Thursday, 30 January 2014

Plum fruit leather recipe

I've created this recipe for a South African stone fruit supper club tonight. Fruit leather is a healthy snack for adults and particularly children, a great lunch box standby, but purer than the shop bought fruit rolls. It's pretty easy to make, just takes a few hours in a low oven.
I'm using FlavorKing plums which have the reputation of tasting like bubble gum. I can confirm that, the plum has an extraordinary bubble gum aftertaste. We all recognise that flavour but what is it? What is the flavour of bubble gum? It's a secret recipe that contains chemicals such as ethyl methylphenylglycidateisoamyl acetate (responsible for the distinctive flavour of pear drops) and fruit extracts, possibly plum?
In February I'm going out to South Africa to meet the growers, so I will hopefully find out more. 

My menu for tonight:
Peach nectar Bellini cocktail

Mushroom and tofu gyoza, steamed with plum sauce
Plum 'sushi'

Mini bunny chow (a typical South African street food) with peach curry
White flesh nectarine, almond, mint, burrata salad

Cod with plum soba noodles and Georgian Tkemali yellow plum sauce

Cheeses with Flavorking bubblegum plum fruit leather and nectarine chutney

Towering pav with stone fruit
Yellow flesh Nectarine tarts
Chocolate galette tart with yellow plums

 or plum clafoutis

Some of these recipes will be coming up on the blog in the forthcoming weeks.

Plum fruit leather recipe:

1 kilo of plums, stoned
4 tbsps of sugar, honey or agave nectar
Juice of half a lemon

I am lucky enough to have a very powerful blender, a Vitamix, which meant that I didn't have to skin the plums. Otherwise, make crosses on the top of each plum, with a knife, and leave them for 30 seconds in boiling water. The skin should come off easily. Remove the stones.
With a powerful blender, pulse the flesh, then add agave nectar and lemon juice. You can use sugar but honey or agave means that there is less chance of crystallisation than with sugar.
Strain the pulp so that there is less juice. I did two sheets of 'leather' one that was strained and one that was not.
The unstrained leather was more textural and less smooth but both worked fine. It depends on the fruit. Some fruits have a great deal of juice so you'd want to strain that out, otherwise you could be drying out the leather for days.
Preheat the oven to 100ºc.
Then prepare a flat baking tray with a silpat silicone mat.
With a spatula, spread out the plum purée to about 1/4 inch or 1/2 cm thick. You want it thin enough to dry out but not so thin that you do not have a 'rollable' leather. So make sure you can't see through the purée and remember it will contract as it dries.
I put the fruit in a low oven, 100ºc for several hours. I kept checking hourly. It's hard to say exactly how long it will take but you could put it in for 2 or 3 hours on 100ºc then turn the oven off and leave it overnight to dry out. 
When it's sufficiently dried out, carefully peel the leather off the silicone sheet and place it onto parchment paper. Cut it into strips and roll it.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Quick bites in January: Helene Darroze party, vegan restaurants in London, a Rasta funeral

Helene Darroze Galette des Rois party, Bruno Loubet, Raymond Blanc, Fergus Henderson,Jeremy Lee, Kerstin Rodgers aka MsMarmitelover
 There aren't actually that many people in the food scene. It's like 150 people, Dunbar's number. When you start as a blogger, you are so excited at first to get free food and drink, you go crazy and attend everything. If you live in London and go out to every event you are invited to, you see the same people time and time again, more often than your own family.
I don't go out much anymore. I know I won't get any work done, I'm long past the days where I could drink all night and start work in the morning. So I'm kinda picky about my invitations. I only accept ones that seem interesting and unique. The invitation to have champagne and galette des roi at the Connaught hosted by chef Helene Darroze was one of those occasions. I didn't realise this was actually an invite to one of the foodie events of the year, a party stuffed full of Michelin star chefs: Bruno Loubet and his wife Catherine, Isaac McHale of The Clove, the enormous 7 foot Nathan Outlaw, Pascal Aussignac of Le Comptoir Gascon, (all the French chefs bien sur), the charming Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis in a velvet suit, Fergus Henderson in a butcher stripe suit (looking very George Melly), Allegra McEvedy, Mikael Jonsson of Hedone, Tom Kitchin, Ravinder Bhogal, Sophie Michell. Lots of important restaurant type journos: the Hot Dinners bro and sis duo (I always thought they were a couple), Stefan Chomka of Restaurant magazine, the ever lethal Susan Sharp (now I'm not on the receiving end I quite enjoy her barbs). I met Chef Raymond Blanc for the first time and he was lovely, open and friendly. A few years ago I tried out for his show The Restaurant but was rejected at the last hurdle. I was disappointed but had a lurking suspicion that the producers didn't want candidates who could cook. He confirmed this saying 'the producers only wanted joke candidates' which was comforting. I also met Liberty London Girl for the first time, her first book is coming out later this year. I once went to the Helene Darroze restaurant to eat lunch, which was a good deal for a michelin star restaurant. 
The highlight of the evening for me was that I became the queen when I won a 'feve' figurine in the galette des roi which was the BEST I've ever eaten, created by Helene's pastry chef, Kirk Whittle and containing tonka bean and lemon zest. I won a prize of a weekend at the Connaught. Here is my old recipe for galette des roi, which is eaten in France in January to celebrate epiphany.
Vanilla Black, vegetarian and vegan restaurant, London

January is also when I have my birthday: to celebrate, I went out for two vegan meals, at two of the most highly reputed vegan/vegetarian restaurants in London, lunch then dinner.
Lunch was at Vanilla Black, I was taken by WineTrust100 honcho John Valentine. (I will soon be contributing regularly to their site, recipes and thoughts on wine from a non-wine expert). I had the vegan menu and John had the vegetarian menu. Our meal started off well, I had a smokey yellow pea and marmite soup. John had a brie ice cream starter with tangy blackberries, which I tasted, it was flavoursome, unusual and well presented. John had never been to a vegetarian restaurant before and was pleasantly surprised. For main course, I had cauliflower with cashew nut potato (although not sure what that bit was on my plate, I like food to look like what it is), cumin crisps and tamarind paste. Although the food tasted good, the presentation and the colours were that veggie cliché, a khaki plate. John had a goats' cheese and toasted cauliflower millefeuille main which was also delicious.
Puddings, however, were disappointing. This is a restaurant that is trying to ally the tools of fine dining, deconstructing dishes and whispy plating techniques, to the rather lumpen and worthy reputation of vegetarian/vegan food. However this is not a method that works well with pudding. My peanut butter cheesecake in the form of sticks with cracked cocoa bean and caramelised banana purée didn't hit the P-spot, the pudding spot, which is generally a whole lot easier to find than the g-spot. You know that surge of sugary ecstasy, followed quickly by a sigh of relief, a relaxation, a discarding of all your cares and woes, that a great pudding delivers. It wasn't there. Nor was it in John's chocolate cake. Just cos you are veggie/vegan, it doesn't mean that dessert should be unsweet and unsatisfactory. We asked the waitress for vegan wines and she had "to go ask". They need to educate their staff on this issue. Vegan wines are very important for vegans. Believe it or not, many wines contain fish, egg whites and blood.
Manna vegan restaurant, Primrose Hill, London
Dinner took place at Manna restaurant in Primrose Hill. The place soon filled up with posho veggies, the Gwyneth Paltrow gang. Guests, for the main part, were female. However food was heartier at Manna than at Vanilla Black. Taste was their goal rather than presentation.
Manna was a vegetarian restaurant, it's now vegan. According to vegan author, John Davis of The Vegetarian Society, most new vegetarians are vegans.
I went with the 'rents' and we had the mezze for starters, three for £20: the jalapeno cashew 'cheese' fritters and raw lasagne (more like a terrine) were very good but the Indian pizza, curry on a poppadum, was underpowered, lacked spice and salt. We ordered the vegan rosé champagne.
For my main course I tried the chef's special, a southern soulfood version of tempeh, a fermented soy bean cake. It was the second time I've ever eaten it, and to be frank, I didn't like it the first time but gave it another chance. Now I realised I really didn't like it. It's very strong and with a weird mouthfeel. I couldn't eat it.
My father had wild mushroom ragu and chestnut polenta. The polenta was very light, one of the best I've ever had. Basically I stole it from my dad. Mum ordered the organic spaghetti and 'veatballs'. She said there was too much sauce and not enough pasta but it was not bad. But pasta is one of those things that you can mostly make better at home. I didn't like the 'veatballs' because I don't believe in TVP, textured vegetable protein. It has a horrible texture and who wants imitation meat? I don't like processed food, whether it be normal or vegan. The main courses were enormous, the other end of the scale from Vanilla Black. You want something in between rather than loads of food piled up which is off-putting. The vegetables however were all very well cooked, al dente and full of flavour.
Pudding was substantial. My raw hazelnut chocolate cake was too heavy for something that wasn't very sweet. My parents ordered better than I did, although I cannot recall the name of the dish.
The waitress was very kind, when she saw that I barely touched my dessert, she offered to take it off our bill.
Going to the toilet, a man was leaving and I couldn't help but smell an invisible cloud of fart trailing behind him. The toilets had a LOT of incense sticks in jars. Perils of the plant-based diet.
In summation: there is a lack of good vegetarian/vegan restaurants in London, the choice is minuscule. When are we going to take vegetarian/vegan food seriously here, as they do in New York and California?
rasta funeral, Westbourne Grove, London. Nine nights.
I also attended my first Rasta funeral at the tabernacle in Ladbroke Grove. I've mentioned the Nine Nights of mourning in African/Caribbean culture in a previous post. After a coconut rum punch, there was enough food to feed an army of 'dreddies'; much of it was vegan, intrinsic to the Rasta diet. The vegan food must take precedence and be served separately from the meat. We had ital stew and roti, roasted sweet potato wedges, fritters. No Caribbean occasion is complete without a cake: Trevor, the Rasta that had died, had his face reproduced in the middle of an enormous confection of red, gold and green icing. I watched as the cake diminished, first his hat, then his dreads, then his eyes, and finally just a big smile and a few crumbs left on the platter.
A local drummer energized the event with a call to prayer, beating up the spirits. We sang Rivers of Babylon "carry me away from captivity". People started to sway.
The cost of funerals it turns out, is phenomenal. Just the plot of land costs £4,000, while a cremation is only £800. At the funeral parlour, and there are specialists for Caribbean funerals, you are given a catalogue to choose the casket. I think I'd like to be buried in a wicker hamper, surrounded by Fortnum and Mason goodies. 

Friday, 17 January 2014

Recipe: Plum clafoutis for Nine Nights

I gave this pudding to my neighbour whose father has just died. Food can be a comfort, a balm for the soul, and a clafoutis is more comforting than most. My neighbour didn't know him very well, her parents divorced, but she had been in contact with her father over the past few months. His death, at only 63 years old, was an unexpected halt to the process of getting to know him better. In some ways, the death of an absent father can be worse. No more second chances.
My neighbour is Jamaican; part Scottish, part black and, interestingly, part Chinese, (of the Wong family). Naomi Campbell, the supermodel, is said to owe her unusual beauty to this particular combination of genetics. There are quite a few Chinese-Jamaicans.
It is Jamaican tradition to give food to a family that is bereaved. My neighbours' father was a Rasta and so his funeral will be vegan. According to Caribbean custom, they will celebrate Nine Nights, during which, with food and songs and games, the mourners celebrate the life of the deceased. The final Ninth night, there is a table of food, untouched before midnight, not to be eaten before the 'seeing', accompanied by overproofed rum. This ritual stems from Africa, for instance, Nelson Mandela, the great South African leader, was taken to be buried at his home village on the ninth night of his death.
This flagnarde/clafoutis pudding is made with Sapphire plums from South Africa. Their average Brix level, the industry term for sugars in fruit, is 13 to 14 % so they are beautifully juicy and sweet. The redder the plum, the better the flavour and I love the way the redness bleeds slightly into the pale yellow of the baked eggy batter.
You can eat this straight from the oven, or cold, the next day.

This elegant but practical oven to table baking dish is by Sophie Conran at Portmeirion

Plum Flagnarde/clafoutis

10 large ripe plums, in this case Sapphire plums, cut in half and stoned
20g butter for greasing
4 eggs
150g caster sugar
50g plain flour
600ml double cream

Prepare the plums, by cutting them in half along the dimple from the root and twisting. Remove the pits.
You'll need a buttered/greased baking dish/tray of approximinately 25cm x 30cm.
Preheat the oven to 180cº
Place the plums, cut side down, in the baking tray.
Whisk the eggs then add the sugar. Slowly sift in the flour, while stirring, then add the cream, whisking thoroughly.
Pour the batter over the fruit.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until set.
This gorgeous pudding could be accompanied with some Umeshu, Japanese plum wine or some overproofed rum, for sipping.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Recipe: Cherry and Cinnamon kringle

Cherry and Cinnamon Kringle recipe

This Kringle recipe is for those who aren't on a diet this January as it is very rich.
Denmarks cuisine and great produce is rightly known to food lovers around the world. While Noma is a famous ground-breaking fine dining restaurant, the Danish are celebrated for their baking, particularly Danish pastries. Many Danish bakers have a ‘kringle’ sign outside their shop, which is in the shape of a pretzel, but is a sweet marzipan pastry. I've done a big one here, but halve the ingredients for a smaller kringle. 

Cherry and Cinnamon Kringle recipe

Serves 15

25g quick acting yeast
50g caster sugar
125ml lukewarm milk
250ml double cream
500g plain flour
1 tsp salt
15g cinnamon powder
120g Lurpak butter, unsalted

300g marzipan
75g ground almonds
75g caster sugar
1 egg white
1 tbsp kirsch
100g of tinned cherries

1 beaten egg white
30g nibbed sugar
20g ground almonds

Icing sugar to dust

Put the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar into a jug with the lukewarm milk. The milk must not be too hot or it will kill the yeast.
Leave it until you see some froth/bubbles then add the cream.
Mix the flour, salt, cinnamon together then cut in the butter, until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Then combine this with the yeasty cream mix.
Put in a bowl covered with cling film and leave overnight in the fridge.

Make the filling by mixing all of the ingredients except the cherries in a food processor. Then add the cherries. You want them whole so you can see them clearly in the Kringle.
Preheat the oven to 180cº. Prepare a large flat baking try with silicon paper or a silicon mat.
Remove the chilled dough from the fridge and roll it out, on a very well floured surface, to a 40cm square, about 3mm thick. Fold in either side to make a long thin rectangle. Then roll it out so that it becomes a 100cm flat sausage, about 7 cms in width and 3mm in thickness. 
Scoop the filling all down the centre then bring the sides in, pinching them together. 
Carefully and at the same time flipping over your sausage so that the seam is underneath, place the kringle onto the baking tray. Bring in the ends so that they cross over and form a pretzel shape. 

Brush the top with the beaten egg white and sprinkle with the nibbled sugar and ground almonds.

Bake for 40 minutes. Leave to cool then dust icing sugar over the top.
Cherry and Cinnamon Kringle recipeCherry and Cinnamon Kringle recipe

Cherry and Cinnamon Kringle recipe

Cherry and Cinnamon Kringle recipe

Friday, 10 January 2014

Recipe: white nectarine salad with mint, avocado and almonds

white nectarine salad with mint, avocado and almonds

white nectarines

It's best to eat white nectarines raw; cooking makes them go yellow, which is fine, but the thing about this fruit is the snowy interior. Nectarines in general are the smoother skinned sister to the fuzzy peach. White nectarines are perhaps sweeter than yellow and are an older cultivar. Yellow fleshed nectarines have become more popular with farmers because they ship more easily, being hardier.
Eat white nectarines quickly once you have bought them, for they are a fickle and delicate fruit.
Not for nothing is the drink of the gods called nectar.

White nectarine salad with mint, avocado and almonds recipe

Serves four

1 red onion, sliced thinly
75ml of white wine vinegar
1 tbsp of caster sugar
1 tbsp of sea salt

2 ripe nectarines, sliced thinly
1 avocado, ripe, sliced thinly
150g goats cheese, sliced thinly
40g almonds
Olive or nut oil
Small fresh mint leaves to garnish

First pickle the onions by mixing the sliced red onion, white wine vinegar, sugar and salt together in a small bowl. Leave for at least 30 minutes. The longer you leave it the pinker the onion will become and this looks very pretty in the salad.

Then make a bed of nectarine slices, avocado slices, goats cheese slices. Scatter the almonds. Add the pickled red onion and mix a little of the pickling liquid with the oil to make a dressing.
Use fresh mint leaves to garnish.

white nectarine salad with mint, avocado and almonds

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Nanny Savino's gnocchi recipe

baked gnocchi

Oh you need some warm hearty cheesy food right now don't you? Oh yeah baby it's cold outside.
I can't myself. I've gone vegan. Just for a bit mind. I'm writing a book on vegan food and for the duration, yes this is my Stanislavsky method cookbook writing, I'm not eating any animal products.
I'm doing a DeNiro in Raging Bull. Except I hope to lose weight not gain it. I'm plunging myself into the vegan mindset. I'm going the whole hog. (But no hogs of course.) I'm interested to see how my body reacts to being vegan. I've been doing it for eight weeks now. The first couple of weeks was hard but now hey, I'm cool with it. Interestingly my sugar cravings have reduced. I do miss my beloved Marmite on toast with shitloads of sea salty butter though.

So here is a recipe I did for Kenwood full of hot melty cheesiness and fluffy potatoey gnocchi, baked. I'm fine. Don't worry about me. You go ahead. Enjoy yourself. Don't mind me. Sniff.

Nanny Savino's baked cheesy gnocchi recipe

1 kilo of floury potatoes (usually about 3 or 4)
250g Italian 00 flour
1 egg
1 clove garlic, cut in half
200ml double cream
200g of strong cheddar, grated

Bake the potatoes in the oven from 45 minutes to an hour. The skins should be crispy and the insides soft, prod with a fork to check. Once cooked, let the potatoes cool for 5 minutes then cut them in half and scoop out the flesh. (You could use the potato skins for another recipe)

Grate the potato flesh. Then in a bowl, add the grated potato, the flour and the egg. Mix all the ingredients until smooth.
Divide this mixture into fist sized balls. On a floured surface, roll each ball into a long sausage about an inch or 2.5cms in diameter. Cut inch long or 2.5cm long segments along the dough 'sausage'. Then press lightly with a floured fork into each segment to get that classic gnocchi ridged look. 
Spread the gnocchi on a tray covered with greaseproof or silicon paper. Don't let them touch. Prepare an oven proof dish (either 4 small ones or one large) by greasing it with butter. Rub the surface with half a clove of garlic which you discard after using. 
Boil a pan full of salty water. In group of 10 or 15, lightly place the gnocchi into the boiling salty water. The gnocchi will cook very quickly, about a minute. When they float, they are cooked. Lift them out with a slotted spoon into your oven proof dishes. 
Then spoon on the cream and sprinkle over the grated cheddar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the top is browning and bubbly. 
Serve hot.
Who is Nanny Savino? She's my Italian Great-Grandma who lived in the council flats off Holloway Road. She was a great cook and sold fags and toffee from her doorstep.

baked gnocchi

baked gnocchi

Monday, 6 January 2014

Blue Monday Recipe: roasted tomato soup

January is the grimmest month. My birthday is in January. The official worst day of the year, Blue Monday, is always around my birthday. Oh for a birthday in June when days are long, when you can sit outside until almost midnight. The lilac and the pear blossom has just finished blooming. You can eat cherries and strawberries and stuffed courgette flowers with soft cheese. Windows and doors are open, cars drive by, drifting summertime music in their wake. Of course, June is when the happiest day occurs. 
What is good about January?
Blood oranges. Being inside while it rains. The possibility of snow. Feeling justified in not going outside. The occasional hot chocolate. Sitting by the Aga. Putting logs on the fire. Wearing boots. Buying a new coat in the sales. Forcing chicory. Seville bitter oranges and making marmalade. Soup with buttered bread.
Here is my recipe for soup on the Kenwood site. It's easy. It may look like Heinz but it has a deeper taste. And this recipe is vegan. I like to leave a few tomato seeds in it, so that you know it is real.
Serves 4 to 6

1 kilo of Fresh Tomatoes
1 or 2 Red Bell Peppers
1 Aubergine (optional)
1 Head of Garlic, 

A Finger of Celery
1 or 2 Carrots, topped, tailed, peeled
Olive Oil
150ml Vegetable Stock
20ml of Sherry
Fresh Basil Leaves to garnish

The instructions for the recipe are here. 

What is your grimmest month? Do you find January depressing? Do you, like me, have a January birthday when most people are too broke to buy you a present?