

2) In a large bowl, add 150g of warm water to the 75g of sourdough starter.
Mix well. 

3) In a separate bowl add 250g strong white flour
4 g salt.
Mix well.

4) Add the flour/salt mix to the sourdough/water mix.
Mix well.
Leave for 10 minutes, covering with the other bowl. 

5) Then, ideally using a scraper, or your hands, start to shape the loaf.
(This is what baker Emmanuel Hadjiandreou does instead of kneading. But it works.)
Pull the side of your ball of dough outwards then tuck it into the centre. Moving the bowl around as you go, you do this 10 times going around the ball of dough.
If it starts to become stiff and the dough tears, then stop. 

6) Wait for the dough to relax for ten minutes, then do the pulling into the centre kneading technique again. Do this four times in total with a ten minute interval in between. 
At the end of this you should have a nicely smooth ball which is strong in structure and will rise.
Make sure you have scraped all the dough from the sides of the bowl into your round ball of dough.

7) Rest it for one hour.
8) Prepare your proving basket (I found this type works well, it ain't pretty like the others but the dough doesn't stick) or use a colander lined with cheesecloth, or a bread basket lined with a non-fluffy tea towel, by dusting it liberally, up the sides too, with wholemeal or rye flour. If you've only white flour, use that. This must be well coated with flour as you don't want your loaf to stick.

9) Dust the dough ball with wholemeal or rye flour (or white if you have nothing else).
Scoop it into your already prepared proving basket or the cheesecloth lined colander. 

10) Then leave this to proof for 3 to 6 hours or overnight or until doubled in size.

11) Preheat your oven to 250C. Place a shallow tray in the bottom and a flat baking tray in the middle.
12) When hot:
Place the dough ball, flipping it over, onto a pre-heated baking tray, dusted with semolina. 

13) Slash the top with a corrugated knife. (I always forget this.)

14) Bake at 250C, adding a cup of tap water into the hot tray placed into the bottom of the oven. This creates steam and gives you a crust.
After 10 minutes lower to 220C. (If you have an Aga, put in the cool shelf.)
Bake for 30 minutes in all.
Knock on bottom, it should sound hollow. You want a deep bassy sound. Emmanuel thinks we underbake loaves in this country. 

15) Place on cooling rack.
When cool, slice and enjoy. If you are impatient and can't wait till it cools, don't slice from the middle, slice from the end. While it's cooling you see, it's still baking inside, even though it isn't in the oven. 

Good resources in the UK: 
Bakery Bits (ships worldwide)
Emmanuel Hadjiandreou and others in:
North West London at The Baking Lab
or Nottinghamshire at the School of Artisan Food 
London and other places: Jane Mason's Virtuous Bread
Northhampton: Juniper and Rose cookery school (lessons by Dan Lepard and Vanessa Kimbell)

A note: The teen made her first sourdough loaf last week using this method. I do believe, after learning to read, write, count, use a computer, that teaching your kids to bake bread is one of the most useful things a parent can do for a child. It should be obligatory at school. 
I do recommend getting a hands on lesson if you can afford it. It made all the difference for me. 
I baked these this morning. Yeah I forgot to slash again.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

How to cure a sick mother

We are talking, of course, of sourdough. To make sourdough you either buy or create a 'mother', also known as 'chef' or 'starter'. This is a basic flour and water mixture, which is fermented, that you 'feed' continually so that it remains active and potent. With a sourdough mother, you do not need to use commercial yeast, either fresh or dried.
Eating bread made with a natural sourdough fermentation as a raising agent, has many benefits:
  • it has higher protein levels
  • is lower GI than industrially produced bread, meaning that you digest it slowly. This is useful in terms of combating the diabetes 2 epidemic.
  • lowers blood pressure
  • lasts longer*
  • tastes way better
It would be disingenuous however to pretend that is easy. It isn't. I've been making sourdough regularly for six months now. I don't bake a loaf every day so it's been difficult to keep my sourdough mother is good health.
I went away for five weeks in May and kept my sourdough mother in the fridge. When I returned I fed it up, with a mix of flour and water and it seemed to gurgle back into life. Then in the July heatwave, I left my sourdough mother on the kitchen counter for several days, without feeding it. Since then, it seemed moribund.
Normally when I feed it, it bubbles up and over the top of the jar. But it stopped doing that. It also started to smell alcoholic, grow a bit of mould and a dark liquid on top. Was it dead? Had I killed my mother through neglect?
The Real Bread campaign has named this month Sourdough September. So this weekend I attended a sourdough clinic by baker and author Emmanuel Hadjiandreou who wrote the award winning baking book "How to make bread'(Ryland, Peters and Small), beautifully photographed by Steve Painter.
It took place at The Baking Lab, in an unprepossessing council property from the outside but a 'bijou' light and airy baking space for a cooking school within. I've been there before to learn more about bagels and pretzels with Maria Mayerhofer, a Danish baking teacher.
So I carried my neglected furry jar of Kilburn sourdough, through the rain, to be healed.
As soon as I arrived, Emmanuel, who looks like a combination of Harry Potter and Popeye, round eye glasses and bakers' biceps, beckoned us over. He sniffed at my jar and held it up to the light. He then stuck his finger into the mixture and tasted it, wincing. Examination over, he diagnosed neglect but declared the patient not dead. "That's still alive!" he pronounced in his stringent South African accent. So, after consultation, I have compiled a list of sourdough ailments and the remedies.

Problem: dark liquid at the top of your sourdough mother. This is not actually bad stuff, in fact it protects the mother. It's called 'hooch'.
Cure: Drain off the liquid. Feed.
Preventative measure: If there is clear or dark liquid at the top of your sourdough mother, that means it's hungry and wants to be fed.

Problem: mould around the rim.
Cure: transfer it to another clean jar.
Preventative measure: if you are not feeding your sourdough every day then keep it, well sealed, in the fridge. Feed the fridge mother, two or three times a week ideally.

Problem: funny smell.
Cure: feed it.
Sourdough is comprised of two acids: acetic and lactic.
Acetic is the vinegary smell and taste.
Lactic is a cheesy smell.
Healthy sourdough can smell like silage. Wheat is, after all, a grass.

Problem: it doesn't bubble up when fed.
Diagnosis: does it still have some bubbles? This is why it's good to have your mother in a clear container, so you can hold it up and look all around it. If there are still some air bubbles, there is hope.
Cure: feed it if there are bubbles.

Problem: black with thick layer of mould.
Cure: Scape it off carefully, trying not to disturb the underneath, and discard the mould. Feed. This is revivable if it has bubbles.
If no bubbles, erm, sorry but it's dead and you will have to start again. However it's actually rather difficult to totally kill a sourdough mother. Bread is the safest product because you bake it at high temperatures.
You can even use the dark liquid to make vinegar.

Problem: it smells like nail varnish
Diagnosis: the bad bacteria have taken over.
Cure: Chuck it and start again. You could take 7 to 10 days to feed it up again but the bad bacteria might come back.

How to refresh a dormant sourdough for a pre-ferment:
Take 5g of the sourdough.(Keep the mother sourdough however, put it back in the fridge)
Add 50g of wholemeal, rye or strong white flour. Rye is best really, it really gives flavour.
50g of water.
Leave overnight.
If it's not bubbling do this again.
Once it bubbles, make bread.

How to feed/refresh the rest of the sourdough every so often:
Get a scale, weigh out 100ml of the sourdough. Chuck the rest.
Add 100g of rye flour
Add 100ml of water
Mix. Leave for 24 hours. Put it in the fridge, covered with cling film.
Feed once a week/fortnight/month. I do it once a month, it's still ok.

More notes on sourdough from Emmanuel:
"You never cook bread, you bake it". Baking is in the oven, cooking is on top.
You can freeze your mother in 75g increments.
Bakers always take home a little of their sourdough after a days work in case the other bakers sabotage their mother.

*in the recent debate about austerity food bloggers v Jamie Oliver's recent book 'Save with Jamie', writer Alex Andreou noted that cheap bread doesn't go stale, it goes mouldy.  For what to do with your stale sourdough, go to this post, a recipe for Panzanella salad or bread salad, it's delicious. 

Friday, 13 September 2013

20 tips to become a better food photographer

A picture is worth a 1000 words and every picture tells a story. Like most clichés, these phrases are nonetheless true. I'm most attracted to cookbooks that are visually beautiful with photos, ideally, for each recipe. I'm superficial that way. And the best food and travel blogs have great photography.  In this blog post I will talk about what I have learnt in my quest to become a better food photographer. I started out as a rock photographer, moving onto portraits, fashion and reportage. In the last five years I've been mostly shooting food and travel. 

Recently I borrowed a Canon 6d with a 24mm to 70mm zoom lens. Oh what a joy! Much of the fantastic food photography you see in books and magazines is shot with a Canon 5d, a nice heavy-weight professional bit of kit that can also shoot video. Some TV programmes are entirely shot on the Canon 5d.

The Canon 6d is very similar, but more lightweight and about a grand cheaper. I was so impressed that I bought this camera with a macro 24 to 105mm lens. I also possess a handbag-sized Canon G12 which is convenient for carrying around and for trips. 

Here are a few tips to become a better food photographer. These tips and others are included in my book Get Started in Food Writing so if you enjoyed this article do please buy my book!

1) Buy the best camera you can afford. You know all those brilliant photos in cookery books? Those photographers have fantastic cameras and pin-sharp lenses. You'd have to be an idiot to take bad pictures with them. On the other hand, equipment isn't everything. You can take great pictures with your phone or on a cheap amateur camera. If you've got style and a vision, the equipment doesn't matter. 

Food Stylist Louisa Carter, photographer Jason Lowe and assistant, musing over a shot for my book Supper Club. They look quite worried don't they?
2) Those professional food photographers have a big team of helpers. Apart from the photographer, you'd have an assistant or two, a food stylist, someone preparing the food, a props person, an art director. Again, you'd have to be an idiot to screw up. But nevertheless I do see cookbooks with absolutely awful pictures. No names mind.

3) Buy a tripod. In the UK most of the year we have gloomy skies and a very short shooting window during winter. A decent tripod, easy to manipulate while shooting, smooth movements, will make shooting in low light a possibility. As a rule you can't hand-hold steadily if you are shooting at less than 1/60th of a second. I've just bought a Manfrotto Befree travel tripod. 

Shooting overhead with a 'fake' table top on the floor. Using daylight and a sturdy tripod. Jason Lowe shoot for my book Supper Club


4) Crop. I'm fairly purist about cropping. It's good training to attempt to get the shot right in camera rather than relying on editing afterwards. The viewfinder in some cameras does not reflect accurately what you will get in the final picture, so check that. However in food photography, cropping is acceptable. Sometimes just a section of the dish is more effective. But try to crop in the camera not in the editing so shoot tight.

5) Angles: 
Shoot close: we want to see oozing and shine and texture and drips. We want to feel like we could pick it up and eat it.
Shoot low: fork level. Especially if it's tall food, then we want to see the layers. 
Shoot overhead: this gives an instant graphic look and works well for flat food such as pizzas.
The classic food photo angle is 30 to 45 degrees overhead, giving you an overview of the food and a bit of the bottom of the plate/bowl.

The science bit: you need to master some technical stuff to improve your photography. 


From the top: overexposed, 'correctly' exposed, underexposed. Different photographers have different styles but you should at the beginning aim for correctly exposed. Remember it's easier to lighten an underexposed picture than add detail to an overexposed shot. So I tend to shoot slightly under.

6) There are two main factors in exposure: shutter speed and aperture. 

Shutter speed is classically this sequence:
8 seconds    4 seconds    2 seconds    1 second    1/2 second    1/4    1/8    1/15    1/30    1/60    1/125    1/250    1/500    1/1000

Aperture is generally this sequence:
1.4    2.0    2.8    4    5.6    8    11    16    22

Photographers call these F/stops or just stops. 

The aperture is the 'hole' the lens shutter makes when taking a picture, letting light through. The bigger the 'hole', the more light.
The speed is how long or short this 'hole' is open for. The longer the shutter speed (8 seconds is clearly longer than a 1/1000th of  a second) the more light, the brighter your picture. 

Play with under and overexposing by setting the needle on the exposure up to one stop above the 'zero' mark, or one stop under (also called 'bracketing your exposures'). Work towards using Manual rather than Automatic. Focus manually and set the exposure manually. But if you are in a situation where you don't have time to fiddle with settings, then, by all means, shoot on automatic.

Focus and depth of field:

In this photo of potato salad with fennel blossoms, the very centre is sharp and the rest is blurry. This is an example of a short depth of field. A long depth of field would meant that all of the potatoes would be in focus.

7) What is a depth of field? A long depth of field is when you shoot a photo and both the front and the back are in focus. A short depth of field is when only a small portion of the composition is sharp. Small apertures (counter-intuitively these are apertures with higher numbers such as 11, 22) give a long depth of field, wider, bigger apertures (with smaller numbers such as 2.8, 4) produce a short depth of field.
Focus: on the frontal part of the food or whatever is the 'star' ingredient.
Bokeh: this is not a dubious sexual practice but a Japanese word for the blurry 'noise' when you are using a short depth of field. Many photographers try to get good 'bokeh' shapes, especially in the macro or very close up photography which is necessary for food. 

Light and colour temperature: 

The picture of almonds and plums on the right is taken on a very warm day with a warm wooden background with a daylight white balance. Although normally that is the correct setting, I found it too yellowy so I shot it on Tungsten to give the cooler shades of the picture on the left. 

8) Use natural light. I hate studio lighting with food, it makes it look synthetic and old-fashioned. 
You can make reflectors for bouncing light towards the shadowy side from white boards, tin foil or black boards which add a lovely dark edge. You can make these yourself just by painting a large cardboard box or covering it with foil. Or you can buy a Lastolite, which is a foldable small reflector. The white transparent one can also be used as a diffuser when there is very bright sunlight. 
Don't shoot, if you can avoid it, at midday, certainly in summer. The best light is morning (a blue light) or just before dusk (a warm light). 

Make sure, when you are taking pictures, that all the lights are off, especially strip-lighting which has an awful green colour. You want a good 'white balance' whereby you are attempting to have a neutral white colour for the whites in your photo. 

If the colour looks wrong, shoot in different modes until you find the colour that best reflects your vision of the picture.
Tungsten light (ordinary light bulbs): gives off an orangey light so the tungsten white balance setting will cool it, make it bluer.
Fluorescent/strip light: gives off a greenish light so the fluorescent setting will correct that and give a whiter, more magenta colour. 
Candlelight: orangey, warm
Daylight: depends on what time of day. 
Early morning: blueish light
Midday: white harsh light
Early evening: warm orangey light.
You can manually adjust the white balance in your camera but auto will do it automatically for you. 

9) Sometimes it's good to shoot against the light, for instance if you want to highlight the texture and sheen. So try shooting from the 'wrong' side.

Prop 'sets' for each dish of my book Supper Club. 
Props and styling:
10)  Great props can help tell the story of the dish but don't over-prop. You don't want 1980s style photos with everything going on. Unless you are particularly going for an over the top or retro look.

11) Introduce texture into your props: the metallic sheen of cutlery, the gleam of china, the webbing of a table mat or linen napkin, a wooden bowl. Start collecting: different kinds of cutlery, plates, bowls, napkins, cake stands. 

12) Backgrounds: most food is on a round plate, the frame within the frame. Try also to use other devices for presenting food: on a wooden board, on a stone, nestled in plants. Keep looking for good bits of background. An old chopping board, some greaseproof paper, a cooking rack, use wall paper or wrapping paper, tea towels, different table cloths. 

I recently painted some cheap wooden chopping boards in different colours with paint testers. You can get an aged shabby chic effect by painting a strong base colour in emulsion, then rubbing the corners, edges and small areas with a wax candle when the paint is dry. Then, using emulsion paint in white, lightly paint over the strong base colour and waxy areas. Let it dry, then rub lightly with some sandpaper. The wax will come off, letting the base colour shine through.
Food looks great shot on a turquoise or blue background. Much of food is warm coloured, yellows, browns, oranges, reds. Think of complementary colours: orange/blue; red/green; yellow/violet. 

13) Show the ingredients that go into the dish. These can be added to the composition, to demonstrate the steps involved.

A classic 30º angle for taking this shot of gazpacho.
14) Green it up. Keep back some fresh herbs to scatter or fruit, depending what is in the dish. Jamie Oliver's food shots (often by David Loftus) are quite messy, but energetic and fresh looking. He scatters loads of herbs all over.
Also use a tea strainer to sprinkle a little icing sugar, flour or cocoa powder (which also covers any problems with the food). This gives the picture some movement.

15) Open up the food. Photograph the complete dish then take a bite with a fork or carve a slice or break off a piece. Crumbs are good too.

16) All those old food photography tricks like varnishing chicken and using shaving cream as cream no longer apply. You want naturalistic photography now. There is also the one about putting a microwaved tampon in the food to create steam. Never tried it myself. That said, most cakes in baking books are done with decorated polystyrene models. That's why the sides and angles are straight and neat. The cakes in my forthcoming book MsMarmite's Secret Tea Party will be done for real.


The levels
Narrowing the levels. Pull in the levers on both sides until they reach the 'mountainous' bits of  the exposure line. 
17) Post production is your chance to further improve your images. As I said, try to get focus, exposure, crop, right in the camera. But the editing process is also important.
I don't have great software, I use iPhoto and Snapseed. I'm not very good at Photoshop. If you have Lightroom or Photoshop and you can use it, fantastic. I can't stand all the bloody layers in Photoshop, they mess with my head.
The first thing I do is narrow the 'levels' on iPhoto, by dragging in the markers either side. Then I try to balance the colour, not too warm, not too cold. I sharpen a little, increase definition. In Snapseed, for photos that are landscapes or objects rather than people, I often use the 'drama' filter. 
If you are a blogger, shrink your pictures when you upload them. This makes them harder to steal and your site will upload more quickly. 

18) Look at other people's work. You can learn most by looking. A great writer must read, a great photographer or artist must look. Here are a few UK based food photographers that I admire:
Jean Cazals: lovely dark textural photos. Love this guy's work. He won best photographer in the Pink Lady food photography awards last year. 
Jason Lowe: a great feel for light, particularly good at reportage, he shot my first book.
David Loftus: energetic, beautifully composed pictures. Jamie Oliver's photog of choice.
Keiko Oikawa: very feminine, detailed, whimsical pictures
Yuki Sugura: quirky, creative, avant-garde propping. Again a soft feminine approach.
Jan Baldwin: colourful, strong composition

19) But don't just stick to food. Many of my influences and favourite photographers work in other fields such as fashion or reportage:

Tim Walker
Sarah Moon
Henri Cartier Bresson
Richard Avedon
Sebastiao Salgado
Bettina Rheims

20) Keep shooting. You will get better. I'm getting better. And that's the great thing about digital, you can shoot as much as you want for little extra cost.

Who are your favourite food photographers? Are they bloggers or specialist professionals? Have you any tips? Please let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Video: my guide to good taste and bad

Innocent smoothies have been running a series of workshops on different subjects: ethics, entrepeneurship, health, creativity and taste. For the taste talks, I joined chef Florence Knight, chef Ollie Dabbous, Sam Bompas of Bompas and Parr and Emilie Baltz. The name that may not be known to you is of the fascinating Emilie Baltz who has also done a talk for TED on the effect of the imagination on our taste buds, why some flavour combinations do not work and and what makes things taste good.
I talked good taste, entertaining and how I rather like bad taste.... 

Friday, 6 September 2013

A Midsummer night's dairy dinner for The Grocer

Midnight Garden
Stuffed peppers with Boursin
The table set as the guests started to arrive
The cheese fondue burners lit. Cheese fondue is a lovely warming sharing dish. I'm going to do a bonfire night fondue supper club. Check my events page to book. 
I never realised what an important magazine The Grocer was until they featured my Underground Farmers' Market a couple of years ago. The reaction and feedback was far greater than that from more well-known publications. The Grocer is the food industry magazine, the one that supermarkets, suppliers and producers read. They have an annual supplement 'The Dairymen' and asked me to cook them a menu inspired by dairy products sent to me.
Every day couriers brought to me large chilled parcels of cheese, butter, cream and yoghurt. I had great fun playing around with the ingredients and tasting new things. Most of the products are British apart from the Swiss cheese. Britain now rivals France for cheeses: while De Gaulle famously complained about the difficulties of controlling a country that boasts 350 cheeses, Britain now has about 1, 200 cheeses. (Maybe that's why we have a coalition government.)

This is the menu I came up with:

Coupe de champagne 


Gougeres with Wyke farm cheddar and Zarpellon Grana Padano Parmesan (using KerryGold butter)

Pepperdew peppers stuffed with chive Boursin

Onion and cheese bhajis with Geetas chutney Red Leicester with coriander chutney


Wyke Farm Extra Mature Cheddar and sage soft pretzels (using Wyke farm unsalted butter)

Salmagundy crudités (herbs from my garden, heritage carrots, babysweetcorn, mangetout, home-grown tomatoes, cos lettuce, cucumber, celery) with Chobani yoghurt labné hung overnight with lemon zest and pink peppercorns, Boursin Muhamara dips

Halloumi wrapped in home-grown vine leaves

Main course:

Emmental, Gruyère Swiss cheese fondue accompanied by sourdough bread and mini potatoes baked on salt for dipping, pickles (pickled walnuts, green peppercorns, silverskin onions, cornichons)

Baby spinach salad with crumbled Joseph Heler Cheshire cheese and fresh cobnuts, mustard dressing


Lake District Dairy Quark cheese cake with blackberry and blackcurrant coulis from my garden
Dairy Pride whipped cream

Cheese plate:

Home-made quince jelly, La Fleur Tomme de vache cheese, Castello blue cheese, Castello pineapple halo, Turkish sultana grapes, fine oatcakes, home-made chocolate brazils

Coffee with Dairystix milk

Cheshire cheese, baby spinach, cobnut salad
Quark cheesecake was satisfyingly with great mouthfeel. This recipe, adapted from James Benson's cheesecake recipe, is going into my next book. 
The weather was so humid yesterday and it was certainly a tough day in the kitchen with a cranked-up Aga. I felt that eating cheese fondue indoors on one of the hottest days of the summer would have been a mistake, so we set up a long line of white-clothed tables in my garden. Lanterns flickered in the trees and the outdoor bathtub filled with pink petals and essential oils. The guests were cool and refreshed. Industry chat about dairy matters, laughter and clinking glasses filled the air. Who needs a standard corporate dinner on a night like last night? In the five years I've been running my supper club, it's rare that British weather is stable enough to eat outdoors, so this was a magical experience, especially as I used many of the plants we've been growing in the Secret Garden Club.
By this morning the weather had cooled, the sky had thickened to habitual grey, it had rained overnight. Was this the last of the summer nights? Oh but it has been a longed for glorious summer has it not?

Soft pretzels with cheese and sage

Sage and cheddar pretzels

I've made large soft pretzels several times now. I'm still working on the authenticity factor which is hard as I can't get hold of food grade lye. However mixed with sage leaves and good strong cheddar, this is very tasty.
Like bagels, you boil the dough before baking.
Makes 20.


1kg strong white flour

(if you have sourdough starter, add a cup of that too)

260ml milk

260ml water 

80g butter, melted 

1 tbsp malt extract 

2 tsp fast action dried yeast 
2 tbsp sea salt 
1 handful of sage leaves, finely chopped
250g grated strong cheddar cheese

1 or 2 litres boiling water
3-4 tbsp baking soda (unless you can get food-grade lye)

egg glaze (1 egg and a few drops of milk)
rock salt

Into a bowl, put 100g of flour, the yeast and the water (luke-warm, not hot). Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for 3-5 hours. If you have a sourdough starter, add a cup of that also. 

Once your 'pre-ferment' is bubbly, add 900g flour, salt, milk, malt extract, melted butter, chopped up sage and grated cheese. Knead the mixture to make a firm but silky dough. 
Form the pretzel shapes by rolling the dough into 40cm sausages, make a circle, crossing over the ends and pressing them into the dough. 
Leave to rise for 1.5 hours on a baking tray covered with silicone paper or a silicone mat.
Pre-heat your oven to 200c.
Once they are risen, fill a deep baking tray with boiling water on your hob. Add the baking soda. 
Carefully place the shaped dough into the tray of boiling water for a few seconds until they float. Use a slotted spoon to scoop them out and lay them back on the baking tray. Brush the egg wash over them and sprinkle with sea salt. 
Bake the trays of pretzels for around 16 minutes, until a dark golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. 
Serve with beer. 

Red Leicester chutney cheese and onion bhajis

4-5 onions, thinly sliced
200g gram flour
1 egg, beaten slightly
2 tblspns of curry powder (I make my own mix, recipe in my book Supper Club)
350g Geetas Red Leicester chutney cheese, grated
1 green chilli, thinly sliced
A large pinch of sea salt
A handful of chopped fresh coriander
Vegetable oil for frying

Fry the onions until soft then put most of them into a bowl, leaving the others to fry until crispy. Add the rest of the ingredients, mix, then add the crispy onions. 
Preheat your oven to 180ºc. Prepare your frying pan or deep fat fryer. 
Heat up the vegetable oil to 180ºc and use a tablespoon to scoop the mixture into the fryer.  Do a few at a time. When the outside is crispy and golden put them onto a baking tray, covered with a silicon mat or greaseproof paper.
Put the tray filled with bhajis into the oven and bake at 180ºc for 10 minutes.
Last night they were very popular, served with a chutney or mint/coriander/yoghurt sauce. You could use another cheese but this Red Leicester chutney cheese (Geetas) worked very well.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Strawberry and Hibiscus soup

I'm becoming a bit of a fan of fruit soups, a refreshing, healthy, bright and vibrant option for dessert. Serve them with a sablé biscuit, a scoop of yoghurt, a meringue. Strawberry and hibiscus complement each other and the fresh ginger adds a little heat. Drinking 3 cups of Hibiscus tea a day is proven to lower blood pressure so pump up the hibiscus in your diet by any means possible. This recipe can be found on the Good Food Channel site here.
If this blog seems a little quiet of late it's because I'm writing a book on afternoon teas. I'm also styling and taking all the pictures for it, so it's very time consuming. I've come to the conclusion that writing a baking book is far harder than any other sort of cookbook. There's no making it up. You have to be precise so I'm testing each recipe two or three times. I'm a night baker, I'm often up till midnight, shuffling baking trays around my oven. 
 I have many blog posts stacked up in draft but they require more research before publishing. Coming up: a blog post on food photography, how to improve it.