Friday, 14 April 2017

Easter pinata cake recipe

Easter pinata cake

Easter pinata cake

Easter pinata cake

Coming up to Easter, I want to use eggs. Eggs are so useful and versatile. They bind, they expand, they emulsify. They come in two parts, yolk and white, can be eaten raw or cooked, can be used in sweet or savoury recipes. Eggs were used by medieval painters, tempera, as paint. The shells can be used around plants to deter pests.
This Easter I've created an egg chocolate 'pinata' cake (which can easily double as a birthday cake). For the cake I've used duck eggs, higher in fat and 50% larger, promising a beautifully light risen sponge.

Easter piñata cake recipe

3 x 20cm sandwich tins
A cutter (between 5-8 cms in diameter)


For the cake:
250g salted butter, room temperature
385g caster sugar
6 duck eggs (9 hen eggs)
5tbsp cocoa powder
335g self-raising flour
4 tbsp milk

Frosting and filling:
350ml double cream
150g white chocolate
350g salted butter, room temperature
1tsp vanilla paste
550g icing sugar
328g pack of mini eggs (or sweets/chocolate eggs of your choice)

Preheat tthe oven to 180Cº
Prepare your sandwich tins (buttering or using a cake spray release). If you only have two, you will have to make the cakes in two stages.
Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy.
Scrape down the sides of your bowl then add the eggs one by one, combining between each addition.
Add the cocoa powder.
Add half the self-raising flour, stir in. Then add the second half.
Lastly add the milk.
Beat lightly.
Divide the mixture evenly between the tins.
Bake for 30 minutes or until springy to the touch. You can also insert a skewer, if it comes out clean, the cake is baked.
Leave the cakes to cool in their tins on a rack.
Meanwhile make the filling.
Heat the cream in a small pan.
Put the white chocolate into a heat proof bowl.
Add the warm cream to the white chocolate and stir.
In another bowl or stand mixer, beat the butter, vanilla and icing sugar until fluffy.
Pour the cream/white chocolate into the the butter mixture. Combine and let it cool.

To assemble the cake:
Using a cookie cutter, cut out the centre of two of the sandwich layers.
Place the 1st cut-out layer on a flat plate or cake stand and, using a palette knife, spread the frosting over the top.
Place the 2nd cut-out layer on top of the first cake.
Fill with the mini eggs until level with the top of the 2nd cake layer.
Frost the top of the 2nd layer and place the 3rd cake layer on top.
Then apply a crumb coat, which is a thin layer of base frosting, all over the cake, starting with the sides so that you can turn it around while holding the top.
Chill the cake in the fridge for 10 minutes or so.
Then with a palette knife, thickly spread another layer of frosting.
Decorate the top with more mini eggs if desired.

My next supper club celebrates Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican fiesta on the 5th of May. Tickets £40
<<Book here>>

Monday, 10 April 2017

1970s mushroom pasta recipe

mushroom, cream and sherry spaghetti

I rather like filing - the satisfying illusion that you can organise and control your life. It appeals to the librarian in me. 
I've done less filing of late. My computer desktop is a creative mess, full of screen shots and mood boards and folders. A subject that consumes me is how to organise my massive collection of cookbooks? By colour coding, the alphabet, by size or by subject? What do you do?
I did buy a dymo label maker and spent a contented weekend polishing, rationalising and marking my spice collection: I'm keen to 'file' my food.
On my desktop I have an excel document where I tried to list every single vinegar ever but then my daughter said I was weird and it would be a boring blog post. Somewhere I have a citrus family tree table too. I'm interested in systems and relationships. Filing makes this clearer. 
With this in mind, I've organised the whole of pasta and its sauces into five 'families'. 

1) Tomato - includes napoletana, bolognese, amatriciana, puttanesca and arabiata
2) Creamy - includes smoked salmon with crème fraîche, macaroni cheese, cacio e pepe, alfredo
3) Herby - includes pesto or greens such as orecchiette with cime de rapa
4) Fishy - includes vongole, tuna
5) Mushroom/truffle

Here, in my latest piece for winetrust100, I talk about the wines that match with pasta. Like with pizza, you match to the sauce: tomato sauces need red wine, creamy and fishy favours white wine. Mushroomy-truffley sauces can go either way: a light red such as a pinot noir or a full-bodied white.
Looking at the picture above, it looks a bit old fashioned, like something from the Super Cook magazine series I used to collect as a child. Mushrooms and curly parsley are so 1970s. But be assured that this dish was one of the most delicious things I've made in ages. 
You can replace the sherry with white wine but what I love about sherry is that you can keep the bottle for years, just using a little at a time, rather than opening a whole bottle of wine which will oxidise in a couple of days. If you are drinking by yourself, you don't want to spoil a good bottle of wine.

Mushroom, cream and sherry spaghetti recipe

Serves 2 people 2 servings each

300g of good quality 11 minute spaghetti
50g butter, salted or unsalted
2tbsp olive oil
200g organic button mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
a generous splash of dry sherry (fino)
350ml creme fraiche or double cream
Pepper (I used white)
A few sprigs of curly parsley

  • Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of salted boiling water for 9 minutes. (Please use a large enough pan. It's one of my bugbears, people squeezing spaghetti into too-small-pans. Likewise salad in too-small-bowls. Why? Just why. You can't toss a salad in a teacup). 
  • In the meantime, take a large sauteuse (deep frying pan) or medium sized saucepan and start the sauce. (It needs to be big enough to add the spaghetti to it).
  • Melt the butter, add the olive oil and fry the mushrooms for a few minutes. I used button mushrooms but use any mushroom you like. James Wong says Portobello mushrooms contains twice the amount of chitin, an immune boosting fibre.
  • Add the garlic, stir, and the sherry, fry for one minute.
  • Add the cream.
  • Drain the pasta and add to the sauce. 
  • Season then add parsley.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Eating my feelings - a recipe for Piperade Basque

Piperade Basque

Piperade Basque - piment d'espelette

Since my visits to Bordeaux last year, I've been regularly using 'piment d'espelette', an orange pepper grown in the Basque region of France and Spain. One of the most popular dishes that uses this uniquely European pepper is Piperade.

I haven't been posting much in March, because of legal problems with my house (again). For years I was a frustrated and unhappy leaseholder dealing with freeholders who charged huge bills and never repaired anything. Now I'm a broke and despairing freeholder. I love my flat - I think this is a special building filled with creative hospitable energy, the perfect location for a supper club. I love to open it up to others, to share my beautiful flat and garden. I'm an Aquarian; I think communally.

But the rest of the leaseholders here are buy-to-let landlords. One of them owes myself and the other joint freeholder £50k in back service charges and legal costs. It's a nightmare. She's been making money out of her flat for years but won't pay towards communal electricity, buildings insurance, quite basic stuff. 

I understand why buy-to-let became so popular. It seemed a good replacement for the disappearing pension system (my dad lost a great deal of his pension with Equitable Life, which was touted as a sure bet). But it's a menace for those of us who use our properties as that old fashioned concept - an actual home. I'm that rare thing, a Londoner from London who lives in London. I love my city. I'm invested in my community. It's not just a profitable safety deposit box to me.

All last week I had no water in my bathroom because one of the leaseholders who owes us money did some dodgy plumbing in her flat. She doesn't live here, so she doesn't care if she affects her neighbours.

It's really difficult to summon up the energy and joy to write and cook when your safe space, your home, is a battleground. Greedy landlords who want to make money but not pay their way. As a freelancer without a regular salary, holiday or sickness pay, times like this are very tough. But I'm not giving in. I never give up; I'm constitutionally unable to give in. I will keep fighting.

Anyway make this. It's good. You can replace the green pepper with green chillis if you like a bit of heat.

Piperade Basque Recipe

Piperade Basque

Serves 2

30ml of olive oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 red peppers, sliced into thin strips
1 green pepper, sliced into thin strips
6 large tomatoes, diced
3 garlic cloves
A sprig of Thyme
3 bay leaves
Piment d'espelette

Heat the oil and soften the onions until golden.
Add the peppers.
Add the tomatoes, garlic, thyme and bay.
Add the salt and pepper.
Cook on low for 30 minutes.
Serve as a side or with eggs, rice or pasta.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Pimp my ramen

 Different kinds of ramen.
 Different kinds of ramen
 Ramen +: A selection of fresh ingredients from my fridge including butter.
 Ramen +: A selection of fresh ingredients from my fridge including butter
 Close up of dry ramen with their respective fresh ingredients
 Dry ramen with their respective fresh ingredients
 Dry ramen with their respective fresh ingredients
ramen bowls

Ramen hacks

I think it was Gwyneth Paltrow who said something like 'I'd rather kill myself than feed my kids Pot Noodle'. Sorry Gwynie, but I beg to differ - noodles are one of the greatest modern food inventions.

Recently in the news, according to a new book Prison Ramen, the most valuable thing you can trade in prison these days is not cigarettes but ramen. This is understandable. Boring food and no access to a kitchen must be one of the most frustrating things about being in prison. Ramen is the simplest no cook meal you can make, all you need is a boiling water. Ramen is so easy to pimp. Kylie Jenner shared her ramen tricks recently by snapchatting how she pimps ramen with butter, garlic and egg. I tried it and it was pretty good.
I tried a few different brands of ramen from cheapo to posh. I've been told by Asian friends that Korean ramen is the best because it's 'bouncier'. Ramen can be improved with fresh ingredients to take away from that slight cardboardy feel.
Pimping ramen is a 6 stage process, taking only 10 minutes.
1) Place the ramen in a bowl.
2) Open the sachets that come with it; usually you have a powdered soup, sometimes a packet of oil and rarely a sachet of chilli. I open the powdered soup if it is vegetarian flavour but you could dispense with that and use a stock cube.
3) Boil a kettle and pour it into the bowl of ramen.
4) In the meantime prep the vegetables.
I use tofu cubes, carrot strips, spring onion, red pepper, mushrooms - anything you find in your fridge.
5) Improve the flavour by adding a grating of ginger or fresh turmeric or garlic. Add some fresh herbs like coriander or lime leaves and a squeeze of lemon or lime.
6) Finally a dash of soy sauce, sesame oil or ponzu, a delicious citrussy soy sauce. You can buy it cheaply  in supermarkets now. These really makes ramen sing!

Here are four ideas for ramen bowls.

Kylie Jenner adds a big knob of butter, some garlic and a raw egg to her ramen. 
You can add carrot, spring onion, lime leaf, chilli. 
Or red peppers, tofu, coriander, ginger and avocado on top. 
Or coriander, broccoli, seaweed, turmeric.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Poutine cheese curds, the search and the recipe for Canada's comfort food

A year ago I visited Canada, discovered how maple syrup was extracted from trees and ate poutine, a messy but comforting national dish, consisting of chips, gravy and squeaky cheese curds.
Inspired I've just hosted a Canadian-themed Sugar Shack Supper Club. I had one difficulty: obtaining the cheese curds for poutine. I discovered that the only place in the UK that made authentic cheese curds was Goulds in Glastonbury. Dedicated chef that I am, I made the 7 hour drive.  On my arrival, head cheesemaker Dan Poole explained:
"Canada is a cheddar producing country and essentially cheese curds are unpressed cheddar cheese. You split the curds from the whey. It's how you treat the curd that makes it cheddar. It's stacking it up and flipping it to build the acidity, this is what is known as cheddaring. Canadians flock to buy our cheese curds, they love it. "
The cheese curds are a first step in the cheddar making process prior to pressing the 27 kilo cylinder moulds into a traditional truckle.
Gould's are one of the original Cheddar making families along with the Keens and the Godminsters. 
"The Gould style of cheddar is buttery smooth with nice caramel tones. Even when it's extra mature, the smoothness remains. The older cheddar attains a nutty flavour." says Dan as we sample the different flavours and strengths of their cheese.
Jean Gould Turner inherited the cheese making part of the farm, named Batch farm, after her father's death while her brother Fred took over the herd.
Now 62 years old, Jean is the longest standing female cheddar maker, rising at 5 am every morning, able to lift a 27 kilo truckle with one hand. Dan is full of admiration for Jean:
"Jean is hard as nails, she knows everything there is to know about cheddar."
I see large brass instruments in Jean's house across the road, the old school house, where we eat a 'poutine' lunch. Jean Gould Turner plays in a brass band in her spare time.
Dan laughs:
"We are all musicians here. I'm a drummer. My assistant is a guitarist. We do a stall at Glastonbury festival every year selling curds and cheese toasties. Later we'll get up and do a gig on one of the stages."
So where can Londoners get cheese curds to make their own poutine? Every week Gould's drive up to North London, to the farmer's markets at Parliament Hill, Islington and Queen's Park. To pre-order the curds email Cheese curds have a shelf life of five days but can be frozen (but they may lose some of their squeakiness).

Poutine recipe


Deep fat fryer or deep frying pan with chip basket.
Kitchen towel.

Serves 4


For the chips:

1.5 kilos of frying potatoes such as Maris Piper, peeled and cut into thick chips
3 litres of vegetable oil
Sea salt
500g cheese curds

For the gravy:

2 tbsp of olive oil or 30g of butter
4 shallots, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 fresh bay leaf
2 tbsp of plain flour
2 tbsp of soy sauce
250g of fresh mushrooms of your choice, sliced thinly
a glass of red wine or half a glass of sherry
500ml of good quality vegetable stock (Marigold is good)
A few drops of truffle oil (optional)

400g cheese curds

The ideal chips are twice cooked. Here is the method:

Bring your oil up to 145Cº. Have a wide tray or plate covered with kitchen towel next to your fryer.
Fry your chips for around five minutes until they turn slightly translucent. Drain the chips and lay them out in one layer on the kitchen paper. Sprinkle with good sea salt.
Leave to rest for 15 minutes.
In the meantime make the gravy.
Add the oil or butter to a medium saucepan on a medium heat.
Soften the shallots until golden then add the garlic and bay leaf.
Sprinkle the flour into the mixture, stirring rapidly, then add the soy sauce and mushrooms.
Add the red wine then the stock, stirring.
Cook until thickened, add the truffle oil if you want a touch of luxury. Set aside.

Raise the temperature of the fryer to 180cº. Put the chips back in the fryer and fry until golden. Replace the kitchen paper on the tray and when the chips are cooked, tip them onto the fresh kitchen paper. Blot them and plate them.
Pour the gravy on top ( you won't use all of it).
Add the cheese curds and serve hot.

This dish can be reheated in the microwave.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

An artist's hotel in Valladolid, Yucatan and a recipe for pumpkin seed dip (green recado)

Valladolid is a small quiet colonial town in the interior of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. which is very pleasant and manageable to wander around and pass away the hours people watching while sipping a cooling jugo de Jamaica (hibiscus tea). Also known as the 'sultan of the east', Valladolid is one of those places where you just feel good. There aren't too many tourists, the people are nice and you feel safe. I often find I have my most authentically 'real' experiences in small towns, after the hustle and hoopla of the hot spots. It's a chance to see the natural daily rhythms of the locals where foreigners do not distort the perspective. There are tourists in Valladolid, but people tend to pass through quickly. 

Things to see and do in Valladolid:

  • The main cathedral San Gervasio in the main town square is worth a visit.
  • Cenotes, such as Cenote Zaki, which are natural pools, some underground. There are cenotes in town and in the surrounding areas. 
  • Ruins such as Chichen Itza, Ek Balam and Coba.  

An artist's hotel

I stayed at a wonderful hotel Project Zentik, a ten minute walk from the centre of Valladolid. Each room and the public areas were decorated by a different artist. In fact if you are an artist, they will offer a stay in exchange for a mural. Get in touch with them here:
This hotel offers a welcome bowl of tequila and as part of the delicious breakfast, tequila coffee and pumpkin jam on toast.  As they were building the hotel they discovered an underground cenote beneath, which guests can use as well as the swimming pools. The staff are particularly helpful and friendly. 

What to buy in the market:

The central market in Valladolid sells cheap and instagram swoon-worthy white stone molcajetes, the traditional heavy-weight Mexican pestle and mortar. (I bought one and because I couldn't fit it in my check-in luggage it was confiscated as a dangerous weapon, so make sure you wrap it and check it in). 
Other market treasures include various pastes which they call 'recado'. Bought by weight, recados come in green, red or black and keep for a long time. The red is made with achiote, the black with roasted chillies and the green from pumpkin seeds (recipe below). 
Buy jicama (again check it in), poblano mild chillies and entire pumpkins infused with syrup. 
I also bought seeds for growing Mexican vegetables and home-made chilli sauces.
I saw several whole agave or honey candied pumpkins with holes drilled in the bottom. These are October/November seasonal treats made for the Day of the Dead. Various gossiping Mayan grandmas gave me instructions on how to make this.
There is also a craft market near the main town square where you can buy light-weight colourful hammacks, Mayan style dresses and artisanal wares.

Pictures at the Market at Valladolid

valladolid market, mexico
chillies, valladolid market, mexico
selling recado valladolid market, mexico
jicama, valladolid market, mexico

Calabaza en tacha, candied whole pumpkin. Another recipe I must try. 

Recipe for Mayan pumpkin seed dip 'Sikil pak'or green recado

Mayan pumpkin seed dip or Sibil pak

A recado has several uses: 
  • can be used as a dip
  • watered down and used as a sauce 
  • blended with oil to make a marinade
  • added to stews such as pipian (recipe soon). 

Everyone makes a different recado, every cook has a different spin. This is one option.

150g pumpkin seeds, toasted if you wish (I don't wish)
2tbsp sesame seeds
2tbsp groundnut oil
1tbsp pumpkin seed oil
1 jalapeno, toasted, deseeded
2 tomatillos (optional), dehusked, roasted lightly
3 cloves garlic
1tsp Mexican oregano
1tsp cumin, ground
1tsp white pepper, ground
1 clove
1/4tsp cinnamon, ground
1tsp sea salt
Handful coriander leaves

Blend all ingredients together and salt to taste.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

5 recipes from my Flavorking plum supper club

Prosecco with plum syrup
Plum-cured cold smoked salmon canapés
Mushroom and tofu gyoza with plum sauce and purple sweet potato and blood orange
Sea bass en papillote on a bed of plum noodles with umeboshi plums and bergamot zest with plum salsa
Goulds cheddar cheese board with plum fruit leather and plum pickled burdock root
Plum clafoutis
Plum meringues

I was commissioned to create a supper club menu around the Flavorking plum. This South African plum, which has a short three week season in early spring, is a combination of plum and apricot, often referred to as a 'pluot' or 'plumcot'. This ingredient is beloved of chefs and keen cooks, and has a slight bubblegum flavour.

I love creating a menu celebrating a single ingredient - it pushes me to be creative. I like to incorporate it in every course from the welcome cocktail to the canapés, through the starter and main course, ending with cheese and dessert. I complemented the Flavorking with plummy ingredients from Asian cuisine, where the plum is often used in savoury dishes.

Mushroom and tofu wontons with plum sauce

This is a tweak on a previous recipe.

Makes 24

Recipe for gyoza:

3tbsp of sesame oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 thumb of ginger, peeled and minced

1tbsp of sugar

3tbsp of dark soy sauce

1tsp of 5 spice

1tsp of cornflour

1 block of firm tofu

4 spring onions, the white part, sliced, keep the green part for garnishing

250g shiitake or other mushrooms, sliced finely

1 packet of gyoza skins or Chinese wonton skins

Recipe for plum sauce:

10 plums or pluots, blanched, skin off, stone out

5 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small red onion, diced

1 thumb of fresh ginger, peeled with a teaspoon and minced

3 star anise

2tbsp of sugar

200ml of sherry vinegar

Make the plum sauce first to get it out of the way. Make a cross on each of the plums with a knife. Boil a kettle of water, pour into a heat proof bowl as soon as boiled and plunge the plums into the bowl. Within a minute the skin should start to unfurl from the crosses and you can get to work taking the skin off. Remove the pits too.

Then put all of the ingredients into a medium saucepan and heat until the plums break down a little, say 10 to 15 minutes. Place all the ingredients into a powerful blender such as a Vitamix or use a hand blender and mix at high speed. Taste the sauce to see if it needs anything more - you are looking for a sweet sour zing. Pour the ingredients into a chinois or sieve and let it drip into a bowl overnight. You will end up with a clear syrupy sauce.

For the gyoza:

Make the filling. Put all of the ingredients until the tofu into a hot wok or frying pan and sizzle for a couple of minutes. Strain the tofu of all water and dice it. If the tofu is soft, place it on your hand and cut it on your hand then tip it into the wok. Fry the tofu for five minutes, then add the spring onions an mushrooms. The mushrooms will release a lot of liquid. Fry until the mushrooms seem cooked, for about 3-5 minutes, then prepare a jug or bowl with a sieve or chinoise. Put all the mixture into the sieve and let the excess liquid drain out. You don't want a very liquid filling as the gyoza skins will not hold it.

Make a little gyoza filling station on a table. Kids and friends can join in with this and more hands make quick work. Get a small bowl of egg white or a bowl of water (if you are vegan) next to each person. Take a stack of gyoza skins for each person. Put the large bowl of cooled filling in the middle and give each person a teaspoon. For pictures see here.

Lay out the gyoza skin and dip your finger into the egg white or water, run it around the border of the gyoza/pot sticker/chinese dumpling/wonton skin. Put a heaped teaspoon of filling into the middle then seal the gyoza according to the pictures below. You want four folds on one side, which creates a crescent shaped dumpling.

Store them on a tray sprinkled generously with white flour, rice or wheat, so that they won't stick to the bottom when you remove them to steam.

Boil a kettle. On a medium to low heat, place a non stick or well seasoned cast iron frying pan with a lid and add a little vegetable or groundnut oil. When the oil is hot, place the gyoza carefully into the pan, making sure they don't touch, and fry the bottoms until golden, 3 to 5 minutes, then add a couple of centimetres (an inch) of boiling water from the kettle. Stand back as this may splatter a little. Put the lid on. Then steam for 5 minutes or so. Using a fish slice, remove the gyoza and add a few more drops of oil, start the next batch. continue until you have finished all the filled gyoza.

Serve them hot with the reserved green part of the spring onion and the plum dipping sauce.

Purple sweet potato and blood orange salad

This is a colourful winter salad. You can also use orange sweet potatoes, but I like the contrast in colours. I ordered the purple sweet potatoes from Riverford Organics. Blood oranges haven't been very bloody this winter due to too much rain.

Serves 4

3 long thin sweet potatoes, washed
3 blood oranges, peeled, segmented
Juice of 1 lime
1tsp sea salt
1 red chilli, finely sliced
A handful of coriander leaves

Place the whole sweet potatoes into a medium saucepan onto a high heat. Do not remove the skins as this will leach some of the purple pigment. (When I cook blue, purple or red potatoes, I always boil with the skins left on). Boil for 15 to 20 minutes until a fork enters the potato easily. Remove from the heat and drain the sweet potatoes. Peel them with your fingers when cool enough to handle. Slice into pound coin thick slices. Set aside to cool.

Prepare the oranges by peeling with a knife then segmenting. This technique is known as 'supreme' and you can look at Youtube videos to learn how. However if you can't be bothered to do that, you can also cut the potatoes and oranges into chunks, as in the picture above.

Mix the orange segments with the cooled sweet potatoes and add the juice of a lime. Add the salt, chilli and coriander. Toss and serve.

Sea bass en papillote with plum noodles, umeboshi plums and plum salsa

Serves 4


4 squares of parchment paper

4 larger squares of tin foil

Baking tray

For the fish:

200g soba noodles with plum extract, briefly blanched in hot water, drained

2tbsp of groundnut oil

Zest of 2 bergamots or citron beldi (use the juice of one and thinly slice for other)

4 umeboshi plums, chopped finely

4 sea bass filets, skinned, boned

2tsp sea salt

For the plum salsa:

4 Flavorking plums, stoned

1/2 red onion, diced

1 jalapeno chilli, roasted, seeded, thinly sliced

Juice of 1 lime

1.5tsp sea salt

Handful of coriander

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Put the soba noodles into a large saucepan of boiling salted water on a high heat. 'Blanch', that is, boil, for 60 seconds, then drain into a colander and rinse with cold water. Toss in a bowl with 2 tbsp of groundnut oil, the zest of 2 bergamots and the juice of 1 bergamot. (Use lemons when bergamots are out of season; Meyer lemon is also acceptable.) 

Place the smaller squares of parchment paper onto the larger squares of tin foil. Place a quarter of the noodles onto one of your squares of parchment paper. Add 1 umeboshi plum chopped finely (this is very salty so if you don't use this, season your fish with salt). Then add the sea bass filet on top. Add a slice of bergamot to the top of the fish and close the tin foil packet. 

Place all four filets into the baking tin and roast for 15 to 20 minutes. Using a digital thermometer, stick it straight through the foil into the fish - if it's over 60ºC, it's cooked.

Remove from the oven, open the packets and remove the parchment paper, topped with noodles and fish straight onto the plate. Discard the tin foil. Serve hot as is.

Plum fruit leather

This is a tweak on a previous recipe. I put these fruit rolls on the cheeseboard.

Makes 3 or 4 sheets

1 kilo of plums, stoned
4tbsp of honey, maple syrup or agave nectar

Optional add ons:
2tsp citric acid
2tsp freeze dried raspberry
2tsp black sesame seeds
2tsp black poppy seeds

Preheat the oven to 100ºC. 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, honey or maple syrup. You can use sugar but honey or agave means that there is less chance of crystallisation than with sugar. You also have the choice of putting in less sweetener or none at all.

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. Make sure you can't see through the purée and remember it will contract as it dries.
To one sheet I added citric acid to get that fizzy sour flavour, on another I added freeze dried raspberries. I scattered black sesame seeds over the pulp for a final sheet. I also tried black poppy seeds. 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. This is also a perfect lunchbox snack for schoolchildren.

Plum clafoutis

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


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 approximately 25cm x 30cm.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
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.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

My Sugar Shack supper club recipes: pea soup, maple syrup vinaigrette, pouding chômeur, Nanaimo bars, maple taffy on snow

My supper club last weekend was inspired by my trip to Canada last year, where I discovered the Canadian spring tradition of a sugar shack meal.

After a lengthy -50°C winter, come February and March, families leave town to visit their local maple farmer and taste the new season maple syrup. Farmers are 'sugaring off' their syrup, slowly reducing the watery maple sap over a wood fire to a shimmering mahogany nectar.

Wooden shacks next to the vats frequently boast long checkered-cloth covered refectory tables, adorned with jugs of that years' vintage of maple syrup - to be tipped liberally and frankly rather oddly into dishes such as pea soup or on fried potatoes.  The farmer's wife will cook a generous spread of traditional Canadian winter food, not fine cuisine by any means, but hearty and comforting. I tried to recreate this meal. 

Ice cider from Domaine Neige
Garden pea soup with bagel chips
Plum and maple syrup cured home-smoked salmon
Poutine with mushroom and truffle oil gravy and squeaky cheese from Goulds Cheddar
Slow cooked maple beans from Hodmedods
Walnut Romaine lettuce with maple syrup dressing
Pouding chômeur
Nanaimo bars using Moose Maple butter
Maple taffy on snow

Jugs of maple syrup from Clarks (No 1 Medium) and Pure Maple (Grade A Robust)

Playlist: Justin Bieber, Celine Dion, Michel Bublé, Alanis Morrisette, traditional Quebecois jigs

Around a quarter of my guests were Canadian. I had driven to Glastonbury, to Goulds cheddar at Batch Farm, the day before, to obtain authentically squeaky (as you bite down they squeak against your teeth) cheese curds for the poutine. (More on this in a later blog post.)

I used different grades of maple syrup in different dishes; for instance a lighter maple syrup in the pea soup and darker more robust syrup in the beans. Here is an explanation of the different grades. Maple syrup in a vinaigrette salad dressing adds a subtle and savoury sweet note to salads, especially when combined with walnuts or pecans. I used maple peas from British bean grower Hodmedods and cooked them in the bottom oven of the Aga for around three days!

The most exciting moment when when we obtained snow from freezer scrapings (not easy to find real snow in London) and I made maple taffy lollipops on snow at the table. 

Garden pea soup recipe

Serves 6

3tbsp olive oil
4 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Bay leaf
1 kilo bag of frozen garden or petit pois peas
300ml full fat creme fraiche 
500ml vegetable stock
1tsp sea salt
A few grinds of white pepper
150g shelled edamame beans
Pea shoots (optional)

In a large saucepan on a medium heat, soften the shallots and garlic with the bay leaf. When lightly golden, add the frozen peas and stir for a few minutes. Then add the cream, stir for five minutes, season to taste and add the vegetable stock. Add half the bag of edamame beans and simmer for half an hour. Put the liquid through a blender or use a stick blender. Check for seasoning. Use the rest of the edamame beans for garnish or pea shoots if in season.

Maple syrup salad dressing

I used this in a walnut salad with sweet crisp Romaine (cos) lettuce. You can also use pecans.

75ml olive oil
1 heaped tbsp dijon mustard
Juice half a lemon
1tbsp maple syrup
1tsp sea salt

Put all the ingredients, in the above order, into a jam jar and shake.

Pouding chômeur

Serves 6

The name of this dessert means pudding for a man on the dole, derived from the fact that the ingredients were cheap. (Previously, maple syrup was a fraction of the price of cane sugar in Canada.)

It’s very easy to make, a little like a sticky toffee pudding. Perfect for chilly nights.


For the sauce:
350ml maple syrup
150ml double cream
60g butter
2tsp cider vinegar
Pinch of salt

For the pudding:
100g brown sugar
100g butter, salted
1 large egg
1tsp vanilla paste
200g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1/4tsp salt

To serve:
300ml whipped double cream

4tbsp maple syrup


Make the sauce by putting all the ingredients into a medium saucepan and bringing to the boil, then removing it from the heat.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
For the pudding, beat the sugar and butter together until fluffy, then add the egg and vanilla until combined.
Gradually add the flour, baking powder and salt, stirring until well mixed.
Pour half the sauce into a baking dish (approximately 22cm square) then spread the pudding mixture on top. Add the rest of the sauce.
Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until golden.
Serve with double cream mixed with maple syrup.

Nanaimo bars recipe

This recipe has been one of the most quickly devoured things I have made in a long time. It is adapted from Joy of Baking's recipe. I prefer them without the desiccated coconut. I also used a new ingredient by a start up food company in London, Moose Maple butter, a combination of British slightly salted butter and Canadian maple syrup. The bars are a kind of fridge cake, made in three layers. 

Makes 20 to 25

Bottom Layer:
150g unsalted butter, room temperature
50g white or golden caster sugar
2tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1tsp vanilla paste
250g Digestive Biscuits, roughly chopped
50g pecans, coarsely chopped

Middle Layer:
75g salted butter mixed with 3tbsp maple syrup, room temperature (or Maple Moose butter)
3tbsp single cream or full fat milk
2tbsp custard powder
1/2tsp vanilla paste
250g icing sugar, white or golden

Top Layer:
150g dark chocolate
1tbsp salted butter

30g pecans, chopped, for topping
Optional: 50g white chocolate to drizzle


Butter or spray a 20 x 20cm (8 x 8 inches) square tin or a brownie tin.
Bottom Layer: In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and cocoa powder and then gradually whisk in the beaten egg. Return the saucepan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens (1 - 2 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, digestives and chopped nuts. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Put in the fridge to firm up.
Middle Layer: Beat the butter until fluffy. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until the mixture is smooth. Spread the filling over the bottom layer and put in the fridge for half an hour.
Top Layer: Chop up the chocolate and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir then if still not sufficiently melted, microwave for another 30 seconds. Add the butter and stir. (Or you can use the bain marie method, of a bowl over a pan of hot water). Pour the melted chocolate evenly over the nanaimo bars, spreading with a rubber spatula into the corners, smoothing the top. Scatter the pecans on top. Put it in the fridge to set.

If wanted chop up the white chocolate and microwave for thirty seconds. Drizzle, with a spoon, over the nanaimo bars. Return to the fridge until set.

Cut into squares with a sharp knife. 

Maple taffy on snow recipe

Readers may remember the story from Little House on the Prairie where they make maple taffy on snow. This is a traditional finale to each sugar shack meal, a spring treat enjoyed just as much by adults as by children. 


Maple syrup
Clean Snow
Flat lollypop sticks
Shallow baking tin or container
Digital thermometer

Boil maple syrup to 115ºC or 235ºF. It's best to use a digital or sugar thermometer.

Pack clean snow into a shallow container so that it is compacted and flat on top.
With a jug, drip the maple syrup onto the snow in thick strips (an inch or 2-3cm wide and 6 inches/ 12cm long). 

Using a flat lollipop stick, press it down into the liquid maple syrup until it starts to stick, then slowly roll up into a popsicle. Hold the stick sideways as you are eating it, otherwise it'll drip down into your sleeves.